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Media Consensus on ‘Failing Schools’ Paved Way for DeVos


Media Consensus on ‘Failing Schools’ Paved Way for DeVos

Molly Knefel

The nomination of billionaire voucher enthusiast Betsy DeVos for secretary of Education comes after nearly two decades of a largely bipartisan consensus around “education reform.” That consensus, repeated for years in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, posits, first and foremost, that public schools are failing.


This article is good as far as it goes, but it may be that the writer is too young to remember a time before G.W. Bush. The "failing schools" meme got started in earnest during the early Reagan years with "A Nation at Risk" (1983.)


Molly, forgive me if I reply before even reading your article. The media (MSM/NPR) has become a propaganda organ of what Mike Lofgren in his book "Deep State" calls the deep state. Briefly we have become a true banana republic wherein all the resources of our country are being scraped up by a few very wealthy plutocrats who own our government and the means by which most of our citizens are informed regarding its operations. By taxing citizens then using those taxes to fund societies' necessities, educating our children being one of them, and then stealing those funds to pay their corporate friends for providing public services through private corporations is the banana republic game of the day. The rich get richer directly from stealing the money out of our pockets, our taxes. This is being done with schools, with public lands, with our military services to name a few big dollar items. Our schools reflect the problems society faces in a banana republic when both parents are being forced to work, many in low paying jobs, and cannot provide the best home environment for their children which shows up in the classroom when those kids arrive in their classroom. We have literally become the working serfs for the few very rich who control everything.
Our schools are not failing. Our schools are being neglected, as is our society, by a government, ours, which no longer works for us, or our children and it's teachers. Media has us convinced that stealing our taxes from public uses and putting them into the hands of the private-for profit sector is going to make things "all better" is pure bs. Well maybe it will make things much better for the corporate for profit bottom line! It will not make things better for our kids, their teachers or our public schools.


Yes, as Richard Wolff said on his show, yesterday on Pacifica, 'Noble and Serf' has simply morphed into 'Employer and Employee.'


America has a poor schooling problem. It also affects even middle class kids who cannot handle rigorous courses at MIT, for instance-as happened with someone I know! The system is highly inequitable. This is long known problem. There have been several court cases about this also.

But vouchers is wrong solution as when kids are not prepared, they cannot do well in new schools. It is just an "easy" solution. But chickens coming home to roost right now as majority of children in publuc schools are now poor, getting poor quality education! ALL Americans will pay for this outcome!


By the way, most segregated schools in liberal states, like NY!


See also:

New York City Has Been Zoned to Segregate
A new book argues that poor communities of color are hurt by the city’s zoning and housing policies.

The South Isn’t The Reason Schools Are Still Segregated, New York Is
New York City might be a liberal hub, but that doesn’t mean white parents want their children going to school with black kids.


"Cartright" or is it Alt-Right? Joined two days ago! Figures. Trump-De-Dump-Dump.


Not alt-right. Your guess could not be further from the truth.
Just go online and see what I am talking about. You and your kids and theirs will feel the ramification of inequitable education. Cannot put it under the carpet. It is here. Poor majority in schools. Inequitable education.

Do you know NY has worst graduation rate of Black and Hispanic boys in the country????


Oh and where was first rust belt and how long has it been around? A LONG time:

New England and the Subtracted City

Not surprising 41% of voters voted for Trump. It was a protest vote, as came from CT rust belt-which is part of the 1st rust belt!

"A closer examination of town-by-town results shows that while Trump won many of the small, rural towns President Barack Obama won four years ago, he failed to carry the wealthier, well-educated New York suburbs where Mitt Romney was victorious.

While Trump failed to win traditional Republican strongholds in affluent and highly educated Fairfield County, the president-elect found deep support in Connecticut's old factory towns."

Trump Support In Connecticut Mirrored National Vote


I agree that the decades-long media and bipartisan consensus on supposedly failing public school paved the way for the likes of DeVos. As a witness at Reagan's Nation at Risk hearing in the 80s, I was one of many who called it out then but needless to say, union-led opposition to the consensus has been a limited success - and now looks like it may be totally swept away unless the Resistance to Trump joins with real labor unions. (And I don't mean the Mafia-friendly outfits with whom Trump met last week.)

