Irrefutable Proof and the Cost of Willful Ignorance

I have not posted for quite some time. I have two false starts in my drafts and a number of false starts in my head but nothing that I could finish. A large part of the reason for this has been an overwhelming sense of ennui about what teaching in a public school has become. One of the other reasons has been the feeling that this game is rigged and teachers will lose as surely as the “bad guy” used to always lose in John Wayne movies and “professional” wrestling.

The hoop jumping that has become teaching is a wearing, grind-you-down kind of existence. It seems almost deliberately aimed at exhausting any desire to stay in teaching for more than a few years. I cannot think of another profession that is treated the way teaching in America is treated and I cannot think of any group of professionals who would stand for this treatment. Our union, nationally and locally, has acted like a group of sheep without a shepherd. Even an Australian Sheepdog would be preferable right now to what we have called leadership. They have done little to nothing (despite their own claims) to really fight back at what is becoming a growing national disgrace. This disgrace, the running of our public schools by shills for corporations and individuals who have a  monetary interest in the privatizing of the public school system, and the demonizing of teachers to facilitate that end, is leading us to disaster.

We all know the arguments and the players in the debates. This old ground has been covered time and again by this blog and number of other blogs extant and extinct. What is beginning to be made more and more clear is that, as argued by such bloggers as Jim Boutin on An Urban Teacher’s Education, Rachel Levy at All Things Education, Candi Peterson at the Washington Teacher, Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier at Bridging Differences (as well as their individual blogs), the current direction of school reform in America is leading us toward disastrous consequences. Is this direction the most beneficial to future citizens of our country or is it more beneficial to the select, higher economically advantaged citizens of our country?

Several articles have come out recently stressing that the latter may be the case. At Reuters, Stephanie Simon wrote a piece called Private firms eyeing profits from public schoolsIn the beginning of the article, Education Consultant Rob Lytle states: “You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up… it could get really, really big.”  He is addressing a group of investors at a “tony” private club in Manhattan. Stating that the U.S. spends more than 500 billion a year educating students from 5 to 18 the article states that “investors are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education.”  In other words, the sharks have smelled blood.  Here is another quote that amply backs this up: “Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They’re pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.”  The “golden moment has arrived”.  Perhaps these investors will do for public education what NAFTA did for shoe factory workers in New England.

According to Simon, venture capitalist transactions in education hit a record $389 million last year, in 2005 it was only $13 million, barely an entire city’s school budget.  What is the goal, you may ask? Well, listen to Michael Moe of GSV Advisors, a Chicago investment firm that specializes in education:

The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.

“It’s time,” Moe said. “Everybody’s excited about it.”

Outsourcing the “critical tasks” such as TEACHING!! He’s even talking about outsourcing the writing of the report cards – to heck with the teacher’s knowledge of the individual child. Do you see where this is going?  Haven’t many of us been saying for some time that this is the direction that Rhee and Duncan, the two main pied pipers of reform, have been leading us?  The money is bet on their vision and the money is backing their vision.

Case in point, Won’t Back Down, yet another in a long line of movies designed to show that the majority of teachers are incompetent and that “super heroes” (in this case one parent and one teacher) can save their local school.  Viola Davis plays the teacher, Maggie Gyllenhaal the single mom parent and Holly Hunter the villainous head of the teachers union.  In Reality and Film, a Battle for Schools, The New York Times article about the film, even describes her as such: ” Holly Hunter, the union rep, loves her teachers and so she fights the takeover with a ploy you might expect from a corporate villain.” In the next paragraph Michael Cieply, the Times reporter, quotes Hunter’s character as saying “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”  When? The minute that corporate America understood what a threat unions are to their bottom line, profit potential.

If you think this is not so I ask you to look at the history of the common worker in America vis-a-vis the history of the CEO.  In the last 30 years CEO pay spiked 725% against only a 5.7 increase in worker pay. This was from a study done by the Economic Policy Institute and reported on The Huffington Post, CEO Pay Grew 127 Times Faster Than Worker Pay Over Last 30 Years: Study.  You can find similar articles in USA Today, The Washington Post, and CNN.  All of these articles, by the way, are from the business section – not the education section – and few were front page or top story reports.  If you want to see what most of these same news organizations think of unions and workers you need to go their opinion section or certain articles that do make it to the front page. Articles in which the union shill is often described not to different from Holly Hunter’s character in Won’t Back Down. If you think these CEO’s want their primary workforce educated enough that they (the workforce) are knowledgeable about labor history then why are so many factories now in places like Vietnam (38 cents an hour) or Bangladesh (22 cents an hour)?

