Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Race to the Top and the Sacramento Bee

Race to the Top
There was a well-written piece by Laurel Rosenhall of the Sacramento Bee of Jan.11, on the role of the CTA and Ed Voice in passing the current California Race to the Top bill.  Here: http://www.sacbee.com/education/story/2452085.html
                The conflict is far more than CTA vs. EdVoice and their  corporate sponsors.  There are a number of reasons to be opposed to the Race to the Top  proposals including dissent from people who know testing and its limits well. Nichols and Berliner (2007) and Bracey's, Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality, among others deal with these issues. There are significant substantive reasons to oppose RTTT.

To accuse resistance as a CTA conflict is to miss state the issues. All you have to do is read the comments on the  U.S. Department of Education  RTTT web pages to see the many controversies.  
Mike Rose in  Why School, expresses some  core ideas related to NCLB and RTTT.
“For some time now, our national discussion of education has been dominated by a language of test scores and economic competitiveness.   To be sure, a major goal of American education is to prepare the young to make a living. But parents send their children to school for many other reasons as well: intellectual, social, civic, ethical and aesthetic.  Historically, these justifications for schooling have held more importance.  Not today.

It matters a great deal how we collectively talk about education, for that discussion both reflects and, in turn, affects policy decisions about what gets taught and tested, about funding, about what we expect schooling will contribute to our lives. It matters as well, how we think about intelligence, how narrowly or broadly we define it.  Our beliefs about intelligence affect everything from the way we organize school and work to how we treat each other.  And, it surely matters how we think about opportunity. “
Mike Rose.  Why School.  Reclaiming Education for All of Us. (2009)

The Race to the Top debate in the California legislature has great import since most observers expect the guidelines and projects of RTTT to become the Obama Administration’s proposals for the re- authorization of No Child Left Behind or ESEA.   Based upon our experiences over the last eight years, Teachers have many good reasons to oppose the California  bill that accepts a whole series of corporate myths. See, http://www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com

            In the California conflict an interesting position was created about the role of parent empowerment.  While we are all in favor of more parent participation, I am trying to understand how parent participation became a campaign strategy in support of Race to the Top.   Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the Senate Education Committee and the leading candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, wrote provisions in SBX 5.1 ( the RTTT bill) that expanded parent rights beyond anything required by Race to the Top. 
            There was a significant mobilization of parents in the Los Angeles School District in November insisting upon more access to charter schools and lifting the limit on charters.  I would like to know more about this effort.  From outside, it appears that the parents were frustrated with lack of improvement in Los Angeles Unified- there has been a 20 year struggle to break up the bureaucratic district.
            It seems that the educational advocates of Ed Voice- who claim to be a civil rights effort, somehow converted or directed this parent effort into an anti union effort that became identified in the Sacramento legislature as anti CTA.  They were able to use RTTT to pass legislation that could not have otherwise been passed in the legislature.  One controversial issue passed was that parents by petition could insist upon closing down a consistently poorly performing school.
            This parent mobilization appears similar to the famous parent mobilization in  Ninth  Street Elementary in Los Angeles,  California used by Ron Unz to pass Prop. 227.  A legitimate parent concern was framed in a manner to gain political power.  In Prop. 227, the conflict was about language policy and bilingualism; in Race to the Top the conflict appears to be parent mobilization for improved schools transferred into an anti union campaign. 
            I am not certain about this.  What is the advantage of ED Voice to frame the battle over RTTT in this manner?  One advantage I can see is that by shaping the conflict and the message as anti union they gained a firm right wing populist base and an echo chamber on talk radio.   In a similar manner, in the Prop. 227 case, rather than seeking a resolution to the problems of a program in a school, the Unz campaign gained a right wing anti immigrant populist base and an echo chamber on talk radio.   So, they gained a hard right base to attack the union.  What is the purpose of this?  The purpose of strengthening the Republican Right is well documented on the English for the Children web site. http://www.onenation.org/news.html

            I would like to understand the purpose of the parent mobilizations in the Los Angeles case- a mobilization that influenced Senator Romero and allowed her to successfully author legislation for dramatic reform of failing schools.  I suspect that the parents wanted better education conditions for their kids.  I doubt if they started out with a union bashing goal.
            The economic crisis and the decline of support for public schools have  produced more severe conditions in many schools, particularly those that are failing.  Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton,  Newt Gingrich,  and others are promoting Race to the Top as a solution to the current conditions.  The RTTT proposals do not respond to the real issues of school reform, they serve as a substitute.  Well, if they are a substitute, what is the goal of offering them as a substitute rather than dealing with the real issues, which include poverty? 
            Where do these policy proposals come from?   The Race to the Top proposals come from legislators and lobbyists whose own self interest guide their recommendations, not the interests of students in schools.

 Lets look at a parallel field.  The U.S.  is  presently engaged in a national debate on health care.  Imagine that as a part of the debate the politicians and the lobbyists were allowed to decide on the procedures for health care and the medicines to be used to treat the ill.  It does not happen.  Doctors and nurses, and health administrators make the major decisions- and unfortunately the insurance companies.

Why then in schools do we allow politicians, lobbyists, and other “experts” who are not teachers and have not worked in classrooms for over ten years, and who have not taught children, to make the basic decisions about schooling.

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