The Next Phase in Corporate Education Reform Resitance, Part I

A few days ago Shaun Johnson announced that he will take a break from his blogging and advocacy on The Chalk Face.  In part, he notes his discontent with those involved in the corporate education reform resistance movement for not offering an alternative to CSSS and RTTT initiatives.  Johnson states:

“Of all the education reform opponents out there, how many give us a peek into their classrooms? Who gives us a glimpse of that grand alternative they so vehemently support? I honestly can’t think of that many. I’m trying to think of prominent reform opponents who post pictures or evidence of their good works. What does your classroom look like? If you oppose standardized testing and curricula, the common core, and other hallmarks of market based reforms, then I am looking forward to pictures or accounts, retellings or even video, of your teaching. Can I see it? Actually, how do I even know you’re good at your job and you’re not out there just saying no to everything?”

I disagree with Shaun Johnson that those who resist corporate driven education reform initiatives have failed to demonstrate a better alternative.  Simply making a statement like this is an acquiescence to the entire agenda of education reformers who have claimed for many years now that the public school system is a complete failure and in need of systemic reform.  There are and have been many, many examples of excellent teachers and teaching models since the advent of public education in the United States.  And the teaching profession has made this fine work public.  Public education critics have ignored any fine examples of excellent teaching practices or models originating from public schools or public school supporters.  Those who seek to privatize education cannot afford to spotlight anything excellent ensuing from the public sector.

I do, however, agree with P. L. Thomas, professor of education at Furman University, who writes about education reform on his site The Becoming Radical as he calls for the next phase of resistance to corporate education reform.  According to Thomas, most of the years in which public school teachers and advocates have been embroiled in the “accountability” movement can be classified as phase 1.  Systemic education reformers used the early decades of the accountability movement to subject educators “to the role of the child” and “we were asked to be seen but not heard.”  We are now in phase 2 of the accountability movement.  We are, as Thomas describes, like an adolescent beginning to experiment “with our rebellious selves,” pitching a “completely warranted tantrum.”  Phase 2 has been successful in creating a grassroots movement of resistance and getting the attention of policy makers, politicians, parents, and teachers.

We are, however, ready for the next phase of resistance.  There is a point, when conducting qualitative research, that we have “saturated the data.”   Loudly and clearly we have publicly demonstrated, through academic scholarship and analysis, through blogs and tweets, through public discourse, through demonstrations, and a myriad of other forums that corporate education reform is the wrong path.  We have successfully created, in Thomas’ words, “some cracks in the education reform machine” and are poised to move into phase 3,  “our young adulthood as a resistance.”

So, what will phase 3 look like?

I think it is time to own our convictions that we, as resisters of corporate education reform, are right.  We have the data and we have the moral high ground.  We know that VAM models are flawed, that high stakes testing is counter-productive and harmful, that the charter school movement is a failed experiment, that data mining is problematic, and that “choice” has more to do with schools choosing students rather than children and parents choosing schools.  We are no longer shocked by example after example of greed, distortion, and corruption.  We still need to document those examples and Diane Ravitch’s blog serves as an excellent repository.  But how many examples of Bill Gates’ bad ideas and bad investments in education reform do we need?  How many times do we need to document Pearson’s role in the catastrophe of CCSS and high stakes testing?  We have, in short, saturated the data.  Unless we move into the next phase of resistance, I fear that we will become like the shrill voices of tea-party gadflys who can be so easily dismissed by their critics.  I agree with Thomas that we must remain indignant and angry.  However, do we want to be dismissed for our laser like focus on the faces and voices of individuals instead of the failed ideas and policies?  Is Bill Gates the face of corporate education reform?  One would certainly think so.  But faces like Bill Gates are a moving target.  Consider Michelle Rhee, for example.  She was the face of education reform for a time.  She has moved on, however. And while the resistance movement was successful in making her the face of ill conceived ideas in education reform, and perhaps causing her to move away from education reform discussions, her ideas live on.  Bill Gates may move on as well.  But his ideas will live on if we continue to make to focus on him rather than the policies he supports with his vast wealth.

As I posted in September, Bill Gates is actually late in coming to the table of corporate education reform discussions.  Those who came before him, like Lou Gerstner of IBM fame and David Kerns of Xerox fame, flexed their techno-corporate muscles and helped usher in the policies we are now living with in the Obama/Duncan era of CCSS and RTTT.  Defeating or silencing individuals is not the solution.  We must focus on the ideas and policies as the problem.  We must vote in our own best interest and in the best interest of our children.  We will know we are in phase 3 of the resistance once we begin to see policies being addressed more than the faces of the people who are being used to promote the corporate education reform agenda.

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