Should the High Teacher Turnover Rate in Charter Schools Be a Cause for Concern?

SchoolTeacherSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

In a recent New York Times article titled At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice, Mitoko Rich wrote of how charter schools seem to be developing something of a “youth cult” in their teaching ranks. She reported that in the charter network “teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable.”

Teachers in the thirteen YES Prep Schools, which are located throughout Greater Houston, have a reported average of two and a half years of experience. The teachers who work for Achievement First—which has 25 schools in Connecticut, Brooklyn, and Providence, R.I.— “spend an average of 2.3 years in the classroom.” And the individuals who teach in the KIPP schools and the Success Academy Charter Schools stay in the classroom for an average of four years. This youth culture—or culture in which most classroom practitioners have little teaching experience— differs from that of our country’s traditional public schools where teachers average nearly fourteen years of experience…and where public school leaders have made it “a priority to reduce teacher turnover.”

In the NYT article, Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep, was quoted as saying, “We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’  There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.” (Note: New teachers at the YES Prep schools receive just two and a half weeks of training over the summer before arriving in the classroom.)

Rich says it was Teach for America (TFA) that was mostly responsible for introducing the idea of a “foreshortened teaching career.” TFA is an organization that recruits “high-achieving” college graduates and places them in some of our neediest schools. In a piece for Policymic, Benjamin Cosman wrote about TFA recruits. He said that after just five weeks of training, “Teach for America participants lead a classroom for two years, slap it on their resume, and leave the school with a bevy of opportunities.”

Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, contends that “strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers. The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.” (Question for Wendy Kopp: Are you sending your teaching recruits into the “strongest” schools?)

Mark Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and a man who once viewed Teach for America as a positive program, has a difference of opinion regarding teacher turnover. He has been disappointed that TFA doesn’t instill a commitment to teaching in its program participants. In fact, Naison no longer allows TFA to recruit his college students.

Naison said the following about Kopp’s organization:

Until Teach For America becomes committed to training lifetime educators and raises the length of service to five years rather than two, I will not allow TFA to recruit in my classes.  The idea of sending talented students into schools in impoverished areas, and then after two years encouraging them to pursue careers in finance, law, and business in the hope that they will then advocate for educational equity really rubs me the wrong way.

He added:

Never, in its recruiting literature, has Teach For America described teaching as the most valuable professional choice that an idealistic, socially conscious person can make.  Nor do they encourage the brightest students to make teaching their permanent career; indeed, the organization goes out of its way to make joining TFA seem a like a great pathway to success in other, higher-paying professions.

Several years ago, a TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.”  The message of that flyer was: “use teaching in high-poverty areas as a stepping stone to a career in business.”  It was not only disrespectful to every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it effectively advocated using students in high-poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in “resume-padding” for ambitious young people.

After reading Rich’s article about the high turnover rate of teachers in charter schools, Catherine M. Ionata responded in a letter to the editor. She wrote:

The charter school representatives in your article defend the rapid turnover of teachers. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, even says that teachers can become great in one or two years! Would we expand this idea to other professions? Do we think the best lawyers are those fresh out of law school? Should we choose a rookie physician for complex surgery, because this surgeon is more “enthusiastic” than veteran surgeons?

Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, said, “To become a master plumber you have to work for five years. Shouldn’t we have some kind of analog to that with the people we are entrusting our children to?”

Education expert Diane Ravitch also weighed in on the subject after reading Rich’s article:

Can you imagine that a “teacher” who graduated college in June is already “a great teacher” by September?

Why do we expect entrants to every other profession to spend years honing their craft but a brand-new teacher, with no experience, can be considered “great” in only one or two years, then leave to do something else?

This is a recipe to destroy the teaching profession.

How can anyone say they are education “reformers” if their goal is to destroy the profession?

What other nation is doing this?

This is not innovative. In fact, it returns us to the early nineteenth century, when the general belief was that “anyone can teach, no training needed.” Teaching then was a job for itinerants, widow ladies, young girls without a high school degree, and anyone who couldn’t do anything else. It took over a century to create a teaching profession, with qualifications and credentials needed before one could be certified to stand in front of a classroom of young children. We are rapidly going backwards.

