Monday, May 28, 2012

Excerpt from Our Times article

Today's post is something a little exerpt from an article I wrote for this month's issue of Our Times magazine.


Only in America or coming to a school near you?

By Tara Ehrcke

“The Shocking State of Our Schools” was the title of the Oprah Winfrey show September 20, 2010. Even if you aren’t a parent or a teacher, the issue of “education reform” in the U.S. likely crossed your path sometime in the last few years. You might have seen the documentary Waiting for Superman, which blames teachers’ unions for wrecking the American public education system and trumpets the concept of the charter school, a private system that runs on public money. Perhaps you read an article promoting merit pay for teachers. Or you might have watched more than 100,000 demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin, take on the newly minted and aggressive Republican governor Scott Walker, for his attack on teachers’ bargaining rights. It is almost impossible, these days, not to come across someone blaming teachers and teacher unions, on both sides of the border, for education’s woes, and promoting the necessity for education “reform.” Practically every mainstream media message is the same: Our schools are failing, and teachers are to blame: bad teachers, greedy teachers, teacher unions, teacher seniority.

The U.S. education reform movement is, at its heart, a platform to advance an agenda of privatization, market-based reforms, and attacks on unions. It is promoted by some very visible (and very wealthy) Americans who have no expertise in either education or education policy. It has become legitimate to chime in on the debate with no credentials and no expertise. It is a darling of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The movement dates back to 1992, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) first developed standardized tests to rank schools internationally. By the late 1990s, individual OECD member states, Canada and the U.S. included, were copying this formula and instituting their own testing, often on an annual basis. They use the data to rank schools and this ranking provides evidence of failing schools. The false crisis of “school failure” drives privatization under the guise of school reform.

In the U.S., such reforms were enshrined in law through George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The Act mandates both standardized tests and draconian responses for schools that fail these tests, such as firing the staff or closing the school. It has been reinforced by President Obama’s Race to the Top program, which ties Federal funding to school and teacher assessment based on student test scores.


These reform measures are the result of public education’s very own shock doctrine strategy, with free-market policies pushed in response to a manufactured crisis. As writer Naomi Klein describes in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, this is a neo-liberal program designed to dismantle and privatize public services.

The shock strategy works like this:

1) Mandate testing of every student at every school.

2) Underfund public schools.

3) Set unrealistic expectations as benchmarks for “success.”

4) Declare a crisis based on test score results.

5) Blame the schools, the teachers and the teachers’ unions for the failure.

6) Introduce market reforms to “fix” the problem.

It is actually quite difficult to promote this set of ideas – even with an army of think-tanks and private lobby groups and a few billion dollars. Most Canadian, and American, parents understand that school is more than standardized test scores, and many believe that the tests do nothing to improve their own child’s education. They also tend to like and trust their children’s teachers and schools, certainly more than they trust a bureaucrat or politician. So, it takes a lot of organized ideological interference to turn parents against their child’s teacher and against their neighbourhood school.

Read more! in this month's copy of Our Times magazine (you will have to actually go to a news stand and buy one, but it is an excellent investment with many other excellect articles). See the table of contents here:

1 comment:

  1. For a country that's supposed to be one of the best in the world, it's surprising how far the education system has fallen. I'm honestly wondering when the government will wake up, smell the coffee, and maybe start up good reading programs for kids to get the reform ball rolling.