Salon Article Nails The "Education Reform" Movement

When Michelle Rhee, ex-Superintendent of D.C. schools and serial prevaricator (which is a much nicer word than "liar"), decided to leave Students First, the education reform/privatization group she founded, it opened the journalistic floodgates. Dozens of pieces have been written about her and the health of the reform/privatization movement (It's very healthy, and well funded. Frighteningly so.) One of the best recent articles is on Salon: Michelle Rhee’s real legacy: Here’s what’s most shameful about her reign. It dovetails nicely with a post I wrote last week, Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen.

I wrote that the snake oil salesmen in the reform/privatization movement either disavow poverty as a cause of low performance in school or minimize its importance so they can maintain their laser focus on replacing "failing government schools" with charters and voucher-supported private schools — which, by the way, have nearly identical records of success and failure as the schools they brand as failures.

Here's how Matt Bruenig at Salon puts it when discussing one of the "three themes" the reformers use to diminish the strong correlation between poverty and educational attainment.

This third theme usually features reformers like Rhee simultaneously admitting what is obvious — child poverty is an independent drag on educational attainment — without having to endorse doing anything about it. Instead, they insist that reforming education is the only way to do anything about poverty to begin with, so the acknowledgment that poverty is an independent harm in terms of education never inspires any direct action to repair it. Instead, only indirect action through education reform is ever advocated. This is convenient for their cause — and their fundraising campaigns — but it’s totally dishonest and harmful to poor kids.

Here's a perfect example of what Bruenig is talking about, from the comments section of my post, Arizona's Economic/Education Divide. The comment is from Matthew Ladner, who used to be the education guy at the Goldwater Institute and now works for Jeb Bush over at his Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ladner is trying to turn the argument I make in the post about the correlation between poverty and achievement into an attack on "government schools," and especially TUSD, using exactly the tactic Bruenig writes about — acknowledge poverty as a factor, then ignore it and move on to demonizing the schools.

Economic achievement gaps are well established. The question is how do we develop a strategy to close them. Half of Arizona's school grading formula is driven by academic growth. The gains of the students scoring in the bottom 25% of last year's test are double weighted.

What David's maps actually show is that TUSD has a lot of room for improvement in driving academic achievement gains and overall academic proficiency.

See how he did that? Yes, he says, poverty is part of achievement gaps, but never mind that. Have I told you what a lousy job TUSD does?

Ladner is very good at his job, which earned him a six figure salary at the Goldwater Institute. I'm guessing he got a bit of a raise from his buddy Jeb, his current boss. After all, back in 2008, Ladner wrote a book titled "Demography is not Destiny" (a listing on Amazon makes it look like it's been retitled, "Demography Defeated") touting the success of Florida's education reforms while Jeb was governor. The preface to the book was written by Jeb himself. The two go back a long way.