School reform continues to privatize and destroy public schools. August marks ten years since I began blogging. Within that time I have written two books and co-authored a third with Diane Ravitch. I’m proud of all this writing but Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Reclaim Public Education is the book title that especially stands out today.
Many Americans still don’t understand or value their ownership of public schools, and how they’re losing one of the country’s great democratic institutions. Instead of working together to build up local schools, to iron out difficulties, they’re willing to end them.
Thank you for reading my blog, commenting, and for those of you who have written posts. I am amazed at the wonderful educators, parents, students, and policymakers I have met. I have appreciated debate.
Here are some of the main education issues still of concern.
School arts programs help children thrive. Those with mental health challenges benefit. Students might find art jobs. Sadly, many poor public schools ditched the arts. Some schools might get Arts Partnerships or entrepreneurships (Hansen, 2019). These programs aren’t always consistent. Public schools must offer well-rounded and fully resourced K-12 arts programs.
Assessment is important for teachers to understand students. But high-stakes standardized tests push a narrow, one-size-fits-all agenda used to drive parents to private schools which, on the other extreme, have little accountability. Tests have been harmful to students.
Common Core State Standards
Controversy originally surrounded Common Core State Standards, promoted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2010, but Common Core continues to drive profiteering, especially in online programs.
Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools said CCSS are:
A massively well-financed campaign of billionaires and politically powerful advocacy organizations that seeks to replace our current system of public education which, for all its many flaws, is probably the most democratic institution we have and one that has done far more to address inequality, offers hope, and provide opportunity than the country’s financial, economic, political, and media institutions with a market-based, non-unionized, privately managed system.
Corporations and Politicians
Corporations and politicians continue to work to end public schools and drive teachers out, transferring tax dollars to nonprofit and for-profit entities.
Educators are blamed for school closures and students falling behind, but teachers are responsible for keeping students and families safe. The CDC’s poor messaging didn’t help. The pandemic seemed designed to drive teachers out and end public schooling.
In 2015, Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post featured a report, The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children about the data collected about children and how ten organizations funded by the Gates Foundation formed the Data Quality Campaign (DQC).
Information about your children’s behavior and nearly everything else that a school or state agency knows about them is being tracked, profiled, and potentially shared.
Behavioral data is also collected with Social Emotional Learning assessments.
In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden said:
We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.
And it’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us.
Political groups have monopolized and dictated how teachers should teach, the books students can read, and history as they see it. As schools are forced to restrict societal change, dismissing differences that make us who we are, and parents send their students to schools based on their economic level, race, and religious beliefs, Americans become more divided.
A pushdown of class requirements demands that students work at levels beyond what used to be expected. Few are looking into how this is affecting learning progress.
The corporate-owned media often promotes a biased anti-teacher, anti-public-school agenda. Many reports serve as marketing ploys for online educational programs.
Children driven to read earlier, by increasing high-stakes standards, appear to fail. Teachers and public schools are blamed. Parents seek reading programs marketing success, especially online programs and with private and charter schools lacking transparency. The reading wars promote an agenda that fosters profit while also condemning teachers and schools as failing.
Third grade has unnecessarily been turned into high pressure where children fail based on a questionable test. Not only does the research overwhelmingly denounce retention, but there are alternative ways to assist children. There’s no need to punish students (flunking).
Over 100 research studies in the last century show that grade retention predicts many negative student outcomes. Considering this, it is troubling that the highest retention rates are found among youths from poor, minority, and inner-city backgrounds (Jimerson, 2010).
Since A Nation at Risk, politicians and corporate shills have worked to privatize public education through vouchers, educational savings accounts, tax credits, and charter schools. Community schools are forced to rely on partners, often with social impact bonds to fund schools. Tax dollars are often not accounted for and there’s little transparency. This becomes a divisive system creating rich and poor schools.
Even after Covid, concerns abound about the school HVAC systems. Note the heat, the cold, or the asbestos in Philadelphia’s schools. Not improving school buildings is meant to replace teachers with screens. New schools are likely designed as cyber schools.
School Libraries and Librarians
Research shows that students thrive when they have a well-resourced school library and qualified librarians. Many poor schools have lost school libraries and librarians. Book banning endangers school libraries and freedom of speech. The Houston Independent School District turned school libraries into behavioral centers.
When parents lose educational safeguards, it’s backsliding. School reformers never wanted to fund a free appropriate public education for all students. With IDEA reauthorizations in 1998 and 2004, student services shifted to general classes. Options dwindled. Parents desiring district special schools, like centers may be out of luck. Teacher preparation is also a concern.
As they grow up to face problems they’ll need to solve, students continue to face one-size-fits-all assessment and instruction, much of it online, with little value for their individuality. They are also driven apart by a parallel and divided system of learning.
The heavily promoted Teach for America alumnae became corporate reform darlings. Underprepared and funded at the low end of the pay scale, they led the way for other fast-track alternative teaching programs. Qualified teachers have been driven out. In some places, the shortage is so great, that almost anyone is allowed to teach.
As more teachers leave, school districts purchase online academic and behavioral assessment programs, driving online anyplace, anytime schooling. While it’s questionable whether this is innovative, it has certainly created disruption, as predicted.
Educators and parents hope that their students will grow up to find careers they enjoy and will give back to society, a self-actualization process for the student. Many corporate CEOs and politicians mold public schools to produce the workers they want by taking control of the school curriculum. These two different goals are at odds with one another.
In ten years, education in America is still troubled. Intentionally defunded, public schools are a shell of what they could have become, run by those with little understanding of how children learn and develop, and with the intention to privatize.
Without free democratic public schools open to all children, bringing children together to learn, and embraced by Americans, this country’s future looks dim.
I welcome discussion and any additional concerns.
Hanson, J. (2019). Entrepreneurship among Public School Arts Educators: The Case of Music Teachers in New York State. Artivate, 8(1), 45–66. https://doi.org/10.1353/artv.2019.0000
Strauss, V. (2015, November 12). An astonishing amount of data is being collected about your children. The Washington Post, Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/12/the-astonishing-amount-of-data-being-collected-about-your-children/.