Earlier this week Michigan Governor Rick Snyder kicked off the 18th annual Governor’s Education Summit under the cloud of “skunk works” exposed by Chad Livengood here at the Detroit News.
“Skunk works” was the code name give to secret meetings between the governor and a group of twenty individuals that included one educational professional who quickly realized that the group was “discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system,”. To no one’s surprise this project aims to take more money away from public schools and funnel it to private organizations using a voucher program.
Unfortunately for Governor Snyder and his team, vouchers are prohibited by the Michigan constitution, but that hasn’t stopped the governor before. When the legislature said no to the bridge to Canada he went behind their backs and did it anyway. When the citizens of Michigan voted to repeal the Emergency Manager Law the governor ignored the will of the people and signed a new bill into law that was exempt from the democratic referendum process. And now he figures he can skirt the Michigan constitution and get his way again.
Republicans who support the governor’s efforts claim our education system is broken and they insist that teachers unions and bad teachers are the crux of the problem. Unfortunately this is all based on anecdotal evidence as the data shows no such correlation.
But the reality is that contending that our education system is broken is a fundamentally flawed argument that Republicans are using as an excuse to push their alternate agenda of corporatize our children’s education. Corporatization which has shown to be no better than the system they are working so hard to replace.
Ironically it is the very capitalism that Republicans hold up as the answer to our lagging test scores that is actually the problem. The data shows that the biggest problem with education is poverty. If you do an apples to apples comparison using test results from American schools with 10% or less impoverished students the US comes out on top. Similarly in schools with a student body that contains 10% to 25% children living below the poverty line the US is third best in the world.
While having poor test scores is certainly a concern the fact that we have the second highest rate of childhood poverty among developed countries is an embarrassment.
And while Republicans will continue to calumniate the education profession to benefit their corporate sponsors the truth is that as long as we lead the world in income disparity and keep the playing field severely slanted in favor of the rich regaining our position as the world leaders in test scores will remain an unachievable goal.