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10 Big Wins For Public Education in 2013

Here are 10 great reasons to have hope that corporate education reform may soon be a thing of the past.

Photo Credit: Thomas Altfather Good via Wikimedia Commons


If what’s past is truly prologue, there’s a good chance 2013 will be remembered as the year the free-market education reform movement crested and began to subside. After a decade of gathering momentum, reform politics began to founder in the face of communities fighting for equitable and progressive public education. Within the year’s first weeks, a historic test boycott was underway, civil rights advocates confronted Arne Duncan on school closings, and thousands were marching in Texas to roll back reforms.

Perhaps we should have sensed this coming: the Chicago Teachers Union strike in the fall of 2012 foreshadowed the education struggles that would take center stage in 2013. In addition to fair contract provisions, they called for a new course for public schools: well-rounded curriculum, fewer mandated tests, more nurses and social workers, an end to racially discriminatory disciplinary policies, and early childhood education, among other demands.

The CTU’s chief victory lay in galvanizing public education advocates across the country around a vision for public education that took full form in 2013. At the same time, the year saw reform bulwarks like Teach for America and the Common Core standards suffer unprecedented shocks.

Below are the 10 most notable boons and coups the public school community experienced in 2013.

10. Common Core Coalition Crumbling

Just as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have become ascendant, supported by over 40 states and glutted with hundreds of millions in federal funding, they've come up against widespread pushback. At least 17 states now show signs of cold feet on the Common Core.

The K-12 curriculum guidelines, initially the darling of statehouses nationwide, have aroused suspicion and pique in their public entrée. The standards’ implementation will likely cause test scores to crater, as they have in Kentucky and New York, exacerbating evaluation pressures on teachers and threatening more schools with closure. Some see the standards as a costly and untested imposition driven largely by firms hungry for the profits nationalized standards may bring—for instance, 68% of districts plan to purchase new CCSS-aligned materials.

The Common Core grew out of a baffling public-private partnership funded by the ubiquitous Gates Foundation and textbook manufacturer Pearson, which was recently fined over $7 million for using its charitable arm to peddle Common-Core-aligned products.

Resistance has emerged in state legislatures as well as the grassroots (including an unfortunate Glenn Beck-inspired contingent that fears the indoctrination of children with “extreme leftist ideology”). Two public school moms in Indiana successfully petitioned the legislature to pause CCSS rollout there. In a series of New York town hall meetings, CCSS protesters aired their (occasionally vituperative) grievances to the education commissioner, and the state subsequently announced a testing drawdown. Several states, including Georgia and Pennsylvania, have withdrawn from the Common Core’s testing consortium, PARCC.

9. “Reform Idol” Tony Bennett Tumbles

In 2008 he was elected Indiana’s state superintendent, with a bold pledge to close failing schools. In 2011 the conservative Fordham Institute crowned him Education Reform Idol (which was, astoundingly, a real thing). After losing reelection in 2012, he was scooped up by a fawning Florida Board of Education. Throughout all this he served on the governing boards of several Common Core-affiliated organizations.

In 2013, the AP rounded out Tony Bennett’s ed-reform credentials by revealing that he’d inappropriately overhauled the Indiana school ratings system in order to protect a high-profile Republican donor’s otherwise-failing charter school.

In a profoundly ironic email, the grade-obsessed superintendent wrote, “They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House”— the politically connected charter in question— “compromises all of our accountability work." By finagling with the formula, Bennett pushed over half the state’s charter schools' ratings to a “C” or better, vindicating concerns that accountability systems themselves lack accountability.