In my post on Monday I explored the work of historian and social theorist, Michael Katz, especially his 1968 book The Irony of Early Education Reform, which so uncannily presaged the current education reform movement. One line I read from Katz’s updated introduction to the 2003 edition of that book is staying with me. Katz said that the book “‘highlights how education has been used in America as a way out of public dilemmas—as a painless substitution for the redistribution of wealth—and how and why that gambit always fails.”
History will tell us if the reforms touted by the corporate education reformers will take firm root in the country. Perhaps the reformers will be successful in getting their laundry list of reforms in place. After all they are very well financed and they have powerful political support on the federal and state government level. Bill Gates and other plutocrats are spending millions to have their way with public education. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has used his office and power of the purse to bribe states into his favored reforms. Governors in Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey have seized on the education reform mantras of “choice” and union bashing to extend the agenda in their states. The court in California has at least temporarily struck down tenure and highly publicized campaigns to do the same in New York and other states are well under way.
It may very well be that in some time in the future, we will see the installation of the Common Core nationwide, the reduction of teacher unions to toothless tigers, the extension of charter schools to the point where no urban district has a public school system, voucher programs proliferating and robbing school districts of funds, and teachers being reduced to “at will” employees at the mercy of evaluations based on student test scores.
This could well happen; we don’t know. There is one thing we do know, however. If every single reform cherished by the corporate education reformers is put in place, history tells us that it will not improve the educational outcomes for the vast majority of the 25% of American children living in poverty. In other words, even if the reformers get everything they want, they will fail in their stated goal because they are aiming their reforms at the wrong target and they are doing so because they do not want to deal with the real target – income inequity.
The corporate education reformers are engaged in that very American pastime of “Shoot, Aim, Ready.” So that while willfully ignoring the real and very much obvious need for economic reform they take down their shotgun and shoot at education; they shoot at teachers; they shoot at teacher unions; they shoot at “lazy” students; they shoot at poor parents. Meanwhile they rig the political agenda so that they continue to get richer as the poor continue to get poorer. Aiming your guns at education doesn’t cost the 1% money (any money they do spend is tax deductible anyway). Aiming at the real target – income redistribution – stands to cost them a great deal of money.
If the corporate education reformers do win their pyrrhic victory, there will come a day of reckoning when the public realizes that all of these reforms have failed because once again education has been used as a shield for the real problems facing the country. Unfortunately when that realization comes and the country turns to educators to help right the ship, they will find a decimated core of teachers stripped of their professionalism, unused to taking individual initiative, unable to exercise autonomy productively and left without the tools they need to provide for the education of the children.
It is clear that at some point in the future, the current approach to education reform will fail as it has failed every time throughout our history. It will fail because it is attacking the wrong target. The only question now is: “How much damage will the corporate education reformers do to public education before their failure is discovered by the nation as a whole?”