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

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vander Ark and Shelton; Parents; Checker Joins EEP

Recently, leading corporate school reformer guru and former Gates Foundation ed head, Tom Vander Ark, posted a draft of a report, "Good Urban Schools: A Portfolio Approach," on his blog. The final edition of this white paper, published in 2005 by the Gates Foundation, had the title, "High-Performing School Districts: Challenge, Support, Alignment, and Choice," but did not name Vander Ark as an author.

But what really struck me about Vander Ark's draft was that he co-wrote it with Jim Shelton, the former Gates/NSVF official now in charge of Duncan's i3 fund. Take some time to read the report: it helps explain the advocacy positions and programs of the Gates Foundation (and, by extension, many of their followers in the philanthropic sector), not to mention the current DOE.

Before I point out a few things about the white paper and draft, let me say that Twitter can be a beautiful tool for understand the point of view of of those you disagree with. Although the 140 character limit can be a hinderance, the quick bursts of thought can - in some ways - make the whole advocacy world a bit more transparent. You can see, for example, how there's a massive echo chamber of pro-corporate school reformers that claim to be "Democrats" or "centrists," yet they'll take Checker Finn at his word, regurgitate the ramblings of Mike Petrelli, or pretend that other right-wing privatizers really have the interest of children and public education at heart. And, although I do not believe all of these self-identified Democrats understand the implications of their education beliefs, I do believe it is fair to call these folks neoliberal reformers. There's certainly a degree of distinction between some of these Democrats and the hard-right breed (ie I don't think there's a huge swath of Democrats in favor of full-on vouchers and privatization), but the underlying tenants - competition, markets, and choice - are fully evident in the agendas of both parties.

I'd like to point out the way Vander Ark and Shelton define the role and responsibility of parents in their white paper:

Parents: Parents will need to be informed consumers of school choice. Some will need to help their children take advantage of supplemental services, be more involved in their children’s school choices, and work to help their children reach college-ready standards. [Page 20]

Parents as "consumers" entering the market - that's the role of the parent in this "portfolio" model of schooling. Although this might sound appealing to some folks, it also means that parental power at the school level is diminished in favor of the corporate form of control. In Chicago, for instance, this meant getting rid of LSC's and turning over schools to charter chains and education management organizations. PURE Parents in Chicago has a nice bit about how Ren2010 and other Chicago reforms diminished LSC's in favor of more questionable governance, and Mike and Susan Klonsky's Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society offers other details.

[Note: Not all parents will be interested in being involved in schools, and many simply do not have the time. But we should absolutely do all we can to support parental involvement as a way to build a connection between home and school, and strengthen school communities]

But back to parents - all they're supposed to do is pick a school and help their kids reach those "college-ready standards" (ie the new Common Core standards, at this point). This falls way short of any kind of genuine parental involvement, but markets are about financial transactions, not relationships. The Parent Trigger, a byproduct of the Broad-sponsored Parent Revolution, is the other half of this picture: parents can shut down a school, but, once again, there's zero guarantee of parental involvement once the new school opens (just ask the people at Green Dot's Justice Charter High School - they weren't consulted when Green Dot decided to close up shop, they were simply told to pick another school).

I'll spare you the full details of their data-driven teaching vision, but one thing you'll never hear the corporate reformers talk about is cultural competency and the need for educators to have a strong ability to connect with the students and communities. Schools of education take a hammering from these very same reformers, but never for the right reasons. Instead of suggesting improvements to ed schools that would include intensive training (akin to med school residencies) and a solid grasp of how power, privilege, and culture plays out at the school and classroom level, these corporate reformers push for sycophantic neophytes in brief alt prep programs hopped up on positive psychology nonsense and drill-and-kill pedagogical approaches. The added bonus of stripping away all the "unnecessary" frill classes - like schools and society, intercultural communication, how to work with parents, etc - makes it that much easier for the pro-business reformers to control the debate about public education. You won't hear these reformers talking about getting more minority teachers into the classroom - they're too busy pushing pay-for-test-score programs like SB6 down in Florida. Vander Ark called the bill an "employment bargain" and proposed ending tenure for schools (ie turning them all into charter schools).

The white paper also points out that Vander Ark and Shelton tapped NSVF's Kim Smith and Center for Reform of School Systems President (and former HISD board member) Don McAdams as resources when drawing up their report. The intersection of Broad and Gates - both in funding streams and pro-corprate ideas - is quite evident the more one looks into their shared partnerships and borrowed ideas. The echo-chamber stupidity emitting from both major political parties leaves out any genuine form of parental involvement, does not provide meaningful improvements to education schools, and refuses to address the re-segregation of America's public schools.

Hell - the Education Equity Project, an extension of DFER and ugly side of the Democratic party, even managed to get neocon Checker Finn to sign onto their agenda today thanks to an op-ed teacher bashing piece published in the WaPo this weekend. How's that for bipartisanship?

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