Save What Should Be Lost
Here's RiShawn Biddle's take:
The defenders of traditional public education participating in Saturday's Save Our Schools rally in D.C. want everyone to believe in a little narrative: that they're saving America's public schools from heedless reformers and cost-cutting Republican governors.
The march's organizers also want people to believe that the rally is a grassroots effort sustained by teachers and parents working together to preserve education. They proclaim that the No Child Left Behind Act and other school reform efforts, which have emphasized the use of student performance data culled from "high stakes" standardized tests, is leading to the shutdown of schools and to teachers losing their jobs. And, as they stand, chant and wave placards across the street from the White House at the Ellipse and demand that President Barack Obama put an end to his school reform efforts, they will also play upon the images of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, whose leaders rightfully and effectively used such protest rallies to end Jim Crow discrimination.
That organizers and headliners of the Save Our Schools rally include such big names as Oakland, Calif., teacher and Education Week blogger Anthony Cody and author and activist Jonathan Kozol weakens the claims that the rally is a grassroots affair. It gets even weaker when the biggest star for the event is Diane Ravitch, the once-respectable New York University historian and Bush Administration appointee who has become the darling of teachers' union bosses and the talk show circuit for her screeds against charter schools. When you consider that half of the rally's $100,000 budget comes from NEA and AFT -- who have also endorsed the event -- it becomes clear that this march isn't just some organic affair.
Granted, No Child has exposed the woeful quality of America's public schools, helped the school reform movement gain political and grassroots support, and helped weaken NEA and AFT influence. But, until now, the supposedly "high-stakes tests" emphasized under the law have been anything but. Just 11 percent of the nation's dropout factories and failure mills were shut down between the 2003-2004 and 2008-2009 school years, according to a released earlier this year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. If anything, the Obama administration has focused on turning around the nation's laggard schools -- including devoting $3.5 billion to the federal School Improvement Program -- even though such turnarounds work out just one percent of the time.