Jeff’s Ideas on Education

Jeff’s Ideas on Education

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Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash.

It is imperative that the education industry find an acceptable mode of competition with publicly-funded schools.  Over the last decade, the public has been subjected to an onslaught of biased information which ranges from the benign – “high schools…frozen in time” – to the relentless and vituperative attacks on public education as a “failed” system.  The education industry – in league with foundations with resources in the hundreds of millions of dollars – has spent untold millions to skew the debate, from full-page newspaper ads (announcing a $50 million prize for “change” ideas), to feature-length advertorials promoting privatization as the way forward.

Most objectionable, perhaps, is the seduction of local officials across the globe into “partnerships” for fee-based education – often with stipends paid for participation on boards or industry-controlled oversight committees.  This type of conflict of interest is debilitating to the common good in societies where governments are already held in low esteem.  The fact that such schemes are sometimes backed by tax-payer funded development grants in poor countries makes it all the more reprehensible.

Let us proceed from an assumption that teachers and administrators are dedicated professionals, trying to do their best with limited resources.  If teachers’ and administrators’ organizations will refrain from the rhetoric of “profiteering” and “kids-as-clients” they are to expect a scaling back of attacks on their skills, motivation and efficacy.

Learners in every community must be accorded the simple everyday dignity that comes with participation in a shared pursuit of knowledge.  This feeling of basic equality – in the singular formative experience of their young lives – is seriously eroded when they are relegated to a waiting-list of over a thousand for a spot in a lavishly-funded charter school which may be little more than a vanity project [Las Vegas].  It is painful to imagine the debilitating effect on those under-resourced school communities where students are imagined to be “languishing.”  (Insult is added to injury as that school’s founder denigrates teacher tenure in the Harvard Business Review.)

We must proceed from the principle that inequality starts – or stops – at the classroom door.  Previous generations had one model of education which led to an egalitarian ethos through shared experience.  Those who are nostalgic for the military draft, in another context, decry the mixing of classes, races, etc.  To be sure, this was no “golden age” for students in segregated schools or those the poorest districts.  But there seems no way back to the striving, move-to-a-better-neighborhood model; in its place, there have sprouted up charters-as-panacea.

Developing countries are particularly vulnerable, as neoliberal operatives “got government out of the way” in many realms around the globe – when it comes to our public school classrooms – that’s A Bridge Too Far — this is where community demands must be met.

Education International and our allies developed the following simple strategy to Resist and Reverse the disturbing trend:

  • Community Alliances will assist in information-gathering, media dissemination and networking (also, pressure on local political leaders).
  • Our stronger, more focused response will build on already-ongoing reporting never-before organized in a systematized fashion, i.e., country reports required by UNESCO, ECOSOC’s Right-to-Education and UNICEF.  Where gaps in the reporting exist, local partners will inform responsible parties and provide best-available information.
  • Development of robust partnerships (such as) with Right to Education and UK’s Action Aid: interactive, on-line guidance for civil society groups under the rubric, Promoting Rights in Schools.

To meet the inevitable challenge of bogus corporate codes of conduct and corporate-funded “social auditing,” EI outlined baseline demands (below) as an aid in assessment:

Corporations must be part of the universal project of providing higher educational standards for all students and all school communities. The quest for higher standards commences with the recognition of qualified teachers as the leading agents in the development and delivery of life opportunity through a quality curriculum;

Corporations need to respect and heed the professional judgment of teachers and educators in ALL questions of methodology, pedagogy, reporting, assessment and curriculum matters and accordingly respect their professional institutions, including unions;

Corporations must eschew partisan ideological interventions including the favoring of private provision in schooling;

Corporations must be entirely transparent in all of their dealings in education;

Corporations must respect and protect the privacy of students, their performance data and the privacy and dignity of school communities;

Schools are not to be used as a marketplace for the commercial self-interest of any corporation, including the monetizing of student data. Students are to be separated from commercial activity in order to focus on their work as young people and learners;

Corporate technological initiatives must be informed by the principle of access and opportunity for all;

Respecting the teaching profession and recognizing the value of pluralism — in learners, in pedagogy, in methodology, assessment and reporting, and in the broad curriculum.

Contemporary governance practices – in developing countries especially, due to the heavy influence of the World Bank and aid agencies – give a wide berth to Public-Private Partnerships; learning sites are particularly susceptible to creeping commercialization in the areas of testing, evaluation, “blended learning” and other technological tools of pedagogy.  While local business support for education is welcomed, of course, a strict accounting of contributions must be maintained when ad hoc programs lead to opacity.  Authorities must be pressed to maintain a central repository for information on education-sector PPPs.

Finally, within the wider project of obstructing the reconstruction of education so that it would operate along the lines of freer market principles, the focus will be on strategies such as the specification of standards and indicators.  Other “hands-on management” measures, such as “results-driven allocations” are a key part of the business of establishing the education services industry which must place shareholders above society.