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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/3/15

Why (market-based) U.S. education reform is doomed: David Ellison (Opinion)

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Bill Gates and his lieutenant, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, insist that America's schools must be run like a business. If educators faced both the accountability (standards, high-stakes testing, merit pay) and competition (vouchers/choice, charter schools) of an open, capitalistic market, then teachers would finally have to get off their duffs and get to work.

Trouble is, after nearly two decades of this, American education is no better. That's because, Gates and Duncan maintain (completely unfazed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary), we haven't implemented market-based reforms enough. So now, let's switch to the new Common Core Standards, and use them to evaluate not just schools, but individual teachers.

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Sorry. Even the Common Core are doomed because they cannot cure what truly ails American education today.

A correct diagnosis, however, would involve acknowledging the Voldemorts: vexing, embarrassing issues that, frankly, we'd much prefer not to name:
America recruits most of its educators from the bottom percentiles of college graduates. (And now, thanks to "reform," my state, California, has seen a 66 percent decline in enrollment at teacher-education programs.)

Fifty percent of our students writhe in poverty, the highest rate in the industrialized world, and the single most powerful impediment to academic success.

Our communities and, therefore, our schools are now more segregated by race and class than ever before in our nation's history. (Vouchers and charters, by the way, only exacerbate this.)

Heaping insult upon injury, we usually send our least qualified teachers to staff those decrepit, segregated schools -- perhaps the most heinous moral outrage of our time.

Our families and our culture are in crisis. In fact, the United Nations ranks the United States 34th out of 35 industrialized nations in terms of childhood well-being.

Finally, our entire system of education is based upon a century-old assembly-line industrial model. We sort children according to their ages, insist they all learn identical things at precisely the same time ....

Why don't Gates and Duncan focus on any of the above dire, longstanding educational crises? Perhaps they are blinded by their ideology. Competition and other market-based strategies enabled Gates to amass his fortune. Therefore, they can't help but raise the "fortunes" of public education as well, right?

Besides, market-based educational reforms are so apparently simple, so relatively cheap. Everyone can conveniently ignore the real and shameful problems hobbling America and its public schools today. After all, to address them, we'd need to transform not just our schools, but our communities, even our very culture.

Finland did.

In the 1960s, Finnish schools were by all measures mediocre. They are now universally recognized as some of the finest in the world. In 2009, they were ranked number one.

How did Finland do it? The Finnish Parliament replaced its failed market-based reforms with a new, bold plan: Finland would put a great teacher in every classroom in the nation.

Finnish teacher-education programs are now more competitive than many medical and law schools. All prospective teachers must earn master's degrees, but the government pays their tuition. When they graduate, teachers earn salaries commensurate with other similarly educated professionals.

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Teacher and Author: Bloodletting: Why Education Reform is Killing America's Schools ( Chalk Dust: A Teacher's Marks (
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