Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why Legislative School Reform does not work

We spend less per student than 16 other modern industrialized countries (Slavin, 1998). And, California spends less than 26 other states. Moreover, of these, we are the only country that does not actively promote equality of educational opportunity. In the Netherlands, for example, schools receive 25 percent more funding for each lower-income child and 90 percent more funding for each minority child than in the United States (Slavin, 1998). Clearly, schools serving working-class students and cultural minorities fail in large part because our nation refuses to invest in its children. Our economy needs well-educated workers. We cannot permit schools to continue to fail. When schools succeed for the middle class and fail for working-class students and students of color, schools contribute to a crippling division along economic and racial lines in our society. Schools, as public institutions, must find ways to offer all children equal educational opportunity. Yet reformed schools are more exceptions than the common pattern, particularly in our urban areas.
Let us be clear about the reality of schools in our nation. Some middle-class schools could benefit from reform, but most middle-class schools work. Most schools in urban areas, however, are unable to provide the equal educational opportunity called for by our national ideals and by constitutional law. There will be no significant change in the quality of urban education without substantial new funds allocated to these schools. As the NEA’s Chase has noted, children in these schools need and deserve the same quality of buildings, teachers, materials, and resources as do students from affluent neighborhoods.

Neo liberal reformers, although they claim to be influenced by business management theories, miss use recent developments in management theory. They fail to recognize that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. Most large city schools are highly bureaucratized and control oriented institutions- based upon a high level of control and distrust – as is the federal legislation NCLB. Modern management theory recognizes that in personell-intensive workplace, control does not work well. Each year schools place the most inexperienced teachers with students who need the help the most. We staff urban schools with large number of teachers who failed to find a position in their preferred suburban district, and then we wonder why over 50% leave within 3 years.
Attempts to break the domination of the bureaucracy, such as in Washington D.C. under Chancellor Michelle Rhee, often focus on bringing in superintendents with little background in administration and public schools, the firing of administrators and some teachers for failing to reform failing schools. It is the corporate world of individualism, competition, and consumption opposed to the public sphere of learning civic cooperation and a pluralist democratic ethos. To date this strategy has produced a high teacher and administrator turn over, but it has not improved academic achievement.
Rather than incorporate teaches into their planning, these school administrators
repeatedly imposed neo-liberal policies including closing schools and attacking teach-
ers unions. They admire what they believe to be corporate culture (not including the
revelations of the actual culture of 2008/2009 economic recession) and are arbitrary in
management systems with limited input from teachers or parents. Teachers have not
been respected nor consulted. Little thought has been given to how these policies, havebeen destructive to the children and their futures.
Neo liberal reformers blamed the teachers unions for their own failure to improve public schools. In one sense they are correct. Unions have organized and used political power to limit the expansion of corporate control over schooling. Unions have defended the traditions of Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others that public schooling should prepare young people for democratic life.
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