Henry Seton, a humanities teacher at Community Charter School of Cambridge in Massachusetts, was another educator who responded to Rich’s article. He wrote:

The high teacher turnover at charter schools leaves these institutions fragile and ill equipped to support their most vulnerable students. It takes far more than a year or two in the classroom to develop that elusive set of skills needed to serve our nation’s neediest cohorts of students — young men of color, English language learners and so on. And I have seen some of the most well-regarded charters here in Massachusetts left reeling and in danger of closing after extensive teacher departures.

Benjamin Cosman (Policymic) wrote that young teachers in charter schools “are supposed to save education in the United States.” He thinks, however, that there is a “very real danger in valuing inexperience in the teaching field…” He believes this “supposed remedy” may possibly be hastening the “demise of public education.”

In his article titled It’s Harder for Charter Schools to Keep Teachers, Francisco Vara-Orta wrote about information provided in data collected by the Texas Education Agency. The data, taken from 47 local school districts from 2006 to 2011, showed that the “average teacher turnover rate for charter school districts was 46 percent, compared with 13 percent for traditional school districts.” Vara-Orta wrote that analysis of the data showed that teachers leave charter schools in Bexar County nearly three times more often than teachers in traditional public schools, “which generally pay more and perform better academically.” He continued, “Of the 10 districts rated academically unacceptable by the state in Bexar County last year, all were charters, with turnover ranging from 38 percent to 65 percent…”

Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that the teacher turnover rate in charter schools was nearly twice as high as that of traditional public schools. In addition, the researchers found that teachers in charter schools were also more likely to leave the profession.

Excerpt from the Vanderbilt report titled Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools:

Our analysis confirms that much of the explanation of this “turnover gap” lies in the differences in the types of teachers that charter schools and traditional public schools hire. The data lend minimal support to the claim that turnover is higher in charter schools because they are leveraging their flexibility in personnel policies to get rid of underperforming teachers. Rather, we found most of the turnover in charter schools is voluntary and dysfunctional as compared to that of traditional public schools.

A second reason is that attrition is highest among teachers that are new to the profession. Past research found teachers make important gains in effectiveness in their first three years and smaller gains over the next few years (McCaffrey, Koretz, Lockwood, and Hamilton, 2003; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2005). Given that almost 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years (Ingersoll & Smith, 2003), many teachers are leaving the classroom before they have developed into optimally effective practitioners. Moreover, exiting new teachers are often replaced by similarly inexperienced teachers and consequently students in schools with high turnover may rarely be exposed to experienced teachers.

Third, turnover affects many of the organizational conditions important to effective schooling, such as instructional cohesion and staff trust. Effective schools hold shared beliefs in similar instructional goals and practices (Fuller & Izu, 1986; Bryk & Driscoll, 1988). Schools with high turnover are challenged to develop a shared commitment towards the same goals, pedagogy, and curriculum. The constant churning of teaching staff makes it difficult to collaborate, develop standard norms of practice, and maintain progress towards common goals. This can lead to fragmented instructional programs and professional development plans that must be adapted each year to meet the needs of a teaching staff in constant flux (Guin, 2004). High turnover also makes it difficult for teachers to build relational trust, which is critical towards productive collaboration in schools (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Guin, 2004).

Critics of charter schools argue that students and schools need stability. “When you stay in a school or community, you build relationships,” said Andrea Giunta, a senior policy analyst for teacher recruitment, retention and diversity at the National Education Association.

As might be expected, studies have shown that teacher turnover often “diminishes student achievement” and has a negative impact on “the overall school environment because it creates instability and a loss of institutional knowledge.”

Matthew Ronfeldt, an assistant professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan—along with colleagues Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff—conducted a study on teacher turnover. Their report was titled How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement.  Loeb, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said that the problem of teacher turnover had been well-documented. She noted, “One in three teachers leaves the profession within five years.” In their study, the three researchers sought to find out if students “do worse in the year after there is high turnover.” They discovered that high teacher turnover hurt student achievement in English and math—and that the negative impact was as “significant as the effect of free lunch eligibility (a standard measure of poverty) on test scores.”  They also found the negative impact to be strongest “among schools with more low-performing and black students. “

In a Texas Tribune article dated January 27, 2010, Brian Temple wrote that at some charter schools in the state “it’s the teachers who can’t wait to clear out at the end of the school year.”

