Public Education Under Siege
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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In his remarks at the Centennial Conference of the National Urban League on July 29, 2009, President Barack Obama reminded his audience that “from day one of this administration, we’ve made excellence in American education—excellence for all our students—a top priority.” Even Republicans would not have disagreed with this choice. The imperative of educational reform...
Part I: The Perils of Technocratic Educational Reform
Chapter 1 The Mismeasure of Teaching and Learning: How Contemporary School Reform Fails the Test
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The good classroom is rich in small moments of intelligence and care. There is the big stuff of course—the week-long science experiment, the dramalogue, the reporting of one’s research—but important as well are the spontaneous question, the inviting gesture, the tone in a voice. They reveal the cognitive and philosophical intimacy of a room....
Chapter 2 Views from the Black of the Math Classroom
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It’s hard to forget Donovon (a pseudonym). He sat in the far right corner of his sixth-grade math classroom facing the wall. He was quiet and listened to the teacher’s class discussions and lectures, even though he could not actually see her or engage with her. He was deemed too far behind to work with the other kids and was assigned computation problems out of an old fourth-grade...
Chapter 3 Targeting Teachers
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The mantra of the current school reform movement in the United States is that high-quality teachers produce high-achieving students. As a result, we should hold teachers accountable for student outcomes, offering bonus pay to the most effective teachers and shoving the least effective ones out the door. Of course to implement such a policy needs a valid and reliable ...
Chapter 4 Firing Line: The Grand Coalition Against Teachers
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In a nation as politically and ideologically riven as ours, it’s remarkable to see so broad an agreement on what ails public schools: it’s the teachers. The consensus includes Democrats from various wings of the party, virtually all Republicans, most think tanks that deal with education, progressive and conservative foundations, a proliferation of nonprofit advocacy organizations, ...
Chapter 5 The Bipartisan, and Unfounded, Assault on Teachers' Unions
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Teachers’ unions are under unprecedented bipartisan attack. The drumbeat is relentless, from the governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to the film directors of Won’t Back Down (2012), Waiting for Superman (2010), and The Lottery (2010); from new lobbying groups like Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Wall Street’s Democrats for Education Reform to political columnists such ...
Chapter 6 Free-Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy
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“For about two years now, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been co-opting much of the GOP playbook on education. They support charter schools. They endorse merit pay. They decry teacher tenure and seniority. On alternating Thursdays, they bracingly challenge the teachers’ unions.” So begins a December 2010 article in ...
Chapter 7 The Price of Human Capital: The Illusion of Equal Educational Opportunity
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In his oft-quoted Fifth Report to the Massachusetts Board of Education, Horace Mann sought to popularize the idea that education had individual as well as collective economic benefits. This 1841 report became one of the most well known of Mann’s twelve reports to the board, though Mann himself worried that such an appeal would exacerbate the materialism that he hoped the common...
Chapter 8 Educational Movements, Not Market Moments
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For at least two decades, conservatives have argued that school choice was the last unachieved civil right. In 2010, some powerful moderate voices echoed their view and invoked the name of Rosa Parks to support it. At a September 15 screening of the documentary Waiting for Superman, which claims charters are the solution for the persistent failure of urban public schools, secretary...
Part II: Education, Race, and Poverty
Chapter 9 Public Education as Welfare
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Welfare is the most despised public institution in America. Public education is the most iconic. To associate them with each other will strike most Americans as bizarre, even offensive. The link would be less surprising to nineteenth-century reformers for whom crime, poverty, and ignorance formed an unholy trinity against which they struggled. Nor would it raise ...
Chapter 10 In Search of Equality in School Finance Reform
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If any reform promised to bring about equality of educational opportunity, it was arguably school finance reform. By eliminating the large differences in per-pupil spending among school districts in the same state, it would have leveled the playing field between high-spending versus low-spending districts. Yet, after four decades of effort, fewer than half the states have made...
Chapter 11 "I Want the White People Here!": The Dark Side of an Urban School Renaissance
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Grant Elementary, part of Philadelphia’s beleaguered public school system, stands among rows of historic townhouses in Philadelphia’s revitalized downtown (all school, neighborhood, and individual names in this chapter are pseudonyms). Beginning in 2004, Grant was the focus of an aggressive campaign by parents, school district administrators, and local civic leaders to...
