This evening I started reading Terry Moe and John Chubb’s 2009 book, “Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education.” I’m familiar with Chubb and Moe mostly for their article, “America’s Public Schools: Choice IS a Panacea” included in the 1995 text, “Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Educational Issues” which I read for a course required in my first educational graduate program at Texas Tech University. In that excerpt from their book, “Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools,” Chubb and Moe spoke for the political right in advocating for vouchers as a solution to all that ails public education. Now, in “Liberating Learning,” it appears they have substituted “web-based CAI” for “educational vouchers” in proclaiming an educational revolution is imminent if only we would outlaw all teacher’s unions and fire all the lazy teachers in our public schools who can’t manage to get most of our students to read or do math well. Unlike Andrew Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur,” which was so horrifically researched and poorly defended I could not bring myself to read the entire book, I’ll probably read all of “Liberating Learning.” The friend who commended it to me hailed it as messianic prophesy on a par with “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Christensen, Johnson and Horn.

This formative paragraph in “Liberating Learning” on page four shouted out to me for a response, arresting my reading and compelling me to take to my keyboard and blog. Moe and Chubb wrote:

What technology offers is profoundly important to the nation. America desperately needs to improve its public schools, and virtually everyone in a position of knowledge or public responsibility agrees that this is the case. The broad consensus among our policymakers — Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, from all corners of the country,– is that the public schools are not delivering on the goods, and that something serious needs to be done to turn the situation around.

Here is my cursory response.

This statement fails to properly contextualize test scores and student achievement data for U.S. K-12 students. NAEP scores of U.S. students have been stable (in reading) and climbing (in math) and average IQ scores continue to rise in our society.* US schools continue to educate middle and upper class students (children of affluent families) as well as ever, which means pretty well by traditional measures. What US schools continue to struggle with is educating children of poverty well. The “broad consensus among our policymakers” about failing schools has been carefully architected by policymakers as well as testing companies to shape the perceptions of voters. These entities want voters to view schools as failing, teachers as lazy slackers, and commercially-provided standardized test scores as divinely ordained as well as mandatory measures of learning quality in our schools. Yes our schools need to keep improving, and we SHOULD use educational technologies in transformative ways to improve learning… but teachers are not the enemy and all our public schools are NOT failing. What we need in this country, among other things, is a unified will to fight and address poverty. We must recognize that high quality educational opportunities do not and must not be focused on testing and assessment, they must be focused on engaging learning opportunities which begin with smart, passionate, well paid teachers. Our current political climate is incredibly toxic for teacher recruitment, and this must change. We must reject the idea that our states and cities must pay millions of dollars to commercial testing companies to meaningfully measure learning outcomes. Testing has become the purpose of public schooling because of political mandates regarding high stakes testing, and this culture must change. We must view learning as the purpose of school and education, not testing. We need an all-out attack on poverty in our communities, and this starts with high quality schools… and those depend PRIMARILY on high quality teachers. EVERY public school must be high quality, not just a few schools who win, earn, or are endowed with the title, “Charter school.” Charter schools are not a “silver bullet” for improving our schools and helping children rise out of poverty. Wonderful teachers are the silver bullet.** They always have been, and always will be. Web-based CAI (computer aided-instruction) is not an educational silver-bullet, it is a businessman’s proposal to divert public tax dollars from already starving schools to both home schoolers traditionally cut out of public school funding (via virtual charters) and private corporations created to funnel public education tax dollars into stockholder bank accounts.

Citations:
* For rising NAEP scores: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2012459.pdf
* For rising IQ scores: http://theweek.com/article/index/219002/are-americans-smarter-than-ever
** For teachers as the silver bullet: Amber Teamann on http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/5336

I also recommend “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education” by Diane Ravitch for additional references and resources on these issues.

As I continue to read “Liberating Learning” I’m sure more blog posts will follow.

'01-29-08' photo (c) 2008, Fort Worth Squatch - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

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  • March4kids

    Thank you! It is amazing to me that even teachers have bought into the failing school/teacher myth. I was at a conference yesterday and out of about 40 teachers, 3 of us stood up to defend teachers against the lazy, job-for-life, economy killing, unprofessional image. Yes, it was an education conference. Very sad.

  • Tim Tyson

    Every profession has its share of deadweight employees, but my 30 year, firsthand experience has consistently been that teachers are our among nation’s most precious resources–people who live a calling more than they work a job. Beating up teachers in politics and media is a cheap shot, even a distraction from the real and significant issues.

    And Wes, if you want a really compelling read, may I highly recommend Lee Fang’s investigative journalism piece, How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools. It’s a long piece that lays out the case of a carefully planned, organized strategy to tap into the funding of our public schools for profit and control. It’s disturbing to say the least.

  • http://wfryer.wpengine.com Wesley Fryer

    Thanks for sharing that link, Tim… I’ll definitely check it out. For others interested here it is:
    http://www.thenation.com/article/164651/how-online-learning-companies-bought-americas-schools

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