Reading & Reacting: Why America’s Prep Schools Aren’t Following Arne Duncan’s Public School Education Reforms

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by WFIU Public Radio

By Shaun Johnson @ Good

There is a compelling argument that is being made with greater frequency of late regarding the edreform movement, focusing specifically on the divide between public and private schools. What’s more, a significant number of politicians and policymakers send their children, including our President, send their children to elite private schools but have no problem setting the rules for everyone else.

In this commentary, Shaun Johnson make it clear, in stark terms, that there is a reason why there no elite private schools are not rushing to implement Common Core or any of the other nonsensical edreforms.

Prevailing education reform movement in the United States, premised upon market-based solutions, economics, disruption, and similar sounding corporate buzzwords, seeks to standardize curriculum, teaching, and assessment as a method of control.

It is increasingly hard to argue against this claim. When everything is made to be the same, it is always much easier to administer and control. Sameness scales. Johnson goes on to make a bolder claim, one that is also hard to dismiss.

Let me be clear: We are in a battle for public education and we are struggling against those who wish it to be extinct. There is no room for negotiation. If current trends continue, our education system will become entirely vocationalized—perpetuating both class-based and racial apartheid, and teachers will eventually become short-term, at-will employees without the protections available to intellectual professions.

Based on a handful of unfolding situations, namely Wisconsin, New York, and North Carolina, to name only a few it is pretty hard to discount or discredit Johnson’s contention.

Not so long ago, in 2011, the nation witnessed Governor Scot Walker’s attempts in Wisconsin to break essentially break the teacher’s union by removing collective bargaining over pensions, health care, and pay raises. Any thoughts to the contrary need only note how other public unions, like police and fire were exempt. Protests were launched and eventually a recall election had to be held. That attempt should have been the first alarm for the teachers to recognize that their livelihoods were under threat.

Then during last year’s New York state testing debacle the likes of Mayor Bloomberg and others tried to sell the notion that less than 30% of students passing state exams was a good thing, while Governor Cuomo, a proponent of edreformy teacher evaluations,  advocated the “death penalty” for failing schools. The results were even more grim when factored for poor students and students of color. These same politicians took plenty of credit and touted high test scores only a few years before, but the new lower scores are finally about getting tough and becoming accountable. It is hard to reconcile how rejoicing in the failing of children and simultaneously threatening to close schools benefits students in any authentic way.

Most recently, North Carolina passed state laws that eliminated tenure, graduate degree compensation, removed of class size limits, and implemented a voucher program. Not only does this strip away protections it tilts the table against teachers. Plus, teacher turnover in the state has already started spiking. It is hard to believe that that turnover will not continue to rise. Teachers new and lacking tenure are a lot more easy to manipulate and control, not to mention the complexity of a job requiring a fair amount of experience to do truly well.

Still, teachers as a mobilized voice of solidarity have yet to make a major stand and are routinely painted as something akin to greedy villains in media, as the myth of America’s failing schools is perpetuated.

The problem is the public is force-fed these ideas of standardized curriculum, teaching, and assessment as the best tactics education science has to offer. They tell us that this is how we must educate our children. Wait, whose children are we talking about? Not the kids at Trinity School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—41 percent are in that Ivy/MIT/Stanford pipeline—or Philips Exeter in New Hampshire, which educated Mark Zuckerberg.

Again, standardization of standards and curriculum is about efficiency, cost, and control. Efforts to control, like power, tend to be a little more surreptitious. Yet, anyone need only read about the creation of the Common Core to see words like efficiency and cost being bandied about by the proponents and creators, something Johnson adroitly suggests making more when talking about automobiles and not children.

On some fundamental level, do we want standardized children? That very suggestion seems so un-American, considering how much we celebrate a culture of the individual?

The best of the private schools recognize the individual child in ways that most public schools are simply not allowed to do. They do not need to scale. In fact, that smaller community and class size is one of their primary offerings, think Harkness table. Why is it that what is good enough for the students in Exeter, New Hampshire is not good enough for the students in El Paso, Texas, of anywhere else for that matter?

What I often wonder is why don’t more teachers, parents, and others demand the same opportunities, benefits, and personal interest taken in a student’s education offered by the elite private schools like Exeter or even Sidwell Friends, where the Obama want their children going to school?

Image: iPad

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