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Public Education Under Siege

Public Education Under Siege

Michael B. Katz
Mike Rose
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Public Education Under Siege
    Book Description:

    Proponents of education reform are committed to the idea that all children should receive a quality education, and that all of them have a capacity to learn and grow, whatever their ethnicity or economic circumstances. But though recent years have seen numerous reform efforts, the resources available to children in different municipalities still vary enormously, and despite landmark cases of the civil rights movement and ongoing pushes to enact diverse and inclusive curricula, racial and ethnic segregation remain commonplace. Public Education Under Siege examines why public schools are in such difficult straits, why the reigning ideology of school reform is ineffective, and what can be done about it. Public Education Under Siege argues for an alternative to the test-driven, market-oriented core of the current reform agenda. Chapters from education policy experts and practitioners critically examine the overreliance on high-stakes testing, which narrows the content of education and frustrates creative teachers, and consider how to restore a more civic-centered vision of education in place of present dependence on questionable economistic models. These short, jargon-free essays cover public policy, teacher unions, economic inequality, race, language diversity, parent involvement, and leadership, collectively providing an overview of the present system and its limitations as well as a vision for the fulfillment of a democratic, egalitarian system of public education. Contributors: Joanne Barkan, Maia Cucchiara, Ansley T. Erickson, Eugene E. Garcia, Eva Gold, Jeffrey R. Henig, Tyrone C. Howard, Richard D. Kahlenberg, Harvey Kantor, Michael B. Katz, David F. Labaree, Julia C. Lamber, Robert Lowe, Deborah Meier, Pedro Noguera, Rema Reynolds, Claire Robertson-Kraft, Jean C. Robinson, Mike Rose, Janelle Scott, Elaine Simon, Paul Skilton-Sylvester, Joi A. Spencer, Heather Ann Thompson, Tina Trujillo, Pamela Barnhouse Walters, Kevin G. Welner, Sarah Woulfin.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0832-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In his remarks at the Centennial Conference of the National Urban League on July 29, 2009, President Barack Obama reminded his audience that “from day one of this administration, we’ve made excellence in American education—excellence for all our students—a top priority.” Even Republicans would not have disagreed with this choice. The imperative of educational reform became a national rallying cry issued from the left and right as politicians on both sides of the aisle claimed that a slide in the quality of American public education left the nation behind its competitors, its future prosperity imperiled. Obama backed up...

  4. Part I. The Perils of Technocratic Educational Reform

    • Chapter 1 The Mismeasure of Teaching and Learning: How Contemporary School Reform Fails the Test
      (pp. 9-20)
      Mike Rose

      The good classroom is rich in small moments of intelligence and care. There is the big stuff of course—the week-long science experiment, the dramalogue, the reporting of one’s research—but important as well are the spontaneous question, the inviting gesture, the tone in a voice. They reveal the cognitive and philosophical intimacy of a room.

      In the border town of Calexico, California, third-grade teacher Elena Castro is working with a group of students when a boy who is still learning English comes over from a book he’s reading to ask what the word “admire” means. She turns and gives...

    • Chapter 2 Views from the Black of the Math Classroom
      (pp. 21-29)
      Joi A. Spencer

      It’s hard to forget Donovon (a pseudonym). He sat in the far right corner of his sixth-grade math classroom facing the wall. He was quiet and listened to the teacher’s class discussions and lectures, even though he could not actually see her or engage with her. He was deemed too far behind to work with the other kids and was assigned computation problems out of an old fourth-grade textbook. Published in 1968, Donovon’s tattered textbook was older than I was. On occasion, I would sit next to him and encourage him to work on the problems assigned to his classmates....

    • Chapter 3 Targeting Teachers
      (pp. 30-39)
      David F. Labaree

      The mantra of the current school reform movement in the United States is that high-quality teachers produce high-achieving students. As a result, we should hold teachers accountable for student outcomes, offering bonus pay to the most effective teachers and shoving the least effective ones out the door. Of course to implement such a policy needs a valid and reliable measure of teacher quality, and the reformers have zeroed in on one such measure, known as the value-added approach. According to this method the effectiveness of individual teachers is calculated by the increase in test scores students demonstrate after a year...

