Before the Bush regime destroys public education, you'd better hit the books.
The latest crack in the facade of the No Child Left Behind Act just became visible in Philadelphia, where the Inquirer reported that "school accountability gains that Pennsylvania education officials lauded resulted from lower standards, not improved performance."
Educators are caught in a bind: The new federal "standards" are impossibly high, even for good schools, and especially because the Bush regime and its pals in Congress didn't provide the funding for the new law's massive revamping and retooling. Schools that "fail" are in danger of being converted to charter status.
As we've said before, Bush's vaunted No Child Left Behind maneuvers are designed to suffocate public schools. In the '80s era, neocons tried to do it by calling for the abolishment of the U.S. Department of Education—Ronald Reagan himself promised to abolish it. (For background, read this PBS piece from 1996.) Now they're smarter and are drilling holes in the foundation of public education from within.
It's a beautiful union-busting maneuver. The two main groups of unionized workers left in the U.S. are teachers and government employees. If the conservative cabal can privatize in those sectors, America's labor movement, already laboring, will be on death's door as far as political power goes.
Educators Ken Goodman and Yetta Goodman warn of the broader, more disturbing implications. In the introductory material for their book Save Our Neighborhood Schools, they note:
Around the world there are countries trying to achieve what America had, our universal system of free, public, inclusive, neighborhood elementary and secondary schools which we count on to provide the education they need for full productive participation in a democratic society.
In developing countries children of those with money are sent to private schools of varying quality depending on what their parents can afford. The public schools, meagerly funded by local and/or central governments, serve the children of the working poor. Large numbers of even poorer rural and urban children either don't go to school or leave within the first few years.
We have worked extensively with schools and education authorities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, in Asia, Oceania, and Africa. We have seen heroic teachers teaching 40-50 children in tiny, dimly lit rooms. And we've met taxicab teachers in private and public schools in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina. They teach in the morning in one school and jump in a taxi to teach in another school in the afternoon. Every economic downturn drives families of even moderate means to take their children out of costly private schools. Even in developed nations only a fraction of those that make it through secondary schools go on to some form of higher education.
The Goodmans insist that the No Child Left Behind Act "does not have good intentions," adding:
It is a major part of a sustained campaign being waged to transform American education from one in which almost all our children and young people attend common, neighborhood schools administered by an elected board of concerned citizens of each community under state laws, into a system which more closely matches the system of third world nations.
It's kind of humorous, in a way, how the Bush regime snookered Democrats in Congress into supporting this Draconian legislation in 2001. But it was couched as "reform," so there you have it. Veteran educator Gerald Bracey sussed it out quickly. Recalling his reaction for this Seattle Post-Intelligencer story by Deborah Bach, Bracey said last spring:
When it first came out, what struck me so much about it is it was totally unlike anything else coming out of the Bush agenda. This is probably the most anti-regulatory administration since before the Great Depression.
Everything [Bush has] done except for No Child Left Behind is very obviously aimed at helping corporate America and rolling back regulations. With No Child Left Behind, here comes this 1,100-page law with very strict requirements and hundreds of pages of regulations. I looked for an ulterior motive, and it wasn't very hard to find one.
And that motive is vouchers. The religious right wants them so it can get public funding of religious schools and stamp out the secular, humanistic garbage that's infecting America's youth. The neocon right wants them so it can privatize education.
Sounds like a conspiracy theory, right? Well, it's no theory. Media Transparency offers more on this in its "privatization" section:
The conservative movement, being thoroughly anti-union, has at its heart a desire to rid the United States of the two remaining unionized sectors of the national economy: public education (teachers unions), and public employees. In service of these goals, the movement has moved aggressively against both public schools and public school teachers.
Of course, the movement is also interested in converting to private profit the estimated $300+ billion annually spent on public primary and secondary education.
The vibrant Black Commentator has jumped into this issue right from the online mag's beginnings only a few years ago. Here's a sliver from its explosive December 2003 dissection of the pro-voucher movement promoted by right-wing foundations:
Vouchers are key to GOP ambitions to create an "alternative" Black political leadership and to simultaneously sunder the ties between African Americans and organized labor, particularly teachers unions. Beginning with a bucket of gold and a gaggle of hungry hustlers, Republicans have in a few short years succeeded in buying space for vouchers in the Black and general public discourse. An illusory voucher "movement" has been manufactured, despite the fact that nobody Black ever marched for vouchers and suburban whites want no part of such schemes.
But one of the savviest and most blunt pieces comes out of TeacherProfessionalism.com, a Minnesota group. Belying the boring title "A Brief Framework for Understanding the Anti-Public School Movement," Tom Siebold is neither brief nor confining himself to education. Here's part of his analysis:
Money and influence from the neoconservative secular right, combined with grassroots power from the religious right, has resulted in a dramatic reshaping of the American political landscape. One important point of intersection between the two is the movement to dismantle public education.
Siebold breaks it down:
The secular right, which consists of influential military, political, and corporate leaders, is outraged by social change spawned by women's rights, civil rights, worker rights, the ecology movement, unionism, corporate regulations, etc. In response they have spent vast sums of money to fight back. Armed with big bankrolls and convenient access to media outlets, dedicated social/political warriors are fighting to reshape America with a new conservative mindset commonly dubbed neoconservatism. … Neoconservatives see society as an economic hierarchy where a corporate elite works to save the nation from the liberal tendencies of the masses.
Although they are powerful, the small number of neocons makes it almost impossible for them to win elections on their own. This is where the religious right becomes useful. Legions of citizens from organizations like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Christian Coalition are convinced that America has been betrayed by liberal leaders who have undermined core values and set the nation adrift in a sea of secular humanism and decadence. By pushing "hot button" issues like moral relativism, homosexuality, secularism, multiculturalism, sexual freedom, liberal courts, and a general deterioration of the Christian ethnocentric order, charismatic figures like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Gary Bauer can rally large numbers of voters. Karl Rove estimates that over 15 million voters from the religious right turned out for Bush in 2000.
Wonder how many will turn out next Tuesday? There will be huge numbers of "believers" flocking to the polls. That may be enough to save the monumentally bungling Bush.