I’m temperamentally inclined to resist sales pitches that are based on fear. Every time I hear one I think of those home alarm commercials where the frantic women sees the masked intruder crashing through the sliding door. They’re not selling the alarm system. They’re selling fear. They lose me when they choose that approach. The longer I read on the school reform industry-marketing end the more I believe they’re not selling “reform” substantively, to the public, anyway. They’re selling fear that they hope will drive their version of “reform.” Because I have been alive and had a pulse the last 20 years I’m particularly wary of fear-based political appeals that spring from a “bipartisan consensus” because all that really means is a bipartisan group of politicians, think tank, elite non-profits and opinion media people have reached consensus, and what that means to me is there are very few dissenters in the top ranks.
Whether it’s system-wide in Atlanta or DC or Chicago or all the way down to the individual level, where certain anxious fourth graders are taking a high stakes test where they didn’t review the material and they aren’t given enough time to complete the test, fear seems to permeate the whole reform approach. Here’s some political schemers of various stripes and motives who are hoping for low scores on a test that is essentially rigged to produce low scores so they can sell reform in the suburbs. Do they sound like people who are confident in the value of the product? Why would they need to create failed and failing public schools full of failures to sell market-based reform to people in the suburbs? Why not just sell their “sector agnostic” approach to public education– where a public school is the same as a publicly funded for-profit or private school-directly?
While kids are taking their standardized tests some very well compensated reformers are back out on the road, selling reform, or something. This is the message of a reformer who is a particular favorite of Arne Duncan:
Educators make excuses for failing schools, Rhee said. But, she added, “The bottom line is: The system did not become the way that it is by accident. It operates exactly the way it was designed to operate, which is in a wholly unaccountable, dysfunctional manner.
“So when you seek to change that dynamic” – including going after “low-performing” teachers – “you’re gonna have a whole lot of unhappy people on your hands. When you stop that gravy train, somebody is going to be unhappy.”
What is that? What are these awesome, mighty forces that are opposing her? It seems to me she has nearly every powerful political actor and billionaire behind her, including the person who did or did not invent Facebook. How much cheering affirmation does she need? Isn’t South Carolina a Right To Work For Less state, anyway? South Carolina isn’t known for worker protections, reformers. Maybe she didn’t know where she had landed that day, because there’s also this:
Former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee had trouble recalling the names of South Carolina’s “key players” after a quick visit to the State House on Wednesday. But state lawmakers may want to take note of hers.
Rhee’s education advocacy group, StudentsFirst, is lobbying in 18 states, including South Carolina.
Eighteen states! No wonder she can’t keep the “key players” straight. That’s all right. She’ll get it when she writes them a campaign check. The Committee To Elect Reform Rubberstamper probably won’t cut it. Why would the US Department of Education back this stuff, to the extent where Duncan personally intervened to try to save this particular reformer’s job in DC?
I’m the parent of a public school student and I don’t believe our local public school employees are “riding a gravy train.” I know what public school teachers are doing here right now, in fact. They’re prepping for Duncan’s standardized tests. I thought 2011 was the year for the ritual denunciation of public employees, and now we’re back to thanking teachers and firefighters “for their service” after Newtown and then Boston, whatever that means. I hope it doesn’t mean they have to be unpaid volunteers or they’re self-interested and not credible. Why doesn’t that rule apply to lobbyists? I’m not a teacher, but it seems to me they’ve set this up so there’s no way for those teachers who don’t agree with them to question what reformers are doing in our schools without their being labeled wholly self-interested slackers. I’m not a teacher so it also won’t bother me or shut me up (obviously) but why all the threats and grim fear-mongering? There’s nothing new or “transformational” about that. It’s an old, old idea.