A primer on corporate school reform

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level. These proposals include:

  • increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education
  • elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights
  • an end to pay for experience or advanced degrees
  • closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters
  • replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management
  • vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition
  • increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff
  • implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:

These proposals are being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of astroturf political groups, and canned legislation from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).

Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under No Child Left Behind, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable and less expensive professional staff. Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), test-based sanctions are increasingly targeted at teachers.

A larger corporate reform goal, in addition to changing the way schools and classrooms function, is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining and teacher unions and in the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. These policies undermine public education and facilitate its replacement by a market-based system that would do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and employment: produce fabulous profits and opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many....

Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. They’ve become the credit default swaps of the education world. Few people understand how either really works. Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals. And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge. Yet these deeply flawed tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison.

[readon2 url="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-primer-on-corporate-school-reform/2011/10/26/gIQAyWrUKM_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet"]Continue reading...[/readon2]