    • Chapter 4 Firing Line: The Grand Coalition Against Teachers
      (pp. 40-57)
      Joanne Barkan

      In a nation as politically and ideologically riven as ours, it’s remarkable to see so broad an agreement on what ails public schools: it’s the teachers. The consensus includes Democrats from various wings of the party, virtually all Republicans, most think tanks that deal with education, progressive and conservative foundations, a proliferation of nonprofit advocacy organizations, right-wing anti-union groups, hedge fund managers, writers from right leftward, and editorialists in most mainstream media. They all concur that teachers, protected by their unions, deserve primary blame for the failure of 15.6 million poor children to excel academically. Teachers also bear much responsibility...

    • Chapter 5 The Bipartisan, and Unfounded, Assault on Teacher’s Unions
      (pp. 58-66)
      Richard D. Kahlenberg

      Teachers’ unions are under unprecedented bipartisan attack. The drumbeat is relentless, from the governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to the film directors of Won’t Back Down (2012), Waiting for Superman (2010), and The Lottery (2010); from new lobbying groups like Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Wall Street’s Democrats for Education Reform to political columnists such as Jonathan Alter and George Will; from new books, like political scientist Terry Moe’s Special Interest (2011) and entrepreneurial writer Steven Brill’s Class Warfare (2011) to even, at times, members of the Obama administration. The consistent message is that teachers’ unions are the central impediment to...

    • Chapter 6 Free-Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy
      (pp. 67-74)
      Kevin G. Welner

      “For about two years now, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been co-opting much of the GOP playbook on education. They support charter schools. They endorse merit pay. They decry teacher tenure and seniority. On alternating Thursdays, they bracingly challenge the teachers’ unions.” So begins a December 2010 article in National Review Online, authored by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute. Later in the article, Duncan receives praise from these conservative pundits for embracing spending limitations on American schools and welcoming—in place of those resources—“productivity”...

    • Chapter 7 The Price of Human Capital: The Illusion of Equal Educational Opportunity
      (pp. 75-83)
      Harvey Kantor and Robert Lowe

      In his oft-quoted Fifth Report to the Massachusetts Board of Education, Horace Mann sought to popularize the idea that education had individual as well as collective economic benefits. This 1841 report became one of the most well known of Mann’s twelve reports to the board, though Mann himself worried that such an appeal would exacerbate the materialism that he hoped the common schools would combat. At the time, however, the Massachusetts Board was under attack from opponents of a centralized school system, and Mann thought that by showing how schooling benefited the economy he might convince the board’s opponents of...

    • Chapter 8 Educational Movements, Not Market Moments
      (pp. 84-90)
      Janelle Scott

      For at least two decades, conservatives have argued that school choice was the last unachieved civil right. In 2010, some powerful moderate voices echoed their view and invoked the name of Rosa Parks to support it. At a September 15 screening of the documentary Waiting for Superman, which claims charters are the solution for the persistent failure of urban public schools, secretary of education Arne Duncan announced that the film signaled a “Rosa Parks moment” that would initiate a new movement for school choice. On September 24, he repeated that message on the Oprah Winfrey Show, promoting the film: “When...

  5. Part II. Education, Race, and Poverty

    • Chapter 9 Public Education as Welfare
      (pp. 93-101)
      Michael B. Katz

      Welfare is the most despised public institution in America. Public education is the most iconic. To associate them with each other will strike most Americans as bizarre, even offensive. The link would be less surprising to nineteenth-century reformers for whom crime, poverty, and ignorance formed an unholy trinity against which they struggled. Nor would it raise British eyebrows. Ignorance was one of the “five giants” to be slain by the new welfare state proposed in the famous Beveridge Report. National Health Insurance, the cornerstone of the British welfare state, and the 1944 Education Act, which introduced the first national system...

    • Chapter 10 In Search of Equality in School Finance Reform
      (pp. 102-111)
      Pamela Barnhouse Walters, Jean C. Robinson and Julia C. Lamber

      If any reform promised to bring about equality of educational opportunity, it was arguably school finance reform. By eliminating the large differences in per-pupil spending among school districts in the same state, it would have leveled the playing field between high-spending versus low-spending districts. Yet, after four decades of effort, fewer than half the states have made serious attempts to equalize school financing (almost always in response to decisions from state supreme courts ordering them to do so). Furthermore, even in the states that have attempted to do so, the reforms have met considerable political and popular resistance. In most...

