From the blog assortedstuff comes a great post that says what I’ve been thinking as I read letters, first from Arne Duncan, then from Michelle Rhee, supporting the teaching profession. Both of these people have visions for education that are destructive and anti-democratic.
First, there has been a call to reform education, to move it into the 21st century. I don’t have a problem with this. However, I do have problems with the path that has been chosen, and its ties to political conservatism. High stakes testing is also a problem. Many 21st century skills call for development of critical thinking skills, and these are not well measured by taking paper and pencil multiple choice tests. I’m also not a fan of big business, politicians, and wealthy donors (think Bill Gates) setting the course of education for the future without input from professional educators, classroom teachers and building administrators, in particular. I am particularly worried about the view that all schools are not providing a high level education to their students. The USA is so large and diverse, with so many school districts, that to make such a statement is immediately false. I expect that scores from out best suburban public schools compare quite favorably with scores from Singapore and Finland. What the politicians don’t want to consider is the role of poverty in the educational problems faced by so many urban and rural school districts and their residents. Resolving the poverty issue would take more intestinal fortitude that most politicians possess. Nevertheless, with 20% of the country meeting standards for poverty, something must be done.
The idea that the Democrats could align themselves with the Conservatives and call for increased vouchers for students, along with a relaxation of the restrictions on charter schools, simply borders on the incredulous. I have always felt the primary reason a democratic society provides a particular level of education for its citizens is to ensure that reasonable decisions can be made by an electorate. We’ve lost sight of this goal and we are headed toward a two-tiered society, one of “haves” the other of “have-nots.” I’m very worried!