Corporate School Reform, The Final Frontier

I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. 011101101110.

It was announced earlier this week that Philadelphia’s school system is being scrapped. 64 schools will be closed by 2017. To replace them, the restructuring plan calls for building more privately-run charter and cyber-charter schools. The central office of Philly’s school system will be drastically downsized as well. The system will be highly decentralized, giving way to a hodgepodge of “achievement networks”.

This was all brought about by steep state budget cuts that put Philadelphia’s school system in the red some $218 million. In New Orleans, it took the moral indifference of Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Katrina to privatize the school system. In Philadelphia, it took the moral indifference of lawmakers.

You would think that the implosion of a major urban school system would warrant some sort of national media coverage. Yet, there has been widespread national silence on the issue. I am especially surprised by the silence of President Obama and Uncle Arne Duncan. Their silence, I gather, is tantamount to tacit approval.

Yesterday, Michigan’s House of Representatives approved a bill lifting the cap on online charter schools in the state. Yet, the performance of cyber-schooling in Michigan, not to mention around the country, is abysmal. It is telling that Michigan’s legislature is ramming this law through now, before the end-of-school-year data becomes available that will surely damn the entire idea of online learning.

Here in our beloved New York City, Mayor Bloomberg’s puppet Panel of Educational Policy met last night to discuss the 24 schools it intends to close at the end of this school year. 146 people signed up to speak, most of them teachers, parents and students from the affected schools who pointed out the injustice of these closures.

These school closures and the promise of future budget cuts in NYC promise to increase the number of online classes students take in the future. The public school classroom is under assault all across the country.

This is one of the more dangerous fronts of the education reform movement. While high-stakes testing has been the most visible part of the assault on public schools, online learning promises to be the much more insidious threat in the long run. It is the fastest growing part of the education sector.

That is because online learning is cheap. No buildings, chairs or chalk are needed. Teachers can teach “classes” of 1,000 students. Someone familiar with the online learning wave taking hold in the Midwest explains the scam:

“I’m all for efficiencies in the education system, but if the cyber charter schools can figure how to educate a child for $6,500 in Wisconsin and they’re still receiving $10,000 per student, I want that $3,500 to go back into the student’s education, not the pockets of some corporate shareholders or executives. This is a funding model that is cheating students.”

Online schooling is the ultimate goal of every corporate reformer. Vouchers and brick and mortar charter schools are halfway stages towards the complete computerization of public education. It is the cheapest education to provide and leaves the most possible room for private profit.

This is where Salman Khan’s Khan Academy comes in. The corporate reformers will probably not be able to pull off the complete computerization of public schooling. Too many parents will demand actual teachers, not to mention an actual building to which to send their children while they go to work. Khan’s “flipped classroom” provides this option. Despite his and his sycophantic followers’ claims that they do not aim to replace blood and bone teachers, the flipped classroom model takes delivery of content out of their hands. Videos provide the content and teachers provide guidance on the enrichment activities that follow the videos. Of course, the activities are all designed by Khan’s team of non-educators. The teacher’s role is merely to follow the script and help students through the pre-packaged curriculum. It is the ultimate deskilling of the teaching profession.

This is where the current era of teacher bashing is tending. By breaking teachers down in the public’s eyes, they are preparing the public to accept the idea that pre-fab videos will do just as well or better at actual teaching. Computerized learning has the added benefit of being on the “right” side of history. This is the wave of the future, after all, it is best just to shut up and embrace it.

Those who have never actually taught will never see the craft involved in teaching. Rather than beat a dead horse, please read my post entitled 60 Minutes Worships Salman Khan and So Do You. Of course, if you are already brainwashed by Khan’s smile, the unquestioning adulation he receives in the media and his association with Bill Gates, then there is really nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. After all, I am a teacher and my opinions on teaching cannot be trusted. I am out to protect my job, since no human being can ever possibly be motivated by any purpose other than self-interest. I cannot possibly be motivated by a desire to defend a craft that is as old as humanity itself, or by the knowledge that online learning will exacerbate the educational caste system in this country. After all, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee send their children to flipped classrooms, not elite private schools with small class sizes and veteran teachers, right?

Let us hope the backlash against this educational barbarism is at hand. The National Opt-Out movement is a great start. We need to opt our children out of online learning as well.

6 responses to “Corporate School Reform, The Final Frontier

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    If it can be digitized, it can be outsourced; as with auto parts and call centers, so too with children. After all, they’re data, and data is to be mined and sold.

  2. “Videos provide the content and teachers provide guidance on the enrichment activities that follow the videos. Of course, the activities are all designed by Khan’s team of non-educators. The teacher’s role is merely to follow the script and help students through the pre-packaged curriculum. It is the ultimate deskilling of the teaching profession.”

    You nailed it. Keep up the good work!
    I’ve been forced to use ALEKS math software for the past two years despite many deficiencies I’ve taken the time to document. I’m hopeful that this may change, but for the moment, it is depressing to see the students not learning and being able to do very little to help them.

    • Take a look at Holy Cross, It has a very strong rep in the sciecnes and in January 2009 opened a brand spanking new $60 million dollar science complex with all state of the art facilities. It is only 3 hours from NYC iand 1 hour west of Boston.

  3. Pingback: Cyber School Expansion Approved In Michigan « Virtual School Meanderings

  4. Pingback: class, self-interest, and ed reform « Learning: Theory, Policy, Practice

  5. Khan Academy is supposed to be a shared education platform that frees up teachers so they have more time to mentor one-on-one with their students. I know of several very talented Software Developers that work there and am confident it will continue to advance and improve. That said, It cannot and should not be used to replace teachers; there is absolutely no substitute for teaching kids how to conceptualize facts and procedures to solve problems in personal and local ways that inspire them. I completely agree it will be bad for students if the Khan platform is misappropriated by for-profit interests. All of our children deserve great teachers, and that requires higher teacher pay, reduced class sizes, teacher empowerment, state-of-the-art facilities, and investments in information technology. As a taxpayer, I would expect all of these things to happen through funding and reforming our existing public education system. Setting up an entirely separate system (of many small charter schools) seems wasteful and costly and hurts existing public schools that are underfunded. I agree selective for-profit education is not in the best interest of our children. My sister is a teacher and my grandmother was a teacher in Alabama for 40 years.

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