Temple reported that according to data that had been released at the time, 79 percent of the faculty of Accelerated Intermediate Academy in Houston turned over before the 2008-09 school year. At Peak Preparatory in Dallas, 71 percent of teachers did not return…and at Harmony Science Academy in College Station, “69 percent of teachers split.”

Temple continued:

In all, more than 40 of nearly 200 charter operators the state tracked — some which oversee multiple schools — had to replace more than half their teaching staffs before the last school year. Even more established and successful operators, including KIPP and YES Prep in Houston, lose nearly a third of their teachers annually. In contrast, just six of more than 1,000 non-charter school districts statewide had more than half their teachers leave, and none of the 20 largest school districts had a turnover rate higher than 16 percent.

The financial cost of teacher turnover is high. According to a study conducted by the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, teacher attrition costs approximately $7.3 billion per year. Since teacher attrition is so costly and has been shown to have a negative effect on student performance, Benjamin Cosman wonders why TFA and charter organizations like the Yes Prep schools encourage teachers to have a “get out while you can” mentality.

Cosman argued:

We should be cultivating teachers who are in it for the long haul, who build steady careers based on longevity, who become the wizened old stalwarts who’ve been around the block a few times. Yes, there are problems with tenure and bad teachers sticking around too long, and those issues need to be addressed. But the exact opposite — getting teachers in and out as fast as we can — is certainly not the solution.

Excerpt from Teacher Attrition: A Costly Loss to the Nation and to the States, an issue brief released by the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) in August 2005:

There is a growing consensus among researchers and educators that the single most important factor in determining student performance is the quality of his or her teachers. Therefore, if the national goal of providing an equitable education to children across the nation is to be met, it is critical that efforts be concentrated on developing and retaining high-quality teachers in every community and at every grade level…

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 1999–2000 “Public School Teacher Survey,” 47 percent of public school teachers worked with a mentor teacher in the same subject area.12 Sixty-six percent of teachers who were formally mentored by another teacher reported that it “improved their classroom teaching a lot.”13

Mentors are an important factor in providing support for new teachers as they enter the real world of the classroom, but mentoring alone is not enough. Comprehensive induction proves most effective at keeping good teachers in the classroom. Studies demonstrate that new teacher turnover rates can be cut in half through comprehensive induction—a combination of high-quality mentoring, professional development and support, scheduled interaction with other teachers in the school and in the larger community, and formal assessments for new teachers during at least their first two years of teaching.14

I can speak from experience. Mentor teachers can prove invaluable in helping young and inexperienced teachers by providing them with advice, insight, educational ideas and materials that have proved successful in the classroom, and by being a sounding board for them when they feel a need to express their frustrations, insecurities, and fears. Experienced teachers helped me when I was a teaching “ingénue.” Later, when I was a seasoned professional, I helped guide and advise young teachers. I shared books and teaching materials with them. I also listened to their new ideas. Other experienced educators at my school and I found that mentoring new teachers helped us to bond with them and to become a close-knit educational community.

Older teachers provide wisdom. Young teachers bring in a “breath of fresh air.” I think the healthiest school communities have teachers with different perspectives and levels of classroom experience—new teachers, teachers in mid career, and the old sages who have been around the block more than a few times.

One has to wonder how difficult it must be for young and inexperienced teachers to find mentors in their schools if most of the classroom practitioners have little more experience than they. One has to wonder how schools where teachers stay for just two or three years can develop their own culture and institutional memory—as well as a sense of stability and community. One has to wonder how children feel when their teachers come and go so frequently and rarely show evidence of a commitment to their schools and the student population.

It saddens me to think that there are “school reformers” in our country who encourage “foreshortened careers” in education…who think that youth trumps experience…who don’t instill a commitment to education in the young people they recruit for their teaching programs.


