Ed Reform’s Double-Edged Sword

It hasn’t always been, but for the last decade or so, the education reform movement has been a double-edged sword that slices through the heart of traditional public education. On one side of the sword, we find the Republican efforts to reform public education that is built upon and driven by the their ideological adherence to conservatism. Residing on the other side of the sword, the Democrat approach to education reform supported by America’s long history of civil rights discrimination and the need to provide equitable opportunities to children of color, children living in poverty, and other populations trapped in situations that prevent social and economic upward mobility.

While many of the education reform nonprofit organizations that enjoy financial support from both sides of the sword employ a large number of minorities on their staffs, the movement itself is largely driven by upper-middle class, and upper class, white people. To my knowledge, none of the billionaire philanthropists who fund these efforts are minority, but the effort on both sides has garnered the support of many civil rights organizations on the promise of equal opportunities and “closing the gap.”

Both camps of the education reform movement have taken positions against teacher unions. The Republican side opposes unions, for the most part, as another component of conservatism. The Democrats oppose teacher unions because they see them as a barrier to accomplishing their goals. While I do agree with some positions held by the Republican party, I’m going to dismiss this one as one that I don’t agree with and focus on the Democrat opposition to unions.

First, I have a hard time understanding how the Democrats can take this position on a significant piece of the Democratic party’s history. Labor union contribution to the party’s progress is second only to the Civil Rights Movement. What this position fails to acknowledge is that a very large portion of union membership consists of representatives of the very populations the education reform movement seeks to serve. In Louisiana, if minorities don’t hold the majority of either of the teacher unions, they are very close to it.

Recently, one of the largest and most powerful civil rights organizations issued a policy in opposition of the charter school portion of the education reform movement. The NAACP has come to the realization that the education reform movement has not delivered what it said it would, and instead, is delivering the opposite. The achievement gap is not closing, and segregation is on the rise. At the same time, the pockets of the corporations vested in the success of school choice are being lined with taxpayer dollars.

Since the NAACP announced its new position, both NEA and AFT have issued similar positions against vouchers, charter schools, and Sec. Betsy DeVos’ voucher agenda. As a result, many of the education reform media outlets have published criticism of both the NAACP and the unions as defense of the status quo while seemingly ignoring the fact that both represent the very populations they seek to serve.

Imagine a situation where a population, for whatever reason, is unable to produce an adequate food supply for its citizens. A philanthropic organization steps up to the plate and provides an endless supply of food so that they can grow, get healthy, and move ahead of the curve and produce their own food. After a while, the population discovers that the food being provided is actually making the citizens sick, so they plead with the philanthropic organization to stop providing the bad food. Instead of stopping, the organization continues because the population is starving, and by golly, we’re going to feed you.

The scenario above is not unlike what has happened in education reform. For years, people like me have protested education reform because we believe it is best to nurture the education system we have and view the reforms as poison to the system. Education reform groups have no problem dismissing our concerns because parental concerns somehow aren’t important and/or those of us who happen to be teachers are merely protecting the unions and the status quo. Now, the people intended to benefit from the reforms are realizing the harm, and have asked for it to stop.

Watch this space. This battle will go down in history as the one that saved public education.

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