History will credit the Bush Administration with crafting and implementing an education policy that effectively drained from most urban schools the last remnants of care, compassion, dignity, autonomy, and purpose that were in such short supply even before these characters came to Washington with their take-names-kick-ass brand of education politics.
In the place of support, care, and compassion, we have now substituted a tough guy, no excuses, zero tolerance, all business, blame the victim approach to schooling. Instead of offering challenging curriculums, we honor a mindless and unalterable regimen of rote learning. Rather than instilling dignity, we motivate through fear. Rather than growing a respect for autonomy, responsibility, and democratic living, we impose a dictatorial and rigid order that breeds continued dependency, helplessness, and rage. And instead of helping minority youngsters to define their purpose in life, we impose an unceasing ritual of stupidifying test preparation, while demanding unquestioned homage and sacrifice to the god whose invisible hand manipulates the global economy.
If all this were not enough to demoralize another disenfranchised generation and have them give up and drop out, we have added a new layer of indignity by delaying our centuries-old unpaid educational debt to the black, the poor, and the brown by demanding, in the best Orwellian fashion, an accounting from them for what they have never received, that is, a non-apartheid, integrated, quality education with first class facilities, resources, and teachers.
Instead of trying to settle our educational debt, we find it cheaper and, therefore, preferable, to mouth insipid bromides regarding "high expectations for all" and "no child left behind," which, in fact, translate to demands from the poor to produce the same academic results as privileged students in well-appointed schools in the suburbs with all the privileges that their family incomes provide. And when this blind or plainly-stupid demand doesn't pan out, these poor youngsters are blamed and then denied promotion to the next grade, or they are even denied their high school diploma.
Either that, or their teachers and principals are blamed and held "accountable," which reinvigorates all over again the inhumane and immoral practices that the Bush kind of tough-love exacts from educators turned into brutal bureaucrats. In order to keep their schools from being shut down or taken over by charter outfits or EMOs, the just-following-orders educators make sure the losers are shoved out, encouraged out, and pushed out in order to avoid their negative effect on school test performance.
And if, if, these poor kids hang in long enough to graduate, what obstacles do they face in finding good jobs or in going on to college? And if they can find the money to borrow to go to college, how much of their futures must they mortgage?
So now with fewer than 300 nights remaining in one of America's longest political nightmares, Margaret Spellings has discovered a dropout issue in America's schools. (Go here for 4 research studies on the problem, dating from 2005). Not only that, but she vows to get tough once more, this time with more surveillance, more collecting and compiling of more accurate data, and more threats to those schools who have been cooking the dropout books. No acknowledgement, of course, that her policies have turned a crisis into a catastrophe.
What else has Mrs. Spellings offered to do? Anything for the kids or their families? Anything for the schools? Anything for the teachers? Anything for the communities where the dropout rate is epidemic? Or none of the above?
What we can count on by Fall (more details will appear soon in the Federal Register) are unattainable national dropout targets that punish schools that don't meet them. What kind of punishment? It will be a punishment labeled rescue from failing schools for the same minorities who are being pushed out by policies promulgated by those now bringing relief. And it will come once again in the form of school vouchers or cheap, benefit-busting charter school chain gangs with marginally-qualified teachers, boot camp climates, and leaders who understand the need for, yet, tougher love. Work hard, be nice. Of course, there is always the military option for these youngsters, yes?
And, of course, we still have those institutions of last resort, now under private management, too.