Agenda and School Reform: T. Banks
Our city and
state claims that it is "the leader" in school reform. We have a host
of self-proclaimed school reform "rock stars" living and working
amongst us. I need not name them as they name themselves every chance they get.
But the story of
our city is not unique. It is a neo-liberal narrative that is being written
across the country. Neo-liberalism's influence is shaping our city's story of
school reform and leading to the further neglect of our neighborhoods and our
a soldier and advocate for public education describes it well in her book, The New Political Economy of Urban Education
New Political Economy of Urban Education:
is a particular, historically-generated state strategy to manage structural
crisis of capitalism and provide new opportunities for capital accumulation. Put
simply, neo-liberalism is an ensemble of economic and social policies, forms of
governance, and discourses and ideologies that promote individual
self-interest, unrestricted flows of capital, deep reductions in the cost of
labor, and sharp retrenchment of the public sphere. Neoliberals champion
privatization of social goods and withdraw from government from provision for
social welfare on the premise that competitive markets are more effective and
proficient" (p. 6).
In terms of
public education, the neo-liberal agenda is
the agenda of school reform.
A story has been
told that says public schools are failing nationwide, that it is educators'
fault this has happened, that public schools systems are incapable of the
change necessary to address this crisis, and that the private sector and thus
the free-market are the only way out.
The narrative of
the economic crisis has become the underlying impetus for quick change in
public education. Meaning, if we do not "train" this new order of
students to "compete" in the global economy then we are doomed. Who
better to train them than the private sector? Who better to fund the change
than the private sector? To add complexity, schools, school districts, and
departments of education across the country have now been running systems of
schools that rely on private money just to balance budgets. Over the last 20
years it has become absurd for schools to think they could operate solely on
public funding. Educators have been happily taking Gates, Walton, and Freidman
Foundation money for years, and now rely on it. The economic system of
education is based on this infusion of private dollars from the 1 percent just
why is this happening and what does it look like?
stopped fighting for what they believe in at least five years ago. Those of us who are still fighting are being
replaced by new teachers trained in schools of education that are tightly
coupled with corporate reformers and their agendas. Schools of education know
they cannot survive if they do not get in line, thus the new teaching force
believes in the neo-liberal narrative and have been trained to implement it.
idea of a school or system that does not include standardization or
standardized tests is a ridiculous notion and has no place in public education.
Schools, educators, and families that fight against standardization are deemed
radicals and dismissed.
narrative of school reform has been written that says if you are against
standardization then you are against accountability. If you are not willing to
close schools then you are unwilling or unable to do the hard work of improving
education is being "Teach for America-nized." An entire army of "teachers"
is being fast tracked into our schools with the most need. This army is being
indoctrinated into the neo-liberal agenda. They are trained to raise scores for
the two years they are there. Any that come to the realization of the
neo-liberal agenda and have other notions are gone in two years and replaced
with a new "member" to pick up where they left off. They are smart,
passionate people who could be catalysts for transformative education, but
instead they are neo-liberal foot soldiers.
and "non-for-profit" groups are starting networks of well-funded,
mechanized, schools all over the country, especially in urban spaces, that are
taking the place of local public and/or independent schools that were once
serving kids. These groups are making lots of money and are politically
lobbying for legislation that will further their agendas.
education, especially in urban spaces, is dying or dead. The idea of anything
that does not have an immediate (5 years or less) impact on standardized tests
scores is not valued by the neo-liberal agenda and is either never allowed to
exist or is extinguished in short order.
or taking over schools, often by municipalities or for-profit groups, is
becoming the badge of courage in school reform. If you haven't closed a school
then you are not courageous and your neo-liberal peers question you.
1 percent that controls the world is controlling the education reform agenda
because they are funding it.
is no collective and organized counter argument/agenda to confront or battle
the current neo-liberal agenda of school reform.
in urban spaces, a system of educational apartheid is being created and the
toughest kids are being pushed lower and lower to the bottom of the heap.
I have spent the
better part of the last 16 years in public education. All but three of those
years were in schools created by teachers and/or communities of teachers and
families. I am exhausted but still fighting. I am searching for rationale or
some sign that this is the wrong direction. When I find myself in a place of darkness I try to find those
people who can pull me out. I end this with some thoughts from three very
smart, activist women at the forefront of creating a counter-narrative to the
neo-liberal social imaginary that is driving the current agenda.
