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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Abusing the memory of the civil rights movement

Denish Jones is a contributor to EmPower magazine. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University. She has taught kindergarten, preschool, served as a campus based preschool director, and taught college for over 10 years. Currently she is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Howard University.

In this article, Jones warns that so-called “reformers” have stolen the language of the civil rights movement to advance their goals of privatization and deprofessionalization. Their aims actually contradict the aims of the civil rights movement. 

She writes:

1. Privatization is inherently unequal.

The corporate reform movement that is waging war against public education has one goal in mind: privatization. Free-market advocates do not believe in a system of public education and are on a mission to see every aspect of a public society privatized from our prisons to our schools. But with privatization comes the loss of public ownership. Public systems are open to inspection by the public.

Records are made public and the process is transparent so that community members can understand what is happening and voice their concerns. Privatization removes the ability of the public to know what is happening with their tax dollars. Private companies can use proprietary laws to prevent them from disclosing documents and following laws pertaining to public records….

Without the transparency of how our tax dollars are spent how do we hold private corporations accountable? Some businesses do well but others fail to garner enough capital to stay afloat; that is the nature of capitalism. 

But when the business model of winners and losers is applied to public education, the losers tend to be children who struggle academically and families without the social capital needed to advocate for their children. The winners are CEO’s and stock holders who earn high salaries with public money but can use their private status to shield themselves from public accountability.

2. School choice is not about parents choosing good schools it’s about schools choosing good students.

School choice has been pushed by corporate reformers since the creation of charter schools and vouchers. Using the plight of underfunded poverty ridden urban schools reformers argued that low-income and minority families should be given a choice in where they send their child to school. 

Choice and competition would force low-performing schools to compete for students or be closed. Why should low-income and minority families have to settle for a failing neighborhood schools when parents with more money could choose better schools? This is how the argument for school choice is often framed as a benefit for certain groups. But the research paints a different picture….

The push for privatization distorts the picture of who really gets to choose under school choice schemes. Reformers would have us believe that parents are doing the choosing but in reality it is the charter schools, many which are for-profit corporations, who get to choose.

3. Underprepared teachers for other people’s children.

Privatization of public education cannot be fully implemented unless the system for educating teachers is also privatized. Typically teachers were prepared through colleges and universities were they took a variety of courses and completed a semester long student teaching internship before they could apply for a teaching license through their state. 

Today fast-track teacher preparation programs like Teach for America (TFA) are turning teacher preparation into a business. Recent college graduates are recruited to spend a few years teaching in inner-city schools with high needs students. Armed with five weeks of training and a desire to give back, these recruits are placed in classrooms and expected to outperform educators with teaching degrees and years of experience. 

TFA is touted as noble program that will change the teaching profession by removing the union thugs who only care about themselves and replacing them with young idealistic people who have the commitment to do what needs to be done and will not use poverty as an excuse.

Armed with language of from the Civil Rights movement, TFA claims to be champion of low-income and minority children. Statements like this, “Nearly 50 years after landmark civil rights marches throughout the region, deep, entrenched poverty still persists along racial lines” and “From Birmingham to Selma, corps members are helping to prove that all kids can achieve at high levels, even those living in poverty” can be found on their website and are clear examples of how TFA has co-opted the language of the Civil Rights movement. 

But hidden behind these nice quotes is the assumption that other people’s children deserve underprepared “saviors” as their teacher…..What the richest and most educated parent wants for their own child should be what we aspire to give all children.

Denisha Jones concludes:

There is much work to done as we continue to march towards Dr. King’s dream. Corporate education reform is not an ally in our fight for educational justice. We must not be fooled by those who seek to use the legacy of our struggle to turn a profit at the expense of our children’s education. A strong democratic republic needs high quality public schools that offer a free and appropriate public education to all.