For this particular progressive supporter of public schools – namely, me – at least, there is a big dilemma regarding the federal role in education. It has to do with to what extent the federal government should be involved in setting and enforcing educational standards and practices. And I must say that it is a topic that tends not to be discussed, beyond predictable and frankly superficial rhetoric, in most progressive media and forums devoted to education.
The concern is that as the federal role is lessened, conservative states and districts will feel more empowered to “educate” based on, for example, religious and market fundamentalism (the two in fact have a great deal in common, when it comes to benighted acceptance of dogmas that are clearly false), science denial, and Reagan-worship. In fact, raising as many kids as they can on that kind of crap, as opposed to knowledge and reason, is the only chance contemporary conservatives have of retaining any influence – political, social, and economic – in the longer term.
Conservatives, in effect, have been saying to the federal government, “We demand that you stop imposing your terrible standards and tests on our communities. It’s the states’ job to destroy critical thinking and curiosity, and we’ll do that with our terrible standards and tests, thank you very much.” If you’re a teacher, it may not make much difference if oppressive dictates originate in Washington, D.C., the state capital, or even the district office. The point is still that your skills as a professional educator, and the unique interests and needs of a particular group of kids, don’t count for much. ESSA remains the Eternal Standardization of Schooling Act.
Presumably, that’s why at one point most Senate Democrats voted to keep “test and punish” in full force. (Lobbying and campaign contributions from deformers were presumably an influential factor, as well.) That didn’t make it into the final bill, though.
The riposte to all of this is that those looking to replace legitimate public education that works, with for-profit rote-learning factories, got their dream-come-true with the federal involvement that was such a disastrous part of No Child Left Behind. The last thing the plutocratic, warmongering, conservative status quo needs is education that works, and therefore a population that can think knowledgeably and rationally. That, along with mega-profiteering, is their real motive in attacking public schools, and NCLB‘s federally-mandated test-and-punish regimen couldn’t have been a better tool to that end.
There’s an obvious win-win here. We do need considerable federal involvement, but it needs to be pro-student and pro-public schools, not standardized test, “competition”-oriented. Starting with funding.
Importantly, as the CBPP commentary states, “money matters for educational outcomes,” especially for low-income children, whose best interest, many have said, is the main intention of federal education policy. The CBPP commentary points to two recent studies showing the positive impact of increased school funding on students.
The most recent of the two studies found “a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty … The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families.”
(Campaign for America’s Future)
In the right, progressive hands, federal policy could effectively block further deform, and reverse the damage done, while seeing to it that all schools are providing students with the tools to think knowledgeably, rationally, and independently. Give teachers the tools they need, everywhere, and let them teach. Keep the deformers and wingnuts out of the way – a great first step would be to cut the charter/privatization movement way down to size. But, as always, translating the obvious into actual real-world policy will require getting those right, progressive hands into big governing majorities.
From Mac Hall: FYI : John Kline is out with a press release touting his recognition by Teach For America as a “Champion” …. I am not an expert on education practices, but isn’t TFA the alternatively certified teaching program — “you don’t have to have an education degree to be a teacher?” Anyhoo, there have been some complaints … such as I Quit Teach for America … and this story featuring Minnesota.
Just thought your readers would like to know … and to send John Kline a congratulatory email on this remarkable achievement.
From Dan Burns: TFA has actually been in something of a decline, the past couple of years. It remains a problem, though.