The Nazis used to say something to the effect of propaganda being an apparent diversity masking an actual uniformity. For example, during World War I, the federal government paid writers, actors and teachers to publicly support the war effort in their lines of work. This gave the appearance of widespread and broad-based public support for America’s war effort. The idea was to saturate the country with jingoism to the point where it formed the backdrop of all public discourse. Few people knew that it was all coordinated centrally.
This tactic is so powerful that it has the ability to make lies true. When President Bush accused Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction, the major media outlets parroted the accusation far and wide. People from all political camps beat the drums of war. Iraq’s WMD arsenal became conventional wisdom, despite the fact that it was a lie.
Now those drums are beating in the current war against teachers. All of the drummers, despite their apparent disagreements, share common assumptions. The first is that the teacher quality is the single greatest factor in the quality of education. The second is that low quality teachers should be fired. Reform groups and school districts, union leaders and public school activists all agree on these things. Debate between these groups takes place on the periphery over how to evaluate teachers and how to fire them.
This debate is a farce. There have been literally thousands of studies done on teacher effectiveness. All of them evaluate teachers based upon the exam scores of their students. The only major study that claimed to measure impacts outside of test scores was published a few weeks ago in the New York Times, before the study was even peer reviewed. Standardized testing, when measured against itself, is a massive failure, with 38% of schools nationwide labeled as failing by 2011. The meme of the effective and ineffective teacher as presented in the media is a lie. It is an unproven idea that has been given credence by every publication of record, whether it is Time Magazine or the New York Times.
Because of this lie, leaders like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are able to push for new teacher evaluations based upon exam scores. Those evaluations will determine which teachers get terminated and which do not. Yet, assuming that teachers are the deciding factor in quality of education and quality can be measured by exams, it still does not follow that lowest performing teachers should be fired. It could mean that they need more training, more materials or fewer students. In fact, the implications are endless. For some reason, however, the education reform never steps outside the bounds of looking for someone to fire.
These are the core ideas agreed upon by every vested interest in education reform. Whether it is a wealthy philanthropist like Bill Gates or the head of a teacher’s union, they all work with the same lexicon: “effectiveness”, “outcomes” and “value added”. This is why Michael Mulgrew, head of the United Federation of Teachers, can be found rubbing shoulders with education deformers like Joel Klein on panels that support more charter schools, the preferred vehicle of education deform.
In truth, there is no diversity in the debate over public education. The contours of the debate have already been determined centrally. Instead of the state, which was the central source of Nazi propaganda, the central source of education reform is a class of super-elites. Bill Gates especially, but Eli Broad, the Waltons and the Koch Brothers as well, give the marching orders. Through grant funding and contributions to school districts, they ensure that everyone toes their line. The uniformity of funding leads to a uniformity in the discourse, leading to overwhelming support of corporate education reform. The lie becomes true.
This is why defenders of public education cannot be compromisers. The deck is stacked so heavily in favor of corporate reform, in terms of both money and support, that compromise invariably leaves one locked into the terms of the debate handed down by the deformers themselves. In short, real public school advocates must be radicals. Like all other radicals, they must question the consensus. Anything less ensures that the pre-fabbed handles, conjured up in billion-dollar think tanks and questionable studies, will never be overcome. This is the same thing as saying that education deform itself will never be overcome.
Anyone short of a radical defender of public school children and the teaching profession is a shill. Anyone who assumes the premises of the Big Lie of education reform is having their strings pulled.