Chapter 12 The Rhetoric of Choice: Segregation, Desegregation, and Charter Schools
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Over the last decade, talk of choice in education has reached an unprecedented pitch, and the talk has brought forth extensive dollars and human energy. Advocates for school choice, which has become a pseudonym for charter school reform, claim that changing how individual students end up at one school rather than another will contribute to significantly expanded access to quality education....
Chapter 13 Criminalizing Kids: The Overlooked Reason for Failing Schools
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The nation’s school dropout rate reached crisis levels in 2009, and test scores posted by its poorest public schools were also grim. According to a report in The Hill on March 10, 2010, only 70 percent of first-year students entering America’s high schools were graduating, with a full 1.2 million students dropping out each school year. Four months earlier, Time’s Detroit blog noted...
Part III: Alternatives to Technocratic Reform
Chapter 14 Abandoning the Higher Purposes of Public Schools
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In September 1966 I wrote my first piece on education for Dissent, “A Report from Philadelphia: Head Start or Dead End?” I was teaching morning Head Start after a few years of subbing and kindergarten in Chicago, and on the way to teaching kindergarten in Central Harlem. I had just begun to contemplate that teaching might not be a time killer until my kids got older and...
Chapter 15 Equity-Minded Instructional Leadership: Turning Up the Volume for English Learners
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After taking a deep breath, Principal Forte pulled back her shoulders, glanced around her crowded office, and pondered the question. What was her most important responsibility as the principal of Jefferson Elementary School? (All names of schools and individuals in this chapter are pseudonyms.) It was to serve as an instructional leader by championing quality teaching for all ...
Chapter 16 Professional Unionism: Redefining the Role of Teachers and Their Unions in Reform Efforts
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Education policy makers have long searched for a system that will recognize and reward outstanding practice, support instructional improvement, and ultimately hold educators accountable for performance. But we are now at a moment when these ideas are more at the forefront of the public conversation than ever before. For states and districts to secure grants from President...
Chapter 17 Pushing Back: How an Environmental Charter School Resisted Test-Driven Pressures
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Who would believe that Albert Shanker, the late, controversial president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was one of the original backers of the charter school concept, publicizing the name and idea in his weekly “Where We Stand” column of July 10, 1988? Charter schools, unions, and public schooling were not always enemies. But, more than two decades later, ...
Chapter 18 The Achievement Gap and the Schools We Need: Creating the Conditions Where Race and Class No Longer Predict Student Achievement
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The term “achievement gap” is commonly used to describe disparities in academic outcomes and variations on measures of academic performance that tend to correspond to the race and class backgrounds of students. Though such disparities are by no means new, in recent years the effort to “close the achievement gap” has become something of a national crusade. Politicians ...
Chapter 19 !Ya Basta! Challenging Restrictions on English-Language Learners
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During the last decade, the population of children entering American schools unable to speak English grew by 40 percent. One in ten pre-K-12 students, a total of 5.3 million, are categorized as English-language learners (ELLs). This number is a direct result of the large wave of immigration over the last fifteen years. Those new immigrants gave birth to “new Americans,” children born ...
Chapter 20 Sharing Responsibility: A Case for Real Parent-School Partnerships
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Parent involvement is all the rage. From the president to local superintendents to foundation directors, all agree parents need to be involved in their children’s education. One policy mechanism pushing this call to action is a provision within the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that states that parents are to be included in decision-making practices as full partners...
Chapter 21 Calling the Shots in Public Education: Parents, Politicians, and Educators Clash
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The gap between calls for parental engagement in education and institutional realities is wide. Educators say they value parent participation, but by that they often mean a junior partner role in which parents monitor homework, make sure kids get to school on time, show up at school-sponsored events, and generally act as an extension of the teacher and school. Many parents...
Part IV: Conclusions
Chapter 22 What Is Education Reform?
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No reform movement in any domain—the law, agricultural development, education—can do everything, and it is an unreasonable demand that it try. Reform movements need to be selective, and need to be clear and focused. In some ways the current mainstream education reforms are just that: standardized test scores are used as a measure of achievement; a teacher’s effectiveness...
Chapter 23 A Letter to Young Teachers: The Graduation Speech You Won't Hear, But Should
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Let me begin by celebrating your calling to join one of our society’s grand
professions. What is more important than to play a central role in the development
of young people’s lives? Cherish this calling, for it will be tested.
You are entering teaching at a troubled time. For all the political talk about the importance of education, a number of cities and states are trying to...
List of Contributors
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Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013