Insight: Let educators decide
by Larry Lee
Special to The Star
Aug 31, 2013 | 7812 views |  0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To say that educators everywhere are gun-shy these days is an understatement. Chicago is closing more than 50 schools, actions against education by the North Carolina governor and state Legislature have prompted demonstrations at the state capitol, the Philadelphia school system is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the mayor of New York sent a candidate for the Los Angeles school board a $1 million contribution.

The common thread to all of this is that 9 times out of 10, educators are nowhere to be found when decisions about education policy are being made. Time after time, educators have listened to grand plans and thought they would be invited to the table, only to discover that, instead, they are on the menu.

I thought of all this when I recently heard the Business Council of Alabama was creating the Business Education Alliance. I immediately contacted a number of educators to learn more. None of them knew anything.

This seems odd since I thought an alliance is a joint venture. But the BEA website already highlights the issues it wishes to promote. Where were the educators in this “alliance” when this was decided?

I’ve read every word on the BEA website. Here’s what it says about one of them — school choice: “Just as competitors force businesses to improve quality, service and products for their customers in order to maintain a share of the market, school choice does the same for education.”

This is the much-worn “run schools like businesses” claim. Last time I checked, the student body of a school is made up of distinct individuals, each with their own quirks, own baggage, each from a very different home environment. Whereas the last time I visited the assembly line at Hyundai, every piece and part coming down the assembly line was identical to the one in front of it and the one behind it.

Of course, choice is simply another name in most cases for vouchers or tax credits. The oldest voucher program in the United States is in Milwaukee, started more than 20 years ago. There they have spent more than $1 billion on vouchers, according to a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and about 90 percent of the students in the private-school voucher program are not proficient in reading and math.

A study by the National Center for Education Evaluation of more than 2,300 students in the Washington, D.C., system, who attend 52 private schools on vouchers, states, “Overall reading and math test scores were not significantly affected by the program.”

Another BEA issue is charter schools.

Lots and lots of research points out charters are a mixed bag at best. Some above average, some average, some less than. Earlier this month, the state of New York released test results. Only 23 percent of charter students were proficient in language arts — less than public school scores. In math, charters and public schools scored the same, 31 percent proficient. KIPP is one of the most highly-touted charter networks in the country. At KIPP Star College Prep in New York City, 11 percent of fifth graders were proficient in math and just 16 percent passed the reading test.

When you log on to the “resource” section of the BEA site, the first thing that jumps out is the recommendation for StudentsFirst, the group that put out a press release from its Sacramento, Calif., office immediately after the Alabama Accountability Act was passed boasting about how wonderful it was.

At this point, all indications are that the Accountability Act is a huge flop. In spite of a lot of chest-thumping by those who created it, only a handful of students are using it. But there is one extremely valuable lesson we can learn from AAA.

Any time education is being discussed educators should be at the table.

Let’s hope that those creating the Business Education Alliance not only understand this, but also take it to heart.

Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues. Email: larrylee33@knology.net.
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Insight: Let educators decide by Larry Lee
Special to The Star

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