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

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More on the Admitted School Privatization Agenda of NCLB

TeacherKen has this thoughtful piece at Kos that takes up the explosive issue of Susan Neuman's admission to Time Magazine (see post below) that the Bush Administration crafted a national education policy that would intentionally create widespread failure among the public schools in order to soften opposition to their plan for school privatization. Ken ends his piece thusly:
. . . . As I have often written, here and elsewhere, that approach [NCLB's test and punish policy] was of the mindset that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Unlike top insiders at higher levels of the Government, Neuman has not written a tell-all book. But she has moved to where she believes that schools cannot be held solely accountable for the learning or lack thereof of our students. And the occasion of this time piece is because of a report being issued today. Let me quote again from the article:

"Along with 59 other top educators, policymakers and health officials, she's put her name to a nonpartisan document to be released on Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. Titled "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education," it lays out an expansive vision for leveling the playing field for low-income kids, one that looks toward new policies on child health and support for parents and communities. Neuman says that money she's seen wasted on current programs should be reallocated accordingly. 'Pinning all our hopes on schools will never change the odds for kids.'"

It is interesting that when many of us criticized the original proposal of NCLB on the grounds that much of what tests measured was impacted by things beyond the reach of schools, including nutrition and health, for example, we were attacked as being unwilling to be held accountable. Our response that we already held ourselves accountable for the factors within our control and that policy makers needed a similar degree of accountability was not given the same publicity as were the criticisms of educators.

Schools are, and always have been, a reflection of the attitudes of the larger society in which they are placed. Crumbling buildings, lack of enrichment activities, narrowing of curricula, rigid approaches to pedagogy and discipline - these all serve as the unintended or hidden curricula that our students all learn: that for all our bloviations about our not wanting to leave children behind we really don't believe it and are too easily satisfied as a society to be seeming to be concerned about our schools, but unwilling to make the major commitments necessary to really equalize opportunity for all children.

And let's be honest. There are subtantial numbers of people who quite happy to keep things as they are. Perhaps it is how they hope to ensure a steady flow of people going into the military for misadventures like Iraq - after all, we have seen administration figures and people like John McCain oppose Jim Webb's new GI Bill proposal on the grounds that it might interfere with retention of people in the military after their initial enlistments. It is also because there are those who wish to preserve advantages for their own children, and are unwilling to support the taxes necessary to equalize things for children who through no fault of their own do not have access to similar resources - in their homes and families, their neighborhoods, or their schools.

With my own school year coming to an end, I will have more time to examine aspects of educational policy more closely. In coming weeks I will review several books, here and elsewhere. I will give my reaction to the Performance Exhibition of the Coalition of Essential Schools I recently attended in Providence. I will offer a piece introducing many to a different statewide model in MN that allows for broad public school choice. And I will take the time to read and respond to the report being issued today.

I had not planned to write about education or politics today. I will this morning officially end my school year, and I wanted a day where I could simply wind down. Yet even as school years around the country are coming to a close, we cannot stop thinking about educational policy. No Child Left Behind will probably not be fully addressed until after the next president takes office, with a somewhat different Congress, which will then attempt to address the educational needs of the nation as they perceive it. Still, we should not wait until then to analyze and discuss what has happened since Bush took office. No Child Left Behind has been very destructive to many of Americaa's public schools. And to have someone as connected as was Susan Neuman acknowledge that for some supposedly dedicated to the well-being of our schools and students it was instead serving as a vehicle to attempt destroy the public schools (and thus a chance at a meaningfully improved economic future for many of our young people) strictly on ideological grounds is something about which everyone should be aware.

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