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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The American Education Plutocracy

From Plutocracy: 1. the rule or power of wealth or of the wealthy. 2. a government or state in which the wealthy class rules. 3. a class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth. Welcome to America.

I have to tell you poor and middle class people are in trouble. It used to be we turned to professionals and experts to find out what we should be doing but somewhere along the line we started to dismiss them preferring to take the word of the rich as if money alone gave them insight not reserved for the rest of us. When it comes to education nationally there is Bill Gates and the Walton’s among a few others who are practically running the show. Then locally the most powerful man in education is a millionaire grocer, Gary Chartrand.

 There was a time when people looked up to rich perhaps a little envious but at the same time they didn’t think they were any smarter or any better than anybody else. Somewhere along the way that changed and the perception became that if you were a middle class stiff you were in that boat because you were either lazy or not smart enough to get out. Some started putting the rich on pedestals as if they already didn’t have enough already. Worse however is that somewhere along the way the mega rich began to believe they were better and smarter than everybody else too and only they could save the masses from themselves.

Nowhere is this more evident than in education where millionaires and billionaires have led reform. Educators are far and few between among their members and the vast majority of them didn’t go to public school or send their kids to public school either. Despite their lack of institutional knowledge this hasn’t stopped the ultra wealthy from chiming in with the ideas that a bright 12 year old might come up with while at the same time ignore the real problems in education and that’s poverty. They don’t understand what it means to feel hungry or hopeless, afraid or marginalized. Sadly because of this their feel good crusade to help the American student we have seen billions go to vouchers, charter schools, Teach for America, merit pay, parent trigger legislation, common core and campaigns that have blamed teachers that have done far more harm than.

First the diverted attention and resources from the real problems in education but even worse they demonized and demoralized teachers those that are actually doing the educating. Teachers went from being revered to being scapegoats. I often wonder if the public would have allowed it to happen had these millionaires and billionaires instead chosen to demonize and blame our enlisted men for the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if the public would have been as complacent or if they would have said, no that’s not right. Throw in some of their desire to make more money and an irrational hatred of teachers unions and it’s a tragedy that so many lives have been short changed and so much money and time has been wasted.    

It’s also even more insidious because now the new trick is to pay for studies which back up their preconceived notions or start organizations that parrot the policy positions they hold and then say look, this study agrees with my ideas and this organization validates my position so I must be right. Furthermore they take credit for things that have nothing to do with their ideas. Jeb Bush is always talking about a Florida miracle that has been debunked and Gary Chartrand credits Florida gains to that same accountability system.   
The Times Union reported his evidence was increasing graduation rates and how we are doing on an international test as his evidence. It (Florida’s improvement) all started 14 years ago when the accountability system started he said. By the way he’s not talking about accountability for charter schools, as 250 have failed in Florida alone since then or private schools that take vouchers as over 160 take public money and teaches science as creationism. But accountability has always been for the things they don’t like not for the things they do.

These are some facts that Chartrand has omitted, graduation rates country wide are up considerably, even in states that don’t have an A-F grading system and who don’t fail third graders that don’t pass a test and no serious education policy person says we should use the NEAP, the test Chartrand likes, to make policy.

If I said, Florida’s accountability system has stopped us from reaching our potential as a state, it would have as much validity as what Chartrand said.   

Bill Gates who spent 200 million on Common Core and millions more on other studies has said it may be over a decade before we know if current education reforms are working but that hasn’t stopped him from using our children and teachers as guinea pigs.     

From a Time Magazine article by Judith Warner:
It’s been a good decade now that the direction of school reform has been greatly influenced by a number of highly effective Master (and Mistress) of the Universe types: men and women like Princeton grad Wendy Kopp, the founder of the Teach for America program, her husband, Harvard graduate Richard Barth, who heads up the charter school Knowledge Is Power Program, the hard-charging former D.C. schools chancellor (and Cornell and Harvard grad) Michelle Rhee and the many hedge fund founders who are now investing significant resources in the cause of expanding charter schools. Excoriating the state of America’s union-protected teaching profession and allegedly ossified education schools, they’ve prided themselves upon attracting “the best and the brightest” to the education reform cause, whether by luring recent top college graduates into challenging classrooms or by seducing Harvard Business School or McKinsey-trained numbers-crunchers away from Wall Street to newly lucrative executive positions in educationally themed social entrepreneurship.

The chief promise of their brand of reform — the results of which have been mixed, at best — seems to be that they can remake America’s students in their own high-achieving image. By evaluating all students according to the same sort of testable rubrics that, when aced, propelled the reformers into the Ivy League and beyond, society’s winners seem to believe they can inspire and guide society’s losers, inoculating them against failure with their own habits of success, and forever disproving the depressingly fatalistic ’70s-style liberal idea that things like poverty and poor health care and hunger and a chaotic family life can, indeed, condemn children to school failure.

In short they want to put public school kids through the type of education they wouldn’t let their kids go through. The finest prep schools in America are staffed by trained educators not hobbyists, the tests they take are limited and none have the same repercussions that the average students standardized tests have and their schedules are filled with arts and electives something that has been phased out of many public schools replaced by test prep classes. Yet for some reason they feel the poor kids at PS this or PS that should be subjected to this. 

They also ignore the fact that they have made school such drudgery for kids by putting them into one-size fits all test based curriculum. They ignore what happens in neighborhoods and homes and instead blame the teachers who aren’t able to overcome the dehibilitating effects of poverty. They ignore the fact that kids in schools without poverty zoom to the top of the international rankings. These are inconvenient truths.
Instead they give red herrings like teachers come from the bottom third of their classes and say “look at Finland if they can do it why can’t we.” They offer choices like vouchers and charter schools that lack accountability,  while at they same time complaining about teachers saying anybody can do it and all the while kids, especially the ones that need the most help suffer; the victim of the hubris of mega rich reformers.   

Also from the Times piece, S. Paul Reville, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education, blogged in Education Week that reformers need now to think beyond the numbers and “admit that closing achievement gaps is not as simple as adopting a set of standards, accountability and instructional improvement strategies.” In Massachusetts, he wrote, “We have set the nation’s highest standards, been tough on accountability and invested billions in building school capacity, yet we still see a very strong correlation between socioeconomic background and educational achievement and attainment. It is now clear that unless and until we make a more active effort to mitigate the impediments to learning that are commonly associated with poverty, we will still be faced with large numbers of children who are either unable to come to school or so distracted as not to be able to be attentive and supply effort when they get there.” Reville called for “wraparound services” that would allow schools to provide students with a “healthy platform” from which they could begin to work on learning.

The Eli Broads, Gary Chartrands, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhees, and Wendy Kopps of the world don’t get it. They think we can test and demonize teachers out of the mess they have helped create by steering policy away from the real problem, poverty, facing our schools.  

Having money doesn’t necessarily make you smart and working an honest job that doesn’t pay much doesn’t make you dumb but what is dumb is giving these ultra rich characters a role in society they don’t deserve. When one of them enrolls their kid in a KIPP school, requests a Teach for America teacher or demands their child take a high stakes standardized test that will determine their future I may change my opinion but until then nobody should give them the time of day. At the end of the day all you really need to know is one thing and that is the place where they sent their kids is a much different place than the one they want you to send yours.

I am told my grandfather despite not being mega rich, he and his family were just barely middle class, was a very smart man. He worked for the old Ma Bell and he raised 5 kids who never had a lot but who never wanted for anything either. He knew a lot more about educating kids than the above reformers did and that’s because he entered most situations not thinking he was the smartest man in the room preferring to listen and learn instead.  

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