EDUCATION POLITICS-Anthony Cody points out that for the past dozen years or so, Bill Gates has had his fun experimenting with education reform. Obsessed as he is with measurement and data, he imagined that he could impose his narrow ideas on American public schools and bring about a magical transformation.
Does American education need reform and improvement? Absolutely. Stuck as it is in the paradigm of testing and punishment, it sorely needs a revival of humanism and attention to the needs of children, families, and communities. It needs teachers who are well-prepared. It needs a recommitment o the health and happiness of children and to a deeper love of learning.
Yet Gates used HS vast wealth to steer national policy to the dry and loveless task of higher scores on tests of dubious value.
He wanted charter schools, and Arne Duncan, his faithful liege, demanded more charter schools,even if it was central to the Republican agenda.
He wanted national standards and quite willingly paid out over $2 billion to prove that one man could create the nation’s academic standards by buying off almost every group that mattered.
He wanted teachers to be evaluated based on test scores, and Ducan gave that to him too.
But says Cody, everything failed.
“Last September Bill Gates said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”
But, says Cody, “I think we already know enough to declare the experiment a failure. Value Added is a disaster. Any ‘reformer’ who continues to support giving significant weight to such unreliable indicators should lose any credibility.
“Charter schools are, as a sector, not better than public schools, and are expanding segregation, and increasing inequality.
“The Common Core and the high stakes accountability system in which it is embedded is on its way to the graveyard of grand ideas.
“The only question remaining is how long Gates and his employees and proxies will remain wedded to their ideas, and continue to push them through their sponsored advocacy, even when these policies have been proven to be ill-founded and unworkable.
“Part of the problem with market-driven reform is that when you introduce the opportunity to make money off something like education, you unleash a feedback loop. Companies like the virtual charter chain K12 Inc can make tremendous profits, which they can use to buy off politicians, given our Supreme Court’s ‘Corporations are people and money is speech’ philosophy.
“There are no systemic brakes on this train. The only way turn this around is for people to organize in large enough numbers, and act together in ways that actively disrupt and derail the operation.
“Along those lines, activists in Seattle are organizing a demonstration on June 26th, protesting the Gates Foundation at their headquarters. It has been a year and a half since I engaged the Gates Foundation in dialogue. Given the rather poor aptitude for learning Gates and company have shown, I will be joining this protest, and perhaps if enough of us are there, we can take the dialogue to the next level.”
(Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. This column was posted earlier on Diane’s blog.)
Vol 12 Issue 35
Pub: Apr 29, 2014