Provocative essay by NYC librarian Joseph Grasso that captures the moment in ed in a nutshell. Would love to be able to hand this out at the exhibit floor at ISTE today, especially those making millions on test prep and a NCLB assessment garbage.
It is an easy truism that when simplistic numbers become the end-all corruption is an inevitable result. Thus, this is what the education revolutionaries have sowed: dumbed-down standards, narrow curriculums, meaningless test drilling, and union busting. Yet this shallow revolution is backed by deep pockets, mainly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, by far the largest foundation in the U.S., six times wealthier than the next largest, and the Walton Family Foundation (according to the foundation’s website it’s ‘more focused than ever on sustaining the Walton’s timeless small-town values’). Through large grants to cash strapped states, dependent on such stipulations as not granting teacher tenure in less than three years and ‘ensuring successful conditions for high performing charter schools and other innovative schools’, large donations to both political parties, and hundreds of millions of dollars in media advocacy (including Gates sponsoring the documentary Waiting for Superman), big money philanthropists have been able to shape the education debate and be fawned upon by the national media. Indeed one study cited by Frederick Hess in “With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy is Reshaping K-12 Education“ revealed that from 1995-2005 there were thirteen positive articles about education initiatives of major foundations for every single negative one in national news outlets.
Still all is not yet lost. For all the hyped despair about U.S. students falling behind their international counterparts this claim can be put into context. Joann Barkan, writing in Dissent Magazine (“Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools”), cites the results of two of the three major international tests- the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study. Both are given every five years. She explains the results:
“The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent rankedfirst in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty ratewas 10 to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose higher still, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty.”
It is the poverty rate, along with the incarceration rate, that has long separated the U.S. from other industrial countries. Mechanized test prepping, schools closing, and cheapened diplomas won’t make a dent in either, that self-reinforcing loop, in the absence of real reform and commitment to communities as a whole, figures only keep on churning.