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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/11/2010

De-legitimizing public education

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

By Marion Brady
The quality of American education is going to get worse. Count on it. And contrary to the conventional wisdom, the main reason isn’t going to be the loss of funding accompanying economic hard times.

Follow along and I’ll explain:

Step One: Start with what was once a relatively simple educational system. (For me, it was a one-room school with 16 or so kids ranging in age from about 6 to 15, and a teacher who, it was taken for granted by the community, was a professional who knew what she was doing.)

Step Two: Close the school, build a big one, buy school buses, open a district office, and hire administrators to tell teachers what they can and can’t do.

Step Three: When problems with the new, more complicated system develop, expand the administrative pyramid, with each successive layer of authority knowing less about educating than the layer below it.

Step Four: As problems escalate, expand the bureaucracy, moving decision-making ever higher up the pyramid until state and then federal politicians make all the important calls.

Step Five: Give corporate America - the Gates, Broads, Waltons, etc. - control of the politicians who control the bureaucracy that controls the administrators who control the teachers.

Step Six: Pay no attention as the rich who, enamored of market forces, in love with the idea of privatizing schools, and attracted by the half-trillion dollars a year America spends on education, use the media to destroy confidence in public education.

Step Seven: As a confidence-destroying strategy, zero in on teachers. Say that they hate change and played a major role in the de-industrialization of America and the decline of the American Empire.

Step Eight: As the de-professionalization of teaching and the down-grading of teachers progress, point to the resultant poor school performance as proof of the need for centralized control of education. So, what’s next?

I don’t have a clue. But if I were forced to guess, I’d say that what’s next is whatever the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable - eyes fixed no farther than the next quarter’s profit - want to be next. They’ve been wildly successful thus far.

It’s possible, of course, that education policy next year will be just another excuse for partisan warfare, with little or no change in the status quo. Or it may be that some small congressional caucus will stick a wrench so firmly in the legislative gears that the simplistic, reactionary
education "reform" machine built by corporate America, sold to Congress, and showcased by non-educator-educators like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, will simply grind to a halt.

What particularly grieves me is that, whatever happens, it won’t be a consequence of any real understanding of education. Neither will it cause the education establishment itself to take seriously what Erica Goldson said in her June valedictory speech at Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York:

"We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

"Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

"I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system."

And whatever happens next won’t support and encourage educators to get a spine. They need to scream bloody murder at stupid policy, reject inappropriate use of market forces, point out mainstream media educational naiveté, and demand that policymakers listen before serving up dysfunctional programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

And when they do so and are dismissed as self-serving whiners who don’t want to be held accountable, they should take to the streets in protest.


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 11, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Marion Brady, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  bill gates, marion brady, public education, school reform  
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Next: Yes, you can teach kids to eat broccoli


Well, Marion, many parents and teachers are taking it to the streets, but I would argue for taking it to court.

Everything you say is true, and it is grounds for specific actions.

In Massachusetts, legislation was passed in January mandating that public schools be siezed and handed over newly-formed public-private "Turnaround Partnerships", which include for-profit entities like Mosaica, which is linked to the Boston Globe. Here is their own website, describing the takover and their role in it, and the trail to the Globe and political connections:

In a crisis the Boston Globe calls "tough love" in its editorials, schools are being shut down in low-income areas across the state, over the desperate protests of parents, students, and community leaders. This illegitimate, secretive process specifically targets low-income minority communities. There is no financial accountability, and no democratic oversight.

The children of the poor are being denied the equal protection of the law in their access to education, targeted by their income and color. You have described all the players accurately, but you leave the impression we are powerless to stop it.

The 14th amendment to the US constitution says no legislation shall deprive these communities of the equal protection of the law. The Education Reform Act passed in such haste by my clueless state legislature, and signed by my clueless governor (bless his reelected heart) in January 2010 is unconstitutional.

The Constitution of the United States is our shield against abuses of our democracy by the rich and powerful. It is also our weapon, if we have the courage, determination, and sheer reading comprehension needed to pick it up.

" No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Posted by: mport84 | November 11, 2010 6:42 AM | Report abuse

Dear Marion,

You left out a very important step, you know, the one where all the multinational technology corporations rant about U.S. High Schools and Colleges failing to produce enough students economically capable of going into the computer industry, thus leaving them with only one alternative, going to India and Indonesia for computer engineers and applying for guest worker visas by the millions. Unfortunately, our government has bought this argument and our economy is taking a beating for it.

