"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Reality-Based Criticism of NCLB

There is a new discussion started today on the ARN listserv today regarding the appropriate tactics to use when discussing NCLB with conservatives. What has emerged so far is a preference to shy away from the school privatization argument in mixed company, shall we say. I couldn't disagree more.

Honestly, I can't think of a good reason why conservatives should be spared the facts on the Administration's "choice" programs, especially when they, themselves, readily admit their preferences to anyone willing to ask. They have certainly not been shy in pointing out that they favor

  • vouchers for religious schools
  • public money for corporate-run school companies
  • offering federal dollars for corporate tutoring
  • the passing out of $75 million (in one year alone) in fed dough to seed and nurture privatization ventures.

Is there some compelling reason to protect conservatives from the truth, other than the fact that it might cause them some heartburn? The goal of school privatization is no different than the one for privatizing Social Security that just went down in flames because people stood up and said, hell no. Does the neocon rhetoric of strengthening Social Security and strengthening public schools sound at all similar? Remember, they don't want to end Social Security--they want to make it better by offering "choice." Just like they don't want to end public education--they want to strengthen it by offering "choice."

To re-visit the archives for a minute, here is a brief clip from the transcript (scroll down about half way) of the Moyers segment on school privatization that ran last year on PBS:

HICKOK: Pushing choice. Sure. We believe in choice. That should come as no surprise. Every administration pushes their priorities.

MITCHELL: Pushes priorities and business opportunities for a handful of private, conservative organizations that promote the idea of "choice": school vouchers and — not so coincidentally — all received chunks of that $77 million in taxpayer money.

HICKOK: It would be unusual for President Bush or Secretary Page to not support something that they believe can improve public education.

MITCHELL: But remember, this money is going to promote private alternatives to public education. And look at who's getting that taxpayer funding.

Groups like K-12, a profit-making company run by Bill Bennett. Who's he? Bill Bennett: Ronald Reagan's former secretary of education, who has spent decades railing against public education. Here's his company's Web site. According to the department's own numbers, Bennett's group got 14 million taxpayer dollars to promote "virtual" home schooling.

MITCHELL: The Education Leaders Council was Undersecretary Gene Hickok's outfit before he joined the administration. Since then, it got nearly $16 million to promote a new program tracking school performance over the Internet.

And that same group started the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, billed as a conservative alternative to teacher certification. Now, Home schoolers can become teachers by taking an Internet exam. This new program got $35 million.

And those numbers don't include the additional $12 million going to other groups, many with overlapping boards of directors, who are selling the idea of school vouchers to targeted audiences: white suburban soccer moms, African Americans and Hispanics.

. . . .

Aguirre's program (CREO) is supported largely by a powerful, multi-millionaire known as the Republican "Kingmaker" of Texas. Dr. James Leininger stays out of the limelight, and he never talks to the press — including me. But he's given millions to state and national Republican causes and, according to the NEW YORK TIMES, is a major contributor to the first college for Christian home schoolers: Patrick Henry College.

The fact is money attracts money. And these tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in grants may eventually generate hundreds of millions more in private donations, all in hopes of changing both public opinion and votes in Congress to support vouchers.

I asked undersecretary Hickok if there are businessmen saying that school vouchers — choice — were about to become a growth industry.

HICKOK: Well, they're saying it right now. I mean there are investors in business organizations all over the country who are looking at the education quote, "industry" as you call it as just that.

MITCHELL: But while taxpayer money for public education is being used to promote privatization, the public schools themselves continue to struggle. Fourteen states are criticizing the administration for underfunding by $8 billion its centerpiece program, No Child Left Behind. And that's just the tip of it.

Those fourteen states that are protesting against the Feds--now, make that 47.

And then there is this from ED's website, in Hickok's own words:

. . .there is at least preliminary evidence that school districts in which public schools have been exposed to private-school competition, through the initiation of a choice program, have responded by improving educational services. In Milwaukee and in the Edgewood district in San Antonio, the presence of a choice program was associated with gains in achievement in the public schools.

In fact, that may be one of the most powerful reasons to support expanded choice: because it pushes the traditional public school system to improve. My boss, Secretary Rod Paige, understands this as well as anyone. He ran the nation's seventh largest public school system in Houston and he didn't shy away from choice. He embraced choice. He knew that competition would make his system stronger. And it did. He chartered the first KIPP academy in the nation in Houston, which takes under-achievers and turns them into scholars. He also launched a program that allowed students to attend private schools in their neighborhood instead of getting bused all over town to and from overcrowded public schools. And he knew that his public school system could compete with charter schools and private schools, and win. And it did. He strengthened the system in Houston and won a national award for closing the achievement gap. So we know choice can make a difference.

For these reasons, the Administration has put forward our proposal. The outlines of this proposal are very simple. The President's budget request for fiscal year 2004 includes $75 million for a national Choice Incentive Fund. Under this program, the Department would make grants to support projects that provide low-income parents, particularly those who have children attending low-performing public schools, with the opportunity to transfer their children to higher-performing public and private schools, including charter schools.


Look, these guys are playing hardball. This is about power politics. With the vast majority of Americans in support of their public schools, now is not the time to ignore the fact that the public schoools are gravely threatened by a draconian orgy of tabulation intended to demonstrate their failure so that vouchers and corporate charter companies can replace them.. In the meantime, the stupidification of America proceeds, and the emotional and intellectual genocide against poor school children continues in the name of equity and social justice.
Which reminds me of that old Hitler quote: "The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one."


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