“The State is being ripped off by private companies who only want to make a quick buck out of our kids.”
– Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, speaking on BBC1’s Panorama this evening:
Reading, Writing and Rip-Offs
Panorama investigates the computer supply companies whose directors have grown rich signing up hundreds of schools across the country to deals that have taken them to the brink of bankruptcy. Parents are usually unaware that their school can be carrying debts of up to £1.9 million for overpriced or sub-standard equipment.
Reporter Paul Kenyon reveals the mis-selling that has ended the careers of head teachers who say they were duped by dishonest salesmen, forced some schools to make staffing cuts, and raises questions about the government’s roll out of greater financial autonomy to schools.
Watch this and weep.
From time to time 3D Eye focuses on what’s happening in education right around the world, and considers how different societies and different governments are changing their systems of education. This year we’ve written about education in Finland, Singapore, Japan, and a few other places.
One story that’s made major headlines right around the world in recent weeks is the teachers’ strike in Chicago. There are many different views on what’s been taking place and why it’s had such significance, but it’s been difficult to get beyond the superficial and the inane.
Pete Dolack is an American writer whose essays analyse some very large and complex issues and are perceptive, lucid and highly informative. His website is called Systemic Disorder. The following paragraphs are a quick summary of his thoughts on the teachers’ strike. Click the link to have a look at the whole piece, and indeed the other pieces on Pete’s website.
Chicago pushes back against the war on teachers — and neoliberalism
The Chicago teachers returning to work today earned a victory — not for themselves, but for two important ideas. The first is that dignity and security are not unreasonable for those of us who have to go to work every day. The second is that the job of schools is to build the citizens of tomorrow, not line the pockets of corporate executives and investors.
We can’t understand the reasons behind the “war on teachers” without examining both of these ideas.
The corporate executives salivating over their potential profits, the funders of the charter-school movement seeking more takeovers and, most of all, the willful mayor who expected to steamroll over the teachers each had their agenda stalled.
Not that those powerful people were defeated, nor that the teachers won a total victory. The new contract is a negotiated settlement, with both sides getting something. That is what a “negotiation” is — a compromise by two parties.
Mayor Emanuel had clearly expected the community to be on his side; instead the people have been with the teachers. The mayor’s response? Stamp his feet, attack, go to court to force an end to the strike. His reaction says much about the mayor and his complete adoption of corporate ideology. When you give an order, it is to be obeyed!
It wasn’t obeyed — schools are not corporations. Professional educators believe they should have a hand in shaping the education system. Imagine that. Teachers just might know something about education that the hedge-fund managers running television commercials in Chicago don’t. What if people in other professions start getting the idea that they, too, should have a hand in decision-making in the workplace?
Charter schools are the key here. An increasingly stressed component of the neoliberal agenda is privatization of public schools. Public schools are shuttered, and replaced by private charter schools. Sometimes the charter schools are given part of the facilities of a still-existing public school, which is given second-class treatment in its own building. Unionized teachers are fired, and nonunion teachers paid much less are hired in the charter schools. The charter schools are given money diverted from the public schools but without the accountability or requirement to follow existing contracts. Some of the money goes to pay huge salaries to the executives of the charter-school companies and for profits.
The movement for charter schools is not a movement for reforming education, as promoters claim, but rather is naked union-busting. It is a bold attempt to force down wages, parallel with the decline of wages in the private sector.
A Dissent article by Joanne Barkan explained who funds the charter-school movement, then exploded the myth that they perform better:
“Stanford University’s 2009 study of charter schools—the most comprehensive ever done—concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately.”
The rate of poverty, as numerous studies have shown, is the leading indicator of student performance. Gaps in social development and cognitive functions begin before children are old enough to go to school. But to confront the vast inequalities of capitalist societies is verboten — better to blame everything on teachers. And so we come to another component of the corporate charter-school agenda: Judging teachers almost exclusively on standardized tests. Doing so deflects attention from underlying social issues (issues that are much bigger than schools by themselves) and enforces a specific agenda in education: To mold children to be proficient in narrow technical skills without the ability to think originally.
Teachers in Chicago and elsewhere who push back against heavy reliance on test scores are reasonably protecting themselves against a rigid system that takes no account of social and other issues that are intertwined with student performance, but they are also striking a blow for a more complete, more rounded education — one in which the liberal arts and other topics are employed to teach students how to think rather than imposing a narrow education in which pre-selected answers are simply regurgitated.
It is unconscionable to claim that teachers, or teacher unions, don’t care about students or education. Surely there are scattered individuals who should not be in the classroom — but there is no profession or human endeavor without some people who are poor performers. Such people can be weeded out without tarring entire groups.*
Rita Stephanie [a Chicago teacher] wrote:
“The interests are complex and if the problems of education were easily solved it would have been done already. All morning on the picket line we talked about the problems of poverty. The teachers on my picket line wanted to talk about the big problem of poverty. We still need to teach our babies, but society needs to take responsibility for the problem of poverty.”
Chicago teachers were on the front lines this month: Holding the line against the attacks on public education and the need for a holistic approach on the one hand, and holding the line against the attacks on working people and their ability to earn a good wage and pension on the other hand. A strike, particularly one that is defensive as this one, can’t succeed without significant community support. Even then the odds are often long: industrialists, financiers and the governments over which they have decisive influence possess huge power and a willingness to use it.
* See our previous post on the continuing efforts of people within the UK government and Ofsted to suggest that there are significant numbers of teachers who lack commitment, dedication and effort – suggestions which clearly have an impact on public perception of teachers as a whole and indeed on the morale of teachers:
Dear Sir Michael – https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/dear-sir-michael/