Preserving Public Education: The Foundation of Our Democracy

This is my speech given at Preserving Public Education: The Foundation of Our Democracy, an event organized by teachers from several area school districts. Approximately 650 people were in attendance.
Spencerport, New York
March 19, 2015

We face a crisis in public education. But, not because the schools are failing. In fact, given the high childhood poverty rate in our cities and the extreme segregation in our schools, one might conclude that the schools are doing well. Rather, we face a crisis because education policy in New York is increasingly made not by school boards or educators but by the rich and powerful, most of whom are unelected and unaccountable.hursh1

We face a crisis because our education system is being taken over by wealthy philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, who uses his foundation to fund organizations to develop and implement the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core would not exist if Gates did not provide the initial $200 million to create it. Or the $2.3 billion he gave to 1,800 organizations to support the Common Core. Or the $3 million he secretly gave to help fund the Regents Fellows to work with former Commissioner King on implementing the Common Core. Or the profits Microsoft will earn as their tablets are used to deliver the Common Core curriculum and assessments.

We face a crisis because Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has received $32.1 million to create, administer, and grade the Common Core Exams in English Language Arts and Math. Pearson seems to create most of the world’s exams, including, in the United States, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Miller Analogy Test, and the Graduate Equivalency Test (GED). Pearson received $63 million to develop the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC exam. Pearson designs, administers, and grades the state’s teacher certification exams including the video and portfolio assessment of student teachers, for which students pay $300 per test. Pearson has the contract to design the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment or PISA exams. Pearson publishes most of the K-12 textbooks used in the United States under different imprints, including: Scott Foresman, Penguin, Longman, Wharton, Harcourt, Puffin, Prentice Hall, Allyn & Bacon, and Random House.

hursh2We face a crisis because politicians like Governor Cuomo has taken almost $5 million from hedge fund managers to push through legislation increasing the number of and funding for charter schools. Just last week in New York City, hedge fund managers held a private all day meeting called “Bonds and Blackboards” sponsored by the Walton and Gates Foundations to promote investing in charter schools, where, indeed, if you are wealthy, there is money to be made. Cuomo has proposed giving more money per student to charter schools plus additional funds for space. Further, the Governor wants to give a 75% tax credit for donations of up to $100,000 to charter, private, and parochial schools.

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. In response, we need to demand transparency in how education policy is made. We need to spend money not on standardized tests but on developing assessments that provide meaningful information to the students, parents, teachers, and community. We need to demand that public funds go to public schools and not to line the pockets of charter school investors. We need to demand that educators are supported and not undermined in their professional responsibilities. We need to demand excellent schools for our children.

 

 

David Hursh

Author: David Hursh

For the last decade David Hursh’s writing and political organizing has focused on the dangers of high-stakes testing. His most recent book, High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: The Real Crisis in Education (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), situates the rise of high-stakes testing in states like Texas and New York, and at the federal level with No Child Left Behind within larger debates about the purposes of education and the nature of society. Marilyn Cochran-Smith, John E. Cawthorne Professor at Boston College, wrote: "In this unusual book, David Hursh combines rich recollections of classroom teaching with trenchant analysis of the "real crisis" in education today-the neoliberal package of high stakes testing, accountability, markets and privatization. The result is a deeply disturbing but compelling and original book that puts democratic education back where it should be--at the center of discussions about schools and schooling.” In 1998 Hursh helped start the Coalition for Common Sense in Education, a group of parents, students, and educators working to changed education policy through lobbying in Albany and hosting forums. Some of the speakers the Coalition has funded include Jonathan Kozol, Angela Valenzuela, Deborah Meier, Peter Sacks, Monty Neill, and Susan Ohanian. Since the publication of his book in March, Hursh has delivered invited talks to numerous groups, including the Rochester Teachers Association, Monroe County School Board Association, and in the Arts and Lectures series at SUNY-Cortland. This upcoming academic year he has been invited to present at universities across the United States. David Hursh is a Professor at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester.