Some Thoughts on Campbell Brown and “Educational Reform,” Following Her Appearance on The Colbert Report

Like many of the “education reform” advocates, Campbell Brown is determined to put a benign face on what are persistent attacks on public education and on the public’s confidence in public education. The aim is not “reform” but the elimination of public education. The proponents of privatization have learned from the vilification of Michelle Rhee and the earlier cohort of ‘reformers’ who attacked public education and teachers’ unions. So they blithely speak out of both sides of their mouths: that is, they are essentially saying–if I don’t admit to it, you can’t accuse me of it, even if I am doing it.

Those attacking public education keep asserting that too many teachers are incompetent and protected by the unions, but they never point to any body of statistical studies that support those assertions. Instead, they rely on outlier studies, on arguments that can be reduced to catchphrases, and most pointedly on anecdotal and often hypothetical illustrations. But if there is a large enough sample–such as the number of public school teachers in the U.S.–one can find multiple examples of just about anything—that prove nothing.

I thought that Brown’s point that 90+ percent of teachers are rated as competent while only 30+ percent of students are passing the standardized tests was particularly telling. First of all, it has to be emphasized that the standardized tests are being produced by the same “educational providers” that want to see public education privatized. But beyond that, the people supporting privatization are the same people that have done everything that they can do to gut the funding for economic development and social safety-net programs that keep the poorest neighborhoods just barely livable. Now, in effect, they want to isolate educational results from the socio-economic contexts in which they are being produced, even though there is a great mass of statistical evidence that educational achievement is very much linked to the relative affluence of individual households and school districts.

Also, the salient attacks on teacher tenure have been occurring mainly in pro-labor states, most recently in California and New York. There are 24 “right to work” states in which there are many more limits on the protections that teachers’ unions can provide to their members. So one should ask why there is a need for extensive systems of and state supports for charter schools in those states if, in fact, “tenure” and the need to remove incompetent teachers is the core issue, the core reason for providing such alternatives.

But, of course, it’s not the core issue. The dual purpose of those for whom Brown has become a prominent spokesperson is to undermine the teachers’ unions and to promote, instead, the interests of the corporate “educational providers” who are operating most of the charter schools, providing most of the “alternative” online programs, and producing and administering the standardized tests.

Brown won’t say who is funding her group because they are the same people who are funding all sorts of other initiatives to kill public education.

Those supporting privatization also conveniently ignore that there is already much evidence that the charter schools that are not selective in their admissions are doing little to no better than the public schools. The only differences are that the administrators make much higher salaries, the teachers are being paid much less, and many of the teachers are being trained through groups such as Teach for America (funded primarily by the WalMart heirs, the Gates Foundation, and the Kochs) that substitute eight to twelve weeks of “training” for a degree in education. Taken together, that’s such an obvious recipe for even poorer outcomes that the only possible explanation for its continuing to be promoted is ideological obstinacy and a disdain for the profession of teaching.  It is not a coincidence that Education programs at our universities have been under attack along with the teachers’ unions.


One thought on “Some Thoughts on Campbell Brown and “Educational Reform,” Following Her Appearance on The Colbert Report

  1. Only 30% of students are passing standardized tests? Huh? So what does that tell us about the freaking tests? Gosh, I remember when tests were, you know, normed, used to evaluate rather than penalize. I can’t imagine a reputable testing company that would produce a test so obviously abuse, except possibly ETS, ACT, The College Board, Pearson, and who am I leaving out?

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