Amid all the nostalgia for Obama's sane leadership, many forget his misguided "Race to the Top" education program which mandated that states set up a certain number of charters schools to get federal aid - on the assumption that charters would be superior. But to make that judgment without acknowledging the history of charters was to play into the hands of the most corrupt profiteers (even murdoch's Newscorp tried to get in on the feeding frenzy created by Obama's confused program, hiring former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein as a rainmaker)

The idea of charter schools originated in the 80s with Diane Ravitch and teacher union leader Al Shanker and the original concept was that such schools would be independent non-profit experiments that could serve as possible models for the larger system. But once they became simple money-making schemes, many k-12 charters became frauds comparable to Trump University. And like DeVos, the charter profiteers wanted to throw any kids with real needs straight into the gutter. Why not if they interfere with cash flow?

DeVos' idea of education follows the pyramid model of her Amway in-laws - a scheme to cheat working people and divert their hard earned money (via "vouchers") into the accounts of rich parasites. Any Democratic senator who votes to approve her may as well join the Republican Party asap .


Well stated. As a retired teacher, I could have responded to Cartright, but it's nearly impossible to argue with a closed mind. I know name calling is a cheap shot but I am SOOO tired of reading how terrible schools are from someone who probably hasn't been in one in years.


As a long-time educational researcher and teacher educator who has spent the last 15 years studying how America got fooled by the corporate-driven educational deform movement, I understand why you believe what you wrote ("poor schooling"), but I'm going to suggest that it isn't accurate. In fact, I'm writing a book about how we've been fooled, and just today I was re-working the section on how people have been fooled by the "failing schools" narrative.

A few data points may help bridge the gap between how I see reality and how the MSM/CEOs/billionaires have trained everyone else to view public school performance.

1) People have been claiming the younger generation was dumber and less moral than the older generation since the ancient Greeks. Civilization advanced anyway, suggesting that perhaps we older folks see our own past through rose colored glasses.

2) The data is pretty clear that kids today have as good basic skills as kids did in the 1980s or 1920s. We may crush them on cursive skills, but they crush us on computers and technology skills, including ability to access, organize, and represent information using technology. Guess which advantage matters more.

3) People have been complaining that American schools were failing for more than a century. Amazing we aren't back in the caves, and managed to accomplish all we did.

4) The indicators that everyone gets freaked out about regarding the performance of American schools-average scores on international tests--can't and don't tell us how well teachers are teaching what we really value. First, for highly developed nations such as the US, those average scores don't predict our future (despite frequent misleading claims to the contrary by the economist Eric Hanushek). Second, ~80% of the variance in test scores (aka "student achievement") is due to out-of-school factors, primarily family SES. So those test scores are mostly NOT a reflection of the effects of education. If you run a highly egalitarian nation with single digit child poverty rates and a strong social safety net, you tend to do very well on such tests because you have very few super poor and disadvantaged kids who pull your average down. But nations with high child poverty rates (US= ~21-23%) wind up with a large group of high-poverty low-performing students, and that's what pulls down our national average.
Depending on how many nations you include, we're either #1 or #2 among developed nations on child poverty and around #2 on inequality (which has separate negative effects on society and educational attainment). So when you see those scores, you're mostly seeing whether or not the economic and political system is serving children and families well or failing to support all boats. So I don't take test scores that seriously, but if you do, when you see our lowish relative ranking, the logical next thought is "Wow, we really have a failing economy and dysfunctional political system." THOSE are the prime drivers of average educational achievement. When you correct for our much higher child poverty rate, our ranking is no longer alarming even to people who take tests very seriously (I don't). For example, on the 2009 PISA, our 4th graders were 13th in the world in reading. But what happens if you adjust for poverty in the following way?: Compare under the performance of kids in under 10% child poverty US schools to nations with under 10% child poverty rates. Oh, then we're #1 in the world, but telling people these facts would spoil the smooth shock doctrine sky-is-falling narrative, so I'm betting that's the first time you've heard that data reported, whereas I'm betting you've heard the phrase "failing schools" hundreds of times.
(But overall, I will still point out that we simply must stop pretending test scores alone tell us whether or not schools are succeeding: They don't.)

