I was never an Obama supporter and never will be. Towards the beginning of his term, his supporters excused the sad state of the country by blaming Bush. We are now three years in, which means that Obama owns a large part of the mess that is the United States of America. Through poor leadership, cowardice and, most importantly, being bought off by the same people that buy off every other politician, Obama has allowed this country to remain in the toilet. Somewhere along the way, Obama reached a tipping point where every problem could no longer be blamed on Bush.
The education deformers have reached their tipping point as well.
For the sake of convenience, let’s take No Child Left Behind (which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary), as the seminal point where the education deformers took the driver’s seat. In certain areas of the country, the deformers had already been in charge much longer. However, NCLB was the point where no public school child could escape the standardized testing regime that became a hallmark of deformer policy.
If Obama reached his tipping point in 3 years, then the deformers have certainly reached theirs in 10.
In the same year as NCLB, the nation’s largest school system in New York City fell into the hands of the new Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He would eliminate the democratically elected Board of Education, who voted on all important matters of schooling policy for the city, and replaced it with a Panel for Educational Policy whose members were all appointed by him. They rubber stamped all of his reforms. His first war was against “social promotion”, which was the practice of moving kids to the next grade even when they had not passed. It was the first manifestation of the “no excuses” mantra the deformers would recite so much in the coming years. In his 10 years as overlord of education, 21 large public high schools have been closed while nearly 61 new charter schools were opened by 2008. He has waged a perpetual public relations war against the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, causing them to be complicit in a new contract that stripped them of many due process rights.
10 years of rampant reform in New York City, and what has become of the schools?
According to the results of the NAEP exams, which Diane Ravitch calls the “gold standard” of testing, no appreciable gains in math or reading since the reforms have taken place. By 2009, “just 24% of eighth-graders were deemed proficient or above on the reading test this year compared with 22% in 2003. In math, just 24% scored a proficient score compared with 20% in 2003.” The gutting of the large high schools also gutted the many programs only possible in large high schools: football, baseball, band, clubs and academic competitions. These were the things that brought spirit not only to the school building, but to the entire community. Walking the hallways now of the large high school buildings will take you through the several small schools that co-habitate there (or “co-locate”, if it is a charter). They jealously guard their space, competing over classrooms, laboratories, cafeterias, gyms and auditoriums. Instead of the community coming together, like they did in the large high schools, communities are ripped apart.
Teachers, owing to a contract that took away their rights to legitimately grieve unfair practices of administrators, live in fear of speaking their minds. Those who speak out are harangued out of the system on trumped up charges. The last 10 years have produced story upon story of veteran teachers being slapped with trumped up charges. Our “due process” now involves waiting forever for a termination hearing where well over 90% of teachers are found guilty. At the same time, principals like the one who sexually harassed his staff, or the one tampering with credits and dancing with strippers on facebook, go unpunished. It is a system of corruption and cronyism, harassment and intimidation, bureaucracy and dictatorship that we have been left with after 10 years of Bloomberg’s education deforms.
And yet, in his State of the City address, Bloomberg has called for ramping up his reforms. Instead, Bloomberg should have done the honorable thing and acknowledge that he has reached the tipping point. He has been running the system for 10 years and still acts like a reformer. In reality, 10 years makes him the status quo. He is the education crisis. There is nobody else to blame.
If Obama reached his tipping point after three years, what about Michelle Rhee, who was the chancellor of Washington D.C.’s schools for three and a half? Her teacher evaluation system threw D.C. into a neo-Jim Crow era where inexperienced teachers ended up in poor neighborhoods while veterans ended up in gentrifying areas. She pulled off perhaps the darkest, most cruel irony in the history of education: bringing Jim Crow to the city in which Brown v. Board of Education was decided.
Where is the tipping point for education reform? The fact that we even use the term “reform” speaks to the utter victory of their propaganda campaign. Reformers are fresh with innovative ideas that inject new life into stale institutions. The deformers have injected poison into education, causing it to go backwards towards a musty and oppressive era of segregation. The blame is squarely on their shoulders, since they are the status quo.
In the end, there is one important overlap between Obama and the deformers besides both reaching their tipping points. Despite both of their promises of change, they brought nothing but tired ideas advocated for by a narrow elite. The reasons why CEOs can count on billions in bonuses while people get thrown out on the street are the same reasons why millionaires profit off of education deform while our schools are ravaged before our eyes. Is there any wonder why Obama and his buddy Arne are pushing Race to the Top?
The politicians and the corporate reformers have reached their tipping points. It is time we give them a little push so that they topple over.