Why would Lamar Alexander suddenly start to dismantle the “accountability” regulations of ESSA, the landmark Education Bill he worked over a year forging and heralded as a fabulous bi-partisan feat; one of the few of the Obama era?
|Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Chattanooga Times Free Press|
Accountability has been the battle cry from both parties for almost 20 years of Education Reform. Why abandon it now?
Those defending the Public Schools have long known the push to privatize our local schools is a bi-partisan effort. Both of Obama’s Secretaries of Education were firmly committed to sustained step by step reform using standards-standardization, “accountability,” and high stakes testing as the interlocking strategies for closing local schools-- as were the Republicans. And it was working fairly well as a means of funneling money to hybrid public-private charters; all under the auspices of Civil Rights for poor students, and “school improvement.”
The story went, State and Federal Officials and Company Owners had to protect children from the local teachers and school boards. These locals were denying them access to educations like children of Harvard and Yale alums were receiving. Of course, no one was suggesting that children of the projects or working class neighborhoods and towns receive the healthy food, extra parent time, enrichment vacations, healthcare or safer environments their wealthy counterparts received- just the daily school part had to change.
Everything was going fairly well until roughly 2010 when grassroots groups began to spring up among teachers and parents, resisting the narrative. People started refusing to believe that public schools were failing, with local boards conspiring to deny civil rights, public schools teachers being unintelligent, ill-trained, and incompetent, and as Rex Tillerson, then CEO of Exxon put it, the children being “inferior products.” It just didn’t match what people saw and experienced in the real world.
No doubt, Education Reformers like Alexander expected some push back, but did not calculate the power growing social media would contribute to the equation. At first the resistors could be categorized as a few malcontents, radicals, and old teachers unable to understand and change with technology. But as numbers grew, Republicans saw an opportunity in the growing discontent about the outrageously inappropriate standards and ill-designed tests as a way to saddle the Dems with blame for the most unpopular aspects of NCLB, the Republican Reform bill. They pretty suddenly broke with the Democrats on Standards, keeping basically the same standards as Common Core in Republican states under new names, while condemning Common Core as an elite Democratic conspiracy. Their strategy shifted to a states rights argument.
With a Republican victory in November there was both opportunity and danger. It became growingly evident that ignoring resistance would not be enough to accomplish a complete privatization of schools. Change had to move faster, and strategies had to shift if privatization were to succeed because resistance and studies were accumulating. At that point a shift to the methods used by DeVos in Michigan, Pence in Indiana, and reformers in New Orleans and Florida would be required. Vouchers for both charters and privates and technology in the form of virtual education would need to be moved into place much faster than things had been moving.
Under a new battlecry the Republicans could continue the privatization agenda and also gain a political advantage. Using state control and vouchers (often called scholarships or tax incentives), the Republicans could continue to claim they were on the side of “poor children” and Civil Rights while speeding up the privatization process which had been decimating less affluent schools. Their new initiative would suddenly extend the preferred school type from currently failing public-private charters to completely private, religious, virtual, and ideological schools. Voila, a whole new coalition of voters seduced and satisfied in one fell swoop.
The religious right would not only be reinvigorated against the Democrats, but Catholics, Protestants, and Isolationists could be galvanized as renewed supporters when promised their personal choice of new schools that fit their individual ideology through vouchers. Never mind that neither districts, states or the feds were willing to ante up the money to provide designer schools for all districts and flavors.
All the elements were in place– extra dollars could be allocated from the ESSA coffers for the vouchers. Some money had already been earmarked in ESSA, but more could be syphoned off. ALEC bills which re-apportioned state expenditures toward vouchers were already in place to be voted on in the 30 Republican states.
There were a few problems, though. The attacks on public school teachers had reduced the number of available trained teachers and the unions protecting teacher salaries had not yet been completely defeated. Private schools and hybrid charters would have trouble meeting the quota of needed teachers and making the profit margin they would like with “accountability” requirements still in place for teacher qualifications. They needed a less qualified and larger work force of classroom bodies, at least temporarily, to supply the new ”choice” schools with adult bodies at a low price-- even lower than the 17% discount public school teachers accepted on graduation when compared with their private sector counterparts. Hence the need to take out the teacher training accountability requirements.
Simultaneously, studies on both “solutions” began to come in with highly negative results. Neither Virtuals nor Vouchers improved learning. Quite the opposite, they lowered achievement.
Republicans (and their Democratic allies) are now suddenly under a gun. They need to clear the way for reduced teacher qualifications and get vouchers and virtual schools approved for full use before the public realizes their agenda is the same old agenda just with new and even worse strategies to accomplish it.
Education is the one place localities are still pushing back against private commercialization of what should be an inalienable right rather than a luxury commodity. Can Global Corp Reformers use the cover of Trump chaos to close the deal on this last federal market before the public wakes up?
They have a supply and demand problem, not just with the number of teachers. Most people don’t want a reduced quality of education for their children, with lower paid, less qualified teachers, but that’s what Alexander and the Reformers are selling,
The question of timing remains though, can Alexander and his Reform allies get out of the frying pan with some chance to run out of the fire before November 2018?