Four Education Reform Talking Points that Are Flat-Out Lies

If you listen to the buzz coming from the airwaves about education reform these days, you may notice that many things are starting to sound much too familiar–some even vomit-inducingly so. It’s almost as if someone gave the spokespeople from state education departments, private curriculum and testing firms, and astroturf groups the same script and cue cards from which to pontificate.

Here are the four most misleading talking points from those scripts, and why they really mean nothing, at best, and even hide the devastating truth behind euphemism, at worst. They sound so wonderful and they often warm the hearts of hopeful voters and parents. But, as you’ll see, they are generally created by those who couldn’t care less about children.

#4 We must work together to make sure all students have access to great schools.

From the top (President Obama) to the media and from the union leadership to the local politicians, this point is echoed constantly. It makes sense, since our American society believes, for the most part, that all children have a right to an education that will lead them through childhood and ready to live meaningful and successful lives.

But this sweet little sentence means something very different to those who continue to blab, as opposed to those of us who really believe it. You see, the reform groups that keep saying this are of the “school choice” club (another bad euphemism). The term “great schools” has even been co-opted into the name of a reform organization–the Walton and Gates-funded GreatSchools, which innocently purports to rate every school in the country so that parents can choose where to send their kids (or even choose where to live) based on these ratings.

GreatSchools determines ratings specifically from School Report Cards, which are almost always focused on test scores. Basically, this is a fun little online way to do exactly what Florida’s School Grading model does–simplify incredibly complex scenarios into a single score. A score that has little base in reality in terms of how effectively a school serves its population.

The point is to segregate schools based on “choice.” Those who can afford it wouldn’t choose a “2” school over a “9” school. But those children who go to a “2” school may not have that choice, and may not need it. Many “2” schools are fantastic learning institutions, which struggle every day with the poverty and other societal issues surrounding them. No, this is an attempt to demonize and scapegoat schools. And when you put down the efforts of a school long enough, the environment becomes ripe for corporate charter takeover, school closing, or “parent trigger” activity. If a choice is in the minds of those who go to “bad schools,” it would be the choice to not work for minimum wage while struggling to feed and clothe their kids.

When reformers say this line, what they mean is that every child who goes to a “bad school” should be able to go to one of their shiny, new workforce training centers charter schools, which almost always target low-income areas.

#3 We want parents and teachers to play an active role in reforming education

Education astroturfers are notorious for choosing the definitions of their buzz terms. “Parental involvement,” for instance, is something that we all know is vital for child development in all areas. The incidence of those words making their way into newspapers, blogs, news media, and speeches has increased lately. Reformers want parents to get involved. Wonderful!

This little tidbit points to the massive funding going into professional development and training for teachers and, yes, parents. The most active role corporate reformers can think of for teachers to play is being trained and following the rules. So, that’s where the investments have gone.

Bill Gates and other private reformers can’t fund federal government training programs for teachers, so they went for the next best thing: teachers unions. The Gates Foundation has given training and development funds to both the NEA and AFT to the tune of almost $10 million, and counting, in order to train teachers to implement and teach Common Core-aligned lessons. He has poured money into individual districts to get them to use his idea of teacher evaluation. He and others also paid the National PTA and NBC’s Education Nation to “train” parents to lead their kids down the path of corporate reform with support from home.

Parents aren’t being given real resources to assist their kids with the struggles and challenges of school and life, they are simply being given the training necessary to make sure that their kids fit more neatly within the molds of corporate necessity.

#2 The most important factor affecting student achievement is the teacher in the classroom.

Teachers are important–very important. They got into the profession because they know they’re important, and they work hard every day to make sure they are helping children grow healthfully and successfully. The incredible thing is, they most often succeed despite the odds and against the challenges that are imparted by the very people who keep trying to block their efforts–the same people who keep repeating the talking point above.

As you’ve probably guessed, this doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean. Michelle Rhee likes to go along with this as one of her biggest selling points to get expensive veteran teachers out of classrooms and her barely-trained and just-hatched college graduates into classrooms for two-year commitments.

By “great teachers,” the reformers point to young, idealist, and usually affluent adults, which go through just enough training to learn how to get kids to score well on tests. When they do, they are touted as heroes, which makes even more money for Rhee, Teach for America, and StudentsFirst. After all, we keep hearing, we have a national test score crisis. We don’t, but it makes the news.

Great teachers do great things for kids, things that can’t be measured objectively. Bill Gates, who has decided that data will save the world, doesn’t get that. His own kids, no doubt, go to a school that doesn’t worship data, but that’s because his kids are rich. He uses his “great teacher” initiatives in schools that serve minority and poor students. Michelle Rhee failed miserably as a teacher. These people have no idea what great teaching looks like.

#1 A college and career-ready education is the path out of poverty.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that a motivated child, who lives in poverty, can beat the odds and move up the socioeconomic ladder with a good education and plenty of support. It’s always a nice story and it makes me smile to see it happen. But, even the most optimistic studies have suggested that roughly half of students in poverty climb the ladder, and it’s much more difficult for American children to rise out of poverty than those in other countries.

A group of people hold the belief that education is the key to getting out of that rut; conversely, bad education keeps them there. At a glance, and after looking at some of the data, it almost makes sense. Except for one thing: there’s no causal data to prove it; there is only correlation, and shaky correlation at that.

Actually, those who live in poverty aren’t all uneducated or undereducated. In this current economy, there are many people with college degrees and strong skills that are either unemployed or employed in a field outside of their study. For example, people with degrees in the all-important STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields only have a 4% unemployment rate attributed to them, but fully half of them can’t find a job in a STEM field. Further study might show that they aren’t earning what they were planning to. The same general trend applies to many other profession titles across the nation, including teaching.

This talking point was made up out of thin air. It was sold as a solution to a problem that no one has the political or economic will to fix. The plan was to put the schools on the spot, with the responsibility of fixing our poverty problem. When they failed, we adopted a new corporate model, with corporate standards, objective measure, and a birth-to-career program. Now, we can make sure our children fit into a guaranteed job track. It won’t (it can’t) fix poverty, but at least those kids will be working for the corporate dominance of their beloved country.

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