Liberals’ School Reforms Serve Profit System, Leave Kids Behind

At the coming American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Chicago convention, nearly everyone wants to reform or repeal NCLB (“No Child Left Behind” or, as some call it, “No Corporation Left Behind” or “No Child Left Untested”).  McCain and Obama both support NCLB’s goals and its testing to measure schools’ success, but both want “changes.”

McCain emphasizes “market forces” (privatization) and freezing federal education spending. Obama backs more active federal government intervention.  “More accountability is right,” he says. Neither candidate can or will change the basis for the U.S. educational system: it has always served the needs of the capitalist class, not of workers and our children.

The current educational reform movement’s two wings are more alike than they appear.
Straight from U.S. rulers comes the $60 million “Ed in ’08” campaign, sponsored by The Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation. Comparing U.S. students to those in other industrialized countries, they conclude, “The world is changing, jobs are evolving, and far too many students are simply not being prepared to be successful adults…. Many of those who do graduate are not ready for college, for the workplace and for life.” For the sake of “our economy” (meaning U.S. capitalism that exploits millions worldwide), they want “strong American schools.” “Improving our educational performance will pay huge economic dividends” — for these capitalists.

U.S. imperialists are facing unprecedented competition from European and Asian bosses, a sharpening rivalry leading to ever wider wars. So, led by Roy Romer (former Colorado governor and ex-superintendent of LA schools), they’re pressuring presidential candidates Obama and McCain to support their agenda: privatization (charter schools), accountability (teacher pay based on students’ test scores) and union-busting (ending tenure).

A new coalition, led by NYC school head Joel Klein and ex-FBI informer and Democratic Party hack Al Sharpton, is joining Romer and his billionaire pals to brand these capitalist policies as an “Education Equality Project.” They stress that black and Latino students still lag far behind their white counterparts in test scores and graduation rates, fifty years after court-ordered school desegregation. But capitalism is racist to the core. It reaps $250 billion super-profits annually from the difference in income between white families and black and Latino families.

Broad or Broader?

The other reform wing (the Forum on Educational Accountability and the Forum on Education and Democracy) advocates “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,” appearing to challenge the “Ed in 08” program.

But the two sides are essentially similar. The “Broader, Bolder” group also wants to make NCLB “work better” by backing expanded early childhood education and better health care. While not rejecting aspects of privatization (charters) they also want the federal government to spend more money on “accountability systems” (testing).

They want schools to promote “upward social mobility,” but don’t challenge class society where a few wealthy at the top profit from exploiting the many workers on the bottom. They want to retool schools to produce the loyal and well-trained workers and soldiers urgently needed in the pre-World War economy: “The increasingly inter-connected world of the 21st century places a premium on the preparation of all of our young people to take their places as effective workers, citizens, and family members.”

The “Broader, Bolder” group includes many Clinton administration officials; Chicago schools boss Arne Duncan Rudy Crew, Bella Rosenberg (long-time associate of former AFT President Albert Shanker), members of the Brookings Institution and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Harvard’s Christopher Jencks and William Julius Wilson, and a raft of well-known liberal reformers. Several (including reported Obama advisor Linda Darling-Hammond), are also part of the Forum on Education and Democracy (FED), with its roadmap for education reform entitled “Democracy at Risk.”

The Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) is a broader coalition of over 140 liberal organizations with similar goals and policies. It’s “committed to the No Child Left Behind Act’s objectives of strong academic achievement for all children and closing the achievement gap….The federal government has a critical role to play in attaining these goals. We endorse…an accountability system that helps ensure all children, including children of color, from low-income families, with disabilities, and of limited English proficiency, are prepared to be successful, participating members of our democracy.”

These groups appeal to teachers and school activists who are rightly appalled by the present situation. Their programs might seem to be “a step in the right direction” despite their continued embrace of federal “accountability” and intensive testing. But reforming the system means making it work better — for the bosses who run it! To fight for our children and our future, amid sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry and war, we need to destroy that racist system before it destroys even more of us.

For schools to serve the working class, we need a society that serves the working class, not the capitalists. We must unite students, parents and teachers in a class struggle against the rulers’ attacks. Out of this struggle, with red leadership, we can acquire the understanding needed to end the racist profit system with a communist revolution that abolishes wages and inequality, building this movement in the factories, barracks, communities and schools. That means teaching and learning everything, from the history of our class to the philosophy of dialectical materialism, from politics and economics to science and mathematics. Join the Progressive Labor Party in this historic task!

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