In an excellent article in The Nation, How Online Companies Bought America’s Schools by Lee Fang, we hear how, after the failure of a bill to allow private virtual school charters, Patricia Levesque, Jeb Bush’s top adviser and a former lobbyist, recommended using a strategy that would “spread the union thin by using decoy legislation that would tie them up.” She states that even if these bills don’t pass it will tie the unions up on the front lines. Levesque is a lobbyist for, drum roll please, educational technology companies. According to Fang, “She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.”  Benefit them, not the children (they do it for the children – no, I’m sorry, they do it to the children).  Who was she giving this advice to? Why, of all people, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.  Here is a key quotation from the article that pretty much sums up what I’ve been saying all along:

 Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.

There you have it, a gold rush of investors. Big business. Revenues of $24.4 billion!! Children? I’m sorry, did someone say something about children. I know they are here somewhere.

We had a major cheating scandal that was given a short-shrift investigation designed to negate any possibility that there was a major cheating scandal (See: Jay Matthews). We lost another 98 teachers to an evaluation system that has been described as flawed by almost everyone who is not directly linked to its creation and implementation. We continue to have programs forced upon us and a lack of trust in regards to what we do best – teach.  We have had the pay-for-performance model now for the last 3 years. Has anyone significantly and consistently seen their pay raise to the level that Rhee promised when she first promoted this system.  Have the majority of us seen a change in our base pay to any significant extent that it makes us feel “highly paid?”  If I were you I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon.

Despite the talk from reformists about Finland and other countries where teachers are highly paid and treated on par with other white collar professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, they really do not want that happening here. Why? Well, in those countries the teachers’ unions are strong and play a powerful role in the shaping of education.  That’s a deal breaker right there.  Instead, the reformers will use these countries to demonstrate how American public education is failing. They will use data and numbers the way David Copperfield uses jumbo jets.  Diane Ravitch says it really well in her article on CNN, My View: Rhee is Wrong and Misinformed. Ravitch remarks how Rhee likes to cite how poorly the U.S. does on international test scores.  But, Ravitch points out, we have always done poorly on those tests, from 1964 on, while still maintaining the top economy in the world, consistently.  What doesn’t Rhee cite? Well, listen to Diane:

Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scoresequivalent to the top-scoring nations.  As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.

Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.

Ravitch goes on to point out that, despite what Rhee and Company insist, poverty does matter.  She eloquently states what we, as teachers, have known and said all along – that there if we do not address the problem of poverty in this nation we cannot adequately address the problem of education of the poor.

Reformers practice a form of willful ignorance. They choose the facts that best fit what they want to see achieved. Some are motivated by money, some by power and some by a true belief that what they are doing is right.  This year the test scores came out and, once again, reformers were crowing success on the basis of a .5% increase in scores. There is a cost to this kind of delusion. The cost will be in the kind of citizen our schools help educate. Or tries to educate. I say that because I do not believe that cookie cutters work when it comes to children. If that were so then education would be so much easier than it is.

I am more worried now than I have been in a long time. I believe in the fight to make our schools be the best that they can be, to help our children be the best possible students they can be and to, ultimately, help turn out not just good citizens for our country but for our world.  The problem is this gold rush mentality that is taking over the thing that I love, teaching. Please read the articles I have cited above – The Nation and the Reuters article. I’m sure you can find others that will demonstrate that education has become anything but being about education. Put them all together and see how many times they really talk about educating our young versus how often they speak of investment opportunities and profits. The writing is clearly on the wall.

Update 8/15

Here is a a quite informative piece about the people behind Won’t Back Down:

Walmart, Right-Wing Media Company Hold Star-Studded Benefit Promoting Education Reform Film

Update 8/17

Another day and one more offer of proof, this time via Valerie Strauss and the Answer Sheet:

The big business of charter schools


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