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NCLB Outrages

Business solutions wrong tactic for schools

Kudos for explaining NCLB and RTTT in terms the public can understand.

Borrow from this for op eds in your local press.

by Barry Wilson

Recent Race to the Top grants provide great sums of potential cash for states willing to adhere to grant prescriptions that require new standards, more testing and rewards for teachers who produce the best achievement scores. These federal incentives intensify the so-called reform of education in a manner consistent with the spirit and regulations of No Child Left Behind law. Like No Child, Race to the Top promises to use ideas and strategies promoted in the business community for restructuring low-performing units. Closing schools in inner-city neighborhoods, turning local public schools over to private charter schools, replacing principals with MBAs from industry, firing teachers, and a focus on standardized tests and test-driven merit pay are among the current "business" solutions for education.

Free-market solutions to problems in education are not new. What seems to be absent from public discussion and media treatment is the fact that business models applied to education have a record of misrepresenting the goals of education as well as the relationship between schooling and the economic and military success of the nation. Exclusive focus on standardized test scores also promotes a perception that the goals of education in a democracy are captured in reading and math test scores. Unfortunately, the arguments and data presented by those with a business perspective are often accepted as factual, if not obvious, by media. Such thinking is corrosive to the education of the very children we say we care about.

The suggestion that education is responsible for the success or failure of American business and our economy has never been true, but using fear of economic or military domination by other countries has long fed the myth that schools were the critical factor. The Russian Sputnik satellite was used to argue Russian schools produced better scientists. The threat of economic dominance by Japan was credited to better test scores on the part of Japanese students. More recently, economic recovery from a toxic and shady financial system created by bankers is laid at the feet of school reform. Over and over, the story gets told and people believe it, despite the fact that the United States has dominated the world economically and militarily ever since the end of WWII. Schools never are credited with producing upswings in the economy, but invariably saddled with blame for possible threats to continued dominance.

Business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also claim that most of the future jobs will require "21st century" skills and advanced knowledge and preparation for all students. Labor statistics and job projections are misrepresented to support the illusion that most students will need a college education to survive economically. While it is true that some of the fastest-growing jobs require higher levels of training and education, these tend to be small in terms of number. Current Iowa and federal projections for future jobs indicate these claims are not accurate. We have far more workers who are underemployed for the skills they possess than we have deficits of skilled workers. Pushing all students into college-prep curricula does not match the real needs of a service economy.

Public education was seen by the founders of our country as critical to democracy.

Providing a good education for our young requires more vision than a focus on numerical indices that represent only a segment of the learning outcomes important in a democratic society. As the gap between rich and poor in America has become larger, and as our population has become more diverse, we must regain the vision of providing a broad education including foundations in the arts as well as sciences. Experience in other states demonstrates that corporate charters accentuate rather than alleviate resource gaps between poor and wealthy, and intensify segregation of children by race and class. Racing to the top should not mean trampling on the goal of access of all children to a quality public education. Iowa has a strong public system. There's no need to trash it for business solutions connected to Race to the Top that have disrupted communities and increased the achievement and opportunity gaps based on wealth and resources.

BARRY WILSON is associate professor of educational psychology and foundations at the University of Northern Iowa. Contact: barry.wilson@uni.edu

— Barry Wilson



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