Monday, December 01, 2008

The Next Nation At Risk Report

also posted at Daily Kos
The original A Nation At Risk came out in 1983. It began:
Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. . .(snip) . . the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur--others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.
The scary language continued. Note just the very next sentence:
If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.


What you will read below is reproduced with permission. And I will explain about the author and the organization after you read.

The Latest Nation At Risk Report: The Education Roundtable to Tell Corporate America How to Stop Ruining America.

We feel compelled to report to the American people that the business and financial foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur— companies that extolled themselves as models of excellent practices have deceived the American people with sloppy, undisciplined, and greedy practices that are driving Americans out of their homes, threatening their retirements, and dashing their hopes of a financially secure future. Indeed, if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre corporate financial performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

As it stands, our businesses have allowed this to happen, with greedy CEOs and upper management taking enormous benefits for themselves while preaching and dictating to our schools the need to adopt their “sound” business practices of unbridled free markets, privatization strategies, and the notion of competition as the force for change. Taxpayers are now providing an initial $700 billon bailout of some of these companies, whose CEO’s have been actively involved in dictating to policy-makers that America’s schools should model the management style of the private sector.

God forbid that our schools become more like these kinds of businesses! Our business and financial communities have, in effect, been committing rash, thoughtless acts of unilateral financial disarmament, dragging our citizens and their children into economic insecurity while having many of these same citizens pay the bill. By making their terminology, practices and transactions incomprehensible to the lay audience, these business leaders enjoyed a decade-long end run around the public and our alleged watchdog agencies. The hubris of high rollers on the top floors of America’s giant companies permitting unfettered profit-taking at the expense of others has no limit. To be blunt, the business community has become an industry at risk of implosion.

To help our colleagues in the business community, we educators hereby recommend a new guiding and monitoring organization for business and financial institutions. The Education Roundtable will gather a team of the country’s top educators, whose charge will be to set business standards, goals, and accountability structures for all corporations and financial institutions. To promote a greater culture of accountability, the Roundtable will also require each entity to publish a report card every year, based on a series of standardized assessments.

Our final word, perhaps better characterized as a plea, is that all segments of our population will give close attention to the implementation of our recommendations. Our present plight did not appear overnight, and the responsibility for our current situation is widespread. Reform of our corporate and financial system will take time and unwavering commitment. For no one can doubt that the United States is under challenge from many quarters.


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Epilogue

There will be some angry readers out there who will bristle as I have lifted some of the exact wording of the Nation at Risk Report of 1983 and changed the word “schools” and “public education” to “business and financial institutions.” And yes, I have taken plenty of liberties to extend and add sentences to define all business and financial leaders and stock market manipulators as untrustworthy, immoral, dangerous people who have let our country down; crushing the day to day lives and long term hopes of the large majority of Americans who can not afford to lose their jobs, their homes, and their savings. And my business friends -- if there still are a few left -- will bristle at the idea that educators and lay people, with no experiences in business or finance, should be taking charge of what they need to do. If so, the point has been made and hopefully, sincerely taken before further policy making.



The above appeared as The Latest Nation at Risk Report, a blog post at The Forum for Education and Democracy, an organization about which I have written before. The author, Carl Glickman (click on his name for his bio), is one of the conveners of the Forum, and a notable figure in education circles. You will note other important names among that group, including Linda Darling-Hammond, currently cochairing the policy review of the Department of Education on behalf of the Obama transition effort.

And yes, to those of us fighting the battles about the future of education, this piece is something that raises our spirits.

Let me repeat part of Glickman's epilogue with some added emphasis of my own:
And yes, I have taken plenty of liberties to extend and add sentences to define all business and financial leaders and stock market manipulators as untrustworthy, immoral, dangerous people who have let our country down; crushing the day to day lives and long term hopes of the large majority of Americans who can not afford to lose their jobs, their homes, and their savings. And my business friends -- if there still are a few left -- will bristle at the idea that educators and lay people, with no experiences in business or finance, should be taking charge of what they need to do. If so, the point has been made and hopefully, sincerely taken before further policy making.


At some point, the voices of professional and committed educators need to become prominent, if not dominant, in the discussions about our national educational policy, as well as at lower levels. To date we have largely been excluded from the discussion.

In that context, let me repeat part of the first face to face conversation I had with then Governor Tom Vilsack. I noted that the Governors had just had a conference on education and each governor had brought a business leader. Tom acknowledged that was true. I asked why each governor had not instead brought a teacher, a principal or even a student? He was genuinely surprised at the idea.

And yet, unless you view our students in the demeaning manner of considering them as products and/or raw materials, and thus the teachers and schools merely as mechanical means of rendering or re-forming that material into a desired end, might it not make sense to include the voices of those who will be expected to implement whatever policy politicians and businessmen seek to impose? Perhaps we educators might be able to save you a lot of time and money, as well as the learning of our students, by explaining to you the reality of education. As Jamie Vollmer, keynote speaker for the education panel at the first Yearlykos so right concludes in his famous Blueberry story,
I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.


