Friday, July 16, 2010

Spouting cliches

"Education is the civil rights issue of our generation." This has become Arne Duncan's mantra lately, as well as that other well-know fighter for civil rights, Newt Gingrich. It almost seems like every department head or project manager has suddenly discovered civil rights and is now calling whatever project they are heading, from charter schools to on-line learning, "the civil rights issue of our generation." Forgive me, but I think Civil Rights is still the civil rights issue of our time.


In the mean time, growing poverty and the widening gap between the rich and poor remains a defining factor in educational achievement, playing a bigger role than anything going on in the classroom. 

Edweek blogger Walt Gardner picks up on this theme today ("Economic Inequality = Educational Inequity"), commenting on a forum in The Nation ("Inequality in America And what to do about it.").

The implications for schools stand out because narrowing the academic achievement gap between racial groups has become a top priority of reformers. In fact, on July 14, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called education "the civil rights issue of our generation" in a speech in Kansas City to NAACP delegates ("U.S. education secretary calls on NAACP to focus on schools"). But he has things in the wrong order when he said: "The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve it in the classroom."
Accompanying the growing pauper-ization of millions of unemployed Americans and the increased racial segregation and isolation of poor black and Latino families, comes the widening gap in measurable learning outcomes. While corporate school reformers, privatizers and politicians like N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg, continue to refer to these factors as "excuses", Duncan's Race To The Top policies of turning federal funding for education into one big competitive grant, is actually reproducing our two-tiered school system.

Writes Gardner:
The U.S. also has the highest rate of the permanently poor of all other industrialized nations. These appalling conditions are tolerated by no other advanced democracy. Yet with the exception of sporadic populist outrage, business goes on as usual. In fact, when it comes to education, pressure is building to deregulate and privatize schools, as if doing so will somehow mitigate inequities.Those advocating this strategy are the same people who argue for fewer controls on corporations. The rationale in both cases is that an unencumbered marketplace is the solution to both the economic and educational ills of the country. We know by now where this approach led in the case of the former. Why would the outcome be different in the case of the latter? But by the time America wakes up to reality, it will be too late to undo the damage done by this warped thinking.
Well put, Walt.

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