Samstag, 7. Mai 2011

Accountability in education

A comment by Joel Shatzky in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-shatzky/educating-for-democracyis_b_856861.html) describes how a technology official allegedly defrauded New York City's school system of millions of dollars by billing for computer-related services he never performed. This relates to something I am seeing ever-greater evidence of since it was pointed out to me last semester by Ann Cook, one of the founders of a specialized high school called Urban Academy on New York's Upper East Side.

I went to Urban Academy after watching "Talk, talk, talk," a half-hour documentary about the school, as part of my Social Foundations of Education class. Urban Academy is one of the purest examples of inquiry-based learning in the country. Cleveland State University's teacher-training program is a clear advocate of inquiry-based education; at least all the ed courses I have taken so far have sung its praises, and I'm convinced at this point.

Cook talked to me about how the private sector has been encroaching on public education for years:

- School lunches, which educate children about how to take care of their bodies for good or ill, are provided by private companies.

- Textbooks, which in many ways determine curriculum, are sold by for-profit publishers.

- Technology and consultancy fees cost state boards of education millions, if not tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions every year.

- Standardized tests that purport to measure "student achievement," and which are now supposed to be the fulcrum on which teachers, principals and entire schools are to be jettisoned under No Child Left Behind - and, last but not least, which all too often determine the remainder of the curriculum not entirely spoken for by the textbook - are also examples of how much money there is to be made when your client is the Department of Education and the product is the future of our children.


Earlier this week I phoned into a local Cleveland radio talk show called "The Sound of Ideas" when I heard that the new Ohio budget plan slashes public school funding in favor of new vouchers and charter schools. The first-in-the-nation badge of shame for Ohio is that these schools, funded with taxpayer dollars, can be run by private management firms. At the same time, practically all regulation and accountability rules will be removed - even the requirement of receiving a certain level of competence in basic skills as measured by standardized tests taken by every other student in the state. On the show I called it "the privatization of public education." But what I really should have said is that is was an immense government subsidy to for-profit school management companies.

What will be the result of this? Same thing as we used to hear about in the military-industrial complex all the time: $500 hammers and multi-billion-dollar Star Wars defense systems that couldn't swat a football stadium-sized hydrogen bomb out of the sky.

I really wonder whether the current large-scale attack on teachers' unions isn't so much politically motivated as economically motivated. If you have teachers as powerless as waitresses to affect their salaries, benefits and working conditions, you have a great situation for the school management companies that want a piece of the $800 billion (http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/education_chart_20.html)U.S. education spending pie.

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