In Defense

So much is changing so rapidly for public educators (CCS, evaluation systems, tenure reform proposals, etc.) that it makes it necessary for one get their defenses ready.  This is not to say we should defend what does not work nor defend what is blatantly ill-designed, but we should begin to  prepare to defend the foundation and cardinal principles of pubic education.  Namely, sound and ethical policy, a strong, current and relevant curricula, and steadfast attention to motivating students to perform at their highest ability – always.

Can these core principles come from a company?

Over the past year I have been carefully reading about how and why public education is undergoing radical change (I refrain from calling this reform).  I can come to only one conclusion – public education is becoming “corporatized“.  Pearson, The Gates Foundation, Scholastic, and others are leading the way.

Proof of this came from Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss in her 2011 Harvard Business Review blog piece.  A COS for the Education Secretary who never taught in a public school had this to say in that blog piece:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In this new market, it will make sense for teachers in different regions to share curriculum materials and formative assessments. It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students – and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.

As a libertarian/conservative, I applaud free market solutions to societal demands and needs… but what clearly is lacking in all of this change and “reform” are seasoned, quality educators being seated at the table during policy crafting and lobbying efforts.  This is the great mistake being made by well intentioned (I hope) corporations.  It’s not that we oppose market investment – we oppose outright market ownership.

Those of us who harbor this sentiment are often demeaned and shoved aside by those who now control the public education change debate.  Diane Ravitch put it best:

The response to the current crisis in education tends to reflect two different worldviews. On one side are those who call themselves “reformers.” The reformers believe that the schools can be improved by more testing, more punishment of educators (also known as “accountability”), more charter schools, and strict adherence to free-market principles in relation to employees (teachers) and consumers (students). On the other are those who reject the reformers’ proposals and emphasize the importance of addressing the social conditions—especially poverty—that are the root causes of poor academic achievement. Many of these people—often parents in the public school system, experienced teachers, and scholars of education—favor changes based on improving curriculum, facilities, and materials, improving teacher recruitment and preparation, and attending to the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children. The critics of test-based accountability and free-market policies do not have a name, so the reformers call them “anti-reform.” It might be better to describe them as defenders of common sense and sound education.

I’m not sure how and where we can influence the corporate agenda in public education.  All I and my ilk can do is provide a strong, clear, and consistent message:  good policy, quality curricula, supporting front-line teachers and counselors, and motivating jaded students are the guiding principles of my leadership and [insert school name].

I may not own a company.  I may not know a venture capitalist.  I may not have clout with CEOs.  But I do have one thing they do not – experience with kids and the teachers who teach them.  And like a gargoyle, I will defend them and their interests.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

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