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Defending the Status Quo?--False Dichotomies and the Education Reform Debate

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And herein lies the discordant nature of the false dichotomy and distortion masked by the "status quo" refrain.

The status quo of the U.S. includes a tremendous equity gap that benefits the ones at the top--including all of the faces on the new reform movement--and that is maintained when schools remain overburdened by poverty and bureaucracy. The new reformers are perpetuating inequity through their misrepresentation of failing schools, "bad" teachers, and corrupt teachers unions; in effect, then, the new reformers are the true defenders of this status quo: U.S. public schools are a mirror held up to political and corporate failures that have created a stratified society, with the gaps widening; the achievement gap in our schools is evidence of an equity gap in our society, not a direct commentary on teacher or school quality.

This irony is chilling as well because the sincere critics of social failures in the U.S. and bureaucratic mismanagement of public schools are being demonized and marginalized. But the new reformers are allowed to create crisis and recommend reform that appears more likely to benefit the reformers than impact positively the schools:

"Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K -12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders--the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation--working in sync, command the field . Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don't rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher."

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While the media continues to perpetuate the new reformers' false dichotomies and mischaracterization of defenders of the status quo as well as never questioning the reformers' motives, the new reformers' solutions for their manufactured status quo fail to stand up to evidence:

"'Race to the Top' and Waiting for Superman made 2010 a banner year for the market-based education reforms that dominate our national discourse. By contrast, a look at the 'year in research' presents a rather different picture for the three pillars of this paradigm: merit pay, charter schools, and using value-added estimates in high-stakes decisions. . . .Overall, while 2010 will certainly be remembered as a watershed year for market-based reforms, this wave of urgency and policy changes unfolded concurrently with a steady flow of solid research suggesting that extreme caution, not haste, is in order."

2010 has offered us an ironic lesson, but one that isn't very appealing. The public seems willing to accept anything repeated by the elites--millionaires, politicians, and celebrities--but just as quick to disregard evidence from sincere reformers.

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An Associate Professor of Education at Furman University since 2002, Dr. P. L. Thomas taught high school English for 18 years at Woodruff High along with teaching as an adjunct at a number of Upstate colleges. He holds an undergraduate degree in (more...)

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