At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice (New York Times)

The High Turnover at Charter Schools (New York Times)

Charter schools are developing teachers with short tenure (Examiner)

Teacher Attrition in Charter vs. District Schools (CRPE–Center on Reinventing Public Education)

High teacher turnover in charters: Does student achievement suffer? (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A Revolving Door (Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff)

Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools (Vanderbilt University)

It’s harder for charter schools to keep teachers (My San Antonio)

Teacher Attrition in Charter Schools 2007 (NEPC–National Education Policy Center)

Professor: Why Teach For America can’t recruit in my classroom (Washington Post)

Teacher Turnover Negatively Impacts Student Achievement in Math and English (The Journal)

Teacher turnover harms student learning (University of Michigan)

Teacher turnover affects all students’ achievement, study indicates (Stanford University)

Churn, Churn, Churn, Is Not Good for Kids or the Teaching Profession (Diane Ravitch)

High turnover reported among charter school teachers: With so many charter school teachers moving on each year, concerns arise about retaining quality educators and how stability affects student performance. (Los Angeles Times)

LA students more true to their charter schools than teachers, studies say (UC Berkeley)

Charter Schools Battle High Teacher Turnover (Texas Tribune)

Teach For America: Let’s Stop Encouraging Teachers to Leave After Two Years, Maybe? (Policymic)

Guest Post: Teacher turnover – who stays and who leaves (Stanford University)

High Teacher Turnover Rates are a Big Problem for America’s Public Schools (Forbes)

Teacher Attrition: A Costly Loss to the Nation and to the States (NCTAF-National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future)

NCTAF Study: Teacher Attrition Costs U.S. Over $7 Billion Annually (American Association of Colleges for Teacher education)

360 thoughts on “Should the High Teacher Turnover Rate in Charter Schools Be a Cause for Concern?”

  1. nick spinelli 1, September 14, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Civics left the curriculum well before No Child Left Behind.


    I didn’t say anything about No Child Left behind–I said school reform. School reform brought high stakes testing into my state well before NCLB. After the state instituted the MCAS tests, some communities began making changes to their curricula. MCAS did not include questions about Civics.


    “The education industry, a monopoly controlled by the govt…”

    You mean it isn’t the big bag teacher unions that control education?

  2. Thanks for clarifying that, nick. I have to agree that some kind of objective metrics are needed to evaluate schools, but having done HPT (human performance testing) design in the past, it’s pretty obvious the “deformers” are not interested in any kind of valid metrics. As I said in dealing with the troll earlier, problem solving and metrics related to that are key. Problem solving is probably the best way to test integrated knowledge, but it doesn’t lend itself to form testing or a multiple choice format.

  3. Gene, I have said here, and in other similar threads, I fault the industry. I expressed empathy up thread because to date, only teachers have been affected by reforms..the front lines as it were. I used “educationists” as it was in a reading assignment used by the author. My preferred term is “education industry.” I got that term from a history professor of mine, one of the best ever, who taught a class I took in 1973. titled The History of Education. Also, I have said many times I do not think testing should be the primary source of evaluation but some objective measure must be part of an overall evaluation, which includes aspects of teaching such as motivational skills and other key components of teaching.

  4. Then your gripe isn’t with teachers, but with local school boards. You do realize that the local school boards are being pushed at the state and federal level to implement the standardized testing that is driving the dumbing down of curricula, right? The local SB’s are under enormous pressure to “teach to the test” and the tests proper are designed and pushed from higher up the food chain by people who want to privatize education. When you use neologisms like “educationists”, it sounds like you are blaming teachers, nick.

  5. Teachers have little or no say in curriculum. That is left up to school boards who are elected officials, and Boards of Educations that are their bureaucratic arm. I’m speaking specifically of civics, which people under the age of 35-40 were never taught, Just watch the Jimmy Kimmel, Leno, etc. interviews in the street of that demographic when they ask BASIC questions about our government. They get laughs out of it. I don’t laugh.

  6. That makes no sense, nick. That would require that teachers work against their own self-interests, i.e. full employment. Why would teachers deliberately try to eliminate jobs by dumbing down the curriculum? It makes more sense that they would be trying to require more and/or more difficult courses to be taught that require more and/or better trained (and ergo better paid) teachers.

  7. It is the govt. that does not want its people to understand how it is SUPPOSED TO WORK. The education industry, a monopoly controlled by the govt., is compliant to its wishes by eliminating civics from the curriculum long ago. Ignorance is bliss. Just go to work, pay your taxes, and STFU, “We are in control here” [Al Haig].

