Education: A Rant about Liberals

From Jacobin, by Lois Weiner:

The major theme in this article is that public education can’t be “fixed” until a social vision is implemented, a social vision that attacks both economic and social inequalities.

An eloquent call to “reclaim the conversation” challenges leading liberal educators to repudiate their involvement in what’s being called “corporate school reform.” We finally see liberal activists opposing the bipartisan education project that has subjected school and teachers to “free market” policies. Liberals are starting to contest privatization, testing, and attacks on teacher unions, rather than accepting neoliberal assumptions and policies taken wholesale from right-wing think tanks and functions.

Since last fall’s Chicago teachers strike, we’ve seen an acceleration of critique in traditionally liberal media about school reform — from Teach for America to charter schools and Michelle Rhee. There’s even been a whiff of real reporting in the New York Times on the common core curriculum. Why did liberals urge teachers unions to back down on contractual issues that protect kids and miss what the unions should have been doing, like mobilizing their members?

And why do liberals who expose what’s wrong with standardized testing, as John Merrow has, continue to propagandize for charter schools, ignoring compelling research about the educational devastation in New Orleans because of “charterization”?

To be fair, liberals have not been alone in their confusion about policies cloaked in the rhetoric used by the civil rights movement about equalizing educational opportunity. The pace of change in education has been breathtaking, schools and teachers battered by the speed and force of mandates. The most profound changes in education were made more enticing with the carrot of increased funding. Cash-strapped school districts and states couldn’t turn down extra money they received as a quid pro quo for adopting the stranglehold of testing and privatization required by “No Child Left Behind” and, more recently, “Race to the Top.”  Still, for way too long, liberals assumed that schools could be “fixed” without tackling social and economic inequality

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  • Andrew Dowling

    To claim that the influx of charters in New Orleans sparked “devastation” to those public schools is one of the most ignorant, “unsubstantiated by fact” claims I can think of. I concur there has been too much focus on standardized tests and ‘teacher blaming’ among many advocates of “school reform” but the knee-jerk reaction to charters (which is a complex topic, as charters can bring substantial improvements or end up not bringing any progress) and a plan like ‘Race to the Top’ (which isn’t perfect but does allow a lot of flexibility) doesn’t help her argument.

  • I also don’t think that a lot of liberals believe that social and economic inequality are unimportant. But it is outside of the purview of education policy. Teachers can’t do much to get their kids parents jobs. They can however advocate for getting additional help for low income students.

  • Timothy Stidham

    Scott’s summary is spot-on. Address root causes first.

  • Timothy Stidham

    Ironically, auto-correct “fixed” my spelling of said prof-blogger’s name… Oh well…