That change will include VALUING our public schools, not seeking to defund them through vouchers and charters. It will include educating the whole child, not merely preparing compliant workers for ever decreasing wages without union protections against employers who don't give a damn for either workers or the communities in which they operate, only the maximum profit that can be made under the least amount of regulation and taxation. It will value civic education as highly as math and science, because absent civic responsibility, science and technology can be destructive and dehumanizing.

I am a proud educator. I am a teacher. My subject happens to be Social Studies. What I teach is students. They are neither my raw materials nor my finished product, not even my my customers. They are my fellow human beings for whom I have a greater responsibility than do most businessmen. I am responsible for their minds, their spirits, to a large degree for their futures. I must empower them to be able to learn on their own, to be able to think critically, to express themselves clearly.

Perhaps if businessmen would tend to the realities of their own sphere, our economy might not be so much of a mess.

As for "A Nation At Risk"??? It was the first of a series of jeremiads against public schools, blaming them for the reflected ills of the larger society. And each cycle we have seen changes imposed, and then a few years later we are told yet again how horrible our schools are. Chew on that repetitive cycle if you will. . .

Educators have not been running school policy - politicians and businessmen have. And what is their record? How about on the economy, for starters? Except since we are educators and not businessmen we are not supposed to criticize? Even when you bankrupt your corporations and then desperately beg for the taxpayers (the rest of us who are NOT businessmen) to bail you out?

And government? Hell, you the politicians charge me with teaching about government - and my kids do quite well on the external tests you impose on them, probably better than you might do - and then you do not abide by the rules and procedures of the government you want me to teach to them. Remember things like the rule of law, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights???

Perhaps Glickman's piece did not have for you the same force it did for me, although if you are now or were in the 1980s an educator, it surely will strike at least the occasional internal chord.

If it does not, follow the link with which I started. Or better, go directly to the passage Glickman is modifying, part of which I have already quoted. You can read that here

And whether like me you find yourself with at least a sardonic smile if not bitter laughter, please consider this: we have a new administration, but that is not a guarantee that the corporatization of American education will cease. Stay vigilant. Speak out.

But for now, I hope Carl Glickman's words offered at least a little humor with which to start your work week.


Peace.

4 comments:

Craig A. Cunningham said...

Criticism of the public schools goes WAAAAAAY back before 1983. It's an American tradition. Read some Horace Mann, or Joseph Riis, or Arthur Bestor.

But yes, "A Nation at Risk" launched what might be called the "blame the schools for the collapse of the economic empire" era. It's easier to blame the schools than the corporations. Or it was.

TT said...

You might be interested in an article by Emery regarding the Business Roundtable's reporting of 'problems' in the public schools. It's quite interesting and ties into some of your thoughts here....

Emery, K. (2007, Spring). Corporate Control of Public School Goals: High-Stakes Testing in Its Historical Perspective. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34(2), 25-44.

Richard said...

This is a great post. I have been discussing institutional isomorphism with my students recently and the mentality of business seems to just continue to spread across the social, political and economic worlds without question -- even in the midst of the financial crisis and falling standards and accomplishments of our schools.

This is particularly true in New York City, under the tutelage of CEO/Mayor Bloomberg. His approach has not reaped the expected outcomes and the truth is scores and educational quality are falling, no rising, in NYC. The truth is that public goods with huge externalities rarely benefit from market mentality and business practices, but neoliberalism marches on undetered by this reality. I am constantly struck by an argument in a World Bank report a couple of years ago that argued teachers and teacher unions are the greatest barrier to global prosperity. It is this logic we need to challenge first, if we are to enact any substantive change in educational policy.

I believe the only way to start to challenge this logic is to get involved in the debate at the grassroots level, and start community movements for change that can germinate upward. We certainly need to continue challenging political and educational leaders, but parents are a huge, laregely untapped, resource that can begin to change the nature of the debate. I'm actually in the early stages of planning a campaign against the logic of NCLB and would love help from anyone willing. If interested, email me at rjv@ucla.edu.

Thanks again for the post; I think irony is a tool that can be very effective these days (particularly with the young).

Cheers,
Rich Van Heertum

Mr. S said...

I really enjoyed your post, and feel that anyone who cares about public education should think about the points made here. I wrote about it, and highly endorsed it in my own blog. A passage:

"This is in many ways what the modern education reform debate comes down to. It is not just about students who can pass tests, go to college, and become leaders in the field of (insert your profession of choice here). It is about the overall well being of our society, and thus, the students as well. Do we need to do better in math and science? Yes. Do we need to get rid of "bad teachers"? Yes. And no, we shouldn't rule out charter schools or alternative teacher training programs as part of the solution. But they aren't the only solution. And putting the opinions of businessmen and politicians ahead of educators (as opposed to "in cooperation with") isn't a solution of any real use."

unreasonableteacher.blogspot.com