  8. Yeah, because everyone knows teachers are out to not teach subjects and subvert the government which employs the majority of them. 🙄

  9. Civics left the curriculum well before No Child Left Behind. My cynical take is the educationists, and the pols they are in cahoots w/, didn’t want kids to understand our govt.

    I guess I had to state that I was speaking of secondary school when discussing teachers unqualified to teach specific subjects like history, economics, psychology, science, etc. Elementary education is a different ballgame.

  10. The Coming Revolution in Public Education
    Why the current wave of reforms, with its heavy emphasis on standardized tests, may actually be harming students
    John Tierney
    Apr 25 2013

    It’s always hard to tell for sure exactly when a revolution starts. Is it when a few discontented people gather in a room to discuss how the ruling regime might be opposed? Is it when first shots are fired? When a critical mass forms and the opposition acquires sufficient weight to have a chance of prevailing? I’m not an expert on revolutions, but even I can see that a new one is taking shape in American K-12 public education.

    The dominant regime for the past decade or more has been what is sometimes called accountability-based reform or, by many of its critics, “corporate education reform.” The reforms consist of various initiatives aimed at (among other things): improving schools and educational outcomes by using standardized tests to measure what students are learning; holding schools and teachers accountable (through school closures and teachers’ pay) when their students are “lagging” on those standardized assessments; controlling classroom instruction and increasing the rigor of school curricula by pushing all states to adopt the same challenging standards via a “Common Core;” and using market-like competitive pressures (through the spread of charter schools and educational voucher programs) to provide public schools with incentives to improve.*

    Critics of the contemporary reform regime argue that these initiatives, though seemingly sensible in their original framing, are motivated by interests other than educational improvement and are causing genuine harm to American students and public schools. Here are some of the criticisms: the reforms have self-interest and profit motives, not educational improvement, as their basis; corporate interests are reaping huge benefits from these reform initiatives and spending millions of dollars lobbying to keep those benefits flowing; three big foundations (Gates, Broad, and Walton Family) are funding much of the backing for the corporate reforms and are spending billions to market and sell reforms that don’t work; ancillary goals of these reforms are to bust teacher unions, disempower educators, and reduce spending on public schools; standardized testing is enormously expensive in terms both of public expenditures and the diversion of instruction time to test prep; over a third of charter schools deliver “significantly worse” results for students than the traditional public schools from which they were diverted; and, finally, that these reforms have produced few benefits and have actually caused harm, especially to kids in disadvantaged areas and communities of color. (On that last overall point, see this scathing new report from the Economic Policy Institute.)

    Fueled in part by growing evidence of the reforms’ ill effects and of the reformers’ self-interested motives, the counter-movement is rapidly expanding. Here are some reasons why I predict it will continue to gain strength and gradually lead to the undoing of these market-based education reforms.

    • It’s what history teaches us to expect. In this country, we lurch back and forth between efforts to professionalize and efforts to infantilize public-school teachers, and have been doing so since the beginning of public schools in America. Neither kind of effort accords teachers much respect. Because teachers are chiefly employed by local governments (unlike doctors or lawyers who are typically employed in private enterprise), there has always been a tendency on the part of some groups of people to try to exert greater central control over teachers, not believing them to be professionals who can be left to do their jobs according to their own judgment. When those skeptics hold sway, the “solutions” they impose favor quantitative/metrics-based “accountability,” top-down management, limitations on teachers’ autonomy, and the substitution of external authority (outside measurers and evaluators) for the expertise of educators themselves. (See William J. Reese’s op-ed piece Sunday on the early history of the “testing wars” in America.)

    • Education policies based on standardization and uniformity tend to fail. The policy alchemists’ notion that a “Common Core” or standardized curriculum, along with standardized tests, are appropriate measures for “fixing” American education is uninformed by an understanding of history and practice. Twenty-five years ago, two of our wisest scholarly analysts of educational reform, Richard Elmore and Milbrey Wallin McLaughlin, observed, based on their study of education reforms over the decades: “Reforms succeed to the degree that they adapt to and capitalize upon variability [from school to school and classroom to classroom]. . . . Policies that aim to reduce variability by reducing teacher discretion not only preclude learning from situational adaptation to policy goals, they also can impede effective teaching.” Today’s corporate reformers are flying in the face of experience.

