First published in The Urban Times
University of Texas physics professor Michael Marder has made a most eloquent case for changing the debate about education reform in the US with a series of images. He has, sometimes literally, connected the dots between socioeconomic factors and measures of student learning in a way that champions of education reform such as Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and David Guggenheim do not.
If you saw Guggenheim’s wildly popular film “Waiting for Superman”, you’re familiar with the paradigm of these self-appointed reformers.
The simple version is:
1. Public schools are bad.
2. If public schools have to compete with each other for students they will improve.
3. Giving families choices between traditional public schools and charter schools will create that competition.
4. Standardized test scores are the only way to measure and compare schools so families can choose the best schools.
5. Students will move from failing bad public schools to successful good charter schools.
6. All students will be in great schools and the US will once again be the education powerhouse that it once was.
I’ll call this the ‘corporate reform model’ since it sees schools as actors in a free market that must compete for customers (students) by producing the best product (test scores.)
The dangerous idea that free market competition – the corporate model- is the solution to the apparent crisis in public education is an intuitively attractive one. Waiting for Superman used viewers’ heartstrings and a bit of creative license (inaccuracies and reenactments portrayed as real-life moments) to drive the point home. Superman fans came away from the film thanking their lucky stars that tough district leaders like Rhee stand up to greedy teachers unions. They can find hope in Bill Gates’ involvement since his money along with that of the Broad and Walton foundations will fund the bulk of the push for more standardized testing and the creation of more charter schools to force public schools to improve or die. The only problem with this view is that it’s not true.