Mark Gleason, the Director of Philadelphia Schools Partnership (PSP) described at the American Educational Research Association Convention that his suggested Portfolio model for school reform should always include, “Dumping the losers in order to create a higher bar for education and high performers.” You can listen here. According to Noam Chomsky, “Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore in its own way.”
How can this ever become a reality when high performing schools are measured with limited tools and means that do not encourage any topic or subject that cannot be tested?
When you dump the losers and say, “Schools shouldn’t have a right to exist. Students have a right to an education (not a public one),” then you are either entirely oblivious to the fact that children are not commodities or you simply could care less. The dictionary includes three different definitions for portfolio; a flat case for documents, a representation of someone’s creative work or as it refers to school reform - a group of investments. It is a great idea to invest in all of our children, except that is not what this is. This is an isolated investment in those children who can score high on tests or are categorized as high performers. Students who can create a return investment for Corporations because let’s face it; business loves a positive financial return.
“A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him. And a child cannot afford to be fooled,” James Baldwin
Gleason believes that “Schools shouldn’t have a right to exist.” Well without schools where is PSP reaping an investment? How can charter schools save failing traditional schools, if schools did not exist? How could you prey on unsuspecting families without the presence of schools? And remember, tax dollars are the most reliable source of continuous income for any corporation. And tax dollars support public schools.
Historically, there has never been a golden age of public education. Every researcher and historian that has ever studied them can vouch for that. But just like everything else that functions in a cycle, there have been moments of good, bad, and indifferent. We now stand at the crossroads of where the sinister meets untruth. This attack on children continues to divide the country even further along the already present lines of privilege and unprivileged. We are in a battle that continues to be controlled by large sums of money and investment theories controlling the money, the decisions, and laws that surround public education.
In order to have losers, than you must also have winners. In order to have a Race to the Top then there must also be a Race to the Bottom. In order for high performing schools to be in existence, then there must also be low performing ones to always compare them too. The inherent and functional problem with this ideology is that children are absent from the equation. The moral implications for humanity cannot exist alongside such treacherous thinking. Children are not bad stocks that can be dumped when they stop performing well. Schools are not pieces on the Monopoly board that can be traded with other players until someone wins the game. At the great banquet table of American consumption, everyone deserves an opportunity to have a seat and the surplus should always be passed back in order to help others.
I have taught students who were inconsistent test takers, but demonstrated amazing critical thought and intellectual prowess. I have also taught students who were great test takers, but demonstrated not much skill or interest in traditional education beyond that. Words have power. Words like “dump the losers,” “high-performing,” “portfolio,” and “business model” make schools feel and function like widgets on a factory line. These words ignore the need for strong communities and the need to address poverty, race, and class in real tangible ways. Ways that will challenge and transform the concept of American Privilege to its core.
The same charter run schools that boast great growth in benchmarks and overall grades have poor college rates of attendance, and the SAT and ACT scores look very similar to those of historical dropout factories. In order for this battle to continue, the truth must be told. And questions must be asked. Do any of the corporate reformers want to send their children to the new corporate controlled schools? Does Gleason desire for his children to be at the center of portfolio school reform? The answer will always be a resounding no, yet we continue to fall for the rhetoric and re-branding of school reform. And the fact that Mark Gleason had the audacity to state such negative terms in a public space for all to hear says so much more than words can ever describe about his essential disregard for everyone who is not on board with his portfolio business model of school reform. But at least he is expressing his truth. Now what is our response?
Bell hooks states it best, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to someone else’s whim or someone else’s ignorance.”