  11. When Schools Become Dead Zones of the Imagination: A Critical Pedagogy Manifesto
    By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
    Tuesday, 13 August 2013

    Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

    ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

    If the right-wing billionaires and apostles of corporate power have their way, public schools will become “dead zones of the imagination,” reduced to anti-public spaces that wage an assault on critical thinking, civic literacy and historical memory.1 Since the 1980s, schools have increasingly become testing hubs that de-skill teachers and disempower students. They have also been refigured as punishment centers where low-income and poor minority youth are harshly disciplined under zero tolerance policies in ways that often result in their being arrested and charged with crimes that, on the surface, are as trivial as the punishment is harsh. 2 Under casino capitalism’s push to privatize education, public schools have been closed in cities such as, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York to make way for charter schools. Teacher unions have been attacked, public employees denigrated and teachers reduced to technicians working under deplorable and mind-numbing conditions. 3

    Corporate school reform is not simply obsessed with measurements that degrade any viable understanding of the connection between schooling and educating critically engaged citizens. The reform movement is also determined to underfund and disinvest resources for public schooling so that public education can be completely divorced from any democratic notion of governance, teaching and learning. In the eyes of billionaire un-reformers and titans of finance such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, the Walton family and Michael Bloomberg, public schools should be transformed, when not privatized, into adjuncts of shopping centers and prisons. 4

    Like the dead space of the American mall, the school systems promoted by the un-reformers offer the empty ideological seduction of consumerism as the ultimate form of citizenship and learning. And, adopting the harsh warehousing mentality of prison wardens, the un-reformers endorse and create schools for poor students that punish rather than educate in order to channel disposable populations into the criminal justice system where they can fuel the profits of private prison corporations. The militarization of public schools that Secretary Arnie Duncan so admired and supported while he was the CEO of the Chicago School System was not only a ploy to instill authoritarian discipline practices against students disparagingly labeled as unruly, if not disposable. It was also an attempt to design schools that would break the capacity of students to think critically and render them willing and potential recruits to serve in senseless and deadly wars waged by the American empire. And, if such recruitment efforts failed, then students were quickly put on the conveyor belt of the school-to-prison pipeline. For many poor minority youth in the public schools, prison becomes part of their destiny, just as public schools reinforce their status as second-class citizens. As Michelle Alexander points out, “Instead of schools being a pipeline to opportunity, [they] are feeding our prisons.” 5

    Market-driven educational reforms, with their obsession with standardization, high-stakes testing, and punitive policies, also mimic a culture of cruelty that neoliberal policies produce in the wider society. They exhibit contempt for teachers and distrust of parents, repress creative teaching, destroy challenging and imaginative programs of study and treat students as mere inputs on an assembly line. Trust, imagination, creativity, and a respect for critical teaching and learning are thrown to the wind in the pursuit of profits and the proliferation of rigid, death-dealing accountability schemes. As John Tierney points out in his critique of corporate education reforms in The Atlantic, such approaches are not only oppressive – they are destined to fail. He writes:

    “Policies and practices that are based on distrust of teachers and disrespect for them will fail. Why? ‘The fate of the reforms ultimately depends on those who are the object of distrust.’ In other words, educational reforms need teachers’ buy-in, trust, and cooperation to succeed; ‘reforms’ that kick teachers in the teeth are never going to succeed. Moreover, education policies crafted without teacher involvement are bound to be wrongheaded. 6″…

    When billionaire club members, such as Bill Gates and right-wing donors such as Art Pope, are not directly implementing policies that defund schools, they are funding research projects that turn students into test subjects for a world that even George Orwell would have found hard to imagine. 8 For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a $500,000 grant to Clemson University to do a pilot study in which students would wear galvanic skin bracelets with wireless sensors that would track their physiological responses to various stimuli in the schools. A spokesperson for the foundation argues in defense of this creepy obsession with measuring students’ emotional responses by claiming that the biometric devices are a help to teachers who can measure “‘real-time’ (reflective feedback), kind of like a pedometer.” 9…

