Imagine that you are a policymaker who is generally anti-government, anti-union, and pro-privatization. Public schools conflict with all of those, don’t they?
So you’ve got a challenge. Citizens and communities generally like and strongly support their schools. Somehow you have to create a narrative over time that erodes citizens’ support for public schools and counters their incredible historical legacies of college and career preparation, citizenship development, cultural socialization, economic opportunity creation, and facilitation of intergenerational income mobility.
Here are some things that you and your like-minded colleagues might try to do:
- underfund schools so that they can’t keep up with operational costs, will struggle to meet educational mandates, and will have to reduce personnel (bonus: fewer union members!)
- maintain claims about ‘fiscal accountability’ and future revenue concerns, even when they require ignoring strong revenue generation and projections
- reduce existing revenue streams in order to bolster claims of fiscal hardship (bonus: less government!)
- employ bait-and-switch funding mechanisms that supplant rather than supplement and/or disappear at the last minute
- ignore legal requirements to timely establish school funding levels that would allow districts to adequately plan and budget
- implement new, supplemental ‘bread and circuses’ initiatives (say, STEM or financial literacy) that distract the general public from the year-to-year erosion of base school funding
- give as little policy attention as possible to the known educational needs of students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their primary language (and thus struggle academically), even as those student and family populations increase markedly within the state
- deflect the blame for your underfunding of schools by alleging schools’ inefficiency and superintendents’ mismanagement
- frequently change state standards and assessments and/or make them more difficult so that educators and students struggle to keep up and have less chance of hitting the moving targets
- use selective data (say, NAEP scores) to manufacture educational crises that feed your rhetoric of public school failure
- create school grading and ranking schemes that shame struggling schools, demoralize the educators within them, and alarm parents
- implement teacher evaluation schemes that are guaranteed to be unfair, demoralize educators, and confuse the public
- pitch tax credits and private/religious school vouchers or ’scholarships’ (‘money that will follow students in their backpacks’) to the general public as natural recourses to the failures of public schools
- write legislation that expands public school alternatives such as charters or homeschooling, particularly ones that can siphon funds away from public schools
- create double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not non-public alternatives
- accept policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
- affiliate with anti-public-school organizations (say, ALEC) that will feed you ‘model’ legislation proposals, connect you with successful players and tactics from other states, and provide ongoing encouragement to stay the course
- hold yearly education summits at which educators can only listen passively to carefully-vetted speakers who feed your desired agendas
- publicly dismiss, disparage, intimidate, or try to silence educators, parents, researchers, and others who speak out against your policies
and so on, year-after-year, all under the guises of ’transparency’ and ‘accountability’ and ‘global competitiveness.’ Heck, you might even co-opt the journalists that used to ask tough questions about your educational policymaking (by, say, hiring them).
Here in Iowa? Checkmarks on all fronts, I believe (and we’re not as bad as many other states). There’s an evolving playbook out there, folks, and we’re seeing it being implemented in every state.
More of this to come in the years ahead… Do you care? If so, what will you do about it?
Image credit: Pine box, Todd Ehlers