The perils of the ‘F-word’

Sep 26, 2013 by

By Brock Cohen –

I thought we were all more mature than this.

Two prominent governors have been firing off the F-word quite a bit lately in their mutual efforts to effect dramatic K-12 school reform in their respective states.

Louisiana Governor Boby Jindal used it to fulminate against the U.S. Department of Justice for its attempt to thwart the exodus of children from high-poverty public schools through the state’s voucher program.

Days later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo blurted it out while blasting the state’s designated underperforming schools – and then all but reiterated his previous proposal to impose a “death penalty” on schools that cannot meet the accountability standards set by state and federal governments.

The F-word at issue here is, of course, “failing,” and it has become the go-to verbal dagger of the school-reform syndicate.

Seemingly cosmetic diatribes like Jindal’s and Cuomo’s are problematic, mainly because of what they do not explicitly say about their cruel shibboleth. In the meantime, we are left to assume a general definition of a “failing” school, but should we? What exactly is a “failing” school? In addition to hearing the term levied by hoards of reform-minded firebrands, I’ve also witnessed, firsthand, the ways in which the word’s implications cascade down from the mouths of demagogues and into actual policy instruments that impact the lives and learning of real students.

The perils of the ‘F-word’.

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