Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sacrificing Our Children

Can we finally move beyond the illusion that the privatization of public schools is for the benefit of kids?

Much empirical evidence says we should.

Can we finally be honest about that fact that for profit charters simply move money from that which is set aside for the common good to corporate profits at the expense of children, particularly those in poverty and of color?

A new study, Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Schools Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,  by Gordon Lafer, says yes.

Ruth Conniff, in her article, Scathing Report Finds Rocketship, School Privatization Hurt Poor Kids, shows how this study excavates the way in which the Milwaukee school system, “ground zero for school privatization,” uses children as fodder for corporate profits.

“Lafer’s research…is a sweeping indictment of the growing private charter school industry–and other schemes backed by rightwing groups and big business–that siphon public funds out of public schools and enrich corporate investors at the expense of quality education for poor children.”

Let’s be clear- despite what you hear from the right, from Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, and Bill Gates, etc., despite their lofty rhetoric of offering choices for poor families, despite their stated intentions of helping lift families out of poverty, the fact of the matter is that the corporate education reform movement functions to insure that the educational quality experienced by poor children is harmed when school privatization occurs, and corporate profit is greatly increased.

From Conniff’s article:

“Because of its extraordinarily high teacher turnover (the chain relies heavily on Teach for America volunteers), its large classes, and reductive curriculum, Rocketship [one of the for profit charter chains used in Milwaukee] subjects kids most in need of consistent, nurturing, adult attention to low quality instruction and neglect.

That model, which is also on display in Milwaukee’s low-performing voucher schools, is demonstrably harmful to kids. But it has generated big profits for wealthy investors.

From 2010 to 2013, Rocketship increased its assets from $2.2 million to $15.8 million…” (emphasis added)

Got it?

Students become objectified as workers for the purpose of increasing profit at the expense of the welfare of these children. Tax dollars, ostensibly spent for the public good, become corporate profit at the expense of our children. 

We are sacrificing our children to the god of profit.

“It appears the question [Rocketship] aims to answer is not simply, ‘How can we do better by poor kids’? but rather, ‘How can we educate poor kids while generating a 15  percent rate of return for investors.?’ ” 

But, as Conniff notes, it doesn’t stop there.  The report goes on to connect how the illusion of failing schools is used to increase privatization, and thus corporate profits.

“Worse, in pushing these efforts, politicians, rightwing think tanks, chambers of commerce, and, most of all, the American Legislative Exchange Council are actually creating the very problem of failure in the school system they claim their privatization plans will help address.

A recent proposal in the Wisconsin legislature, expected to come up again next session, would mandate that 5 percent of all of the state’s public schools receive ‘failing’ grades, which lead to closure after the third ‘F.’ Schools deemed ‘failing ‘would be replaced by charter schools such as Rocketship.” (emphasis added)

By creating a system that has 5% of schools mandated as “failures” as determined by the abstraction of standardized test score results, a pool of schools that legally must be privatized, and thus ripened for profit, has been created.


This is already happening in Michigan, where over 80% of the charter schools are for profit, under our state’s  Educational Achievement Authority.  And despite a horrific track record, there is a daily push by Michigan’s GOP legislature to expand the EAA to a minimum of 50 schools.

Again, to be clear, the evidence shows that this push is not about children.

It is about profit.

“‘The idea that what chamber of commerce lobbyists lie awake at night thinking about is what will help poor kids…I mean, we’re adults, right?’ Lafer commented by phone.”

Let’s hope so.

Please read Conniff’s article and Lafer’s report.

Against Standardization: Moving Beyond Taylor

I have a deep, viscerally negative response to standardization. It’s hard for me to articulate.  It’s sometimes hard to understand.  And honestly, I wish this wasn’t the case.  It certainly would make things easier.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled into a discussion about the Common Core with an educator I have much respect for.  She was appalled that anyone who cared about learning couldn’t support the Common Core. I felt bad.  I wanted to support it. I wished I did.  But that wouldn’t have been honest. And I couldn’t get to the bottom of my argument, there wasn’t enough time.

I wasn’t sure how to articulate it.

So I want to try to do that here- as simply and directly as I can.

Any form of standardization rests on hidden assumptions about what it means to be human. And the assumptions that standardization rests upon are reductionist, behaviorist, and economically motivated.

In their thought provoking book, Dancing at the Edge, Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leciester write:

Fundamentally what matters is the view we hold of the person:  who we are and what we are capable of becoming.

