Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scott Walker, the latest product of our bipartisan education consensus

E.D. Kain has an interesting new blog on school policy over at Forbes magazine, of all places. His post today discusses Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s threat to cut one billion dollars in aid to schools and local governments.

[T]he hallmark of the modern education reformer is a policy of top-down, authoritarian reform. Scott Walker is taking the same exact approach that various school reformers have taken across the country, from Michelle Rhee to Chris Christie. The difference is that Walker is presiding over a united state government, whereas Rhee was only a chancellor of the D.C. schools and Christie has a divided state government.

In another post, he discusses how prominent Democrats paved the way for Walker.

[Michelle] Rhee didn’t bother trying to work with teachers, unions, or parent groups. Her approach to school reform was top-down and authoritarian. In 2008 Rhee said that “Cooperation, collaboration, and consensus-building are way overrated.” . . .

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a Democrat appointed by a Democratic president, is a fierce advocate of school choice, Teach for America, merit pay, and other fashionable reforms. His program, Race to the Top, rewards reformers like Bersin, Rhee, and others who make radical changes to the system. Like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top is a program aimed at accountability. But advocates of accountability have never specified what they’d like to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable to – insisting instead that test scores are a good enough metric by which to gauge the success or failure of schools and American students. There are deep flaws with these assumptions and with their prescribed remedies. . . .

Democrats, the media, and these large foundations have all played a roll in the fight against teachers’ unions and the place of traditional public school in society. This has played nicely into the hands of Republicans like Scott Walker and Chris Christie and other GOP politicians at the state and national level who have long gunned for teachers’ unions and for a break-up of the public school ‘monopoly’. Indeed, the demonization of teachers plays a central part in the modern school-reform movement. . . .

The accountability movement has shifted the focus away from American ingenuity and creativity in favor of strict testing regimes in an attempt to compete with Japan and Finland. This is the wrong approach. . . . If anything, we should be looking for ways to make education more creative and diverse, and to make American students more well-rounded and independent. The current reforms achieve just the opposite.

Kain is a former conservative/libertarian, trending leftward, who seems to be genuinely wrestling with the difficult issues posed by educational policy. I’m looking forward to seeing where his thinking goes.


KD said...

What I took out of the articles is that there is frustration that no one wants to listen to the other side....I think this has been going on for a very long time.

I don't think any meaningful changes can come about unless everyone involved has a voice. The articles remind me a little of your Citizen/Layperson post where the head of our local teacher's union dismisses those opinions that don't come from teachers.

Even at the local level, I'm surprised that well meaning people want to make changes without involving the public, such as the school board member who wants two elementaries on a different calendar from the rest of the district. Thank goodness this idea hasn't gained much traction.

Chris said...

KD -- Yes, Scott Walker just seems to be pursuing a more extreme version of what has already been going on in educational policymaking -- "big ideas" imposed by outsiders from the top down. Elsewhere on his blog, Kain makes the point that any reforms are going to need buy-in by people at the local level if they're ever going to succeed.

I do think you're right that some of the redistricting proposals had that same feel to them -- for better of worse, there just wasn't enough buy-in by the people who were most directly affected.