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The Inconvenient Truth Of Education 'Reform'

Despite stated intentions to use education reform to advance civil rights, reform measures in their current frame are resulting in deep and pervasive civil wrongs.

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  • In New Mexico, FEE [the foundation set up by Bush] acted as a broker to organize meetings between their corporate donors and individual Chiefs [for Change].
  • Maine moved the FEE policy agenda through legislation and executive order that would remove barriers to online education and in some cases would require online classes – including eliminating class size caps and student-teacher ratios, allowing public dollars to flow to online schools and classes, eliminate ability of local school districts to limit access to virtual schools.
  • In Florida, FEE helped write legislation that would increase the use of a proprietary test (FCAT) under contract to Pearson, an FEE donor.

What’s worse than this blatant profiteering off taxpayer money is the fact that many of the education providers being pushed by the reform movement have an abysmal track record of service to students. Fang explains:

While the education tech industry has enjoyed a recent surge thanks to the policies enacted by Jeb Bush and his allies, there’s growing evidence that these privatized, proprietary charter schools are under-performing. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the virtual charter school policies peddled by FEE, the publicly-traded online charter school management company K12 Inc., has been cited in several studies for its abysmal performance. A report last year found that K12 Inc.’s students score between 14 and 36 percent lower than their non-cyber school peers. Only 27.7 percent reported meeting Adequate Yearly Progress standards in the 2011 school year, which the National Education Policy Center notes,  compares poorly to the 52 percent average scored by brick-and-mortar schools.

The Inconvenient Truth Revealed

In the recent presidential election, both candidates proclaimed education reform to be “the civil rights issue of our time” – the very same words uttered by former president George Bush over a decade ago when he signed the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Over ten years later we see how education reform mandates have played out – powerful corporate interests are mining new profit centers while poor children of color, who were the intended beneficiaries of reform, are getting stuck with the shaft.

Those whose only value is to “let the free market work” are doubtlessly content with this situation. But the inconvenient truth is that despite any stated intention to use education reform as a means to advance civil rights, the reality is that reform measures in their current frame are resulting in deep and pervasive civil wrongs.  And people still considering themselves to be allied with the noble cause of “education reform” need to either drop the pretension of being “for students” and “civil rights” or pause to reconsider “whose side are you  on.”

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America's Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.