Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not The Time For Backing Down

I recently wrote about the Gates Foundation's call for a two year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for standardized tests in our public schools. As the primary driving force behind the corporate education "reform" movement, this sounded to some like an admission that education dilettantes like Bill Gates were starting to listen to the growing criticism coming from those most impacted by their Dickensian vision for our nations schools, teachers, parents, and students. But we can't be that naive. As veteran teacher and founder of the Network for Public Education Anthony Cody recently wrote over at Education Week, this is clearly just a tactical measure designed to mollify us at a time when we are finally beginning to make a little headway in pushing back against the disaster the corporatists are making of our public schools:

The movement against high stakes testing and corporate reforms has had a few victories in recent months. The Common Core tests have been a disaster in New York, compounded by official arrogance and unwillingness to respond to protest. The Gates Foundation's $100 million data warehouse inBloom collapsed as a result of parental concerns about student privacy. This coming Thursday, there will be a teacher-led protest at the Gates Foundation's headquarters in Seattle (disclosure - I will be among the speakers at this event). Mayoral candidate Ras Baraka defeated a heavily funded rival in Newark, New Jersey, where corporate-style education reform was a top issue.

Some have suggested that this is an admission by the Gates folks that they need to take a closer look at the evidence, to re-evaluate, and to hold accountable those responsible for the disastrous prat fall of so many of the corporate-sponsored initiatives, a roll-out that has left children in tears, parents up-in-arms, and veteran teachers leaving the profession in record numbers. But as Cody points out, we would be naive to think that this is anything other than a delaying tactic. If indeed the Gates Foundation were following the evidence, they would have abandoned most of their agenda years ago:

A real appraisal of the evidence would reveal:
  • Charter schools are not providing systemic improvements, and are expanding inequity and segregation.
  • Attacks on teacher seniority and due process are destabilizing a fragile profession, increasing turnover.
  • Tech-based solutions are often wildly oversold, and deliver disappointing results. Witness K12 Inc's rapidly expanding virtual charter school chain, described here earlier this year.
  • Our public education system is not broken, but is burdened with growing levels of poverty, inequity and racial isolation. Genuine reform means supporting schools, not abandoning them.

It's clear, however, that they are not a community of evidence-based people. They are instead relying upon their faith in, as Gates puts it, "powerful market forces" they plan to "unleash" upon our schools, teachers, and children.

The fundamental problem with the Gates Foundation is that it is driving education down a path towards more and more reliance on tests as the feedback mechanism for a market-drive system. This is indeed a full-blown ideology, reinforced by Gates' own experience as a successful technocrat. The most likely hypothesis regarding the recent suggestion that high stakes be delayed by two years is that this is a tactical maneuver intended to diffuse opposition and preserve the Common Core project -- rather than a recognition that these consequences do more harm than good.

In other words, now is not the time for backing down. Now is the time to re-double our efforts.

I urge you to head over and read the rest of Cody's piece and if you live anywhere near Seattle, please come down to Westlake Center at 5 p.m. tomorrow and hear him speak as one of several local and national speakers who are taking part in our rally and march on the Gates Foundation headquarters. I'm sure there will be hundreds of us, but with your participation we can make it thousands. We can make this happen, but it will take all of us, teachers, parents, and students.

This is not some fight between equally armed political factions. What we have is democratically controlled public schools being systematically overrun and dominated by federal policies that mandate how students, teachers and administrators are held "accountable." These policies are being driven by a handful of large corporate philanthropies like the Gates Foundation. When we push back against this, we are advocating for participatory democracy, for a return to civil society based on the will of the people, rather than the purchase of influence. We want our schools controlled by locally elected representatives, not distant government or philanthropic bureaucracies.

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Sandy Mitchell said...

Teacher Tom, I just want to say how much I appreciate and value the work you do. Since discovering your blog I've been looking forward to every post. I'm one of the only males working in ECE in my area, having discovered rather late in my life how much I love working with preschoolers. I read you blog both for your insights into facilitating & scaffolding learning through play, and for your insightful analysis of the current 'Common Core' attempt to take over education from the educators.
As I comment to anyone who will listen, I'm still waiting for someone to tell me how having created a bloated corporation that produces the world's worst software qualifies Bill Gates to be an education 'reformer.'
If I ever get back up to Seattle (I lived there for quite a while until I moved to Mt. Shasta, in VERY Northern CA) I'd love to see your school and meet you. In the meantime, thanks for all your great work.

Sandy Mitchell

Deborah Stewart said...

My best to you as you are off to speak to the crowd Tom! I sure wish I could be there to listen in!