What are the real goals of the education reform movement?

education reformKids are failing tests because current education reform is failing kids. American education is in the cross hairs and people on both sides of the political aisle have fingers on the trigger. The right would certainly love to destroy the teachers’ union and privatize education entirely, but there are some on the left pushing detrimental education policies that serve no purpose other than to create the illusion that they’re not beholden to the teachers’ union. I would put New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo in that class. Regardless of motives, the direction the country has moved in for the past several years is contrary to most education theory.

College and career readiness is the current catchphrase bandied about by the powers that be when attempting to “reform” American education. And that would make perfect sense – if that was really the goal. So what do employers want? According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the list includes traits like the ability to work well with others, real world science and technology awareness, writing and speaking skills, the ability to solve complex problems, and strong ethics and sensibility. The Common Core puts forth much that would seem to carry out these goals. So far, so good.

The problem presents itself in two ways. First is the implementation. The disastrous unfunded mandate called No Child Left Behind failed miserably – many children were, in fact, left behind – but it didn’t lessen the voices seeking to weaken or destroy the public education system. Out of NCLB’s ashes climbed a movement calling for national standards, culminating in the Common Core Standards.

Again, national standards not being the worst decision ever made by the US Dept. of Education, teachers were unfazed. Having something new shoved down our throats  makes us jaded about the  “solutions” we see implemented every five to seven years. As long as the federal and state governments took the adequate time to create the modules (a word most teachers have begun to loathe), coordinate the various grade levels and units, establish consistent assessments, and allow enough time for the teachers to acclimate and plan, what could go wrong?

Actually, the question that should be asked is “what went right?”? The short answer? Not much. The curriculum has come out in dribs and drabs. Directives have been delivered, retracted, contradicted and re-delivered. And teachers who will be expected to get their students to pass year-end assessments not only aren’t provided the opportunity to see modules in a timely manner, they aren’t allowed to see the post-assessments until after they’ve been taken and scored. Teachers are being held accountable, but with no input or clear foundation to work from. Educationally sound? I think not.

education reform
One Voice United – NYSUT Rally, Albany, NY June 8

And that leads to the second major flaw – teachers are being evaluated using flawed, incomplete and, in terms of the post-assessments, unseen tools. Contrary to popular opinion on the right, teachers do not fear evaluation.  We just have an issue with being held accountable without having a voice or the opportunity to get the curriculum in a timely manner.

We are assessed all day, every day. Students, parents, administrators and colleagues all evaluate our performance in some way, shape or form. It’s the graduates who come back for a visit and give me a hug, former students who thank me for helping them achieve something they didn’t think they could achieve. Perhaps the most gratifying are the uncooperative students coming back to express their gratitude for all my efforts on their behalf.

And at the end of the day, all of this impacts the only group that really matters – the students. A complete curricular shift might be manageable if teachers had the chance to plan for its implementation. But the over emphasis on testing across all grade levels and the lack of adequate time to prepare is making students feel inadequate and more frustrated with school than ever. Gone are the days of bulletin boards and show and tell – if it isn’t being assessed, there’s no time in the school day.

Which begs the question – why the emphasis on canned lessons and constant testing? Like most seemingly complex issues, the answer is quite simple… follow the money. Publishing companies, with lobbying and campaign contributions, have insinuated themselves into public education in ways never seen before. In fact, in 2011, according to a story in the New York Times, Pearson Education (for-profit) and the Pearson Foundation were under investigation by NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for improper lobbying and that they “acted improperly to influence state education officials by paying for overseas trips and other perks.”

The same issues have been investigated in Florida as well. Long story short, much of what is being done in education to educators and students is not being done for their benefit, but to line the pockets of for-profit corporations. And if the conservatives get their way, public education will be privatized. Education decisions being made with a fiscal focus, not pedagogical research and proven practices – what could go wrong?

At a teacher rally this past June in Albany, New York , one of the speakers, Richard Ognibene Jr., (2008 N.Y. State Teacher of the Year), perhaps said it best: “The obsession with testing and data has reduced instructional time for our most vulnerable students and diminished our humanity. They have taken the joy from our profession.”

And John Nichols, political correspondent for The Nation and whose articles have appeared in major newspapers such as The New York Times, was forceful in his claims that cuts don’t make kids smarter, and standardized testing is not education. “If we are to be a democracy… then we must have a strong public education system,” Nichols said.

Joyful, critically thinking citizens can not be produced with the system being forced upon us. Profitable schools and citizens without critical thinking skills would seem to be the goals of those pushing these reforms. If you can’t put 2 and 2 together…class dismissed.

education reform

I'm a husband and a father. I've been a teacher for over 20 years in Special Education and Secondary English. I am involved in my local teacher's association. I'm a musician in two rock bands. I registered as a Republican way back in 1983, but have slowly moved to the other end of the spectrum as I've grown older and wiser. I attempt to look critically at all issues, but still end up agreeing with progressive positions most of the time - go figure.

Leave a Comment