After 38 years in public education, I might mistakenly tell someone, “I have seen it all.” However, that would be a mis-statement. The ingenuity of the human brain to come up with new schemes cannot be overestimated. Conservatives have been working for decades to co-opt the public school system in one way or another. They have not complete succeeded but they have truly f*** up the system in many, many places, Arizona is near the top of the list. While I am sure they are very proud of this – public shaming is needed, they are returning us to the dark ages and the days of the inquisitions.
Consider the Texas textbook initiative started by Mel and Norma Gabler at their dining room table in the 1960’s. Worried that school children were being indoctrinated into godless secularism, the political conservatives felt that their kids were being given too much propaganda about the positive aspects of the federal government. The Gablers’ gathered a small group of like-minded individuals. They began lobbying Texas politicians to have a say in textbook selection. In 2009, the nation watched as the state board worked on approving a new science curriculum under the leadership of a chair who believed that evolution is nonsense. A year later, the subject was social studies and the teachers drawing up course guidelines work in consultation with so-called experts, one of whom believed that the income tax was contrary to the word of God in scripture. In 2011, Texas had 4.8 million students and publishers could not afford to publish two versions of textbooks – one for Texas and one for the rest of the nation. Thus, Texas propaganda got exported to the rest of the country, or the text got watered down so it was acceptable to the disagreeable.
In the creation vs evolution controversy, teachers were supposed to teach the controversy with the idea that students would accept the religious view over the scientific view of the origin of life. Afterall, Genesis, it is a much simpler explanation, many students are familiar with it from religious educational experiences. And of course, creationism is placed on an equal footing with evolution in the classroom discussion – so they must be equivalent arguments. Creation theory does not work when applied to agriculture or medicine. It has no place in a science class. Although a variety of states continue to flirt with adding it to the curriculum. Kansas has certainly had its share of problems with creationists, and now its Louisiana. In the Bayou State, the law allows teachers to use materials critical of established scientific thought making it ok to “teach the controversy.” Unfortunately, the controversy has expanded to include the scientific method – and in Louisiana, students are being taught not to trust the only way we really have to confirm knowledge. Ken Miller, a Brown University biologist and author of several textbooks is quoted in the NYT (11/2017) as saying ” the first amendment protects you against the imposition of religious ideas in public schools – it doesn’t protect you against the introduction of stupid ideas.”
Charter schools are perhaps the most serious assault on public education. In 1991, Minnesota passed the first law establishing charter schools in the state. The idea was charter schools offer education without charge to students, are funded with tax dollars, but are generally subject to fewer rules and regulations than traditional public schools. They usually receive less public funds per pupil than public schools and charter school students may take the same state-required standardized tests as public school students. Depending on state laws, charter schools can be started by parents, teachers, non-profit groups, corporations, or even government organizations. They may focus on specific skills or subjects like math or science or may be aimed at students who require alternative learning methods—such as teaching lessons that use visual or more hands-on approaches. Sounds like a great idea? The proponents usually argue that every other sector of the American economy has benefited from the ability to compete and improve—why not education?
Studies of charter schools find most perform below standard public schools in the same geographic area. Some actually hurt students. The cost-cutting charters offer a narrow curriculum, often focused on reading and math test prep, the inexperienced teachers have a high turnover rate, and teachers were not tailoring lessons to their students. Charter schools are seen as prime investment opportunities by hedge fund managers and they are rife with fraud and corruption. There is almost always a lack of transparency and accountability. While charter schools are publicly funded, they act like private entities. Charter schools shape their student enrollment by using filters to keep out certain students and select the better ones. Special need students are almost always rejected. Charter schools almost always drain resources from struggling districts. While charter schools were meant to be “innovation labs” to test out new ideas and introduce those ideas into the traditional public school system. This does not happen, the real innovation comes out of public schools with highly trained, experienced teachers. Charter school promoters want you to believe the choice is a solution.
The idea of “choice” is viewed as very American, but it’s also at the heart of free-market ideology that makes parents consumers. Markets create winners and losers, they also create inequality. Choice doesn’t guarantee quality and it hasn’t solved the big problems facing public education, nor will it in the future.
Public education needs to be revitalized. Scrap the alternatives and invest in public schools, invest money in teachers and students. Arizona is abysmal in what it pays teachers. Which is why it can’t keep teachers in the classroom. Teachers need to be educated and motivated. You won’t develop a competent faculty by paying them the minimum. Arizona has been run by Republicans for how long? They have had plenty of time to improve public education. Of course, they have done just the opposite because they don’t believe in public education. It is time to replace all of them.