Thursday, May 25, 2017

Who Is Behind the Assault on Public Schools? | Howard Ryan | Monthly Review

Who Is Behind the Assault on Public Schools? | Howard Ryan | Monthly Review:

Who Is Behind the Assault on Public Schools?

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Over the past three decades, public schools have been the target of a systematic assault and takeover by corporations and private foundations. The endeavor is called “school reform” by its advocates, while critics call it corporate school reform. Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg has given it the vivid acronym GERM—the global education reform movement. Its basic features are familiar: high-stakes testing; standardized curricula; privatization; and deskilled, high-turnover faculty. In the United States, public schools have become increasingly segregated, destabilized, and defunded, with the hardest hit in low-income communities of color.
Nevertheless, while the political conflicts and social ramifications of the school reform phenomenon are well known, basic questions about the movement remain underexamined. Who really leads it? What are their aims and motives? After briefly taking up the statements of the reformers themselves, I will turn to the views of their progressive opponents, and offer a critique of three influential interpretations of the school reform movement. Finally, I will present my own theory about this movement, its drivers, and its underlying aims.

What the Corporate Reformers Say

The school reform movement presents itself as a collaboration among grassroots groups, business leaders, and private donors, united in an effort to improve education, foster a better economy, and help poor children escape poverty. Their goal is to “prepare America’s children for success in college and careers” (Barack Obama), “give low-income and minority students a world-class education” (Bill Gates), and help Americans “maintain our standard of living” (Eli Broad).1
For these reformers, high-stakes testing and teacher “accountability” are the defining metrics of success. George Shultz and Eric Hanushek of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford claim that if U.S. students raised their scores on the major international mathematics test by forty points over the next twenty years, the country could expect $70 trillion rise in GDP over the next eighty years. “That’s equivalent to an average 20% boost in income for every U.S. worker each year over his or her entire career.”2
A large body of research, however, challenges the merits of high-stakes testing and other elements of the corporate school reform package.3 It is also at least questionable whether the reformers really believe their own statements.
The reformers’ interest in school improvement appears, in a number of ways, to be less than genuine, to mask a different agenda. They prescribe models for mass education that they do not consider suitable for their own children.4 They sponsor think tanks to produce “junk research” praising their models, while ignoring studies that contradict their models.5 They insist that full resourcing of schools is unimportant or unrealistic, and that “great teachers” will succeed regardless of school conditions, class size, or professional training.

Progressive Interpretations

Critics on the left have done much to expose the hoax character of the school reform movement: documenting the destructive impact of school closures and privatization; showing how publishers, testing and technology companies, and real estate investors use the reforms Who Is Behind the Assault on Public Schools? | Howard Ryan | Monthly Review:
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