Why America Demonizes its Teachers -- Part 3: What Teacher Evaluation Is Really About

By refusing to take into account several factors which impede student learning and over which teachers have no control, this policy is, in essence, a punitive measure, a political weapon, a pre-emptive strike against teachers, intended to demoralize and drive them out of the teaching profession.
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Ostensibly, the policy of evaluating teachers on their students' performance is designed to improve public schools by holding teachers accountable. However, by refusing to take into account several factors which impede student learning and over which teachers have no control, this policy is, in essence, a punitive measure, a political weapon, a pre-emptive strike against teachers, intended to demoralize and drive them out of the teaching profession.

Moreover, when linked to merit pay, a divide-and-conquer strategy to pit teacher against teacher, this evaluation attempts to destabilize and weaken the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest labor union with its three million members, a development not unwelcome to corporate America.

Why has this happened? Connect the dots: (1) Every year hundreds of billions in federal, state and local tax revenue support America's public schools and their teachers.

(2) How divert those billions into the hands of privatizers, charter schools, and their corporate sponsors?

(3) You've never taught a day in your life, yet you christen yourself an educational "reformer," who concocts an anti-public-school narrative of "school failure" that smears teachers in order to make the public lose confidence in them.

(4) You then ask Bill Gates for seed money and promise him an exclusive multi-billion dollar contract -- with no competitive bidding -- for putting computers in every American classroom.

(5) You then give Pearson Publishing Co. the contract for high-stakes standardized tests so flawed that up to 70% of students will fail them.

(6) You and your fellow "reformers" then fan out across the country to enlist the services of willing governors and legislators by "campaign contributions" to "facilitate" legislation that will give charter schools a semblance of "legality."

(7) You bring in Arne Duncan, President Obama's Education Secretary, for political muscle in imposing standardized testing on all public schools, even though government intrusion in the classroom is forbidden by law. You don't worry about breaking the law because the White House is also on board and calls this "reform."

(8) You double-check with Pearson that the failure rate on these tests will be so high that it will "validate" your claim that public schools and their teachers aren't doing their jobs.

(9) Enter teacher evaluations based on student performance on these rigged tests, and you begin to understand what standardized testing is really about -- providing the "legal" basis for evaluating teachers as the first stage in firing them.

(10) Since 25% of all children in America are below the poverty line, they'll do poorly on these tests as will their schools, which you can then label as "failures," shut down, fire their teachers, break up their union, and re-open as charters.

(11) You don't worry about the corporate media blowing the whistle about what you're doing since, with few exceptions, they're in on the scam.

(12) Although you trumpet "reform," your real agenda is the destruction of public schools and the ultimate privatization of education.

(13) Even now tens of billions in tax revenue are annually diverted to charter schools and private investors, who preside over what they hope will be the Golden Age of charters, the self-styled wave of the future, the Promised Land and long-awaited deliverer of American education as you undermine democracy.

(14) Your mantra for charter schools is "freedom of choice" for parents to send their children to whatever schools they wish. The only problem is that charters are not public, but private schools, a fact you deny, for how else will you get taxpayers to unknowingly finance your scam?

(15) It makes no sense whatsoever that public-school parents must pay for the private-school education of other parents' children! It's not fair, equitable, or even moral, but you don't let that stop you!

Some Reflections

Public-school parents should have their taxes spent on public-school children, not on the private-school education of charter schools, yet precisely this is what is happening today!

Public-school parents were not even consulted about this fraudulent use of their tax dollars! Where is their freedom of choice in having their tax dollars stolen to weaken their schools?

Politicians simply compelled these parents to short-change their own children's education to advance the private-school education of children in charters.

Shouldn't charter-school parents be made to recompense these parents? If you want a private-school education for your children, fine; school choice is wonderful, but don't expect other parents to pay for it.

Furthermore, what is the legality of the federal and state governments in discriminating against public-school children in this way?

Why have we as a nation allowed this to happen?

And why was this done under cover of darkness with no public debate?

Where were government transparency and public accountability when this fraud was foisted upon public-school parents to subsidize private education?

Why haven't there been Congressional hearings about this nationwide flouting of the rights of these parents in having their taxes misappropriated in a way that hurts their children?

How explain government's double standard of insisting upon public-school accountability, on the one hand, while, on the other, showing no oversight whatsoever for charters being allowed to run wild despite scandal after scandal?

