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[Susan notes: Kudos to the writer for linking NCLB to the Business Roundtable.]

Published in Muskegon Chronicle

To the editor

I wonder sometimes how many parents really understand what has been going on in education during the past 20 years. I can't believe it's very many, because if the majority of parents knew what was going on, they'd be attending school board meetings with torches and pitchforks, or at least considering home-schooling their children.

Any ignorance and confusion about the recent trends in public education is understandable and, I believe, intentionally fostered by those currently holding the reins of both the state and federal levels in regards to public instruction.

Here, in a nutshell, is what has happened: In 1989 the national Business Roundtable decided that Total Quality Management (a production model aimed at eliminating waste and producing high-quality products) would work as well when applied to the education of humans as it did when applied to the manufacture of toasters/cars etc. The resulting reform goals were marketed as "Outcomes-Based Education," and the proposed implementation of OBE in my district led to one of the best-attended school board meetings I have ever seen. In fact, citizens statewide banded together to flatten the OBE initiative due, in large part, to the inclusion of character outcomes parents felt were the concern of family, church and community.

Beaten, but not undaunted, the BRT simply changed jargon. The education reforms became the "Nine Essential Components of a Successful Education System." Outcomes became standards and benchmarks. Rather than work through the education system where they might run into feisty parents again, the BRT joined forces with the National Governors Association to form Achieve, Inc., which used its wealth and clout to work through the legislative branches at the state and federal level. The crowning glory of this effort was the passage of the "No Child Left Behind" legislation in 2001.

Harvard statistician Gerald Bracey calls NCLB the perfect legislation. Perfect, that is, if you understand its purpose is to destroy public education. If schools are able, by some miracle, to meet the goals of NCLB, Corporate America gets to say, "See. When you impose the business model on education, student achievement rises. Even more will be better." If, as is more likely, schools fail to reach NCLB standards, Big Business gets to say, "Public schools can't cut it, so it's time to let us take over." It's much like the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Any answer leaves you guilty.

Does Big Business have a stake in education? Well, of course, and much of what we are seeing is Corporate America's attempt to respond to global competition (among other things) by taking control of the education of their future workforce (or, as they refer to it, its "human capital").

However, to apply a manufacturing model to education is flat-out wrong. A child is not a toaster. My daughters are presently nobody's human capital, and no need of the economy takes precedence over my right to guide their education, something I can do most effectively when my school responds to local pressures, rather than directives from faceless strangers on high.

As a teacher, I am frustrated by the way we treat students in response to the goading of NCLB. As a parent I am outraged by the hubris of those who think of my children (or any child, for that matter) as simply "human capital" to be molded into a cog for the economic machine.

I've e-mailed a more detailed account of the graduation legislation debacle to several newspapers, congressmen, and education organizations throughout the state. Nobody seems to care. Actually, I think they don't care because parents don't seem to care, but I'm convinced that if parents really don't care it's because they don't know what is really going on in education.

But now you do.

Scott W. Baker

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