Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education
(An overview of the book from a draft of the Introduction)
In Chapter One, "Universal Public Education—'Two Possible—and Contradictory—Missions,'" I examine how many different stakeholders in public education view the purposes of education. Further, I consider here that we often fail to identify exactly what purposes we are addressing in the political and popular discourse about schools. The inherent contradictions in many of the purposes of schooling are exposed by identifying the contrast between "indoctrination" and "teaching," especially in the context of social inequities and the systemic stratification of children in formal schooling. The importance of critical pedagogy for the pursuit of human agency and empowerment is presented before moving to the next chapter.
Chapter Two, "The Politicians Who Cried 'Crisis'—Education Accountability as Prestidigitation," details the era of accountability that runs from 1983 with the publication of A Nation at Risk under President Ronald Reagan through the passing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001 and up to the consideration of reauthorizing NCLB under the Obama administration. Here, I detail the inherent flaws in high accountability reform measures based on high-stakes testing; labeling students, teachers, and schools; and corporate views of running and reforming public education. The political commitment to crisis discourse and Utopian goals represents the political manipulation of education as a avenue to insuring political success.
Politicians, however, are not alone in misrepresenting education. Chapter Three, "Legend of the Fall: Snapshots of What's Wrong in the Education Debate," examines the role of the media in promoting distorted political messages and speaking to social norms instead of exposing the complexity of education and education reform. The 2010 release of the documentary Waiting for Superman provides the basis for the discussion of the failures of media in education reform as well as confronting the failures of corporate and consumer America. The role of poverty in the media messages reveals the mixed messages of that media and the failure of the general public to look critically at media messages.
School choice, specifically in the form of vouchers, gained political momentum under President Reagan along with the genesis of the current accountability era. But for the past thirty years, school choice has floundered in many forms, never quite finding the widespread support that political and ideological supporters envisioned. Chapter Four, "The Great Charter Compromise: Masking Corporate Commitments in Educational Reform," presents the rise of charter schools as the newest version of school choice, buoyed by the endorsement of President Obama (along with Michele Obama). The political Right and Left appear poised to join forces behind the so-called "miracle" charter schools that target children living in poverty—specifically the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). Here, however, I expose the flaws in supporting charter schools (the research finds no difference for charters compared to traditional public schools) as well as detailing the ideological agendas of those seeking corporate schools to replace U.S. public education.
Along with President Obama endorsing charter schools, a unique attack on teacher quality (along with teachers unions) characterizes the U.S. Department of Education led by Secretary Duncan. Chapter Five, "The Teaching Profession as a Service Industry," challenges the claims that teachers are the most important element of student achievement since all evidence points overwhelmingly to out-of-school factors dwarfing both teacher and school quality. Despite the political and popular messages to the contrary, social inequity drives down student achievement, and while schools do not cause poverty (and cannot eradicate that poverty either), public education is guilty of perpetuating social stratification through teacher quality and teacher assignment—details omitted in the attacks on teacher quality coming from the White House.
Chapter Six, "'If Education Cannot Do Everything. . .'—Education as Praxis," builds an argument for what education can do—if the U.S. makes a renewed commitment to social justice. School reform, then, must occur within larger social reform. But there are many reforms public schools need and can achieve. Here, I present universal public education as Adrienne Rich (2001) explains—"the development of a literate, articulate, and well-informed citizenry so that the democratic process can continue to evolve and the promise of radical equality can be brought closer to realization" (p. 162).
The culture myth in the U.S. that honors the rugged individual fuels a distorted view of people who live in poverty—poverty is the result of laziness, a flaw inherent in the people who are poor. This deficit view of people living in poverty is perpetuated in the deficit views of poverty and learning dominant in our schools. Chapter Seven, "Confronting Poverty Again for the First Time—Rising above Deficit Perspectives," rejects deficit views of poverty as well as deficit practices in teaching and learning. This final chapter calls for a renewed and evidence-based understanding of poverty that honors the dignity of all people and doesn't blame people living in poverty for their circumstances. Here, I argue that seeking blame is nonproductive, but that social dynamics are often far more powerful in the lives of people who are poor or affluent than we are willing to acknowledge.