Over a hundred years ago Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management inspired both Henry Ford and Vladimir Lenin with the idea that breaking every job action into small simple steps that can be measured and analyzed would lead to improved efficiency. So it proved in practice- and this style is now all-pervasive in our modern world, including in education.

It has brought huge improvements in efficiency, productivity and the effective management of ever more complex processes.  But what is less obvious is the particular view of personhood that Taylor’s theory and its 21st-century descendants have enshrined as the cultural norm.  This is the behaviorist view, inherited from the Enlightenment:  that human beings are in essence no more than autonomous agents motivated to act in predictable ways by prompts which provoke responses aimed at predetermined outcomes. ..This logic has driven industrial age thinking since the 18th century and accepts implicitly a simple and direct relationship between causes and effects even in the complex lives of persons, groups and communities.  Administer the right prompt and you will get the desired response.

Human beings can thus be managed through the careful application of efficient design coupled with appropriate rewards and punishments.  The role of leadership and management is to design efficient systems, monitor outcomes and reward success.  In essence this view suggests that what we need are smart systems to compensate for dumb humans.  It is not a mindset likely to foster the development of persons of tomorrow.” (pgs. 50-51. Emphasis added)


Clearly the whole corporate education reform movement is built on this model.  And clearly its reliance on high stakes testing is an outcome of Taylor’s approach to reward and punishment for the sake of efficiency. Less clear, though, is that, regardless of the quality of any particular standard, any attempt to “scale up” standards across the board is really an attempt to control and manipulate human behavior in a way that is deeply reliant on Taylor’s scientific management.  And, though such an approach may have a context where it is beneficial, it is also a grossly reductionist view of what it means to be human.  And such a view misapplied to the complexity of being human, and the complexity of being human in the context of relationships and a culture, is bound to be harmful.

In referencing research done by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, O’Hare and Leicester show how the OECD tried to determine competencies needed “for a successful life and a well functioning society in the 21st-century.”  In doing so, the OECD ran into a problem.  “They  were looking through cultural lenses that attempted to identify specific, isolated competencies…They were also trying to locate competencies from individual, written assessments of performance in each area, comparable across nations and across cultures.  In other words, they were trying to assess complex holistic phenomena using reductionist, atomistic and statistical reasoning.”

In other words, they made the mistake of reducing “competencies” to standards that could be assessed across the board.  Sound familiar?

They continue, “That approach is doomed to failure.  Effective action in a complex and pluralistic world is always culturally and context-specific. No 21st -century competence can stand alone.  They are all aspects of a single, whole and unique person and are in constant flux and interplay.

The OECD mournfully concluded that the 21st-century competencies cannot be delivered through 20th-century structures of measurement, standardization and accountability.  That has not stopped people trying to do so- with inevitably disappointing results.” (pg. 58. Emphasis added)

We need to understand that measurement, standardization and accountability, especially as applied to the complexities of living humans and living human systems, are relics of the past that now function as obstacles to the development of the capabilities our students will need for the future.




Educators are Political Operatives

As educators, we must always be aware that we are operating in a highly contested political arena- one the defines winners and losers.

Gary Howard’s words are so true:

“The forces of social dominance…are, by definition, directed toward protecting and perpetuating the good of the few…

For this reason and in this context, public school educators are, by the nature of our work, political operatives…

In our role as educators we are either acting in complicity with the forces of dominance that underlie the achievement gap, or we are consciously and actively seeking to subvert these dynamics and inequities in the service of our students.  When it comes to issues of social justice and educational equity, it is difficult or impossible to find a middle ground.  We are either being used by the forces of dominance, or we are actively resisting them, both in our personhood and in our professional practice.  Whether we are in complicity or in resistance, we have tremendous political influence.

Part of the work of transformationist educators of all racial and cultural groups is to make known that which the forces of dominance would prefer us to leave unnamed and unacknowledged, namely , that (1) the political climate in which public education is currently embedded is not working for the children who have already been pushed to the margins by the equities inherent in systems of social dominance, that (2) those who benefit from these systems have no real intention to change the dynamics that have historically favored them, and that (3) much of the rhetoric underlying the lofty claims of ‘no child left behind’ is merely window dressing and dramatic illusion on the stage of perpetual dominance.”

We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know  (pgs. 135-136)