    In contrast to the socially and ethically numb forms of educational research endorsed by so-called reformers, a recent study has linked high-stakes testing to lower graduation rates and higher incarceration rates, indicating that such testing plays a significant role in expanding “the machinery of the school-to-prison pipeline,” especially for low-income students and students of color.12 Most critics of the billionaires’ club ignore these issues. But a number of critics, such as New York University education professor Diane Ravitch, have raised significant questions about this type of research. Ravitch argues that Gates should “devote more time to improving the substance of what is being taught . . . and give up on all this measurement mania.” 13 Such critiques are important, but they could go further. Such reform efforts are about more than collapsing teaching and learning into an instrumental reductionism that approximates training rather than education. As Ken Saltman points out, the new un-reformers are political counter-revolutionaries and not simply misguided educators. 14

    Noam Chomsky gets it right in arguing that we are now in a general period of regression that extends far beyond impacting education alone. 15 This period of regression is marked by massive inequalities in wealth, income and power that are fueling a poverty and ecological crisis and undermining every basic public sphere central to both democracy and the culture and structures necessary for people to lead a life of dignity and political participation. 16 The burden of cruelty, repression and corruption has broken the back of democracy, however weak, in the United States. America is no longer a democracy, nor is it simply a plutocracy. It has become an authoritarian state steeped in violence and run by the commanding financial, cultural and political agents of corporate power. 17

    Corporate sovereignty has replaced political sovereignty, and the state has become largely an adjunct of banking institutions and financial service industries. Addicted to “the political demobilization of the citizenry,” the corporate elite is waging a political backlash against all institutions that serve democracy and foster a culture of questioning, dialogue and dissent. 18 The apostles of neoliberalism are concerned primarily with turning public schools over to casino capitalism in order to transform them into places where all but the privileged children of the 1% can be disciplined and cleansed of any critical impulses. Instead of learning to become independent thinkers, they acquire the debilitating habits of what might be called a moral and political deficit disorder that renders them passive and obedient in the face of a society based on massive inequalities in power, wealth and income. The current powerful corporate-based un-reform movement is wedded to developing modes of governance, ideologies and pedagogies dedicated to constraining and stunting any possibility for developing among students those critical, creative, and collaborative forms of thought and action necessary for participating in a substantive democracy.

    At the core of the new reforms is a commitment to a pedagogy of stupidity and repression that is geared toward memorization, conformity, passivity, and high stakes testing. Rather than create autonomous, critical, and civically engaged students, the un-reformers kill the imagination while depoliticizing all vestiges of teaching and learning. The only language they know is the discourse of profit and the disciplinary language of command. John Taylor Gatto points to some elements of this pedagogy of repression in his claim that schools teach confusion by ignoring historical and relational contexts. 19 Every topic is taught in isolation and communicated by way of sterile pieces of information that have no shared meanings or context.

  12. AY,

    Maybe it SHOULD be labeled the “school deform movement.” It has perverted/deformed the public education system in this country.

  13. I hear in Texas presently Gene and Elaine they are taking the 2 to 3 years a student must take Texas away…. Plus 11th grade civics is history as well….. Stupid school deform….

  14. Gene,

    School reform–as we know it today–has brought us a dumbing down of the curriculum. It is a sad state of affairs. I fear for the future.

  15. Not just Civics either, but two states I lived in had required State Government classes as well.

  16. Copy that on the Civic curriculum, Elaine. It was a required course when I was in school and that was about ten years or so before the standardized testing started being pushed.

  17. nick,

    BTW, one reason why Civics is no longer taught in some public schools is because of mandated high stakes testing. The tests do not include questions about civics. That’s why some school systems no longer include Civics as a requirement. You can thank school reform for that.

  18. nick,

    I attended college from 1964-1968. I majored in elementary education and minored in science. I had lots of content courses–including American Literature, British Literature, History of Western Civilization, American History, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, College Algebra (two semesters), Biology (two semesters), Test and Measurement, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, Weather and Climate, Geography of the United States, World Geography, Nature Studies, Genetics, Conservation of Natural Resources, Geology, and Children’s Literature. I was also required to take courses in art and music appreciation. I appreciate the background that I got from my fours years in college. I don’t know if elementary teachers get the same kind of college education that I got back in the 1960s. I hope they do.

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