5) Public schools DO face real challenges, but the two main challenges they face are that A) Due to business influence from the 1900s on, and ramping up dramatically in recent decades, schools are based on the logic of factories, not on how kids learn best, B) our rigged economic and political system creates high rates of child poverty and inequality and these in turn cause a vast array of social dysfunctions and direct harm to children's development, and all of those problems and all the eroded potential comes walking through the schoolhouse door five days a week.

6) The system is not as equitable as it should be because our society is incredibly unequal. Every major institution/function in America reflects the inequality we've have allowed to grow since the 1980s. However, turning things over to the private sector would simply make things worse, since private sector dynamics create new inequalities where none existed before and amplify existing inequalities (see the 8 richest people on earth having as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest). However, if you want to fix equity issues, we know how to do that and have done it before, and it begins with higher marginal tax rates on the rich and corporations, close loopholes, and strengthen unions and public sector investment in things like infrastructure, higher education etc.

7) That last report regarding $50 trillion in unfulfilled earning potential came from a totally laughable calculation made by Eric Hanushek. He assumed that there's infinite demand for education and that pay would keep going up with credentials, all of which ignores the realities of the US labor market and the neoliberal economy (only about 10% of jobs actually require higher-level math skills, most of the new job openings [the work America needs to get done] are things like long-haul truck driver and health care aide and store clerk, and for a very long time, we have been graduating lots of PhD scientists who can't find jobs in their field because the US cut funding for basic science research. Computer science aside, there's generally a glut of trained scientists here (and companies outsource many of these jobs to wherever they can pay less). (And finally, from an ecological reality-check angle, Hanushek's claim assumes the economy can just keep growing as if the planet has infinite size and resources, but we're already tapping out the planet's ability to provide natural resources easily and absorb our wastes. I mean seriously, our approach to getting energy nowadays often involves creating eathquakes while poisoning well water, so the end of a growing economy needs to come sooner rather than later).

I have a whole bookshelf with books just about how we've been fooled about how smart kids are, how well public schools perform, phony educational crises, etc. Here are some...Enjoy!

The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack of American Public Schools;
The Way We Were?: Myths and Realities of American Student Achievement;
Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in the U.S.;
Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?;
Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality;
Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools;
50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools; and
The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools


Thank you. And I will look for your book and purchase it when it is published!


I also love it when some pol who knows less than nothing always talks about test scores. They also like to compare our test scores with those from other countries. What is this competition thing, and why would a kid from the US be competing from others ( when he or she is an adult) from other countries for jobs unless they worked for an international corporation? Silly, and just another scare tactic. Students are not products - they are people.


Thank you for your post. Sounds like you have a really interesting job!


Me too! Schools are not terrible. If schools are "failing" it's because the community around them consists of unemployed or underemployed parents, ( or drug addicted etc). Also, students as we know are not products- they are people. Another matter: DeVos hates public schools teachers because they belong to unions.


Gee, I have worked in public schools, and still do some work there- and no the majority of students are not poor! Sounds like you are a troll. Over ninety per cent of students attend public schools. I attended public schools myself, and graduated from a public college.


Also, why doesn't anyone ever say something about the "saintly" parents who have no time for their own kids- as in " I was too busy working to attend the meeting" etc. If parents do not care then who will? Teachers cannot do everything, and can NOT take the place of parents. Many more parents do not discipline their kids or do not follow up on recommendations. Also, funding has been cut drastically ( between federal and state) in the last decades. Instead of attacking schools, why not attack Wall Street? Those banksters are the ones who toppled the economy not schools.


Right on- and these pols have not been in one in years also. Hey, here's one? Have any of these pols denounced the banksters who toppled the economy? Nope, it's easier to criticize schools and immigrants.