Governor Dennis Daugaard and his fellow Republicans have had a year to stew over the stinging referendum defeat of their really bad education reform bill. They left the public schools mostly alone this year, saddling our K-12 schools only with an immoral, counter-evidential school gunslinger bill that no one but one misguided private school superintendent seems keen on implementing.
But having caught their breath and facing an election year, might our legislators return to Pierre this winter to take more potshots at public education?
Wage a pre-emptive strike: send your legislators this Slate summary of a couple books that put the lie to the usual Republican/corporate privatizer attacks on our well-performing public education system.
First, Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error challenges the false crisis privatizing "reformers" manufacture to make us think we can't stick with the status quo. The current system, says Ravitch, is working much better than "reformers" must have you believe:
Exhibit A in the sky-is-falling argument is the claim that test scores are plummeting. Ravitch shows that, quite the contrary, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, have never been higher. (The biggest gains in NAEP scores were recorded before the No Child Left Behind Act, with its fixation on teacher accountability and high-stakes testing, was implemented.) Nor do American students perform as badly as advertised on international exams—in 2011 tests of math and science, only a handful of countries did better. There’s no new dropout problem—students are staying in high school longer, and six-year graduation rates have never been higher [David L. Kirp, "The Wrong Kind of Education Reform," Slate, 2013.09.04].
Even if there were a crisis, the solutions privatizing corporatists propose to raid the public wealth and strangle public schools don't work. Vouchers and charter schools don't perform any better than public schools, say Sarah and Christopher Lubienski in The Public School Advantage:
...[A]s with the supposed crisis in public education, faith that turning education over to the private market can provide the solution doesn’t fit the facts. Perhaps the most startling finding in The Public School Advantage is that the autonomy of private and charter schools—the attribute so prized by the market advocates—may really be getting in the way of their improvement. Rather than taking advantage of their freedom by being creative in how they teach math, many private schools still use an outmoded pedagogy that stresses memorizing formulas, not problem-solving. And instead of using their autonomy to become better, they invest in marketing that’s designed to attract the easiest-to-educate students.
These are generalizations, of course, which don’t describe any particular school, and some charters, like the KIPP and YES Prep schools, are exemplary. But the clear takeaway from the Lubienskis’ research is that choice may actually cause more problems than it solves [Kirp, 2013.09.04].
The idea that these arguments will sway our legislators to protect public education hinges on the assumption that they will spend as much time reading real books and research as they do browsing the buffets the lobbyists lay out for them in Pierre. But one can hope.