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Misreading Edu-Reform 

What happens when you misread public Edu-Reform? The short answer is that data minus class analysis is unhelpful. For a case of this in the mainstream press, we turn to Karin Klein who claims to unpack the relevant edureform numbers in The Sacramento Bee. Yet she misses the forest for the trees (“What happens when school reformers fixate on numbers,” Dec. 18).

The basic story is that Klein sidesteps powerful corporate interests such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, billionaire funders of the Common Core State Standards, funders of National Public Radio, that are driving the conditions for fraud allied with high-stakes testing of students that occurred at Ballou High School in Washington DC.  In other words, how do billionaires shape public policy? If one ignores these social relations, what follows is unhelpful.

Klein’s description of such high-stakes test score corruption, the “numbers,” ignores these moneyed interests behind the normalizing of edureform, e.g., high-stakes testing, across the U.S. We have been here before, folks. Case in point are students’ test scores under edureform superstar Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools, from 2007 to 2010. USA Today uncovered that corruption scandal. We should look to the conditions that grow such corruption, then and now.

Let us be clear. Edu-Reform conditions do not emerge from nowhere in a class society such as the U.S. To reveal what Klein obscures, you can read author and teacher Mercedes Schneider’s book “Common Core Dilemma: “Who Owns Our Schools?” (Teachers College Press, 2015). Her empirical case against national test-driven assessments and standards for K-12 public schools is helpful.

Take the establishment of the Common Core State Standards. Schneider begins with a look at the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that laid the groundwork for No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 under GOP President George W. Bush that Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders voted for, too. Sandernistas keep reading, please.

Central to the NCLB is high-stakes student testing and its handmaiden of education privatization. Public school teachers’ livelihoods depend on their students’ test scores. Consider a local example. Sacramento High School closed and then reopened as a charter school after student test scores fell. The Sacramento Bee was a cheerleader of this edureform.

Under the NCLB, education policies of so-called reform assessed and punished public schools, students and teachers. Democrats such as former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson facilitated this process. Pres. Obama’s Race To The Top, a CCSS-friendly offspring of the NCLB, helped edureform grow, too. Edureform is a bipartisan effort, moving forward with Pres. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a billionaire GOP donor and advocate for school vouchers and charter schools. She and Rhee facilitate the school testing industry, thanks to the eduphilanthropy of the Gates, Walton Family that own Walmart and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Back to the CCSS. Its main interests are Achieve, Inc., American College Testing and the College Board. Together, they not classroom teachers pushed the CCSS forward. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers, not classroom teachers, own the CCSS copyright. Pity classroom teachers and their students having the CCSS stuffed down their throats.

As Schneider writes, the CCSS plan helps to open American public schools up for global corporations to profit. In contrast, Klein claims the problem of education reform is forgetfulness, and its solution is adjustment. “Reform advocates” have lost sight of “what school measurement is all about,” she writes. This analysis is a mile wide and an inch deep in a society like the U.S. where income and wealth gaps widening. A symptom of this trend is workers’ declining share of the economy, or gross domestic product. “Across advanced economies, the share of GDP going to labor fell by 9 percent on average between 1980 and 2007,” write Michael Jacobs and Mariana Mazzucato in Dissent of Spring 2017.

Look at this, what Klein does not. Since 2008-09, Bill Gates has invested an estimated $200 million to $1 billion in the CCSS, according to Diane Ravitch, author and education historian. Look to the Gates and their funding of edureform to unpack the money power of billionaires to shape public schools.

The corporate Edu-Reform problem is political. Follow the money. What big capital is and does in public schools is central, not peripheral, to forging a social solution to what ails U.S. K-12 education. The class interests involved deserve critical spotlight. Let it shine bright.

 

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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Emailsethsandronsky@gmail.com

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