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Thu Aug 28, 2014, 01:07 AM

Tucson Weekly: Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen

Crossposted in General Discussion

One of the most frightening things to come from Arne Duncan lately, among other frightening things, is that all children can and should be able to handle honors level courses and tests. He believes that students can and should perform on cue.

This new reform item of his has led to one of the main attacks on teachers....that they do not treat special education students, poor, needy students as though they can do better. This is very unfair, it is not true. I must say there are exceptions to any rule, but most teachers can and do care for and challenge every child.

When I read this article from the Tucson Weekly, I realized that there are some people who get it. That there are still people who believe teachers care and strive to do their best for each child.

Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen

Remember George Bush's line about "the soft bigotry of low expectations"? It's a beautiful phrase with at least a kernel of truth to it, but its main purpose was to bludgeon teachers and administrators who work with low income students, saying to them, "You're all a bunch of bigots who think your students are too stupid to do well in school because they're black or brown or poor! Their low test scores are your fault, because you're lousy educators who refuse to have high expectations for your students."

The leaders of the education reform/privatization movement are accomplished snake oil salesmen. Like the con men of old who used to stand on the back of wagons pitching their wares, these purveyors of educational snake oil begin by rolling out their gruesome descriptions of the aches, pains and mortal illnesses their audience is afflicted with. The only difference is, their pitch is about educational, not physical ailments. They tell horror stories about the mortal danger our country is facing due to our "failing schools" which are sapping our children of their educational potential and turning us into a second rate economic power, soon to be overwhelmed by international competition. When their audience has been sufficiently beaten down, when they've lost all hope that our system of public schooling can ever succeed, when they're ready to grasp at any solution offered up with sufficient evangelical zeal, the con men pull a bottle of magic potion off the back of the wagon and wave it in the air, guaranteeing it will cure all our educational ills. They recite the ingredients in their elixir: charter schools, vouchers, elimination of teacher tenure, elimination of teacher unions. And they promise, if the country drinks it, our educational ills will be cured.

The biggest problem with buying snake oil is, if you believe it will cure what ails you, you're likely to ignore treatments which can actually help. The con man's "magic elixir" won't make things any better, and over the long run, it could make things worse. That's the primary danger in buying the phony cure-all offered by the reform/privatization salesmen. It's not that charter schools and private schools are inherently worse than school district schools. They aren't. The vast majority of serious studies say there's little difference between the achievement of similar students in the three types of schools. The problem is, they're no better than what we already have. If we drink their reform/privatization potion and think it's going to make a difference, we'll end up running in place, going nowhere in terms of improving educational outcomes. Or worse, we'll end up dismantling the system of public education which, for all its flaws, is the best hope we have for educating our children.

And if we drink the reform/privatization snake oil, if we believe our schools can make children from poor families achieve at the same level as children from well off families, we'll ignore the fundamental truth that poverty and poor educational achievement are inextricably linked. We'll forget that if we address the root causes of poverty even if we can lessen the adverse impacts of poverty on children we'll raise student achievement whether or not we improve our schools. And if we work on making our schools better at the same time, we'll achieve a multiplier effect. We won't work the miracles the snake oil salesmen promise, but we're far more likely to see genuine improvement in student achievement, especially from the lowest achieving students who live in the greatest poverty.

Rule of thumb: If you want to dismantle a great American tradition like public education, you must first discredit it. You must discredit the teachers in those schools in order to be able to turn their jobs into temp type positions....getting rid of those with higher pay and hiring new ones on the cheap.

The reformers with Arne's blessing are doing a good job of it I fear.

(Give a rec there in GD if you don't mind)

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