School reform: The problems — and some solutions

Aug 28, 2013 by

I recently published an excerpt from a new book titled “Public Education Under Siege” edited by University of Pennsylvania historian Michael B. Katz and UCLA education scholar Mike Rose. The book is a series of essays that discuss he problems with technocratic educational reform; the intersection of education, race, and poverty; and alternatives to modern school reform. Here is a Q & A I did with the authors about their book and public education today.

Q) Why did you write “Public Education Under Siege”?

A) Well, maybe the best way to answer that question is with an example from the news. At the end of July, the Walton Family Foundation (the philanthropist arm of Walmart) donated $20 million to Teach For America to recruit and train close to 4000 teachers to work in underresourced schools across the country. The largest percentage of these recruits will be coming to Los Angeles, where one of us lives. If the past is prologue, most of the new TFA crew will work in L.A. charter schools. There’s a lot about this story that is good news, right? The Walton Foundation is spending its fortune and shining its considerable spotlight on education, and Los Angeles will get at least 500 sharp, idealistic young people in its schools. This scenario fits well in the current mainstream school reform agenda. But the story also raises for us a host of questions about contemporary reform, and we produced “Public Education Under Siege” as a kind of sourcebook to use in exploring those questions.

Q) So what are those questions?

A) One set of questions has to do with teaching itself: What does it involve? What does it take to nurture it and do it—and how can we determine when it is done well? A related set of questions has to do with understanding and sensibility about race and class, for many young teachers—like those TFA recruits—will be working in communities quite unfamiliar to them. Race, class, and the economic and social history of schools matter. The TFA story raises yet another question for us: What do underresourced schools in low-income communities need? They certainly need teachers and principals who can commit to them, come to know them well and stay with them, for turnover and instability plague them. Because so many of their students carry big burdens, these schools also need multiple integrated services: health care, legal aid, social work, and so on.

Finally, we believe in the old journalist’s dictum: follow the money. Private philanthropies are more deeply involved in public education than ever before—and that could be a blessing, especially in these budget cutting times—but are there agendas behind the money? The Walton Foundation has a record of support for charter schools and school vouchers, and the corporation financing the foundation is strongly anti-union. If the influx of TFA recruits enter charter schools, that de facto further strengthens charters and, as well, directly or indirectly displaces local teachers, some of whom are highly qualified—exactly the teachers school reformers desire. So a private foundation is directly influencing public education policy and practice.

via School reform: The problems — and some solutions.

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