" I think the real issue here isn't what is the proper use of a calculator, but that it is being dictated by the testing consortia. Our main point of opposition is that CCSS (not just the standards, but the whole ball of wax) takes away local control. By.removing local control you take away the ability of the parents and teachers to choose to do different things. It is a fundamental principle that if I can choose only one option, I have no choice. This is what makes so much of what is divisive in education, we don't allow for the differences. One size fits all is the antithesis of liberty."
I fundamentally agree with her comment, particularly if we're looking at "choice" as variety - a menu of options, and different restaurants with different menus. For a very long time, that seemed to be fine with most people. But periodically, "experts" launch a fear campaign, and try to use it to get standardization. Maybe that makes sense for some things: fast food and chain motels, etc., promise standardization (predictability; no surprises!) in exchange for innovation, experimentation, imagination, etc. Safety over potential for variety, change, growth, life.
I understand that. When it comes to motels, I'm likely to go with safe. When it comes to food when I'm out of town, I'm more interested in . . . interesting. I have a nose for great, cheap, ethnic restaurants and given time and opportunity, I'll seek them out and take my chances.
We could extend this to many other situation, but the point has been made. Obviously, some folks want safety every time. Some want risk every time. Most of us are somewhere along the spectrum on different things.
When it comes to education, we're being told not only that safety, standardization, predictability, etc. are what is most desirable for everyone (a doubtful premise) but that these things are also attainable if we'd give into the corporate profiteering deformers. Many of us are rightly skeptical of that premise as well. But the most absurd rider to the second premise is that we can get those things without addressing anything except schools, curriculum, assessment, teaching, and, of course, accountability therein. What we most decidedly do NOT have to address ,on this view, is America's economic, social, geographic, and related inequities. Or to be more specific: poverty, discrimination and their ill effects.
The "no excuses, poverty doesn't matter" philosophy of education deform is one of the most outlandish and self-serving imaginable. It allows people already benefiting from a badly skewed distribution of wealth, one in which a very few people are born into unimaginable luxury and affluence, and a significant percentage are born into abject want, to further rig the game and accrue an even larger share of money and power. And the neat trick is that they do while blaming the problems the system they love has created on some of the very people who dedicate their lives to trying to make a positive difference: professional educators.
In the corporate deform narrative, the American people cannot trust public school teachers (and particularly must mistrust their unions). Once again, we see a divide and conquer strategy being used by America's oligarchs, pitting a majority of have nots and barely haves against a hard-working portion of society that is perceived as having become too left-wing for the comfort of the rulers.
But I digress. What was I talking about again? Oh, yes. . . CHOICE!
Well, not so fast. You see there's choice, and then there's CHOICE.
It seems that any conversation about public education these days sooner or later centers on the OTHER kind of choice, the sort that deformers love to promote. That's the "choice" that they claim is being denied to inner-city poor children and parents (mostly of color). [Note: last I heard, there are rural poor people, many of whom are white, but they don't seem to be much in the conversation when deformers get to deforming. I think it has something to do with geography, but also with the neoliberal/neoconservative fondness for co-opting issues and language traditionally associated with '60s liberalism, particularly around issues of social justice and ethnicity. The "choice" argument, as I'll discuss below, has some serious problems when you start talking about folks living in areas with low population density].
The two magic bullets of deform that are supposed to solve social inequality, slanted playing fields, and ethnic injustice are charter schools and vouchers. On my view, charters as currently construed by the deform crowd, are a nice way to make a lot of money without providing a quality product for most customers (I'm aware of the history of the charter movement, that it was sensible and well-intentioned, and that some good schools, even excellent ones, emerged as a result. But those who wish to point only to such places had best come to grips with the reality of what the movement became when the profiteers stepped in). The system set up to oversee charters in many states appears to be crafted by charter owners, for charters owners, so help them anyone in the legislature looking for some fat campaign contributions. Ohio is a particularly egregious case, as those who follow the story of David Brennan and White Hat Management's virtual purchase of the Ohio State Legislature are aware.
The corruption and mediocre performance of many charter schools is well-documented, so let me focus here instead on vouchers, the true wet dream of many rich people, reactionaries, and privatizers. These folks claim that if only we gave every student (or parent/guardian) a voucher good for the amount the state pays a public school district for educating that student and let the individual families have a choice as to where to use that money, the ensuing competition (you know, "the free market") would force public schools to compete for neighborhood kids they used to be able to take for granted as students as long as they were of school age, didn't drop out, and lived in the local catchment area. The narrative is that bad schools (which oddly enough always seem to be located in high-poverty areas, a coincidence no deformer is interested in addressing) are filled with lazy, union-protected teachers who haven't the slightest interest in teaching their students a thing. Without the threat of competition, these slugs would be able to continue ripping the public off, failing to serve their students, and collecting those fat paychecks that we all know teachers receive whether they deserve them or not.
