Friday, September 30, 2011

The education reform industry is doing to public education what General Motors did to public transportation

Financial incentives for building highways nationally culminated in the 1956 federally-funded interstate highway system, a huge project that made car companies like General Motors unimaginably wealthy. GM worked with city planners like New York's Robert Moses to market urban renewal, tearing down old pedestrian neighborhoods and slashing them up with interstate highway systems, to serve the migration of the mostly white middle class out of cities. Federal money stacked up against urban renewal perpetuating blight and creating ghost towns enabling criminal behavior further perpetuating the myths of already-privileged suburban sanctuary. Consequently, the primary transportation of cities, public transit withered in many cities as demand decreased, further adding to the car industry boom.

This week in Time magazine, a co-founder of Bellwether Education, a private non-profit that has benefits from education reform, laments that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (among others including President Barack Obama) is trying to dismantle education reform by giving states more latitude in dealing with their underperforming schools. God knows the last thing I want is red-state Tennessee further undermining public education at the local level.

However, the Bellwether critic is sadly mistaken that Senator Alexander's moves are moves against education reform. Moving control of education to the state level is the logical extension of NCLB and Race to the Top, because education reform is bent on fracturing and dismantling public education itself. Allowing charter schools effectively skims high performing students from public schools and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that public education only attracts the dregs of society and holds kids back.

The reality is that education reform is the urban renewal of the 21st Century. Urban renewal attempted to by-pass old structures, which only manufactured more blight, which became the justification for tearing down and breaking up communities while wealth and poverty pooled and concentrated into a two-tiered America. It and racism and the automobile industry conjoined to literally drive large segments of the middle class out of once diverse cities and crippled or destroyed once robust mass transit. Renewal disciples like Moses used rising urban blight and poverty to justify even more renewal.

Likewise, while education reform may be providing hope for some families, it still perpetuates a social-Darwinistic system of haves and have-nots, and many non-profits and for-profit education companies are making money off stratification and misery. Charters still lag in performance, but only a fortunate few get into the ones that function well. In the meantime, public dollars and good students are siphoned out of public schools (where African American students continue to be disproportionately disregarded) and decay sets in, further justifying education reform's mission.

While education will continue to deteriorate because of the reform movement, private education companies and organizations will make money in the federally supported and foundation backed privatization climate. And even if the reform market turns from bull to bear because of declining federal intervention, the corporations will find a way to profit off the losses, too. Public education is the ultimate loser either way.


  1. So, what I see is:

    National standards, in the form of NCLB, were touted as reform. These standards superceded local control of education.

    Dismantling NCLB and giving power to the states is dismantling reform. Unless, you think that your red-state is going to muck it up further, in which case it is an extension of reform intended to make schools fail.

    Historically, schools have been locally controlled. Before federal education initiatives; before any state initiatives, city-controlled schools failed our children.
    Nashville is a big blue dot in red-state Tennessee.

    The argument against charter schools (and the "special" schools, for that matter) stands on its own.

    Isn't there enough talent in the current school system to improve our local, neighborhood schools without resorting to sales pitches for kids to attend charter and museum (among other) schools?

  2. charter schools are not skimming...the data i have seen show extrememly high percent of FARM (up into the 90%+ range), up to 22% of special ed kids and many kids are chosen via addition kids entering lottery schools are generally 1 - 3 years behind the grade they are in the world are traditional public schools passing this kids...they sure aren't educating them...shame on the traditional government school...

  3. I'm still confused about this proposed "putting things backs in the state's hands." Has nobody read the fine print? You get the waiver for NCLB as long as you implement the federal demands. How is that putting things in State's hands?

  4. I agree with tc. From my perspective -if NCLB is so flawed that it shouldn't be enforced (which I do believe), then it should simply not be enforced against any state. Replacing the requirements of NCLB with new requirements, not approved by Congress, and granting waivers only to states that jump through wrong-headed hoops, is problematic.