Schools That Divide

27 May

Foucault on Prisons and SocietyP.L. Thomas constructs a narrative from Reagan administration education policy to the present ascendancy of charter schools, zero tolerance policies, standardized testing, and police in the hallways.

What I find disturbing about is, as Thomas points out, that the generation of students with whom I graduated, when there weren’t charter schools, is putting their own children in charters, and then wondering why public schools are failing.

Market-oriented education reform has depended on addressing inequity indirectly, trusting mechanisms such as choice and business models of managing teachers as well as schools to initiate social change. This reform has specifically targeted goals such as closing the achievement gap, better serving impoverished and minority students, and raising international indicators of educational quality.

As Weiss and Long show, however, test-based teacher evaluations, school closures and expanded charter schools haven’t succeeded, even against their advocates’ promises:

· Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.

· Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.

· Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.

· School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.

· Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.

· Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.

· The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.

· Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient and multipronged. (p. 3)

Further, additional evidence reveals (ostensibly) unintended consequences of market-oriented reform have included increased segregation by race and class in charter schools and a widening gap between the type of educational experiences affluent children receive compared with the authoritarian and test-prep-focused “no excuses” schools for minority and impoverished students…

But, like my nephews will testify, teachers in charters respond to students like companies respond to customers. School is fun, just like drinking coffee creamer makes coffee taste better.

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