Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Behind Rauner's call to 'end unfunded mandates'

Rauner and Smith

Unfunded mandates. I hate 'em. Schools and school districts hate 'em.

It didn't take our demagogic, education-know-nothing governor, with help from his much-smarter State Supt. Tony Smith, very long to figure that out and issue a call to end all unfunded mandates -- which these days virtually means ALL mandates.

Former Oakland supt. Smith is a veteran of the old Coalition of Essential Schools and founder Ted Sizer's less-is-more philosophy. In Oakland, he talked the Sizer Essential Schools talk in order to close public schools, fire teachers, and replace them with privately-run charters in their place.

Sizer's progressive vision, expressed beautifully in his book, Horace's Compromise (a seminal text and must-read, especially for high school educators) was about smaller schools (including charters) and classrooms which were more like learning communities than shopping malls, where skilled teachers were empowered to make the most important educational decisions (and yes, compromise between what's nice and possible), to teach and not just test, and where students could engage in meaningful learning based on their interests and experience.

For Sizer, who served as dean of Harvard's Ed School, less-is-more was never about union-busting or forcing schools to choose between basic necessities because of draconian state budget cuts to public education. It was never about austerity and do-more-with-less.

For Rauner/Smith that's exactly what the call to abolish mandates means. Rauner wants nothing less than to privatize all public space and eliminate civil rights protections and public employee unions altogether.

Yes, let's get rid of unfunded mandates like, Rahm Emanuel's longer school day, like Common Core and PARCC testing madness. But we need to keep mandates that ensure student safety, special education, ELL, class size ceilings, caps on charters, and school desegregation as well as all other fundamental civil and human rights -- including teachers' right to bargain collectively with elected school boards.

The response to necessary, but unfunded, mandates, should be to adequately fund them, not abolish them.

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