The White House’s signature education reform initiative, Race to the Top, is often touted as a new civil rights movement. But these reforms, along with those of George W. Bush, have tragically turned public education into a multibillion-dollar “free market” that only hurts the very students and communities the reforms purport to help. Within this new education marketplace, individuals (like Bill Gates) and corporations (like Pearson Inc.) make fortunes, while public school teachers, their unions and teacher educators are pilloried, subjected to a micromanaged audit culture imported from the business sector and stripped of professional authority. Even worse, public students receive a minimalist, technocratic education that prepares them for little more than entry-level jobs at the very corporations that pushed such reforms in the first place. It is not surprising that the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing, Koch-brothers-supported organization, has been so supportive of these misguided attempts at education reform.
Under the guise of supporting the poor and the disenfranchised, these reforms — such as mandating relentless, high-stakes testing; tying school survival, teacher pay and tenure to test scores; lifting the cap on the number of cram-for-the-test charter schools allowed per state; and mandating Common Core–aligned exams — have reduced teaching to test prep and marginalized the arts, foreign languages and social studies. By reducing teaching to behavioral techniques, assessment in terms of standardized rubrics and exams and learning in terms of quantifiable performance outcomes, they have turned teachers into delivery systems that can be automated or outsourced and students into numerical data. These reforms do nothing to end segregated schools or inequality in resources. They do, however, profit those who sell computers, data systems, packaged curricula, tests and test prep.
It is time we, as a nation, reclaimed the public good of education from the educational wasteland of the marketplace. It is time we took education out of the hands of hucksters, CEOs and the Business Roundtable and put it back in the hands of educators.