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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Looking for Parent Power to Save the Public Schools

As parents, teachers of conscience, and students flee the public schools that have been strong-armed into becoming abusive testing factories, rightwing pols and oligarchs like Gates and Broad and Dell are eager to step in to save the public schools by killing the public in them. And of course, where bareknuckled politics and philanthrotarianism fail, the bloodsuckers of the education industry are ready to exploit children for their market potential, rather than as the source of our future civilization.

Gary Stager believes that the real key making schools better has a lot to do with the power of parents. Here is a clip from his informative piece in Good. All of it is worth reading:
. . . .Eli Broad, a Los Angeles billionaire, is another kind of philanthropist. Broad funds a narrower range of interventions and has demonstrated less willingness to experiment than Gates. Broad’s efforts advance a very specific model: top-down school management based on business principles. Over the first five years, Broad has committed over $500 million to his notions of school reform. He even runs an academy that trains school leaders in precisely this kind of management.

Broad’s money supports more standardized testing, a longer school day, scripted curricula, merit pay, the replacement of school administrators with managers, support of charter schools, and mayoral control. In Broad’s worldview, incentives drive everything, including education. The annual Broad Prize for Urban Education gives a total of $1 million dollars to five urban school districts that do the most to raise student test scores. The award also grants college scholarships to students in the district. That sort of money and the press it attracts has a domino effect: All of a sudden, others want to get tough and adhere to the Broad manifesto, too.

In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his newly appointed schools chancellor, Joel Klein, seized control of New York City’s public schools, disbanding local school boards and reducing community involvement. Under Klein and Bloomberg, test scores may have risen, but chaos has ensued as the organizational structure of the district changes continuously. Now, policies similar to Broad’s educational blueprint are being followed in the city’s public schools. Last year, New York City earned the coveted Broad Prize.

Broad and his followers also embrace charter schools. Charters are quasi-public schools that receive public funding but don’t have to play by the same rules; they have more latitude than public schools, including the freedom to use different curricula, employ non-credentialed educators, change the school calendar, ban unions, and be selective in student enrollment. In some cities, affluent parents use the charter laws to create private schools with public money. In others, like the New City Schools in Long Beach, California, innovative educators with a coherent vision of edu-cation teach in ways they believe will benefit children in their community.

It is natural for parents to want the best for their children. Unfortunately, the charter laws may create greater educational inequity—rich, involved parents get their kids into the best charter schools, leaving only the poor students behind in the slowly deserted public schools. This forced choice could be avoided if every school was shaped by its teachers, parents, and community, with all children free to attend the school best-suited to their needs or interests. For example, the Montclair, New Jersey, public schools have experienced decades of success with mandatory school choice. Each elementary school is distinct and parents are required to choose the best option for their child. . . .

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