Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Accountability for thee - not for me

Reading through the transcript of Alex Johnston's speech to the Minnesota Meeting in June you understand that, though Johnston wants to achieve political aims, his goal is distinctly not to convince the public or the education establishment that his ideas for change have merit. He thinks those people are the enemy. His goal is to recruit a small group of dedicated supporters who will pressurize politicians into passing laws which achieve his goal of thinning the ranks of unionized teachers. His first real suggestion to the Minneapolis Foundation was for its grant recipients to get involved "in good old fashioned lobbying."

This is the kind of political operation that the Minneapolis Foundation is now planning for the next legislative session. According to one source there is already much talk around the state Capitol of the plan, and that it will probably have millions of dollars behind it. Though they campaign for teacher "accountability," who will hold ConnCan and the Minneapolis Foundation accountable when their undemocratic, tax-exempt, political activities leads to poorer educational outcomes?

Diane Ravitch on Arne Duncan charter public school reform - United Teachers of Los Angeles UTLA CA 9-24-2010

Say what you will about public school teachers - and their opponents like Alex Johnston of Conncan say plenty - their schools are at least theoretically accountable as institutions responsible to democratically elected local school boards. The same is not true of charter schools, where even for-profit companies or religious denominations are free to run them.  Though they receive public money to operate, charters are insulated from the voters.

I mention this because it has become symtomatic of charter school proponents to specifically avoid the research showing the charters are an academic failure. In the Diane Ravitch speech embedded above she cites studies from 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 that show charters schools have not improved educational outcomes. The same is true for so-called "merit pay," which has been tried since the 1920s, almost never to positive effect.

Ravitch wrote in a discussion about the recent mayoral vote in Washington, D.C., that had essentially turned into a referendum on School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who had been given a free hand by Mayor Adrian Fenty  to implement right wing reforms on the city's public schools. The voters, in a racially divided vote, turned out Fenty by seven points.

Ravitch noted the anti-democratic attitudes of the school reformers, who, despite professed claims to "find what works," studiously avoid the real scholarly evidence proving their reforms will fail:
We now have an "education reform" movement which believes that democracy is too slow and too often wrong, and their reforms are so important, so self-evident that they cannot be delayed by discussion and debate. So self-assured are the so-called reformers that they can’t be bothered to review the research and evidence on merit pay or evaluating teachers by test scores or the effects of high-stakes testing. If they can find one study or even a report by a friendly think tank, that’s evidence enough for them. Mayoral control gives them the mechanism they need to push ahead, without regard to other views or collateral damage.
The hypocrisy of school deformers on the issues of accountability - teachers need it but they don't - and real democracy - tells you all you need to know about the character of their movement. Don't expect that to change. As Alex Johnston told the Minneapolis Foundation - what really matters is political power.

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