In the end, education has never been about making better citizens or even a better country. It has been about producing laborers. At one time, they were valued to some degree. Now, it's about faster, cheaper, with no health insurance, and no loyalty to the U.S. worker. Our government has turned it's back on our children and our citizens for the past 30 years, and now they want us to bail them out of their mess.

Welcome to the age of the "at poverty level" engineer.

Posted by: occumsharpe | November 11, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Pardon, the last post should have read "academically capable."

Posted by: occumsharpe | November 11, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Pardon, the last post should have read "academically capable, not economically capable."

Posted by: occumsharpe | November 11, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

This week on his blog, Bill Turque reported that the former Chairman of the D.C. Charter School Board (Banker Tom Nida who makes loans to DC Charter Schools) was quoted as saying if the D.C. Charter Schools were viewed as a single entity they now have assets in excess of a half billion dollars and last year generated about $20 million in "profits."

The New York Times reported yesterday that . . .

Over the last decade, Kaplan University (owned by the Washington Post) has moved aggressively into for-profit higher education, acquiring 75 small colleges and starting the huge online Kaplan University. But over the last few months, Kaplan and other for-profit education companies have come under intense scrutiny from Congress, amid growing concerns that the industry leaves too many students mired in debt, and with credentials that provide little help in finding jobs. The bad publicity, and growing scrutiny, have taken their toll. Since its recent high last spring, Washington Post Company stock has dropped by more than a quarter. Other for-profit education companies, including Corinthian Colleges, in which the Post owns an 8 percent stake, fell even further.

So where's the public outrage? Like sheep to the slaughter.

Posted by: mrpozzi | November 11, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

A Pay-per-Vew I would pay to view: Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meir, Darlene Hammond, Anthony Cody, vs. Gates, Broad, Klein, Rhee, vs. Geoffrey Canada, Steve Barr, and the KIPP founders, vs. a gaggle of randomly selected classroom teachers.
Pass the popcorn, and and find a comfortable seat; you could sell that spectacle on iTunes.

Posted by: pdexiii | November 11, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

"They need to scream bloody murder at stupid policy, reject inappropriate use of market forces, point out mainstream media educational naiveté, and demand that policymakers listen before serving up dysfunctional programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

And when they do so and are dismissed as self-serving whiners who don’t want to be held accountable, they should take to the streets in protest." Marion Brady

Some of us have and we have been punished...and yes, school administrators' are the biggest bullies in the neighborhood...and its all about CYA.

"So where's the public outrage? Like sheep to the slaughter." mrpozzi | November 11, 2010

The general public only cares about their own kid. And with's like an abused spouse. They are afraid, and hope if they continue to smile and pretend everything is ok...the beatings will stop....and they'll get a promotion DOWNTOWN.

Posted by: ilcn | November 11, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

My take on the teachers not protesting is this:

Teachers are busy teaching. The major flaw in the reform movement is its lack of acknowledgement of this issue. But, that doesn't surprise teachers because they always ask for more planning time and it is usually dismissed. This happened before the current "reform" crowd came in, now it is just worse.

Good teaching cannot take place without ample planning time, except with very talented, experienced teachers.

Most teachers are not in teaching for bonuses or to please administrators. They want to teach students some subject or how to read. That is what they will do. The general idea is that "downtown changed X, here is what we have to do to implement what they want and still be able to reach the kids". So, they are busier than ever now, teaching.

Only people with financial means can "quit" their jobs in protest. Teachers are generally middle class people who have never been paid a lot. The trade off was always job security and long vacations and some level of benefits.

Now it is like "Here are some impossible tasks for you to perform that will actually interfere with your ability to teach the students, make sure you write down everything you have done to implement this stuff". In urban districts you could add to that, "After you have put in 14-16 hour days you can tune in to your school leaders trashing you on television or in the newspaper. In fact, the whole country, including Oprah, who you thought of as "good", will join in to tell you what a rotten job you are doing.

It used to be that people were praised for working in urban school systems. They were thought of as people who really cared, persevered and fought for the students. Jaime Escalante and others were held up as national heroes.

