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School Reform Doesn’t Work

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In this amusing article naming Tom Friedman “The Bard of the 1%,” the real kicker is the last paragraph:

It is also worth noting that Friedman implies that the Chicago school system is desperately in need of the reform that Emanuel plans to give it. Emanuel’s predecessor as mayor, Richard Daley, also placed an emphasis on reforming Chicago’s schools. From 2001 to 2009 he installed Arne Duncan, currently President Obama’s Secretary of Education, as head of the Chicago school system. If Friedman and Emanual’s complaints about the current state of Chicago’s schools are accurate, this would imply that Duncan must not have been very successful in his tenure even though he was widely acclaimed as a reformer at the time.

Indeed. School reform has become a catchphrase disconnected from the reality of actually reforming schools to help kids learn better. If Arne Duncan was so great, why does Rahm Emanuel need to push school reform? Because it makes good political sense. But these actual reforms do little more than bust teacher unions and place a corporate model on education, a corporate model it should be said that has totally failed the country in the last decade. Moreover, I’m not even sure there is a crisis in education. Are schools really worse than when I went to them? I am skeptical of this and would note that if things have gone down, it’s because of tax reductions rather than any of the “problems” mentioned by reformers. I went to a crappy high school and managed to get a good education. And I’ll tell you this–I hear a lot of liberal people talk about the “inability to use the public schools.” To me, that a coded phrase meaning, “there are too many dark people in the public schools.” Even if that’s not intended, it has the direct effect of reinforcing de facto segregation.

If we really want to reform schools, we need to fight poverty. Schools can’t do anything if kids are unprepared, malnourished, with parents who are too poor and desperate to worry about their kids education, with cockroaches in the house. Without centering poverty as the real reason for educational problems, any attempt to reform schools is politicized and anti-teacher bullshit.

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