Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Education Market Failures: Dreams Deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
-Lansgton Hughes

Those that believe in the technologies of the market came to education—surveyed it, kicked the tires, looked under the hood, and found it lacking.  To better education, they offered solutions, i.e. market solutions—in the form charters, vouchers, new curricula, “better” teachers, the promise(s) of children not left behind, and a race to the top.  But, what happens when these market solutions—offered most often to families and children in this country’s direst of straits as the cure-all for what ails them—fail?  Or, what happens when, as it did just last year, a Danish venture fund decides that the education of 10,000 Swedish children (and the money that follows them) is not worth their while?   What happens when the market falls short and the charter school closes or the vouchers deliver the same or worse schooling or the “better” teachers don’t stick around or the children are left behind and the race—well the race was to the middle or the bottom?  What happens then? 
I am less concerned with what comes to those who believed wholeheartedly that the market could bring about change in education without addressing issues of locale and society-at-large, as one failure does not necessarily shake their faith.  The large charter operators and edu-preneurs use their capital to capitalize on problems without solutions, and even more, as Kingdon explained, attach their solutions to situations once they are problematized.  These people will more than likely be okay—faith-shaken or not.  

I am concerned, though, with those might-be-dreamers.  The aforementioned children, their families, those communities that may be barely treading water in those straits, and the perception of it all who have placed their stock, in the form of their aspirations for their children, in the solutions offered to them.  To those whom it should matter, is it considered a lesson learned or is simply “nothing ventured, nothing gained?”  I doubt that it is the latter.   When families campaign to have their children in the next, new best thing, buy the school uniform (and the rhetoric) is it, indeed, a dream deferred?  When 10,000 children are displaced, what next?  When children, here or elsewhere, change schools, teachers, and classrooms—all of which can be a difficult experience—and the school is left to close, do they sag under the heaviness of that load?  Are the schools themselves, functionally or actually shuttered—but nonetheless, rendering loss experienced tangibly—the festering sores seeping out onto a community?  Are these a disappointment made real—blight objectified?  I cannot and do not know the answers to these questions (no more than Hughes could have).  But these are questions that are, first, worth asking in the age of market ideologies actualized in schooling, and above that, through the use of empirical methods, worth answering.     

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