Now the national narrative has changed and we are demonizing the very people who are helping kids. Is this in order to privatize schools so that profits can be made from taxpayer money? Maybe. Or is it a result of news that is bad getting more clicks?

Posted by: celestun100 | November 11, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I fear that Marion Brady's analysis is depressingly correct.

But, his suggestion of action, to 'take to the streets' if necessary, is an antidote.

Personally, I am also concerned at the pervasiveness of cynicism in the upcoming generations, as evidenced in valedictorian Goldson's speech on knowing how to work the system. Depression as well seems to go hand-in-glove with the cynicism.

In racking my memory for some nugget of meaning, of what is important to our educational process, I looked up Alfred North Whitehead - mathematician, philosopher, educator (1861- 1947) - and found the following, rather comforting pronouncement in his opening remarks
on "The Aims of Education":

"Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it....."

It seems that too many of the current crop of over-zealous reformers are too concerned with turning out students who possess only scraps of information, and in the process, help to make America's culture a cheap replica of what was once a great nation.

It is past time to take to the streets fellow educators.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | November 11, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Celestun100 has it sooo right. I'm afraid school superintendents, chancellors, boards and the rest count on over-working and super-stressing the teaching staff just so that they are too tired and too busy to "take to the streets". Laying on the guilt trips and annually adding to the workload have been all too effective in holding down real protest and outright rebellion. Then the insults of pay freezes and demonization for perceived failings will be too much to take. America is in for even worse schools brought to you by the do-gooders running the public discourse.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | November 11, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I vote for a "National Sick-out Day" for all public school teachers and shut this country's public education system down for a day. And on that day, publish our own "Manifesto" in the cities major newspapers about the ridiculousness of this ineffective education reform and the treatment of public school teachers. Perhaps that will get the public's attention.

Before someone responds with something like, "How will this help the children?" or "That isn't committed to children." We do care and we are committed. If we weren't we wouldn't be teaching. Lord knows it's not for the money, the working environment or the way we we're treated by principals, parents and many students.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | November 11, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Oh...Darn that Chamber of Commerce!

Posted by: brainonbrad | November 12, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Oh...Darn that Chamber of Commerce!

Posted by: brainonbrad | November 12, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

I am working in my community to develop parental involvement on these very issues. It isn't easy to move people from bake sales to organized opposition. Mr. Brady's comments are definitely going into my archives for continued reference. However there are still strong opinions that unions have much more power than politicians (item 5), the media is no longer really required because confidence was destroyed a decade ago (item 6), and that schools de-legitimized themselves with no outside force required (items 1-4). I think unions have problems but are the easy scapegoat, especially when trying to understand a complex problem such as public education. The media isn't helpful at all; e.g. Education Nation and Waiting for Superman. Furthermore, schools delegtimizing themselves is a strawman argument, apparently built on a misunderstanding about managing business organizations instead of leading learning organizations. Despite the negative forces at work, I will continue to help parents learn and understand the issues so that they can unite and feel as though they are not arguing a losing battle.

Posted by: Robert0063 | November 12, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Robert0063 wrote, "I am working in my community to develop parental involvement on these very issues. It isn't easy to move people from bake sales to organized opposition."

I am doing the same and am finding that to begin with very few parents even know how atrocious their children's curriculum has become. Secondly, just like teachers having no time left to organize and protest (apart from the fear of repercussions), parents too are bogged down under the demands of jobs. That makes for an excellent situation to implement these rigid and punitive reforms without trouble.

The criticism that comes from a handful can then (and is!) easily ignored by our Board of Education.

There is also a lot of apathy and who can take issue with that, as this is a most daunting battle to fight and there are so few of us even trying!

For example: I am helping local moms fight for the reinstatement of 30 minutes a week of creative learning time in elementary schools which was eliminated.

They have an on-line petition and I posted the link on many Facebook education activist groups with thousands of subscribers and the result so far is a puny 108 signatures, mostly from local people. What's up with that? On the ground I was able to collect 180!

Are people too ethical to sign as they are not from the community the petition is about? Is signing really unethical if it helps bring about a positive change for children? It is an informal petition (no addresses required) to show the Board of Education that people everywhere support the developmental needs of children!
Please sign, and share!

Also check out and join Uniting 4 Kids:

Posted by: gpadvocate | November 12, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

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