Friday, May 06, 2011

Deformed schools: Reduced diversity, authoritarian education styles, narrowed curriculum, and harming of critical thinking skills

Deformed: authoritarian undercurrents in education, Part V

Perhaps the worst authoritarian effects of corporate education reform occurs in schools themselves, which are becoming more segregated and are employing increasingly militaristic and authoritarian techniques in order to raise math and reading scores. Curriculum is being narrowed to the point of many schools not having one art teacher, while students are not learning how to critically think.

Reduced diversity

Resistance to diversity has emerged as perhaps a key component of authoritarianism. Public schools are one place where students and parents from a neighborhood are forced to encounter people of a different race or religion, or who might have different customs and ways of doing things. Researchers have shown that this kind of interaction can act as somewhat of a salve to authoritarianism. Today's education deform is blowing up our diverse system and replacing it with a pseudo diversity. Yes – there are diverse styles of charter schools, but within those schools students populations are less diverse.

Two new studies show how the implementation of school "choice" has resulted in an alarming re-segregation of America's schools. Kevin G. Welner, writing at the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog sums up the studies: "...charter schools across the country [were found] to be substantially more racially isolated than traditional public schools." Writes Welner, author of the second study:
Our study provides a comprehensive examination of enrollment patterns in schools operated by private corporations and finds these schools to be segregated by race, family income, disabilities and English language learner status. As compared with their local public school districts, these schools operated by Education Management Organizations, or EMOs, are substantially more segregated, and the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 is virtually unchanged through 2007.
A recent study by two University of Illinois Chicago researchers into the effects of school reform in Chicago found an alarming re-segregation of schools and growing “disparities between black and white students, and between Latino and white students.” The reform has created a “two-tier” public education system, according to the two researchers. The high achieving schools cited in most reports on the Chicago Public schools turn out to be “three times whiter and three times less poor than the system as a whole” according to the study.

In 2011 the Republican-led Minnesota state legislature not only proposed removing 70 percent of funding for school integration, it went so far as to propose to remove the state's “commitment to the importance of integration in its public schools" from Minnesota regulations. The Republicans also proposed eliminating regulations requiring collection of data about segregation and requiring action to integrate racially segregated schools.

Apart from the division of charter schools into those for white and black, poor and rich, is the sheer variety of charter schools. There are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim schools. There are arts schools. There are schools that are gay friendly. There is a charter school to teach you sports management. In the Brave New World of education deform parents are free to choose schools that religiously, politically or culturally suit them. More importantly, they are free to avoid anyone who is substantially different from themselves.

Authoritarian education styles

As education deform has advanced, public schools, especially those that serve poor and minority students, have increasingly adopted authoritarian aspects of military and prison culture. Students are randomly drug tested, subjected to harsh discipline, searched, and kept under surveillance.

The most popular and influential educational style today is that of KIPP and its authoritarian brethren that exist to demonstrate one thing: That they can increase standardized reading and math scores among poor and minority children. How the test scores are raised isn't even meaningful. The leading deform advocate organizations actually brag about their disinterest in educational pedagogy or learning strategies; they are only concerned that the system be changed, in their current parlance, to represent the values of flexibility, accountability, and choice. The only metrics used to gauge success are the test scores on two subjects.

The KIPP teaching method is called SLANT, an acronym for sit up straight, look and listen, ask and answer questions, nod to show understanding, [and] track the speaker” :
[Students] must learn that any rule infraction will bring an instant corrective response, and they must learn that the smallest misdeed will be no more tolerated than the most egregious offense. New recruits practice walking, getting off the bus, sitting in the cafeteria, and going to the bathroom the KIPP way. Students must learn that KIPP rules apply inside and outside of school. “Miscreants” must learn, for instance, that isolation and ostracism from the KIPP family is total as long as the punishment lasts, and children who talk to “miscreants” at or away from school risk the same punishment if apprehended. In fact, it becomes the duty of other students to report offenders who are associating in any way with “miscreants.” If they do not, they, too, risk the same punishment. New recruits, then, learn compliance through the exercise of coercive power and constant surveillance.
You begin to understand why KIPP targets poor and minority children: affluent whites would have nothing to do with such a stifling learning environment. KIPP's motto appropriately fits its style: “Work hard, be nice.” Non-authoritarian school mottoes sound more like, “Good Instruction Is Better Than Riches,” or “"Soaring to Greatness, Committed to Excellence.” As one education critic has written, the system seems to aim to produce “poor people lacking intellectual skills but brimming with character.”