Meanwhile, parents and kids need not wait for these schools to fix themselves, because with those vouchers in hand, they are free to go to a broad range of better schools - other public schools that accept students from out of their district (never mind that it's already possible to do that without vouchers in many parts of the country, or that many of the districts that do accept outside-of-district students do so because they need more money and are not necessarily better than the student's home district); any number of fine, conveniently located Catholic schools (which some advocates in the Math Wars like to refer to as "the local St. Sensible," as if we all know that Catholic schools are sure to offer children - regardless of race, color, or creed - a first-class education! That most African-Americans are not Catholic (nor are most of those rural poor white kids that the "choice" advocates aren't apparently terribly concerned about) seems to be irrelevant to these advocates, though personally I find both separation of church and state issues lurking about here, as well as the need to question that it's fine for black parents to have to potentially compromise their religious beliefs in order to get an ostensibly better education for their kids, while no education deformers would be sanguine about having to take that option for their own children; and finally, those private, secular schools that many wealthy and near-wealthy parents covet for their own children.
It's this last "choice" that I have tried to debunk for well over a decade when arguing with voucher advocates. I have repeatedly challenged them to explain how a typical black student in, say, northeastern Detroit, would manage to attend, say, Detroit Country Day School, an upscale prep school located in Beverly Hills, MI (you can't make this stuff up). When I say "typical," I specifically eliminating the likelihood that the student in question possesses the basketball skills of a Chris Webber or Shane Battier, both of whom are African-American males who graduated from Country Day, and had all-American careers at University of Michigan and Duke University, respectively, and successful professional basketball careers (Battier played on the current two-time NBA championship club, the Miami Heat).
Absent such unusual talent, there is no evidence that the Detroit Country Day Schools of America are champing at the bit to recruit or admit children of color from the inner cities. And it is crucial to note several key facts that give the lie to the choice argument. First, there is no obligation whatsoever for a private school to accept any given child. They are free to pick and choose as they see fit and are not required to explain their admission choices. While there may be K-12 private schools that seek diversity and practice admissions without regard to race, color, creed, politics, or, most significantly, income, the ones with the CHOICE are those running the school, not those applying for it. That seems to slip past the deform crowd in these conversations, which is odd given that not a few of them attended such schools. You'd think they'd be a bit more familiar with whether their classmates came from and whether there were a good number of poor black kids in their classes.
But let's say that there are such fair-minded schools and a hypothetical non-athletic poor child of color applies, voucher in hand, and is admitted. Oops, turns out that the full cost (tuition, books, fees, uniforms, etc., not to mention transportation - see below) is considerably more than the amount of the voucher. Of course, some schools of this caliber are sufficiently well-endowed by wealthy alumni contributions that they can give financial aid to some applicants. But will that frequently be bestowed upon inner-city poor children of color? Won't there be plenty of lower-middle class kids who need that money? Won't they have academic advantages from being of a higher economic background that will lead to complaints about "affirmative action," etc.? Will the alumni like the notion of bringing in a lot of poor kids? Poor kids of color? Poor kids of color from the GHETTO?
And then there are the issues of transportation. Detroit Country Day School isn't in "the country," but it isn't in Detroit, either. The lower school is in West Bloomfield, a mere 26 miles from the predominantly Mexican area in southwest Detroit, and a comfy 22.5 miles from mostly black Osborn High School in the northeast side of the city. The upper school is in Beverly Hills, MI (you can't make these things up), a cozy 18 miles from Osborn and 21.5 miles from southwest Detroit. So not a lot of kids will be walking to school if they go to Detroit Country Day. And of course, getting public transportation from those areas to the suburbs is not a simple matter. This is, after all, the Motor City area. Public transportation has been historically eschewed in favor of the almighty automobile. So those lower school and middle school kids, and high schoolers not yet of full-licensing age had best have someone with wheels and the time to take them to and from school. And of course, every inner-city poor high schooler has a car.
Now, imagine those poor white kids located out in rural America. How are they getting to these lovely, exclusive private schools, assuming there are any in the vicinity? Well, okay, maybe they don't matter so much. They should have known better than to live in rural Montana and expect America's entrepreneurial class to have miracle cures at their fingertips.
While I think reasonable people who've not previously considered these issues are mostly willing to admit that this "choice" business is trickier than simply giving vouchers to parents, I know from bitter experience that such arguments have no impact on the true believers, let alone on the folks who are heavily invested financially in the charter and voucher movements. For them, choice means that the rich get free choice the poor get whatever choices the wealthy and powerful say they can have. And the reality is that those are very often not viable, not very appealing, or not efficacious.
But the propaganda will keep flowing. "Choice" is one of those words, like "freedom" and "democracy," that few Americans understand very clearly, but they know DAMNED well that they want it and that it's their God-given right as citizens of the greatest country in history.
************************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org