Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Capitalism, Calculus, and Conscience

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Capitalism, Calculus, and Conscience

Article excerpt

IN JUNE 2002, in a 4-to-1 decision, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that it's okay to rip off the children of New York City. The Appellate Division judicial crew overturned a landmark ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse. DeGrasse had outraged Gov. George Pataki and his business and political cronies by ruling that New York's state funding system deprived city children of their right to a basic education. Responding to the complaint of a coalition of parents and teachers, DeGrasse ordered reforms to bring certified teachers, reduced class sizes, up-to-date texts, and upgraded technology to city schools that lacked all these things. He ordered that all New York City schoolchildren must be afforded the same kinds of educational opportunities as children in more affluent sections of the city and in the suburbs.

In DeGrasse's decision "reform" didn't have any of the tricky nuances employed by the Business Roundtable or the U.S. Congress, among others. For DeGrasse, reform meant spending money to make education more democratic by making sure that all children in New York had equal access to the types of schools that affluent students consider their due.

Politicians and their corporate handlers didn't sit still for such a ruling. Equity is not on the capitalist, corporate, congressional agenda. Along with their brethren around the country, politicos in New York operate according to the rule handed down from the education summit convened at IBM headquarters when Bush the Elder was in office and Clinton was the "education governor" of Arkansas. This rule decrees that schools must find their gold in high standards and the hoopla surrounding testing, not in the public purse. These fellows draw on what passes for research and is issued by those at Heritage, Fordham, Manhattan, Cato, et al. -- ideologues who chant the mantra, "We've tried throwing money at schools. It doesn't work. Pull up your bootstraps, and raise your test scores." Right. Their slogan might be, Just Say No to Low Test Scores. Money doesn't solve problems; high- stakes tests solve problems.

Led by Gov. Pataki, the state of New York appealed DeGrasse's ruling. And there we have education for the global economy in a nutshell: the state sues to make sure education remains better for the rich and worse for the poor.

The Global Economy Swamps the Schoolhouse

In writing the New York Appellate decision, Justice Alfred Lerner explained why city children must be treated differently from children living in more affluent areas. "Society needs workers in all levels of jobs, the majority of which may very well be low-level." That's a direct quote.1 Thus does the global economy engulf the schoolhouse, and the children are discarded as so much refuse. The method is clear: announce that schools must prepare all to be high-tech workers; then cook the books so that 20% to 30% fail the high-stakes tests and don't receive diplomas. That's the test failure rate. Hordes of others, seeing they aren't going to pass the test, drop out before reaching the 10th grade, where the exam is administered. To make the 10th-grade passing rate look rosier, more and more districts are holding students back in ninth grade, and dropout rates are increasing in middle school. Examining data from the Massachusetts Department of Education, noted analyst Anne Wheelock has reported a 300% increase in dropouts from middle school between 1995 and 2000.2 Dropouts from middle school. That's what happens when you start retaining children in primary grades.

The global economy needs these dropouts. If schools are successful in turning out swarms of well-educated youngsters, who's going to flip our burgers and clean our toilets at minimum wage? Who'll sell merchandise for Wal-Mart? Work in day care? Take a look at the job projections from the Center for the Study of Jobs and Education in Wisconsin.3 They include data on jobs throughout the U. …

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