Two Important Articles Describe Widespread Attack on Core Value of Public Education

Here is a particularly strong critique of what the North Carolina legislature is doing to undermine that state’s public schools.  Helen Ladd,  one of the chairs of the Broader, BOLDER Approach to Education campaign and a professor of public policy at Duke University and Edward Fiske,  former education editor of the NY Times, describe their experience two years ago working with North Carolina’s state board of education to craft what was known as a “Vision of Public Education in North Carolina.”  They continue by describing how in 2013, that commitment was dismantled when the North Carolina “General Assembly, with the assent of Gov. Pat McCrory, enacted a sweeping set of new laws that represent a frontal assault on public education…”

Ladd and Fiske write:  “If one were to devise a strategy for destroying public education in North Carolina, it might look like this: Repeat over and over again that schools are failing and that the system needs to be replaced.  Then make this a self-fulfilling prophecy by starving schools of funds, undermining teachers and badmouthing their profession, balkanizing the system to make coherent planning impossible, putting public funds in the hands of unaccountable private interests and abandoning any pretense that the goal is to prepare every child in our state to succeed in life.”

Writing for the Education Opportunity Network and the Campaign for America’s Future, Jeff Bryant devotes this week’s commentary to the same theme.  He examines the situation in North Carolina and also tracks a much broader attack on public schools across the states.  “For quite some time, there has been a well-orchestrated, well funded, and extremely influential movement to literally get rid of public schools.”

Bryant traces an attack on the very survival of public schools  and castigates pundits and commentators who accuse public school supporters of unwillingness to compromise.  He corrects those who assume there is always a middle way by pointing out that in today’s extremely polarized education debate, “what ‘traditional public schools’ face is not so much a gentleman’s dispute as it is an existential threat.”  “All these factors—the deliberate assault on public schools and the declining resources, despite growing challenges—never seem to be considered in arguments by a pundit class that continues to rebuke public school supporters for being strident and uncompromising.”

Entirely different core values underpin the public school system that has historically served our children in the United States and the kind of education based on privatization and individual family choice that today’s school “reformers” endorse. That the two philosophies of education are radically different is a primary reason it’s impossible to find a compromise, middle way between privatized school choice and a system of traditional public education.

Education theories of privatization and school choice value individualism, competition, efficiency, deregulation, innovation, private management and creative disruption—closing so called “failing” schools and opening alternatives in an endless cycle as in a business portfolio.   Historically our society has instead built our education system for civic as well as personal benefit upon a foundation of democratic governance and oversight by elected school boards. We have counted on a vast and stable publicly owned system designed to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children.

Education writer Mike Rose would ask us to make ourselves consciously aware of the values embodied by our public schools as a strategy for protecting America’s public education system as a community asset.  In the 2014 revised and expanded edition of his classic philosophy of education, Why School?, Rose writes: “How we think about and voice the purpose of education matters. It affects what we put in or take out of the curriculum and how we teach that curriculum. It affects how we think about students—all students—about intelligence, achievement, human development, teaching and learning, opportunity, and obligation.  And all of this affects the way we think about each other and who we are as a nation.”  (Why School? 2014 edition, pp. 216-217)

I urge you to read the article by Ladd and Fiske and Jeff Bryant’s column this week. I also encourage you to find a copy of the 2014 edition of Mike Rose’s Why School?   This blog has explored the problems for public schools in North Carolina in these two very recent posts: here and here.)

Watch Keynote Address by Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP

Here is a link to a video, just posted, of Rev. William Barber’s prophetic keynote address delivered at an  early October collaborative conference of the American Federation of Teachers, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, the National Education Association, Communities for Education Reform and many of their allies. The Rev. Dr. William Barber, a Disciples of Christ pastor and president of the North Carolina NAACP, has been leading Moral Mondays in Raleigh throughout this year to protest the regressive policies of the North Carolina legislature.

In the October keynote, Barber declares: “When we stand together, our diversity is our strength that can help this nation move closer to what our founding documents say on paper.” Noting that today’s political battle is one of “extremism vs. those who believe in the Constitution,” Barber challenges the crowd: “We are in a soul-changing moment as a nation.” “There’s been too much progress in America for us to go back now!”

At the October conference the two teachers unions and their community and civil rights allies launched a joint collaboration around a set of Principles That Unite Us.  Your organization can still endorse the the principles in solidarity with the sponsoring organizations by contacting Eric Zachary at the American Federation of Teachers:

Teachers Unions and Their Allies Proclaim Core Value of Public Education

Tonight 400 members of the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, Communities for Education Reform and allies of these organizations joined AFT’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference in Los Angeles where the sponsors released a new set of principles on which they have agreed.  When AFT and NEA along with allied organizations agree on joint principles, it is an indication of deep concern and broad consensus.  There are well over 3 million public school teachers in the United States, the vast majority of whom belong to one of the unions.

Event keynoter, the Rev. William Barber, the prophetic leader of North Carolina’s NAACP, declared: “When we stand together, our diversity is our strength that can help this nation move closer to what our founding documents say on paper.” Noting that today’s political battle is one of “extremism vs. those who believe in the Constitution,” Barber challenged Friday night’s crowd: “We are in a soul-changing moment as a nation.” “There’s been too much progress in America for us to go back now!”

For 20 weeks, Rev. Barber has been leading “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina. Marchers have been protesting North Carolina legislative actions this year that have eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; cut Medicaid coverage for 500,000; ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; and slashed taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent.

Endorsed by AFT, NEA and allies, The Principles That Unite Us, is a statement of seven primary values that address what is happening due to federal incentives for states to impose punitive school reform in the context of austerity budgeting across many states: closing schools, rating teachers according to students’ test scores, and privatizing schools—all policies that target the poorest communities.

  • Public schools are public institutions, while, “The corporate model of school reform seeks to turn public schools over to private managers and encourages competition…”
  • Voices of teachers administrators, school staff, students, parents and community members matter.
  • Schools are community institutions that should help coordinate services for students and families to address poverty and other challenges children bring with them to school.
  • Assessments are critical to help teachers guide lesson planning, but are “misused when teachers are fired, schools are closed and students are penalized based on a single set of scores.”
  • “Teaching is a career, not a temporary stop on the way to one.”
  • Schools should be welcoming and inclusive.  Schools must not push out vulnerable students or treat parents as intruders.
  • Schools must be fully funded.  “We have not come far enough.  Today our schools remain segregated and unequal. When we short-change some students, we short-change our nation as a whole”

And from the introduction that frames the principles:  “We believe that the only way to give every child the opportunity to pursue a rich and productive life both individually and as a member of society is through a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools… Our interest is in public schools that serve all children.  We need schools that are rooted in communities, that provide a rich and equitable academic experience and model democratic practices.  We want schools where those closest to the classroom share in decision-and policy-making at all levels.  We need schools where students feel safe, nurtured and empowered to become productive adults—that provide an alternative to the prison pipeline that too many of our children are caught in.  We believe that the only way to achieve these schools is by strengthening the institution of pubic education.”