The Secret Strategy of Corporate School Reform?

January 25, 2013

I want to test out a theory. I invite you to tell me what you think. It’s a thought experiment but very close to reality.

Suppose you wanted to destroy public education.

Suppose you wanted to make it so unpleasant to be a teacher or a student in a public school that everyone began to long for a way out. What would you do?

Let’s see. You would subject kids to tests repeatedly to the point that their parents complained bitterly. You would take away art and music, maybe physical education too, to make more time for testing. You would open a few charters, which would scoop up the best students, the strivers, and exclude the troublemakers. You would leave the public schools as refuges for the kids rejected or unwanted by the charters. Wouldn’t it be likely that all the motivated parents would clamor for a way to get their kids out too? Then there would be charters for the “good” kids and the public schools would be the dumping grounds.

Do the same for teachers but in different ways. Threaten them with termination if they don’t comply. Tell them their experience and education don’t count. Tell them their quality will depend on their students’ test scores. Watch their spirits droop as their best students leave for charter schools. Be sure to put non-educators in charge and lecture them regularly about how they are responsible if any child should fail. Snap the whip to keep them on their toes. Never treat them as professionals but as lazy time-servers who need constant reminders of their inadequacy.

In time, public education would be stigmatized and avoided by all who could get away. Is this where Race to the Top is going?

These thoughts, which have been percolating, were inspired by the following comments from a reader.

She wrote:

I was pleased to learn, thanks to Diane Ravitch, that the head of the principals’ association here in NC came out against testing last week. Ironically, my state superintendent just announced that NC will be paying (millions, I assume) to Pearson, a British company, to create tests that I and other NC teachers will have to give. NC is a nightmare to teach in right now. There have never been unions, so teachers have always been asked to do things administration could never get away with in a union state, but every work day this year is devoted to Race to the Top. My next semester begins on January 23 and the work day on the 22nd is occupied with RttT instead of finalizing my grades or planning for new students and courses. One of our RttT workshops involved using string, tape, spaghetti, and marshmellows to construct something. We also watched 30 second Disney/Pixar clips which were referred to constantly as “authentic texts.” I have been teaching English since the 1970s, and I have never seen anything like the direction public schools are going in now. I know Ms. Ravitch is strongly against charters, but I am for anything that is exempt from this madness that has over-taken public education. Public education is apparently for sale, and teachers and students are the victims. Like the Titanic, I am not sure it can be saved.

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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...