Thirteen years ago, after the horrific attacks of 9/11, the Bush/Cheney/Condi triumvirate sold the nation on a war based on a lie: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was connected to the terror attacks. Even after it was proven they didn’t have WMDs and the terrorists were Saudis—not Iraqis—Bush and Company plowed on, squandering our budget surplus, putting billions on the nation’s credit card in hopes of gaining control of Iraq’s oil reserves, and sacrificing the lives of thousands of brave young men and women in the process.
In 2011 I visited the Washington, DC office of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg—a WWII veteran—to talk to him about education policy. Outside his office was a display called “Faces of the Fallen":
"... a memorial to the service members who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Begun in 2004, the memorial… consists of more than 100 placards, each containing the pictures, names, ages, hometowns and causes of death of service members who sacrificed their lives to serve our country.” It was, to say the least, a moving and humbling tribute to so many brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
While President Bush was perpetrating that lie on a shell-shocked nation, he was cooking up another one: failing students. More recently accompanied by ‘bad teachers’, these two phrases have become the WMDs of the war on public education. They have been manufactured and sold to the general public by business people and elected officials—both Republican and Democrat—in order to cash in on the $600 billion education industry despite the fact that there is an enormous amount of data generated by the US government and researchers from a variety of public and private enterprises that says the problem in America isn’t public education, but poverty.
While President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were wringing their hands over the US scores on the 2010 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), Diane Ravitch actually analyzed the data and debunked the Chicken Little myth:
“American students in schools with low poverty… had scores that were equal to those of Shanghai and significantly better than those of high-scoring Finland, the Republic of Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia… the scores of students in low-poverty schools in the United States are far higher than the international average, higher even than the average for top-performing nations, and the scores decline as poverty levels increase, as they do in all nations.” (Reign of Error, p.65) (Emphasis mine.)
American schools are not 'failing', the sky is not falling, but the ability of many Americans to provide for their families is.
But why look at messy things like facts when rhetoric is so much easier to sell and profit from? While school district budgets across the country are being slashed, those same districts must come up with thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars to pay for technology and other upgrades to prepare for the onslaught of standardized testing despite no proof that it will improve student learning!
As the assault on public education marches on, two glaring ironies are emerging:
- While ‘reformers’ push for more ‘accountability’, testing, and standards for our kids, theirs go to elite private schools with low student-teacher ratios, rich curriculums, shorter school days and years, and no punitive accountability measures.
- As educator/blogger Mercedes Schneider reports, the long overemphasis on standardized testing in other countries is backfiring as they graduate more and more students who are excellent at test taking, but who lack critical, creative, and higher order thinking skills: “Asian countries do better than European and American schools because we are ‘examination hell’ countries,” said Koji Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “There is more pressure to teach to the test. In my experience in working with teachers the situation is becoming worse and worse.”
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Be sure to read Schneider’s entire post. It’s a veritable primer on the ultimate goal of education ‘reform’.
So again I ask: What will you do to help stem the tide of education ‘reform’? I know where I’ll be on March 27th. I’ll be in Trenton with people from all across the state fighting to take back our classrooms from profiteering carpetbaggers. Please join us!