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A Comment on New York Times Misrepresentation of Corporate School Reform

This is from Education Notes Education Notes Online,a Commentary on the educational/political scene in New York City and beyond. Teacher comments are included at the website. Kudos to a group who grapple with the real issues surrounding the school issues.

by Michael Fiorillo

The David Brooks op-ed in the New York Times is a well-condensed example of the ideological points that are driving corporate school "reform."

According to this model, education drives economic development, and apparently there is no relationship between investment and economic conditions. I would suggest that anyone who believes that education is the primary factor in economic development take a few taxi rides in NYC and get into a conversation with the drivers. Ask them about their backgrounds, and you will be astonished at how many highly educated people - engineers, architects,doctors etc. - are driving cabs. However, they still had to immigrate here: why? According to Brooks and his ilk, they and the nations they come from should be prospering. But they're not; they're driving cabs in NYC.

The reason is that, while their levels of educational achievement may be high, in their countries there has been no corresponding level of investment that would supply them with gainful employment. This is what the corporate reform crowd refuses to acknowledge: ironically, these "business model" characters refuse to admit to the relationship between supply (educated workers) and demand (investment in industries and jobs that pay middle-class wages or better). These folks believe - or at least the more ignorant/gullible/opportunistic among them - that education magically translates into improved living standards. Obviously, it's an important factor, and as a teacher I won't let these characters trap me into contending that it isn't. However, we're fooling ourselves if we think that investment patterns - among other factors - are not a major factor influencing economic conditions.

For the past generation-and-a-half, the US has been de-industrializing, allowing domestic production in some industries - basic steel, for example - to collapse, shipping others - auto - overseas or to non-union environments in the US. Along with this de-industrialization has gone the extreme income polarization we experience now. It's entirely predictable, since Bureau of Labor Statistics show the country increasingly polarized between high paying jobs in FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) and poverty-level jobs in services such as retail, restaurants, etc. For a generation, these have essentially been the only two sectors where jobs have grown.

Not so long ago, it was possible to lead a relatively secure life with a high-school diploma and a unionized job in manufacturing or transportation. Those jobs are gone now, and even the income premium that college grads have enjoyed is now declining. As teachers fighting the privatization of the schools, we must throw this back in the faces of these sons-of-bitches. They have the audacity to simultaneously ship the productive capacity of this country overseas- literally in many cases, where they disassemble entire factories and send them to China, Vietnam, etc. - and then blame teachers for the resulting decline in living standards.

I personally think that, with the accelerating collapse of the neoliberal economic model, we will have a opening to make this argument. Let's be ready.

Michael Fiorillo is UFT Chapter Leader at Newcomers HS in Queens, NY

Sean Ahern added this comment:
Well said! remember the Coleman report? There was a time, before Ravitch et al brokered the Nation At Risk, when the economic condition of students and their families was broadly acknowledged to be the singe most determining factor in student achievement. That said some accounting should be made: How have we fallen so far? and How may the people regroup? How may we as teachers contribute to this in our schools in conjunction with the students, parents and communities we serve?

— Michael Fiorillo
Education Notes Online


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