Wednesday, November 18, 2015

American Education Week and Neoliberal Market Efficiencies

Founded in 1921, American Education Week was designed to inform "the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs." 17 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed "the teachers and patrons of American schools" about the relationship between democracy and education.
As American Education Week is once more observed throughout the schools of the United States, opportunity again is afforded to evaluate the part which our schools play in the preservation and promotion of democratic life.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education (Sep. 27, 1938).
Roosevelt's comments, though brief, provide sharp contrast with the writings of Joanne Weiss, who served as President Obama's director of Race to the Top and then Secretary Duncan's Chief of Staff. Weiss actually sees teachers as passive recipients of education reform -- to be fed data -- rather than co-constructors of democratic practices that engage students, families, and colleagues. From Weiss' Harvard Business Review (HBR) post:
It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students – and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents (Mar. 31, 2011).
Weiss' comments reflect the notion that teachers are passive observers within their own profession. She assumes that teachers do not, in fact, do research everyday on what works and what doesn't work for children. And when we place her comments within ED's push for the adoption of common standards across the U.S. via Race to the Top, her framework becomes so much more dangerous. From her HBR post:
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.
Some may note that Weiss' post was from 2011, and that her views might have "evolved," in part, due to the good work of ED's diverse, passionate, and caring colleagues. Yet with such a Machiavellian view of education, I wonder how Weiss even ended up in ED in the first place.

I'm not interested in gnarling Weiss' reputation.

I am interested in engaging colleagues in a critique of the anti-democratic practices that sometimes pass for a "kinder and gentler" neoliberalism. A neoliberalism that sees children as a revenue stream, and teachers as an obstacle to market efficiencies. The threat to our democracy is real, and the saboteurs are in the room.

Sometimes, nuance is not good enough.


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