Monday, December 28, 2015

What Hillary Clinton Said

In the lead up to Christmas, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reverted to form, not just for her, but for all politicians, when she said:

"Now, I wouldn't keep any school open that wasn't doing a better-than-average job. If a school's not doing a good job, then, y'know, that may not be good for kids."

Of course, I don't think for a second that she has revealed her secret plan to close over half the public schools in America, which is obviously where her math takes her, but this is the sort of thing we've grown accustomed to hearing from politicians of all political stripes. I'm guessing she wanted to make sure no one could accuse her of "coddling" lazy, entitled, union thug teachers. And if you read/watch the fuller context of what she said during her campaign event in Iowa, you'll find that she was actually speaking on how she would, as President, support rural schools that are struggling with funding due to governmental policies and shrinking tax bases. With this comment, however, she was more or less saying, We'll work to keep your school open, but we're kicking those incompetent jerks two districts over to the curb

It's essentially the same communications strategy that Ronald Reagan used to sell his neoliberal welfare reform ideas, ginning up the mythology of wide-spread graft and corruption, which he embodied in his "welfare queen" straw man, much the way today's politicians (supported by their venture philanthropist corporate allies) have created the mythology of the wide-spread failure of our public schools. It's been well-documented that when it comes to test scores, the main thing holding America's students back is poverty. The corporate reformers have been attempting for decades now to boost test scores through their tough love measures of "rigor," "accountability," and "privatization," but despite their best efforts, their precious scores haven't budged. Meanwhile, schools that serve middle and high income populations continue to produce "world class" test results, while those serving lower income populations produce low ones. It has become quite obvious, if it wasn't before, that the most effective way to fix so-called "failing" schools is to fix poverty: this is not a problem with schools, but with our wider society.

But no, the neoliberal idea, the one embraced by every politician, left, right, and center, including Clinton, is that poverty can be magically fixed by fixing our broken schools according to their ideologically driven notions of "reform." You see, in this world view, poverty is the fault of those who are poor, rather than economic policies that we've enacted over the past three decades that have caused 100 percent of income growth to go to those who are already in the top 10 percent. The poor are just too uneducated to figure it out, so we'll drill and kill their kids in the hope that test score results will somehow lead to economic prosperity for all . . . Or something like that.

This is the narrative that lead Clinton to wave around the big stick of shutting down those welfare queen schools. And in their place? Publicly funded private schools, charters, the darlings of the Wall Street set. Forget the fact that charters have failed to deliver those higher test scores. That doesn't really matter because these guys merely view them as a transitional step between today's public schools and the corporate reformers' ultimate goal of a privately owned and operated for-profit school system paid for by our taxes.

There are few things more dear to corporate reformers than the idea that schools with low test scores should be closed . . . On the ideological front, the possibility of closure . . . is seen as an essential element of accountability . . . According to this way of thinking, people are not properly motivated without the threat of unemployment hanging over their heads . . . The other big reason school closures are so precious to corporate reformers is that the chief vehicle for privatizing public schools has become charter schools. Closing down schools with low test scores gives the state the power to forcibly shift students from public schools to semi-private charter schools . . . So far in all the explanations of what Clinton meant to say I have yet to hear anyone suggest that school closures will no longer be a major vehicle for reform.

We're now a couple decades into this cruel experiment in tough love rigor and accountability, high stakes standardized testing, and privatization without budging the needle. We're trying to use our schools to solve the wrong problem, using the wrong tools, and our children are suffering. We need to stop it. The strongest option parents have right now is to opt their kids out of the testing.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton said this:

I'm also going to do everything I can to defend education, and to make it clear that the best way to improve elementary and secondary education is to actually listen to the teachers and educators who are in the classrooms with our students and not scapegoat them and treat them like they don't have any contribution to make.

Classroom teachers right across the country are speaking quite loudly on this, we have been for some time, and we are saying that the corporate reform agenda is destroying public education. She's right, the best way to improve public education is to actually listen to professional educators. She's at least listened to us enough to know to say that, which puts her ahead of most. But as for actual listening, I'll believe it when I see it.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"We're trying to use our schools to solve the wrong problem, using the wrong tools, and our children are suffering." I love this. To me, an Australian, it does seem to sum up what the US is doing. I think there is some of this in Australia but hopefully we're not heading down the same track. Thanks for the post.