Back to School and the Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost

Staples was jammed the other day with kids and parents stocking up on supplies for the bright, shiny school year ahead. Hope and apprehension were in the air. But life is not so sanguine in many other parts of the country. Here are some recent headlines:

Philadelphia School District Seeks 5000 Substitutes.(School starts in less than two weeks.)

I could go on and on but you get the idea. Under the guise of "education reform" and giving "parents' choice" public education has been deemed a "failure." How do we know? By the scores of American students on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). We didn't do so well compared to pipsqueak countries like Finland and the Netherlands. So the education reformers, many of whom are business tycoons, decided that what was good for business was good for education beginning with the practice of disruption of the status quo, in order to open up opportunities for "innovation" and "technological solutions" and "accountability." It was an ingenious plan to shake loose some of the public money earmarked for the "monopoly of public schools" to open charter schools and vouchers for private schools. Here are a five reasons why this thinking is deeply flawed:

1. A school is a school is a school. Charter, private or public, educational institutions are a living, breathing social organization with many variables leading to a culture of authentic learning for the students. It's not so easy to create a great school from scratch; especially if you do it with people who are not trained educators.

2. Accountability is not a snap-shot of aggregate test grades, the kind of number that warms the businessman's heart. To conflate the scores on a PISA test with success in providing a nation with an able and productive work force is a fallacy. Colleges are starting to realize that now. SAT Scores at Lowest Level in 10 Years, Fueling Worries About High Schools In fact, a number of colleges are making the SATs optional. They are more interested in looking at the overall talents and accomplishments of applicants. And if you want proof of America's exceptional achievements, check out the applications at the Patent Office.

3. I'll wager most parents don't know what exceptional education looks like. Unless they are professional educators themselves, most parents only know about the schooling they personally endured or survived. The bottom line is that the education of a child depends largely on whom they experience as their classroom teachers. If s/he is a person with wide interests, concern for students, and skilled in classroom practices and the child is happy, s/he will learn. If s/he is reading a script and following a "pacing schedule" to cover material and it not allowed to stray from prescribed pedagogy, guess what the outcome is. You can have a great teacher in a poor school or a clunker in an elite private school. The problem is that the teacher in the poor school has limited resources to aid in the mission to educate.

4. Public education is not a monopoly. It is a public trust. It is obligated to educate all children, including those with special needs, for the public good. Most public schools are run by local boards. If we don't educate children well, we may have to pay to incarcerate them later at a much greater cost. There are many fine public schools all over this nation that have been slammed by the propaganda that "American public education is broken."

5. The privatization of public education, with vouchers and charter schools is an opportunity to steal public funds. Diane Ravitch has called Ohio: Land of Charter School Scandals.

What surprises me most is how little attention is being paid to this issue by the main stream press. But that is starting to change. The Opt-Out movement, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Black Lives Matter movement are going to amalgamate into a bipartisan grassroots outcry that will shake entrenched politicians in their boots. It will be an echo of the trade-union movement of a hundred years ago. Mark my words.