Teachers, parents, students resist drive to privatize public schools
On Aug.1, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned under pressure following a school grading scandal that occurred during his tenure as Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction.
In his former elected position in Indiana, Bennett changed the failing grades of 13 schools. He did so after a school founded by a large donor, Christel Dehann, saw its own grade drop from an A to a C. The grade drop was based on 9th- and 10th-grade algebra scores. When Bennett realized the Christel Dehann charter school’s grade would drop, he wrote an e-mail to staff saying: “This will be a HUGE problem for us. They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.”
His office removed the 9th and 10th graders’ scores from the evaluations altogether, forcing the grade back up to an A. He has defended himself saying 13 other schools received the same treatment. This claim is bogus for a number of reasons.
Corporate education reform is the real scandal
Bennett is part of a cohort of school officials carrying out a program to privatize public education and destroy teachers’ unions. These officials routinely cover up just how badly the so-called reforms they enact are failing students and teachers.
In Indiana, Bennett did his job—as outlined by the capitalist ruling class. His attempt to change the grade of a failing charter school run by a major donor is not an anomaly or a mistake in an otherwise well-intentioned reform effort. Rather, it is par for the course in a concentrated effort to undermine public education.
Bennett’s resignation was forced because he was caught blatantly fixing the scores. But it was not just that. He was forced to resign because of a significant public outcry from teachers, education workers and parents opposed not only to his earlier efforts to privatize education in Indiana but his current efforts to help the governor privatize public education in Florida.
So-called education reform has been carried out under the guise of rhetoric like accountability, parental choice and rigor. But the words have been cover for a headlong, state-by-state assault on access to public education and the workers who make it possible.
However, the corporate reform assault on public schools has begun to spark a backlash, as teachers, students and parents resist high-stakes standardized tests and fight against school closings.
What is school grading?
The school grading system that was Bennett’s downfall is itself a product of this campaign. States have been enacting A-F grading systems to label an entire school since Gov. Jeb Bush enacted one in Florida in 1999. Ten states and New York City currently use school grading systems and two more, Virginia and Ohio, are planning implementation for 2015. Each state uses different methods to assign a single letter grade to each school.
Bennett is not the first official caught changing grades to suit outcomes or reworking the methodology to change failing grades. But the idea of creating a single letter grade to describe a school and then making decisions about its viability or funding based on that single grade is nonsense. It contributes to the idea that public education is failing and does not present a full picture of the needs of a school or its community. Officials then use grades to fire teachers, close schools and enact anti-union, anti-student changes.
Public education does need to be reformed but in the interests of the working-class students and families it serves, with the guidance and leadership of those families and the workers who run public schools—teachers, secretaries, janitors, librarians, social workers and more. The changes currently being implemented do just the opposite—they serve the interests of the capitalists who profit off the destruction of public education and the expansion of prisons and the war machine.