New Political Economy (2011):
fundamental condition is that marginalized, oppressed, and exploited people
rally together to push for liberatory agendas in a time of strong, progressive
social movements, as they did in many parts of the world in the 1960s and early
1970s, and may even forge a counter hegemonic social bloc to contest for a new
social order. However, in periods when dominant forces effectively reshape
common sense around their program (as has been the case with the rise of
neoliberalism over the past 25 years) and there is no strong counter alliance
with its own agenda, options are more limited. In this context, individuals may
opt to "work the system" and organized oppressed groups may
tactically ally themselves with the elements of the dominant agenda in an
effort to meet immediate needs. (p. 123)
Diane Ravitch, "American Schools in Crisis,"
Schools in Crisis,"The
Saturday Evening Post, August 16, 2011:
We are now at a fork in the road. If we
continue on our present path of privatization and unproven market reforms, we
will witness the explosive growth of a for-profit education industry and of
education entrepreneurs receiving high salaries to manage nonprofit
enterprises. The free market loves competition, but competition produces
winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity ...
What we will lose, if we move in that
direction, is public education. Just as every neighborhood should have a good
police station and firehouse, every neighborhood should also have a good public
school. It is worth remembering that the reason we first established public
education was to advance the common good of the community. It began in small
towns, where communities agreed that all the children should be educated for
the good of all and the sake of the future. Public schools have a civic
mission: They are expected to prepare young people to become citizens and to
share in the responsibility of maintaining our society. As political forces tear
them apart, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and for profit, it
diminishes our commonwealth. That is a price we must not pay.
Deborah Meier, "On being on the edge of the possible,
being on the edge of the possible," On Education, Aug. 12,
I see the task of folks in my camp to be largely
educational–to change minds. We have to make it easy for others to
identify with us and maybe join us from time to time by focusing on the issues
that we have the most leverage on: too much testing, too much prepping, the
narrowing of the curriculum, the abandonment of phys ed and the arts, the
pressure and fear imposed on very young children (and their parents),
especially those who reach specific benchmarks later, and finally a rotating
teaching force with little training and constantly afraid of losing their jobs.
There's another battle needed to remind folks about why unions were invented
and why things are every bit as hard now as they were "then." In
short, just as we know that we must start where the kids' are–taking
their misconceptions and ignorance as natural and expected, so too must we
start with our fellow adults. Given the relentless and misinformed (lies)
attack on teachers and unions, and the hyping of private enterprise what would
we expect? It's even more "natural" for adults to believe we are the
crazies. That's the starting point. Accept it. To go further we need patience,
and the capacity to find the metaphors that connect others to our concerns. We
need to share tactics and strategies for enlarging our circle of allies. We
need to be organized ... We need to set an example for the youngest of what it
means to be long-distance runners.
I am a long-distance runner, but
I am tired. I am not at all confident that transformative education within the
current public education system is possible. I am less confident that there is
a collective will to counter the neo-liberal agenda; an agenda that is as
powerful and has as much momentum as it ever has before. Millions, maybe
billions, of dollars are being made and invested in a calculated attack on
public education. So, I'm not even confident that locally driven, public
education will survive, let alone be transformative and democratic in nature. It
is a dark day and it will only get darker if a large and organized group of
advocates and activists for public, transformative, democratic education cannot
create the public will to summon the courage of which Lipman, Meier, and
& Greenburg, D. (2008). Turning
learning right side up: Putting education back
on track. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing.
(2001). Sustainability education:
Revisioning learning and change. Devon, UK:
(2011). The New political economy of
urban education: Neoliberalism,
race, and the right to the city. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.
Ravitch, Diane, (2011). American Schools in Crisis. The Saturday
Evening Post, September/October.
Retrieved from: http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2011/08/16/in-the-magazine/trends-and-opinions/american-schools-crisis.html.
Deborah, (2011). On Being on the Edge of
the Possible. Deborah Meier on Education,
August. Retrieved from: http://deborahmeier.com.
Charles, (2003). Modern social
imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Tarrence "Tarrey" Banks is a founder, middle school teacher, and president of the board of the Bloomington Project School. Tarrey has been involved in progressive and experiential public education for 16 years, and is currently a Ph.D student in Sustainability Education at Prescott College.