The authoritarian culture of KIPP produces some sad results in their schools. One parent reported that children in KIPP schools refer to them as the "Kids in Prison Program."  In 2009 a scandal broke out in the Fresno, California, Unified School district over a report on KIPP Fresno’s authoritarian CEO, Chi Tschang, who was accused of
“...making children bark like a dog, taking children's eye glasses from them, making children stand out in the cold for hours, picking up children and dropping them on the floor, isolating children, screaming at children, emotionally-abusing children, making children stand in the sun for 2 hours during the summer, telling children to put their 'ugly face toward the wall', and, otherwise, going 'beyond the bounds of the law'”
KIPP Fresno was eventually closed , but the sadistic Mr Tschang is still an important figure in the deform movement. He presented a session at the 20th Anniversary meeting of Teach For America in February 2011 titled “"Bringing the 'Joy Factor' into Your School."

Though KIPP only has about 100 schools today, it plans to open an additional 100 in the next decade. It plans to grow in tandem with its sister institution, Teach For America, which recently announced that it had gained promises of an additional $100 million from a handful of philanthropies. TFA supplies 60 percent of the KIPP principals, and 30 percent of its teachers.

Perhaps you've heard of one former TFA teacher, Michelle Rhee, darling of the school reform movement and controversial former chancellor of Washington D.C. who reveled in firing teachers, exemplified

by the cover photo of her, stern-faced, standing in a classroom with a broom on the cover of Time. The only thing missing was a pile of fired teachers' bodies on the floor in front of her.

Rhee has become a prominent leader of the deform movement, starting a new advocacy organization called Students First!, with an ambitious goal of raising $1 billion. Rhee is a social dominator in the mold of the leaders of the deform movement. She was recently found to have been lying about the academic achievement of her students during her short three year career in Maryland. She told a reporter about how when she was unable to control her students during her teaching days she resorted to taping the students' mouths shut. She was actually proud of that. In an apt metaphor, Rhee drew student blood when removing the tape.

Narrowed curriculum and failure to teach critical thinking

Education reform has taken a terrible toll on the diversity of curriculum and experiences available to students, and, for charter students especially, their ability to critically think. New studies show that college students have an alarming deficit of critical thinking ability, and that charter schools, particularly those in New York City, are failing to teach complex reasoning skills.

It's not hard to see why: because of political differences over teaching standards and local control of education there has never been a national agreement about what constitutes acceptable rates of learning, or even what should be learned. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act instructs states to develop their own standards for math and reading, which are the only two subject areas politicians could agree on. Now with efforts to imbue tests on those two subject matters with existential import, including the pay and retention of teachers, other subjects and deeper learning are neglected.

Chris Hedges aptly described the threat to higher thinking posed by the corporate takeover of our schools at
“Schools and universities, on their knees for corporate dollars and their boards dominated by hedge fund and investment managers, have deformed education into the acquisition of narrow vocational skills that serve specialized corporate interests and create classes of drone-like systems managers. They make little attempt to equip students to make moral choices, stand up for civic virtues and seek a life of meaning. These moral and ethical questions are never even asked. Humanities departments are vanishing as swiftly as the ocean’s fish stocks."
In New York City after the Gates' Foundation massive infusion of cash to create dozens of new “small” high schools, one third of all public high schools don't even have one art teacher on site.

A University of Illinois Chicago study on the school changes enacted by current Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Democratic mayor Daley found that Black and Latino students have “disproportionately experienced a string of punitive and destabilizing policies” including "drilling for standardized tests, being forced to repeat a grade, school closures and high teacher turnover.”

A new report on six charter schools done by the New York City's Department of Education (DOE) shows, according to one writer, “most of the schools are neglecting basic elements of decent education, yet in no case were they punished for this, or pressured to change their ways,” and that “critical thinking was missing from several schools.” At one Bronx school, characterized by the report as “academically successful”
“Teachers' questions asked mainly for recall of information...Students' responses were generally one or two words...Students did not discuss or share ideas...There was no evidence of analysis, evaluation, or providing students with the opportunity to create a new product or defend a point of view.”
The report concluded that “Some of the key skills necessary for college success were not observed in classrooms.” Students at one charter high school studied reported that students were never required to read novels or book-length non-fiction. The longest reports they had written were three to four pages. Though parents complained about verbally abusive discipline and high rates of detention at one of the charter schools, nothing was done about it.

Tomorrow: Collapse of authority breeds authoritarianism 

Part I:  Deformed: Authoritarian undercurrents in education
Part II: The danger to education and democracy posed by authoritarianism
Part II:  School choice birthed in authoritarian racial animus and market fundamentalism
Part IV: Education deformers' achieve political success through a culture of lying, repetition, and compliance, not logic, reason and evidence

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