The American Education Plutocracy

From Dictionary.com Plutocracy: 1. the rule or power of wealth or of the wealthy. 2. a government
or state in which the wealthy class rules. 3. a class or group ruling, or exercising
power or influence, by virtue of its wealth. Welcome to America.
I have to tell you poor and middle class
people are in trouble. It used to be we turned to professionals and experts to
find out what we should be doing but somewhere along the line we started to
dismiss them preferring to take the word of the rich as if money alone gave
them insight not reserved for the rest of us. When it comes to education nationally
there is Bill Gates and the Walton’s among a few others who are practically running
the show. Then locally the most powerful man in education is a millionaire
grocer, Gary Chartrand.
 There was a time when people looked up to rich perhaps a
little envious but at the same time they didn’t think they were any smarter or
any better than anybody else. Somewhere along the way that changed and the
perception became that if you were a middle class stiff you were in that boat
because you were either lazy or not smart enough to get out. Some started
putting the rich on pedestals as if they already didn’t have enough already.
Worse however is that somewhere along the way the mega rich began to believe
they were better and smarter than everybody else too and only they could save
the masses from themselves.
Nowhere is this more evident than in
education where millionaires and billionaires have led reform. Educators are
far and few between among their members and the vast majority of them didn’t go
to public school or send their kids to public school either. Despite their lack
of institutional knowledge this hasn’t stopped the ultra wealthy from chiming
in with the ideas that a bright 12 year old might come up with while at the
same time ignore the real problems in education and that’s poverty. They don’t
understand what it means to feel hungry or hopeless, afraid or marginalized.
Sadly because of this their feel good crusade to help the American student we
have seen billions go to vouchers, charter schools, Teach for America, merit
pay, parent trigger legislation, common core and campaigns that have blamed
teachers that have done far more harm than.
First the diverted attention and
resources from the real problems in education but even worse they demonized and
demoralized teachers those that are actually doing the educating. Teachers went
from being revered to being scapegoats. I often wonder if the public would have
allowed it to happen had these millionaires and billionaires instead chosen to demonize
and blame our enlisted men for the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if
the public would have been as complacent or if they would have said, no that’s
not right. Throw in some of their desire to make more money and an irrational
hatred of teachers unions and it’s a tragedy that so many lives have been short
changed and so much money and time has been wasted.    
It’s also even more insidious
because now the new trick is to pay for studies which back up their preconceived
notions or start organizations that parrot the policy positions they hold and
then say look, this study agrees with my ideas and this organization validates
my position so I must be right. Furthermore they take credit for things that have
nothing to do with their ideas. Jeb Bush is always talking about a Florida
miracle that has been debunked and Gary Chartrand credits Florida gains to that
same accountability system.   
The Times Union reported his evidence
was increasing graduation rates and how we are doing on an international test
as his evidence. It (Florida’s improvement) all started 14 years ago when the
accountability system started he said. By the way he’s not talking about accountability
for charter schools, as 250 have failed in Florida alone since then or private
schools that take vouchers as over 160 take public money and teaches science as
creationism. But accountability has always been for the things they don’t like
not for the things they do.
These are some facts that Chartrand has omitted,
graduation rates country wide are up considerably, even in states that don’t
have an A-F grading system and who don’t fail third graders that don’t pass a
test and no serious education policy person says we should use the NEAP, the
test Chartrand likes, to make policy.
If I said, Florida’s accountability system
has stopped us from reaching our potential as a state, it would have as much
validity as what Chartrand said.   
Bill Gates who spent 200 million on
Common Core and millions more on other studies has said it may be over a decade
before we know if current education reforms are working but that hasn’t stopped
him from using our children and teachers as guinea pigs.     
