The article's core premise is that Bill and Melinda Gates and the Broad Foundation have a disproportionate impact on the education agenda. I don't really have much of an opinion on that. My wife is an education professor and researcher and so I do see the education research funding process up close. But while Bill and Melinda fund what I think are some good initiatives I would not suggest that I know enough to opine on the overall effectiveness or subjective "goodness" of their work.
But the core of the article seems to be that none of the reforms that they have tried to effect have worked. As I was reading the article, I expected her to lay out some strategies that she thought *would* work. She did not.
Her argument seems to be that education in America, relative to other countries, works fine for families in the top 25% of income, but then gets less good relative to other countries as we include the lower 75%. And she sees this as proof that in fact there is nothing wrong with our educational system.
here is the key quote:
To justify their campaign, ed reformers repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty. And as dozens of studies have shown, the gap in cognitive, physical, and social development between children in poverty and middle-class children is set by age three.In other words, regarding public schools, there's nothing to see here. Move along. All this money is being wasted (or worse) and there's nothing that can be done. And in fact all of these education reforms are "messing up" what it appears she thinks are schools that are running as well as is possible, given their students.
Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education. The truly excellent charter schools depend on foundation money and their prerogative to send low-performing students back to traditional public schools. They cannot be replicated to serve millions of low-income children. Yet the reform movement, led by Gates, Broad, and Walton, has convinced most Americans who have an opinion about education (including most liberals) that their agenda deserves support.
I find her argument disgusting. It is a horrific defense of the status quo wrapped in a pandering argument designed to curry favor with teachers unions that hate the idea of reform in any way shape or form.
I am not here to argue that all of the reform ideas floating around are good ones. But the idea that no reform ideas or experiments or research can be good because these poor dumb kids are hopeless by age 3 is really a modern day perhaps more politically palatable form of eugenics.
That this piece appears in "Dissent" which frames itself as "a magazine of the left" on its about page is even more shocking. It is also, I think, a reflection of the fact that the historical alignment of the policial left with the poor and lower middle class has given way to, among other things, powerful union lobbies that have no alignment of interests with "the people", much less poor people of color that probably come out in smaller numbers at the polls and are, for the most part, unfortunately, politically invisible.