Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How has school reform helped?

How has "school reform" helped?

This is how cautious conversations around the high-stakes testing  paired with the current version of reform go, when they happen in school:

"It's really more stressful on the parents than it is on the children."

"The kids don't really care... they want to do well!"

And so on.

     To me, it's not really the point. We can convince kids to do just about anything, and parents have always stressed over wanting the best for their children. But public education has been undermined and subject to almost constant attacks since the economic crash of 2007-2008. Parents, educators and students have good reason to be concerned, because no consistent or coherent explanation has yet been offered in support of the education reform model being packaged and sold to the public. There are enough well connected and aware citizens out there to know that "greedy public workers and their pensions", "failing schools", "college and career ready" and "competition in the global economy" are ill-defined specters served up to gobble airwaves and attention. They mean little when college is financially either out-of-reach, or a life-killing debt for future graduates with sense enough to look and see that billionaires, politicians, and their wealthy financiers are the very few who are thriving in this competition to serve the global economy. Those same powerful and well-connected people who, by the way, are looking to profit from the public dollars left because they couldn't be openly grabbed in the years leading up to and immediately following that economic crash. These same powerful people are the ones who sold the call for "shared sacrifice", then promptly avoided it themselves, opting instead for even more slop at the public trough while pressing hard against entitlements and public workers.

How has "school reform" helped?

     We shelter our kids as much as possible from the specific dangers that lurk out and about, and try to equip them with the skills and common sense to stay safe. We don't tell them exactly what is done to kids who are harmed by scuzziest of creeps that really do exist and sometimes don't get caught, and we end up conflicted when the most harm is done by our elected leaders, those they appoint, and the shadowy private funding behind all of it. We work hard as parents to create doers, livers, survivors- and happy ones at that. We send them to school, hoping that they will be equipped with the essential academic skills needed to then join society-capable of seeking a path towards independence and self-reliance. School is where they become integrated into a peer group, hopefully becoming comfortable with how their personal and academic abilities mesh with what will be their generation of future citizens. And in school, educators, support staff, and everyone else there work together to try and provide what is needed to prepare those future citizens.

  • Accountants
  • Construction workers?
  • Doctors, lawyers, investment bankers?
  • Computer programmers, or code-writing video game creators?
  • Technicians for a giant data-gathering company that will collect, store and analyze data on millions of U.S. citizens from cradle to grave?
  • Teachers? 

How has "school reform" helped?

     Keeping them off the street and out of jail is, of course, always a priority. But if you spend any amount of time watching the news coming out of some of the more urban areas you will be concerned. Young men are playing "knockout", a game where they try to one-punch sucker punch an unsuspecting stranger in a way that drops them unconscious to the ground. Teens on a Florida bus gang-beat a young boy who was going to report their efforts to sell him drugs. Under-supervised and morally/socially lost teens bully and hound others openly and or anonymously with social media and technology they aren't mature enough to use responsibly, and a couple generations of class and character have been lost to cable TV trash and mega-rich mega-idols who give the impression that wealth and respect are just some bad behavior and a photo opportunity away.   These are the kids coming to classrooms where they need to be taught. Clearly, there are obstacles that those pushing for "accountability" are less than willing to discuss, because they are unfamiliar with those types of challenges; uncomfortable admitting that there are people who contend with those challenges and deserve recognition for it; and because they smell money and opportunity in scapegoating others rather than participating in honest reforms.

How has "school reform" helped?

     What is the point, really, if the most that's been offered is a coercive system that allows the unaccountable to impose accountability, the benefactors of inequitable policy to impose inequity (code-named "school choice"), and politicians to grow secure and safe on campaign contributions funded in part by this diversion of public dollars? Has the decision been made regarding the value of a hedge fund manager vs the value of firefighters, police, teachers? Has rewarding public workers for a career of service with modest or less pension benefits lost value in comparison to risky wagers and artificially bloated speculative wealth for a few in the financial sector?

     Whatever the path my daughters choose, I want them to be happy, productive, and smart...not victims of someone else's plans. But really, reform isn't about my kids... really. They are collateral damage, and that disrespect to and disregard for them is angering enough-but it isn't about them. It's about the ever-increasing number of little lost souls left behind in this economic "competition" that makes making a living so hard these days. More and more kids coming to school tired, hungry, emotionally and economically insecure, with school and academics falling on their list of priorities. These kids benefit when their schools are empowered and funded well enough to at least attempt to address these needs in order to get to the academics.

So when we talk "reform", maybe the first thing we need to reform is the conversation. It's not about the need for more testing, more mandates, more hurdles and less money. It's about equity, accountability, and honesty-and it needs to start at the top.

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