Wednesday, November 21, 2007

George Schmidt on Shankerism, Standards and Accountability

In the face of "standards based instruction" we have the alternative of establishing humane and democratic goals and objectives for public schooling (I'd suggest the primary ones being equity in access for all through at least college) or some kind of "data driven" numerical point to establish an "accountability" standard. Ravitch, Feldman, Shanker, and William Bennett (to name just a few) all agree with the Business Roundtable and everyone else in the ruling
class (and their enablers) that we have to have a single numerical way to measure the "success" or "failure" of a school, a student, a teacher, or (as we're seeing in Illinois and Chicago) an entire school system.

Since the ultimate goal of one wing of the "standards based instruction" crowd has long been the replacement of public schooling through a voucher system (or the massive establishment of charter schools) under a dictatorial governance model like the one that destroyed public education in Chile, this has to be done stealthily.

If Ravitch and her colleagues don't know that any numerical control system over schools -- whether NAEP, the New York State systems, or the Illinois IGAP and Prairie State exams -- is going to correlate with poverty top to bottom, we can't even have the debate. Ultimately, what they achieve is to identify "failing" schools as those which are deprived of social and economic resources and almost exclusively serve the poorest children (usually, but not exclusively,
children of color) in the poorest communities (usually, but not exclusively, in urban areas).

Their two decades long demand for "standards and accountability" has thus been a diversion from a campaign for economic and social justice for the children of the poor.

That has been an incredible achievement, from a policy perspective, and on the road to establishing that replacement agenda, they required a lot of collaboration from the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers. In fact, I'd say that without Shanker and his successors both in New York and in Washington, D.C., the destruction of the equity agenda would have been impossible. That's one of the most significant legacies of Shankerism both for public education and for the American union movement. The damage to the working class (and the
poor beyond the working class) cannot be estimated. As we all know, "spontaneous" acts of resistance can either be ignored or crushed by the ruling class, at will or whim. If they are sadists, they crush. If they are trying to be liberal, they just ignore. Either way, what they fear is organized power, and once Shanker began the retreat of the unions into complete collaboration, everything else we've suffered throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s flowed
"naturally" in the direction of Jack Welch's models of "accountability" and management, internally, and the fascist "Mayor Control" model (only for cities with large black or other minority populations and unions with something of a militant
history) of school governance.

I'd love to continue this debate with Ravitch and anyone else, based on the flaws in her NAEP and other "Model" tests, on the one hand, and a very detailed social and political history of corporate "school reform" on the other.

I'm beginning to blog on these things in Chicago by referring to corporate school reform as "corporate Stalinism" for want of a better label. I began using it yesterday responding to a fatuous story in the Northwestern University newspaper touting John Ayers's comments on charter schools and "choice." John Ayers is brother of Bill Ayers, about whose corporate reform work people need to know more.

For the present moment (and also in a tribute to Naomi Klein's insights into what's been done to New Orleans public schools), we can follow the career of John Ayers (and the boys' father, who, as you may know, was president of Commonwealth Edison -- the electric company -- here in Chicago for a decade and one of the major architects of the "Chicago 21" plan, the predecessor of "Renaissance 2010"). John Ayers is now working for the "Charter Authorizers" group which includes many of the Chicago Boys and Girls (it's headed by Gred Richmond,
who worked inside the Chicago hierarchy pushing charter schools into the "accountability" and "choice" mixes).

Well, it all goes back to whether we hold an unjust society accountable for depriving the poorest children of equity at the starting gate, not just in education but in welfare, housing, and health care. Or we focus the attention on corporate "school reform" and attack children, parents, teachers, and even ("first they came for...") principals once the rigged number are in to "prove" we've all failed at what we're doing.

Jack Welch, in this context, is even a bit player, and so are Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten. The class issues are so important that we can't let personalities divert us for long, tempting as the targets may be because of the odious fruit their various plantings have borne.

Solidarity forever,

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance

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