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Educating for Democracy: Jerry Brown's Sign of Sanity


In his latest blog, "Living in Dialogue," Anthony Cody, a prominent advocate for sane education and one of the leaders of the Save Our Schools March, which will culminate in a march on Washington, D.C. on July 30, reported: 


"California Governor Jerry Brown has taken a big step towards reducing the testing mania in the nation's most populous state. Up until his administration we have been on an accelerated path towards the comprehensive data-driven system that test publishers and corporate reformers have convinced leaders is needed to improve schools. But in the May budget outline from Brown's office, he makes it clear he is putting on the brakes."


Brown's argument for cutting off these funds echo many of the reasons expressed by teachers and education researchers ever since the testing craze in the name of "accountability" began more than a decade ago. Although it started to be institutionalized in the Bush "Leave No Child Behind" law, it had been considered during the Clinton Administration and intensified by the Obama Administration's "Race to the Top." Brown's position is not to eliminate ways of measuring teachers' competence but to find more accurate means of doing so. The Governor comments:


"...proposes to deal with these issues by carefully reforming testing and accountability requirements to achieve genuine accountability and maximum local autonomy. It will engage teachers, scholars, school administrators and parents to develop proposals to
(1) reduce the amount of time devoted to state testing in schools; 
(2) eliminate data collections that do not provide useful information to school administrators, teachers and parents; and 
(3) restore power to school administrators, teachers and parents."


As Attorney General of California, Brown was a critic of the Department of Education's method of "turning around" low-performing schools. As quoted by Cody, in 2009 Brown wrote a letter criticizing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for failing to account for the problems "deeply rooted in the social and economic conditions of the community [and] embedded in the particular attitudes and situations of the parents."

I would have hoped that Brown's decision to suspend standardized testing in his state would get the media coverage it deserves. This is one of the few times that a public official of significant stature made a statement, not only critical of standardized testing since its initiation through No Child Left Behind, but analytical in why he is opposed to it. Brown makes the same arguments that countless educators have been making for the past ten years to no avail; the standardized testing craze is accelerating, giving billions of dollars to testing companies while school teachers are being laid off to "balance the budget." If, as Brown suggests, the money could be better spent developing meaningful evaluations of learning in schools not to mention using much of this money to save teachers' jobs and give more funding for basic educational needs, then perhaps other states will realize their folly.

The news for the future of public education is not good. A recent Huffington Post Education article reports the introduction of anti-education bills in a number of states in which public funds are going to be funneled into more charter schools, vouchers and other schemes to degrade if not destroy the public education system in this country. I have been in contact with many teachers around the nation who have been expressing their distress, if not horror, at what is being done to their schools, their students, and their own lives.

The persistent and obstinate way in which the "reformers" are spreading their ineffective and destructive panaceas lead me and many of my colleagues to believe these experts' objectives are to sufficiently "dumb down" the populace so they can be more easily manipulated to vote against their own interests. Then, indeed, we will be living in a Demockracy. Therefore, Governor Brown's act of sanity is all the more significant and should be widely known.

However, I have yet to see this story covered in any major news outlet. Instead the big story from California is the Schwarzenegger break-up. I would hope that this reasoned resistance to "education reform" expressed by the governor of the most populous state in the union would have gotten immediate national attention; but if only a few blogs such as this one carry the story, to me, this is more evidence that the media has allegiance to a master not envisaged by the Founding Fathers when they drafted the First Amendment to the Constitution. The press is no longer a servant of the people, but of what is rapidly becoming a corporate state.

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Joel Shatzky

Joel Shatzky is an early-retired English Professor who taught writing and drama at SUNY-Cortland (1968-2005) and is presently teaching English and writing at King...