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Who Benefits From Public School “Reform”? (Recommended Reading)

April 18, 2012

As our public schools are systematically re-engineered for dubious reasons, with questionable results, by people of uncertain motives, there is a disturbing lack of skepticism on the part of our watchdogs for the public good, journalists. One of the basic principles of reporting is to ask “cui bono” – who benefits? In the Watergate scandal, the key informant whispered to reporters Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.” But very few reporters today seem to be “following the money” in the field of education.

Everyone seems to agree there’s a crisis in public education today. Most Americans just accept this, prodded by the constant calls for “reform” which, enabled by some very lazy “journalism”, flood the public consciousness.  With this backdrop, self-styled reformers are charging about the country, nearly unimpeded, desperately passing laws and promoting new programs, testing, testing, testing, and demanding “teacher accountability.”

One could quite reasonably argue that applying a business model  driven by metrics is a very bad option when dealing with something as complex as human development and learning — but they’re not dissuaded! Forever certain the problem must lie with teachers and those dastardly unions, they forge ahead: despite cheating scandals and mounting evidence to the contrary.

Anthony Cody, a veteran science instructor, penned an excellent piece yesterday at Education Week. The quote above is from his post. When the question “who benefits?” is asked, we delve into a world of ugly money and politics which leaves one answer abundantly clear: it’s not the children.

Cody does an excellent job laying out the myths under which current education reform operates. For example:

4. Teachers are the number one reason students are doing poorly, and thus if we can eliminate ineffective ones, performance will shoot through the roof. This has spawned a host of reforms, including the elimination of due process, and Value Added Measurement systems to evaluate teachers using their test scores. Media outlets have actively propagated these unreliable methods. The Los Angeles Times created its own VAM system and published teacher ratings two years ago, and more recently New York newspapers published teacher ratings and wrote exposes of the “worst teachers” based on them.

He then gives us a list of the places to look along that money trail, from testing companies to publishers and alternative schools. Much reporting remains to be done, but Anthony Cody gives lazy journalists a roadmap. Whatever your current position on the need for education reform and the shape that might take, I highly recommend you take a few minutes to read Cody’s post. At least you’ll be able to think more critically about reform proposals, even if the media refuses to help you along.

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