Why did governors and legislators collude behind the backs of American taxpayers to deprive millions of parents of their freedom of choice in protesting against this brazen looting of the public treasury to advance the interests of privatizers?

(And why, for that matter, is Congress even now considering an anti-privacy/Big Brother bill that will enable corporations to track students' personal data for the rest of their lives?)

The only winners in this scandal are the corporations and politicians who have been bought off by the privatization lobby to defraud taxpayers.

The charter school movement awakens the false hopes of the poor, who will send their children to these schools for a quality education, whereas all they'll be getting is a bogus substitute, shoddy goods, with no state oversight or transparency, no accountability, with results no more substantial than smoke-and-mirror tricks of a circus conjuror.

The long-term purpose of these charters is to give children just enough reading, writing, and arithmetic to create a perpetually mindless, no-questions-asked labor pool, trained to obedience, rote learning, and blind acceptance, while their underpaid teachers, forbidden to unionize and working long hours amidst poor conditions, will quickly move on, having seen the error of their ways in these Dickensian workhouses.

However, this takeover of American public schools is part of an even more grandiose scheme of privatizing all public services in this country. We are witnessing the unraveling of the social contract established by FDR during the New Deal era of the 1930's that rescued our country from the Social Darwinians and their laws that subjected the nation to the rich and powerful, who are now taking it back.

Governor Christie

The State of New Jersey serves as an instructive example of what has been done to public schools over the past five years. Public-school teachers and their union, the NJEA, were overtly attacked by Gov. Christie even before he took office in 2010. He turned the public against teachers and their union in his public comments as he publicly badgered, belittled, and bullied them.

As a crafty lawyer, he manufactured a face-saving distinction between teachers and their union leaders to create the false impression that it wasn't teachers he was against, but their union, a distinction lost on an enraged public, before which he continually waved his red flag to goad and manipulate it into doing his bidding.

During his first year in office, he encouraged voters to reject public-school budgets, which they dutifully did in unprecedented numbers. He then withheld vital state funding, causing even more hemorrhaging as thousands of teachers and support staff were let go and programs were axed.

The remaining teachers were demoralized by exploding class sizes as they unsuccessfully tried to cope with more students denied individualized attention, while the governor fear-mongered veteran teachers into early retirement by stoking fears of pension reductions if they remained. Now it's possible that there may be no pensions at all.

Public schools were then retrofitted into virtual full-time testing centers that tested more and more about less and less, as teachers were forced to discontinue teaching what was left of a traditional curriculum in order to prepare students for standardized testing that destroyed what little remained of learning.

Preparing students for constant testing took up so much time, attention, and energy that little time was left for teaching anything meaningful, especially critical-thinking skills. Schools were so fixated on scoring well on these flawed and narrowly-focused tests that real learning all but became a thing of the past.

(Parenthetically, in view of Gov. Christie's treatment of NJ public-school students, his recent pose as moral theologian about the virtues of college debt and sacrifice as being good for students strike New Jerseyans as vintage Christie, part of his dark worldview that would reduce everyone -- except the rich, the powerful, and the Koch Brothers -- to indentured servants.)

Christie's carefully-orchestrated strategy to systematically dismantle New Jersey public education then opened a second front. Not content with drastically cutting public school funding, gutting school programs, demoralizing teachers, and driving older ones into early retirement, all of which discouraged would-be teachers from entering the profession, he then compromised the public schools' command structure by forcing out the highly-credentialed and experienced executive corps, school superintendents, by massive salary cuts.

Was it pure coincidence or calculated design that lay behind what happened in New Jersey public schools? Can the facts be explained in some other, more benign, way?

Were I a gifted lawyer, perhaps I could mount a convincing case that the devastation unleashed upon New Jersey schools during the Christie tenure has been sheer happenstance, in no way related to his championing of charter schools and delivering the keynote address at the National School Choice Summit in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

But, alas, I cannot. I can only lament the tragic neocolonialism of Newark's charter school system forcibly imposed upon its unwilling schoolchildren and their outraged parents by Gov. Christie.

In reviewing the Christie legacy to New Jersey's public education, I can only recall those four haunting words of the Roman historian Tacitus about the heartlessness of an imperial policy that wrought havoc upon whatever lay in its path: "Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant." ("They make a desert, and they call it peace.")

(The last third of this piece is a revised version of an article published in the Times of Trenton in 2013.)

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