    • Chapter 11 “I Want the White People Here!”: The Dark Side of an Urban School Renaissance
      (pp. 112-121)
      Maia Cucchiara

      Grant Elementary, part of Philadelphia’s beleaguered public school system, stands among rows of historic townhouses in Philadelphia’s revitalized downtown (all school, neighborhood, and individual names in this chapter are pseudonyms). Beginning in 2004, Grant was the focus of an aggressive campaign by parents, school district administrators, and local civic leaders to market this and other downtown schools to the middle- and upper-middle-class professionals living in the area. Many Philadelphians, concerned about both the quality of the schools and ongoing middle-class flight, supported the campaign. This is understandable. After all, an influx of middle-class parents in Philadelphia’s schools could generate additional...

    • Chapter 12 The Rhetoric of Choice: Segregation, Desegregation, and Charter Schools
      (pp. 122-130)
      Ansley T. Erickson

      Over the last decade, talk of choice in education has reached an unprecedented pitch, and the talk has brought forth extensive dollars and human energy. Advocates for school choice, which has become a pseudonym for charter school reform, claim that changing how individual students end up at one school rather than another will contribute to significantly expanded access to quality education.

      Forty years ago, many American communities began to reorganize student assignment on a massive scale. Court-ordered busing for desegregation radically altered how students were assigned to schools and on what criteria. It is worth looking at that historical moment...

    • Chapter 13 Criminalizing Kids: The Overlooked Reason for Failing Schools
      (pp. 131-140)
      Heather Ann Thompson

      The nation’s school dropout rate reached crisis levels in 2009, and test scores posted by its poorest public schools were also grim. According to a report in The Hill on March 10, 2010, only 70 percent of first-year students entering America’s high schools were graduating, with a full 1.2 million students dropping out each school year. Four months earlier, Time’s Detroit blog noted that in 2009 the Detroit public school system reported math scores that were the worst in forty years of participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (December 8, 2009). So great was the problem of...

  6. Part III. Alternatives to Technocratic Reform

    • Chapter 14 Abandoning the Higher Purposes of Public Schools
      (pp. 143-147)
      Deborah Meier

      In September 1966 I wrote my first piece on education for Dissent, “A Report from Philadelphia: Head Start or Dead End?” I was teaching morning Head Start after a few years of subbing and kindergarten in Chicago, and on the way to teaching kindergarten in Central Harlem. I had just begun to contemplate that teaching might not be a time killer until my kids got older and I could work full-time at something politically or intellectually Important.

      Now, forty-five years later, I think about these amazingly interesting years. But, had I written this fifteen years ago I would have been...

    • Chapter 15 Equity-Minded Instructional Leadership: Turning Up the Volume for English Learners
      (pp. 148-157)
      Tina Trujillo and Sarah Woulfin

      After taking a deep breath, Principal Forte pulled back her shoulders, glanced around her crowded office, and pondered the question. What was her most important responsibility as the principal of Jefferson Elementary School? (All names of schools and individuals in this chapter are pseudonyms.) It was to serve as an instructional leader by championing quality teaching for all children. She was keenly aware of the multiple constituencies in her school’s students. And she worked tirelessly to make sure that English learners, that is, students whose first language was not English, received the attention they were due: “My job is to...

    • Chapter 16 Professional Unionism: Redefining the Role of Teachers and Their Unions in Reform Efforts
      (pp. 158-167)
      Claire Robertson-Kraft

      Education policy makers have long searched for a system that will recognize and reward outstanding practice, support instructional improvement, and ultimately hold educators accountable for performance. But we are now at a moment when these ideas are more at the forefront of the public conversation than ever before. For states and districts to secure grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top Fund, they were required to develop new ways to measure effective teaching and propose plans to use this information in decisions related to compensation, career advancement, and tenure. The availability of federal funds resulted in a flurry of...

