The United States, is seeing an ever-increasing economic class division between those with the most wealth and power, and those with the least- in effect pushing out the middle class that historically has been a cornerstone of the economy. Policies (foreign. domestic, economic...) have served to allocate wealth and political power so that "the masses" continually find themselves victims of the desires of "the few". As an effort, I believe to maintain and increase their power and position, the few have initiated a reform movement targeting public education. The motivation to target education as a means to their end is likely two-fold: economic and strategic. On the economic front there is a significant amount of money to capitalize on in both the public funding and private institutions that collaborate to provide schooling to the children of the country. That aspect of the motivation behind reform is quite easy to understand. If there is money to be had, someone will come along looking to have it-even the head of sensationalist infotainment style media sources. On the heels of the financial crisis, the current slow recovery means that corporations accustomed to hand-over-fist money-making need new sources of profit. The public funds going to public schools look good indeed to private corporations. In order to get their hands on that money they have to justify (politically) taking it away. This is why you see well funded reformers like Michele Rhee, travelling around the country-showing up on news programs and at speaking events to continually suggest that America's public schools (and their students) are performing poorly. According to Diane Ravitch This assertion does not stand up well to the data . Low test scores, in addition, are more closely tied to poverty than poor teacher quality. The motivation to avoiding examination of this correlation, choosing instead to misuse testing data and scapegoat schools, allows bad economic and social policy to continue-essentially passing the responsibility for poverty off onto public schools.
The strategic basis of education reform is a more complicated issue, may be a speculative consideration, but must be considered because it implies more danger in terms of the future-for the majority of citizens and the state of our democracy. The growing trend of taking control of public schools in order to privatize and create price-layered options-selling it back to the people on a "you get what you can afford" basis is great for what may come to be the "business" of education, but will lead to a disparity in knowledge and service. Should this be the direction education in the United States takes, the easiest to teach (usually from the wealthier families) will receive even greater access to the benefits of education. Those families and students will grow into the positions of security, income and influence handed down to them. The most challenging students, requiring more time, effort and resources are likely to face an education that does not meet their needs or help them to maximize their true potential. Most often, the neediest students come from homes with fewer economic resources. While education is a key component to reducing poverty, poverty impacts the ability to succeed in school to begin with. These students will likely also inherit their position in society from their parents. It is very true that poverty is not destiny, but it is a significant hurdle that prevents more and more students from realizing their potential. For school reformers, weakening the public institutions of education would lessen the ability of public unions to influence policy collectively, and the straining of students into a caste-like system would help solidify the position of the groups already enjoying high caste placement.
This is how the current education reform movement, together with political policies of the recent decades, is serving to divide access to freedom, knowledge, and the political process. In education policy specifically, children are being subjected to a mechanized and controlled process of standardization that conflicts with their normal developmental process. We are essentially being moved towards a modern version of the "Dark Age". Neil Postman, in his book The Disappearance of Childhood says of this time in history:
Our textbooks cover the transformation well enough except for four points
that are often overlooked and that are particularly relevant to the story of
childhood. The first is that literacy disappears. The second is that education
disappears. The third is that shame disappears. And the fourth, as a
consequence of the other three, is that childhood disappears.
This was Postman about 20 years ago, writing about a time in ancient history (following the fall of the Roman empire), but the parallels to modern times are uncanny.
Next installment: The Dark Ages Return (2): The Impact of Education Reform on Childhood