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Business-Managed Democracy

“Business-managed democracies are those in which the political and cultural arrangements are managed in the interests of business”

Sharon Beder

Business-Managed Education

Stigmatising Public Schools

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School privatisation promoters such as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation openly welcome the publication of Milton and Rose Friedmanstandardised test results as a way to “greatly enhance and build pressure for school choice”. They believe that the worse students do on the tests the more that parents will want to move their children to private schools and the more pressure there will be for vouchers and charter schools.

When one considers the requirements of the NCLB legislation in the US it seems that discrediting public education must be the primary goal. The legislation requires each state to set standards for reading, mathematics and science that every child should be able to achieve by 2014. Each state is then required to develop tests that students must pass to demonstrate this level of proficiency in the subject.

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there is the fundamental problem that it is impossible to attain 100 percent proficiency levels for students on norm-referenced tests (when 50 percent of students by definition must score below the norm and some proportion must by definition score below any cut point selected), which are the kind of tests that have been adopted by an increasing number of states…

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Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

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NCLB logo Each state had to establish interim targets by 2003 for each year until 2014 that would allow progress to be achieved and measured each year. This is called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). For example 65 percent of students must pass the mathematics test in fourth grade at every school in the state in 2007. This target must be met not only by the total school population but also by each of ten specified subgroups so that 65 percent of African American students must pass it, as must 65 percent of Asian, Latino, Native American, White, Low Income, Special Education, and Limited English Proficiency students. Ninety five percent of enrolled students in each subgroup are required to sit the test.

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If a school fails to meet the improvement targets for just one of the ten subgroups in tests for any one subject, then the school is subject to sanctions including giving students the option of transferring to another school or being converted into a charter school. However the NCLB targets are manifestly unreasonable. “Imagine a federal law that declared that … all crime must be eliminated in twelve years or the local police department will face privatisation.”

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It is particularly unreasonable to expect a high proportion of special education students to meet the sub-group targets for the very reason that they are designated as having special needs because they do badly on the tests and if they manage to pass the tests they are generally removed from the category of special needs. Similarly, students who can pass the reading tests are transferred out of the Limited English Proficiency group so it is perverse to expect this group to reach one hundred percent proficiency, by definition.

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“The larger and more culturally diverse a school is, the more likely it is to be labelled as inadequate by NCLB” and the fact that it is poorly resourced is not allowed to be an excuse. The poorest schools have to cope with larger classes; more disadvantaged children; more subgroups that have to meet targets; fewer teachers and counsellors; less support services; less books, materials, and equipment; substandard facilities, computers, libraries. And yet they are supposed to achieve the same targets as wealthy schools with four times the resources. And if they don’t they will have to spend precious funds on tutoring children or bussing some of them to other schools.

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Failing Schools

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In 2006 the numbers of schools around the nation that failed to meet AYP targets grew to 29 percent of schools (around 27,000) with 17 percent of schools (that’s over 15,000) being officially labelled in need of improvement and subject to sanctions because they have failed to meet them for two or more years in a row. Standard & Poors found that only 718 schools out of 16,000 schools in 18 states (4.5 percent) were making significant progress towards NCLB goals. The high schools that performed best on the NCLB criteria were those that spent more per student; had more teachers per student; had fewer minority students; had very few poor or special education students; and paid teachers more.

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In some states the figures were much worse. In Washington 81 percent of public schools did not meet the targets in 2006 (compared with 50 percent in 2005). The ‘failing’ schools included some that had good reputations for providing a quality education. Tens of thousands of children now have the option of transferring to another school but there are few public schools to choose from that have met their targets.

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In 2010 about one third of public schools, some 30,000, were not making adequate yearly progress and were labelled as failing.

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NCLB Sanctions

The NCLB sanction of being converted to a charter school as a way of improving schools seems ridiculous given that only 3 out of 34 charter schools met AYP targets.

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The sanctions that NCLB imposes have no record of success as school improvement strategies, and in fact are not educational strategies at all. They are political strategies designed to bring a kind of market reform to public education. They will do little to address the pressing needs of public schools, but they will create a widespread perception of systemic failure, demoralize teachers and school communities, and erode the common ground that a universal system of public education needs to survive.

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Critics estimate that “over 90% of the nation’s public schools will eventually find themselves facing sanctions on the narrow basis of annual test scores and unreachable performance targets”. When a majority of public schools are being labelled as ‘failures’, despite their educational achievements, then privatisation advocates will make sure it is trumpeted in the newspapers as a massive failure of public education. This will ensure wider public acceptance of vouchers and private charter schools, even before schools reach their 6 year deadline when they will be forced to hand over management of their schools to the private sector.

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Not surprisingly teachers unions are strongly opposed to NCLB and the largest union, the National Education Association, together with eight school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont, have filed suit against the legislation. What is more, nearly every state has “introduced legislation rejecting all or part of NCLB.”

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