Where I take apart the ridiculous notion that weak, powerless teachers somehow mean strong, effective education.
Public Schools Are Not Corporate Proving Grounds
Credit: swainboat
March 20, 2014

One of the most striking parts of our current "debate" over public education has been how desperate corporate titans are to turn schools into proving grounds for corporate theory.

Education is not a for-profit concern. It is a social concern, and it's one that doesn't fit neatly into the corporate model, as Bill Gates is discovering with the resistance to his Common Core standards.

Yesterday, a board member from StudentsFirst published an op-ed in SFGate, without any disclosure of her self-interested perspective.

Make no mistake, StudentsFirst is the frontline leader for the corporate gambit for education. When one of their board members writes an op-ed without disclosure, readers don't have the full picture. But non-disclosure aside, let's have a look at her factless claims.

Top-down education is a cure-all

With regard to the Vergara v. California case taking place in LA (you can read more about that here and here), Ali states, "At its core, this case is about the power of teachers and protecting the right of every student in California to strong teaching and a quality education, as guaranteed by the California constitution."

She further asserts that "low-income Latino and African American public schoolchildren are more likely to have less talented teachers largely because of harmful state laws."

Oddly, she cites no evidence for her claims and in fact, the trial in Los Angeles has not yielded any evidence supporting them. Moreover, Ali seems to be operating on the theory that by weakening teachers' rights to due process and fair hearings over complaints, somehow students' rights are strengthened.

Nothing could be further from the truth. That is a top-down corporate model, where management holds the power of hiring and firing without any reason or need for due process, leaving their employees quaking at the prospect of losing their job if they dared to question, or innovate, or step outside the boundaries of their corporate headmasters.

Compare charter schools to traditional public schools and you find the same thinking in play. Disabled students, students who aren't performing to standard, or disruptive students can find themselves tossed out of that charter without so much as a 'by your leave.'

Neither of these circumstances lend themselves to better education for students, but they certainly facilitate corporate proving grounds for whatever corporate education profiteers dream up, don't they?

Doing away with teacher tenure will fix everything

Ali concludes with a claim that a "victory for the Vergara plaintiffs will enable California - and other states to follow - to shift a flawed paradigm: Rather than bowing to a system that is designed to guarantee lifetime employment for poor-quality educators, we'll be able to give principals and administrators the flexibility they need to ensure that every student has the chance to flourish in classrooms with highly capable teachers."

Just like that! No funding, no alterations to how class size is determined, no concerns about the effect of poverty on learning ability, nothing. Also no evidence, because in Ali's mind, it's really just a question of a neat corporate fix to slap the employees in line so they know who's boss.

Just today, my local paper reported that class sizes in an already-overcrowded K-8 district were going to get bigger. That overcrowded district serves a majority of students where English is not their first language. Crime and poverty are overriding concerns throughout the district, whether they are children of farm workers or laid-off factory workers.

Do you suppose those students will magically transform into great achievers because their teachers' job security is at risk? Will a top-down corporate model of education compensate for the fact that they had no breakfast before they came to school and were up half the night because the cops were investigating a shooting down the street? Do they imagine that endangering teachers' job security will somehow compensate for those things?

Fact-based solutions

It's not enough for a board member of StudentsFirst to make the claim that corporate models as applied to education will somehow guarantee children a great education. She needs facts, and she has none. All she relies on is her own "firsthand experience" and ideology. For her benefit and the benefit of anyone reading, here are some facts.

Class size is the single most effective determinant of success. Smaller class sizes yield greater successes. Furthermore, those children who stand to gain the most from smaller class sizes are those from poor and minority backgrounds, where the achievement gap closes by 38 percent simply by placing them in smaller classes with more individualized instruction.

You want those kids to succeed? Let them learn in smaller classes and they will. With regard to the Vergara case, perhaps it's worth seeing the outcomes in California after they reduced class sizes in primary grades and saw immediate gains on standardized testing.

Those who are truly interested in the civil rights of poor and minority students should be fighting for class size reductions, not attacking the teachers who do battle with less-than-adequate funding for everything from school supplies to textbooks.

I repeat: Public schools are not corporate proving grounds. Public education policy is not merely a question of putting MBAs on the job to revamp teacher HR. Honest policymakers will acknowledge their own failure to take existing facts and convert those to policy.

And next time, Ms. Ali? Disclose all of your affiliations, not just the ones that make you look good.

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