We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis. Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it. —Kristina L. Taylor
A robust system of public education is essential for a thriving democracy and a growing economy.
Historically, Americans have invested in public institutions.
Nikole Hannah-Jones describes that history in a piece titled, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?”:
“Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy….”
Public schools today are being profoundly affected by strong social and political forces that those invested in the future of this country cannot ignore.
Those forces are part of a larger anti-public institution agenda that has been gaining momentum for several decades.
Public education as we know it has, in my view, three primary threats:
1. Radical capitalists who believe that maximum profit should be extracted from every revenue source, including those provided by taxpayers to support the public good. A primary strategy to divert funds intended for public education is to denigrate and create distrust regarding teachers, teacher unions, and, most of all, public education in general.
2. Poverty and low-quality healthcare that has a particularly profound affect in impoverished neighborhoods and communities on the ability of young people to learn and on their overall well-being. (You can read more about the effects of poverty on children here and here.)
3. The possibility that unrelenting attacks on teachers and the consequences of high-stakes testing and other “reforms” will demoralize teachers and create a sense of resignation about the chances for meaningful improvement. That, in turn, would provide a further opportunity for radical capitalists to exert their will over public education.
Nonetheless, Hannah-Jones continues to place her faith in public schools:
“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.”
Although public education has been an important force for the common good over many generations of students, there is no guarantee that it will continue to play its historic role in American life.
It remains to be seen if the public good provided by public education is sufficiently resilient to withstand these threats as they are intensified over the next several years.
What would you add to or subtract from my list?