From
a Time Magazine article by Judith Warner:
It’s
been a good decade now that the direction of school reform has been greatly
influenced by a number of highly effective Master (and Mistress) of the
Universe types: men and women like Princeton grad Wendy Kopp,
the founder of the Teach for America program, her husband, Harvard graduate
Richard Barth, who heads up the charter school Knowledge Is Power Program, the
hard-charging former D.C. schools chancellor (and Cornell and Harvard grad)
Michelle Rhee and the many hedge fund founders who are now investing
significant resources in the cause of expanding charter schools. Excoriating the
state of America’s union-protected teaching profession and allegedly ossified
education schools, they’ve prided themselves upon attracting “the best and the
brightest” to the education reform cause, whether by luring recent top college
graduates into challenging classrooms or by seducing Harvard Business School or
McKinsey-trained numbers-crunchers away from Wall Street to newly lucrative
executive positions in educationally themed social entrepreneurship.
The
chief promise of their brand of reform — the results of which have been mixed,
at best — seems to be that they can remake America’s students in their own
high-achieving image. By evaluating all students according to the same sort of
testable rubrics that, when aced, propelled the reformers into the Ivy League
and beyond, society’s winners seem to believe they can inspire and guide
society’s losers, inoculating them against failure with their own habits of
success, and forever disproving the depressingly fatalistic ’70s-style liberal
idea that things like poverty and poor health care and hunger and a chaotic
family life can, indeed, condemn children to school failure. http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/09/why-are-the-rich-so-interested-in-public-school-reform/
In
short they want to put public school kids through the type of education they
wouldn’t let their kids go through. The finest prep schools in America are
staffed by trained educators not hobbyists, the tests they take are limited and
none have the same repercussions that the average students standardized tests
have and their schedules are filled with arts and electives something that has
been phased out of many public schools replaced by test prep classes. Yet for
some reason they feel the poor kids at PS this or PS that should be subjected
to this. 
They
also ignore the fact that they have made school such drudgery for kids by
putting them into one-size fits all test based curriculum. They ignore what
happens in neighborhoods and homes and instead blame the teachers who aren’t
able to overcome the dehibilitating effects of poverty. They ignore the fact
that kids in schools without poverty zoom to the top of the international
rankings. These are inconvenient truths.
Instead
they give red herrings like teachers come from the bottom third of their
classes and say “look at Finland if they can do it why can’t we.” They offer
choices like vouchers and charter schools that lack accountability,  while
at they same time complaining about teachers saying anybody can do it and all
the while kids, especially the ones that need the most help suffer; the victim
of the hubris of mega rich reformers.   
Also
from the Times piece, S. Paul Reville, the Massachusetts Secretary of
Education, blogged in Education
Week
 that reformers need now to think beyond the numbers and “admit
that closing achievement gaps is not as simple as adopting a set of standards,
accountability and instructional improvement strategies.” In Massachusetts, he
wrote, “We have set the nation’s highest standards, been tough on
accountability and invested billions in building school capacity, yet we still
see a very strong correlation between socioeconomic background and educational
achievement and attainment. It is now clear that unless and until we make a
more active effort to mitigate the impediments to learning that are commonly
associated with poverty, we will still be faced with large numbers of children
who are either unable to come to school or so distracted as not to be able to
be attentive and supply effort when they get there.” Reville called for
“wraparound services” that would allow schools to provide students with a
“healthy platform” from which they could begin to work on learning.
The
Eli Broads, Gary Chartrands, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhees, and Wendy Kopps of the
world don’t get it. They think we can test and demonize teachers out of the
mess they have helped create by steering policy away from the real problem,
poverty, facing our schools.  
Having money doesn’t necessarily
make you smart and working an honest job that doesn’t pay much doesn’t make you
dumb but what is dumb is giving these ultra rich characters a role in society
they don’t deserve. When one of them enrolls their kid in a KIPP school, requests
a Teach for America teacher or demands their child take a high stakes
standardized test that will determine their future I may change my opinion but
until then nobody should give them the time of day. At the end of the day all
you really need to know is one thing and that is the place where they sent
their kids is a much different place than the one they want you to send yours.
I am told my grandfather despite not
being mega rich, he and his family were just barely middle class, was a very
smart man. He worked for the old Ma Bell and he raised 5 kids who never had a
lot but who never wanted for anything either. He knew a lot more about
educating kids than the above reformers did and that’s because he entered most
situations not thinking he was the smartest man in the room preferring to
listen and learn instead.  

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