Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Why an Undemocratic Capitalism Has Brought Public Education to Its Knees: The Public Schools Are Being Punished for the Achievement Gap, Which They Did Not Create and Cannot Close. Mr. Gibboney Urges Educators to Rise Up and Fight to Protect Public Education and Democracy, Which Will Both Collapse If Our Society Refuses to Take the Steps Necessary to Eliminate Poverty

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Why an Undemocratic Capitalism Has Brought Public Education to Its Knees: The Public Schools Are Being Punished for the Achievement Gap, Which They Did Not Create and Cannot Close. Mr. Gibboney Urges Educators to Rise Up and Fight to Protect Public Education and Democracy, Which Will Both Collapse If Our Society Refuses to Take the Steps Necessary to Eliminate Poverty

Article excerpt

UNCHECKED capitalism is destroying our nation's public schools, and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the final nail in their coffin. Marching under the banner of "accountability," right-wing, pro-business forces are willfully undermining the democratic right of all children to a free, high-quality education.

Rather than support policies designed to reduce poverty and its toxic effects on the ability of children to succeed in school, our lawmakers are pursuing the misbegotten path of penalizing schools in poverty-stricken cities and rural areas for their failure to work educational miracles. In so doing, they are eroding the promise of our democracy.

Most children at the bottom of the economic ladder start their formal education years behind middle-class children in language development, social behavior, and general knowledge of the world. This self-evident fact, repeatedly confirmed in research studies, creates a learning gap of Grand Canyon proportions between the children of social privilege and those who grow up poor, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic.

No system of schools--public or private--has ever demonstrated that it can close this poverty-induced learning gap for most children. If policy makers know this--and they surely must--they ignore it. In fact, in the two decades preceding No Child Left Behind, a succession of presidents and Congresses gradually abandoned historically successful Great Society programs that had lifted many of the poor out of poverty. Today, more than one-quarter of American children live in poverty, more than in any other industrialized nation. (1)

At the same time, those in the corporate elite and their political allies have ratcheted up the pressure on schools with a harsh accountability system that they have consistently shunned for themselves. Can you imagine applying to Enron and the Wall Street financial manipulators who brought us the credit and home foreclosure crises the same punitive standards we now apply to the schools?

With No Child Left Behind, Congress ratified an upside-down education reform strategy: improve learning by feeding children less and testing them more. For those schools most affected by the false standards of NCLB--largely the ones in our poorest neighborhoods--all creativity, intelligence, and imagination have been sucked out of teaching and learning. The premise of the law--holding schools accountable for test results without any guarantees that students have received expert instruction in safe, well-equipped schools--contravenes science, flouts morality, and makes no economic sense.

And in what I believe to be a historic and an unconscionable failure, our nation's educators have stood by and let all this happen. Instead of relying on the energizing principles of democracy--equity, opportunity, and fairness--to fight this law and the mindset it grows out of, educators have taken political and professional cover in technicalities.

Teacher unions and groups representing administrators and superintendents have protested No Child Left Behind only around the edges and primarily from a narrow and self-interested intellectual point of view. They have not engaged in meaningful policy debates about the relationship of poverty to educational achievement, the essential role public education plays in our democracy, the huge disparity in wealth between the "haves" and the "have-nots," or the role of schools in creating citizens/workers who can think. We educators cannot continue to act so thoughtlessly, or this nation will not survive as a democracy.

I am not saying, as knee-jerk critics of my viewpoint allege, that poor children cannot learn. Neither teachers nor policy makers should be allowed to hide behind this facile and insidious assumption. This Manifesto is not about the so-called soft bigotry of low expectations that denies poor children a path out of poverty.

Given all that we know from neuroscience about early brain development and the role of environment in nurturing aptitude, schools cannot be expected on their own to close the achievement gap between rich and poor. …

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