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For True Democracy, We Need More Than Education by the Numbers For True Democracy, We Need More Than Education by the Numbers

For True Democracy, We Need More Than Education by the Numbers

by Morna McDermott

March 8, 2013


Numbers have always had a central place in American public education. We count the numbers of children in classrooms. We count the numbers of students by racial and socioeconomic sub-categories. We use numbers to dissect and divide children by school, by classroom, and by learning ability. We use numbers to allocate (or deny) funding. We use numbers in the forms of test scores to hold teachers "accountable" and to "prove" what children have learned.

Corporate education reformers are very familiar with numbers too: The numbers of schools they close. The number of charter schools they open. The number of teachers they fire for low test scores. The numbers associated with the rise and fall of the stock market. The numbers of textbooks and Common Core State Standards-related materials they sell… and the numbers of children they sell out. The number of legislators they have in their back pockets.

And the numbers they love the most are the six and seven-figure numbers attached to dollar signs—especially when these numbers are funneled to the numbers on their own bank accounts. Those numbers are on the rise.

But so are ours. Who are we? We are students, parents, educators, and community activists fighting against a corporate takeover of public schools. We have no multimillion dollar grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates or Broad foundations. We don't belong to gluttonous non-profits that spend enormous amounts of money on lobbyists, real estate deals, or special seats on talk shows, CNN, Oprah, or the nightly news.

In fact, if you want to know what separates corporate education reformers—even those claiming to put "students first"—from those of us fighting against this free market charade, all you need to do is ask this question: What personal, political, professional, or financial gains are being made in the self interest of those claiming to "reform" education? For those pushing anti-union rhetoric, teacher merit pay, high stakes testing, national common core standards, school vouchers, and charter schools, the self-serving gains are quite high. Just look at the numbers. For example, while schools around the country languish, Publishers Weekly reports:

Pearson has enjoyed continuous growth in recent years, with total revenues of 4.4 billion GBP in 2007 to 5.9 billion GBP in 2011, and with profits rising from 600 million GBP to 950 million GBP … Pearson Education accounts for 75% of the earnings and 80% of operating profit in 2011"

Hedge fund investors profit handsomely for their investment in charter schools (even if they're bad ones).

Non-profits like Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst receive millions of corporate dollars as tax deductible investments supporting her efforts to dismantle public education.

This degree of self-interest should leave even the least knowledgeable about the ins and outs of education politics among us scratching their heads over the real motives of so-called education reformers.

It's not complicated. Follow the numbers.

What separates those of us fighting corporate education reform is we have no financial profits to gain for our efforts. We will not receive cushy political appointments. In fact, many of us risk our professional security to speak out. Many of us risk the alienation of our children from their teachers or schools for choosing to opt out of high stakes testing. We have much to lose.

But what will we gain?

What we will gain by ending this madness will not be revealed in numbers alone. How can you measure a child’s passion for learning? How can you place a number on the joys and value of play, art, music, poetry, and a love for one’s school or teacher? How do you calibrate for courage? Or hope?

But our numbers are beginning to matter too.

The numbers of schools, teachers, parents and students fighting back are one the rise as fast as Pearson’s profits. In places like Seattle, Portland, New York, and Chicago—to name but a few.

Our numbers are growing.

The number of parents opting their children out of high stakes testing continues to rise. The number of community driven boycotts and sit-ins to fight the closure of neighborhood schools are growing. The number of unions and union-based individuals fighting against the "sell out" of their members to the corporate narrative are increasing as well.

And the number of people coming on April 4-7th for the Battle for Public Education 2.0, at the steps of the U.S. Dept of Education in Washington D.C. is growing

There will be forty or more amazing speakers—who will not be paid like Michelle Rhee who gets $50,000 for a single engagement. We will be joined by scores of people coming from all over this country—who, unlike our buddies in ALEC get no paid travel expenses—to have their voices heard and to move together in solidarity.

What do we have to gain?

Freedom, dignity, and democracy for starters… none of which can be weighed and measured like a test score or Wall Street stock. 

Click here to add hosting an opt out "teach-in" in your community to your GOOD "to-do" list. 

Image with old metal numbers image via Shutterstock

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