The Profit Motive
It is that last sentence that should get your attention. The leaders of the “education reform” movement — the Michelle Rhees, the Bill Gateses, the Walton family — have been pushing hard to make education function more like a business, profit motive and all. We are told that overpaid teachers are all that stand between us and a well-educated nation. We are told that more testing (designed by and run by private firms), more charter schools (which can and do earn profits), and Teach for America (a federal program that replaces experienced teachers with recent college grads) can fix all the problems of America’s school.
Among the solutions pitched are using Rosetta Stone language software instead of hiring foreign-language teachers, eliminating classroom instruction in favor of online classes and hiring “data-driven” leaders, who view education not as a mission to impart knowledge to the next generation, but rather a service to be delivered at the lowest-possible cost.
Therein lies the basis for myth of our failing schools. Education is big business. Literally every American is required to get schooling in some form for some time. Today, the vast majority of those students go to public school for free, where they’re taught by teachers whose only goal is to teach. If those students can instead be funneled into for-profit charter schools, supported by government money, they can become the same sort of profit-generators that for-profit online colleges have become.
There are a few things standing in the way of business and all this money, however. Chief among them are the teachers, women and men who chose a career that is not especially lucrative, and indeed is constantly disparaged. The vast majority of teachers decided on their career not because they wanted to get rich, but because they truly want to help children learn. They understand that providing education to every American free of charge is the precise opposite of running education like a business, and thank goodness — because business would spend less time educating the “unprofitable” kids.
We can, and should, continue to strive to improve our education system. We should not be satisfied with an education system that gets diplomas into the hands of only 88 percent of adults. But neither should we pretend that this system is badly broken, or in decline.
Improving educational outcomes does not depend on breaking the unions, or converting our public schools to charter schools. Rather, it depends on our ability to address problems outside of school — poverty, access to health care and child care, access to early childhood education. These are not problems our school system can fix. Indeed, as long as we continue to cut social services, these are problems that will only get worse.
Our schools have done a great job of improving outcomes over the past 70 years, despite a general lack of support. Our schools are not failing. Despite the demands of high-stakes testing, the attacks on educators as a group, the continuing sneering as schools in general, our education system just keeps doing what it’s always done — educating children, as best they can with what little we give them. They don’t deserve a free pass, but neither do they deserve the opprobrium heaped on them. Our education system is better now than it has ever been. For that, educators deserve nothing but respect.
Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker
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