Federal Commission on Equity Dismisses Bush-Obama Reforms

February 21, 2013

In a stunning surprise, the federal Commission on Equity and Excellence dismissed the reforms of the Bush-Obama era and called for a fresh approach. What is remarkable about the commission report is that the members were appointed by Secretary Duncan. Its members include a solid bloc of corporate reformers, but clearly they did not prevail.

Quite frankly, I was expecting a reprise of the corporate reformer mantra: more charter schools, more vouchers, more competition, more inexperienced teachers, more testing, and more online learning will end the deeply rooted poverty in our society and lift all boats. Test more often, fire more teachers, lower standards for entry into teaching, close more schools.

But this commission did not echo the popular and failed nostrums of the past generation.. It demanded more resources for the neediest students, better prepared teachers, early childhood education, health and social services, and a deliberate effort to reduce segregation.

Since 1983, when “A Nation at Risk” was published by another federal commission, the policymakers at the state and national levels have followed the formula of testing, accountability (read: punishment), and choice. With what results? After three decades, we now have a raging, destructive movement to privatize public education, bash teachers, remove their academic freedom, replace them with temps, and use standardized tests to judge and punish teachers, principals, and schools.

The heroes of this “movement” are entrepreneurs, foundation executives, and think tank thinkers, who express contempt for public schools and those who work in them. We are on our way to creating (re-creating) dual school systems in cities across the nation and giving public dollars to schools that are free to exclude the neediest students. A “movement” that talks incessantly about results and data-based decision-making has become impervious to the meager results of its own policies and has now turned into an ideological war against public education.

Secretary Duncan should read the report of his commission. For the first time in 30 years, a federal commission tells the nation what it needs to hear. We can expect the corporate reform leaders to ignore the report.

This, quite frankly, is the agenda President Obama’s supporters had expected in 2008. Will he listen?

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Common Core, the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers, and Common Good. She is an honorary life trustee of the...