Federal Opinion

Lopsided Debate Over Education Reform Reveals a Broken System

By Anthony Cody — December 29, 2011 3 min read
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Alexander Russo has done an excellent job stirring the pot with his column yesterday asserting that “reform critics” like myself are “winning” the online debate.

As I tried to point out yesterday, the online debate is rather meaningless if the real decisions about our schools continue to be made based on misinformation, bribery and political gamesmanship. I believe the online debate has been deliberately ignored by the corporate reform sector, as they see it as a battle they can well afford to lose, given the access to real power their funds buy them.

We succeeded in breaking through a bit last year with Save Our Schools, and saw some attacks on us as a result. But fundamentally, what the lopsided online discussion reveals is a broken political system that has lost the capacity for rationale democratic debate.

Online, that capacity still exists, and experienced professional educators like the people Russo mentions prevail. But in the halls of power, there is a different phenomenon. When teachers are needed to testify in favor of policies limiting teacher rights, the call goes out to a Gates-funded astro-turf group that has been grooming them. Teachers who understand that due process rules give teachers the freedom to innovate are not called.

Donations flow from the Gates Foundation to the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council, whose conference attracts legislators from around the nation. The billionaire philanthropists’ foundations help write the laws that tie teacher pay to test scores, destroy due process, erode pensions, and lower standards to enter the profession.

The Department of Education directs billions in taxpayer dollars to states, but only if they are willing to implement these very same terrible policies.

The irony is that Russo suggests we critics have been successful because WE are coordinating ourselves! And the “reformers” ought to do the same! We are seeing the most coordinated, sustained and systematic campaign ever mounted in public education. Once again, if you have not done so yet, watch the video in which Stand For Children CEO Jonah Edelman drops the veil and reveals exactly how his group coordinated with other non-profits, with the Chamber of Commerce and major newspapers in Illinois to gain clout. But Russo slyly suggests that somehow those of us crying foul are the ones doing the coordinating. I think there is a term in magic for this - misdirection.

One more thing that might be pointed out related to Russo’s post. In his opening paragraph he refers to those of us resisting this campaign as “traditional educators.” At the risk of sounding defensive, let me point out that I am hardly that. As a science teacher, I worked at the cutting edge of instruction and technology. I worked to have my middle school students develop their own questions as the foundation for their investigations, and had them designing their own experiments. I initiated an all-girl technology class that met before school every day. I founded a mentoring program that paired experienced science teachers with novices, in an effort to overcome the high turnover we were experiencing. I was among the first in my district to achieve National Board certification. I believe in the power of Project-Based Learning - engaging students in projects connected to their lives. My advocacy has always been focused on making sure teachers have the space to be innovative, and the freedom to lead their own professional development.

The corporate education “reformers” on the other hand prize standards and test scores above all else. Scratch the surface of the obsession with teacher quality, and you will see that every metric the Gates Foundation has come up with is tied directly or indirectly to test scores. And our opposition to this mania for standardization is termed “traditional”?”

No, those of us who have raised our voices against the corporate reform juggernaut are not, sadly, winning the debate, at least not the one that counts, at least not yet. No more than Occupy Wall Street has won against the banks, even though the movement’s goals enjoy the support of a majority of Americans. When a system has been deliberately broken, it will take more than dominating Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere to overcome the power of corporate dollars. But we will keep at it, just as long as teachers keep on teaching.

What do you think? What will it take to really win this battle?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.