    • Chapter 17 Pushing Back: How an Environmental Charter School Resisted Test-Driven Pressures
      (pp. 168-179)
      Paul Skilton-Sylvester

      Who would believe that Albert Shanker, the late, controversial president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was one of the original backers of the charter school concept, publicizing the name and idea in his weekly “Where We Stand” column of July 10, 1988? Charter schools, unions, and public schooling were not always enemies. But, more than two decades later, the teams have changed, and the debate over charter schools has become so polarized as not to be productive. Critics on the left tend to lump charter schools together and include them with the voucher movement as a threat to...

    • Chapter 18 The Achievement Gap and the Schools We Need: Creating the Conditions Where Race and Class No Longer Predict Student Achievement
      (pp. 180-193)
      Pedro Noguera

      The term “achievement gap” is commonly used to describe disparities in academic outcomes and variations on measures of academic performance that tend to correspond to the race and class backgrounds of students. Though such disparities are by no means new, in recent years the effort to “close the achievement gap” has become something of a national crusade. Politicians and private foundations have exhorted educators to take urgent steps to close the gap and put an end to this social scourge. Former president George W. Bush went so far as to accuse those who thought the gap couldn’t be closed of...

    • Chapter 19 ¡Ya Basta!Challenging Restrictions on English-Language Learners
      (pp. 194-200)
      Eugene E. Garcia

      During the last decade, the population of children entering American schools unable to speak English grew by 40 percent. One in ten pre-K-12 students, a total of 5.3 million, are categorized as English-language learners (ELLs). This number is a direct result of the large wave of immigration over the last fifteen years. Those new immigrants gave birth to “new Americans,” children born in the United States with full citizenship rights but whose families are non-English-speaking. Therefore, the number of ELLs is projected to increase by some 20 percent in the next decade. The achievement gap between them and their English-speaking...

    • Chapter 20 Sharing Responsibility: A Case for Real Parent-School Partnerships
      (pp. 201-206)
      Rema Reynolds and Tyrone C. Howard

      Parent involvement is all the rage. From the president to local superintendents to foundation directors, all agree parents need to be involved in their children’s education. One policy mechanism pushing this call to action is a provision within the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that states that parents are to be included in decision-making practices as full partners with school officials. But as legislators grapple with revisions of the policy, parents have been eclipsed from the reform conversation—twice.

      As NCLB is being revised for reauthorization, the provision has been omitted, but its power remains. Unfortunately, the original...

    • Chapter 21 Calling the Shots in Public Education: Parents, Politicians, and Educators Clash
      (pp. 207-218)
      Eva Gold, Jeffrey R. Henig and Elaine Simon

      The gap between calls for parental engagement in education and institutional realities is wide. Educators say they value parent participation, but by that they often mean a junior partner role in which parents monitor homework, make sure kids get to school on time, show up at school-sponsored events, and generally act as an extension of the teacher and school. Many parents and community advocates, however, see themselves as more than just the supporting cast. When a neighborhood school fails to perform well on standardized tests, should it be closed, turned over to private management, or reinforced with more resources and...

  7. Part IV. Conclusions

    • Chapter 22 What Is Education Reform?
      (pp. 221-237)
      Michael B. Katz and Mike Rose

      No reform movement in any domain—the law, agricultural development, education—can do everything, and it is an unreasonable demand that it try. Reform movements need to be selective, and need to be clear and focused. In some ways the current mainstream education reforms are just that: standardized test scores are used as a measure of achievement; a teacher’s effectiveness is determined by improvement in those scores; funds are awarded by competition, and so on. Yet, although it is unreasonable to demand everything, it is legitimate to scrutinize what is left out—for something left out might be crucial to...

    • Chapter 23 A Letter to Young Teachers: The Graduation Speech You Won’t Hear, But Should
      (pp. 238-240)
      Mike Rose

      Let me begin by celebrating your calling to join one of our society’s grand professions. What is more important than to play a central role in the development of young people’s lives? Cherish this calling, for it will be tested.

      You are entering teaching at a troubled time. For all the political talk about the importance of education, a number of cities and states are trying to balance their budgets through cuts to schools. You will also hear conflicting messages in the national conversation about education. Teachers are universally praised as the solution to our educational problems and simultaneously condemned...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 241-246)
    (pp. 247-247)