There was a lot going on this past Friday night. It all started with a bunch of fed-up teachers gathering for a rally and press conference on Market Square. Representative Gloria Johnson was the featured speaker and she was joined by about seventy-five teachers who held signs and booed and cheered at appropriate points. But I can’t give a dispassionate report of this rally because it is personal to me. Consider this one an editorial.
Honestly, I’ve wished for years teachers would more aggressively respond to attacks launched at schools and at the teachers themselves. I’m not sure exactly when the idea of the beloved teacher giving all for his or her students became replaced with the image of a self-serving, greedy, teachers union stooge.
I have closely observed education my entire life and I know some of this started with William Bennett during the Reagan administration who used his position as Secretary of Education to attack teachers and their unions. After suffering a constant barrage of missives against teachers for his entire tenure, I don’t think the profession ever recovered. His appointment was considered a victory by the neo-conservatives led by Irving Kristol.
Now, most people accept the idea that “schools are failing.” Every international comparison is trumpeted as evidence to that effect. Every teacher accused of misconduct makes headlines. To listen to legislators across the south, you’d have to conclude that teachers and their unions are the number one problem facing our states.
The attacks come in various forms. We have legislators in Tennessee, and administrators at the local level, working in lock step with corporations set to siphon off public money. Often, as was the case with Jamie Woodson, they work to make it easier for the companies to access public funds and then they are rewarded with large salaries to work for the very same companies.
Most recently in Knox County, the Parthenon Group, based in Boston, suggested major changes for the schools. They recommended increasing class sizes, reduction of around 300 positions such as guidance counselors, librarians, social workers, school psychologists and others, saying that these positions do not contribute to higher test scores. They say they want to “personalize” public education.
What does that mean, you ask? How do you increase class size and “personalize” public education at the same time? Well, you spend public money with private corporations like Pearson and Discovery Ed. You buy tablet PCs from Microsoft. Why from Microsoft? Because all of this is backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They “gave” the Knox County Schools a grant of nearly one million dollars with the stipulation that they must hire the Parthenon Group as a consultant.
So, the Gates give money that really gets spent on their choice of consultant who, in turn, recommends firing 300 staff members in order to fund tablet PCs from Microsoft. Bill and Melinda stop sounding quite so philanthropic don’t they? But who will provide the content? Discovery Ed, the group behind the STEM school movement (sound familiar?), and Pearson. Pearson develops the online text books, provides the PARRC test which sets up students for failure and then guess who profits by providing remediation? Pearson provides the remediation software.
And it’s all to provide a profit for investors. Don’t believe me? A recent quote from the Parthenon Group states, “If Common Core has teeth, the “Performance Gap” will get a lot bigger!” In other words, “make the test impossible, the deficiencies of the students look worse, and we’ll make a lot of money selling remediation software.”
Which is a long way to say that teachers have had it and the public appears to have accepted the entire package – at least until last week when there was some blow-back regarding the Common Core, brought about by an odd alliance of Tea Party members who see it as a plot of some sort and liberals who object to many facets of its implementation.
I don’t even have time to get into Charter schools which are another attempt to take public money and give it to private corporations which are not held to the same standards as public schools and often get their choice of students.
Around seventy-five teachers showed up for the rally. Ms. Johnson spoke and made some of the points I’ve mentioned. Additionally, Hollie Nawrocki spoke from a parent’s perspective primarily about the tests that have come to dominate the school calendar. Signs were held and waived during the forty-five minute rally. And then everyone faded into their various directions.
Will it matter? Will enough people take the time to understand that public education as this country has established it may disappear? Will teachers continue to vote people into office who are hostile to their very profession? How many of you will post this to your FB page to spur further discussion? How many people even read this far to see these questions?