Lois Weiner of New Jersey City University says the main issues facing public schools are privatization, testing, teacher performance and school budgets – and this bill won’t fix them.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. President Obama last week signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act. The bill, harped as a bipartisan bill, essentially makes obsolete the No Child Left Behind Act and the legacy of President George W. Bush. The new act also does away with the last decade of federal government’s role in public education from kindergarten through high school, by putting control back into the hands of states and districts. But how does the Every Student Succeeds Act potentially change K-12 education in the United States, and is downloading control to the states and district the best thing for our students? And what are the teachers saying about all of this? These are the questions we’re going to be taking up with our next guest, Lois Weiner. Lois is joining us from New York City. Lois is a professor of education at New Jersey City University. Her most recent book is The Future Of Our Schools: Teachers, Unions, and Social Justice. Lois, a pleasure to have you with us. LOIS WEINER: Thank you very much. My pleasure to join you. PERIES: Lois, so let’s get your reaction to the new legislation before we dig into it. WEINER: Well, I think it’s an overstatement to say that it has killed No Child Left Behind. I think that what it has killed is the federal role in punishing districts and punishing schools that failed to meet the requirements that the federal government set. And that’s an important, very, very important change. PERIES: And punishing in what sense? WEINER: Well, there were very draconian measures that were taken if schools didn’t succeed in raising test scores. But I think that what we have to, what we have to see is that, that those punishments, for instance, closing schools down, forcing them to get rid of staff, allowing parents to withdraw their children and, and send them to another school, it really was the federal government’s role in micromanaging what went on in the individual school site. But I think it’s important to understand that the reason the federal government had that role was because of the relatively modest amount of money that it gave to states in funding that was initiated with the EFCA and the original education act and the war on poverty. And that funding the states were not willing to give up because education budgets are under such strain. So the federal government actually used a very small amount of money in public education budgets to leverage enormous control. PERIES: And in what way will we see that transpire with this new legislation? WEINER: Well, what’s going to happen is that there are going to have to be fights on the state level, for instance about charter school expansion. And the other thing that’s terribly wrong in this new legislation is that it really attacks university-based teacher education. Historically most teachers in this country have been educated at public teaching universities, four-year schools, that were teaching colleges that then became public universities. And this legislation really does aim to destroy that legacy by making it very, very difficult for four-year schools, for teaching universities and colleges to educate the, the majority of teachers. And what we are going to see as a result of this legislation is we are going to see what they’re going to call teacher shortages. But it’s really only shortages in school districts that don’t pay well and that have difficult teaching conditions. We’re going to see massive teacher shortages because of all the requirements that the federal government, and I might add the teachers unions, too, are endorsing for the preparation of teachers. And that’s going to have just devastating–devastating effects on public schools. And that–. PERIES: And precisely how does, how does that going to happen, for example? WEINER: Well, it’s already true, and it’s already true in–I don’t know if you’ve seen that the charter schools, for instance, can’t hold teachers. They, they just can’t hold teachers. The conditions are too bad in the charter schools that serve–I shouldn’t say charter schools in general. Charter schools that serve the kids that have the greatest educational needs. They can’t hold teachers. They can’t hold teachers because the conditions are so terrible. And so what we have is a revolving door. People stay for two or three years, and then they leave. But we know from research that to be a really effective teacher you need at least five years, probably seven years of successful teaching experience. And we also know that student teaching, which is part of let’s call it traditional university-based education, teacher education, is probably the most effective way to have people become experienced, to gain the skills that they need in a protected environment. So we have those, those programs are just, are going to be wiped out in this new legislation. And–. PERIES: Lois, let’s talk about, let’s talk about this very important thing you just mentioned, which is about the privatization. One way in which schools are being privatized is through the charter school system. But what other kinds of privatizations will be, what can, can we expect? WEINER: Well, teacher education is being privatized. And the other thing is that testing has not been eliminated in this new, in this new legislation. There’s going to be mandatory testing in grades 3-8 every year now. So this–it’s, it’s a, it’s absolutely not the case that this legislation is eliminating the testing. What’s going to be weakened or eliminated are the provisions that link student test scores to teacher evaluation. And the right wing mounted a fantastically successful campaign to educate people about what was wrong with the Common Core, this national curriculum. And so it was the testing linked to teacher evaluations, on the left, and the Common Core on the right, that caused the implosion. And caused this new legislation to be created. But I think it’s important to recognize that very, very dangerous aspects of the old legislation and the old mindset persist. We have regulations about standardized testing in grade 3-8 that are, it’s still going to happen. We have the national curriculum, Common Core, integrated into a lot of state curricula. We have not eliminated the threat of standardized testing to local school boards developing curricula and deciding what the kids should learn. We haven’t done that. And most of all we haven’t addressed the problem of school funding, of equalizing school funding. We’re the only developed nation in the world that does not have school funding on a national level. It’s, schools are funded by property taxes, which are inherently unequal. PERIES: Which is the case right here in, in, in Baltimore. So the schools, public schools are getting less and less funding because people are moving out from the city core into the suburbs, and the city schools are suffering as a result. Now–. WEINER: Exactly. PERIES: And one of the things that we want to take up is what are the struggles now in terms of moving forward? What are some of the teachers unions–now, when Obama was signing this, there seemed to be a tremendous amount of support from various teachers’ unions for the Democratic party move and the so-called bipartisan move. So moving forward, I know that there are teachers unions out there that are not supporting this. And what are their gravest concerns, and how will they be organizing moving forward? WEINER: Well, I think it’s important that we, that first of all, every–that we acknowledge that both teachers unions supported NCLB. They both endorsed it. And they both endorsed it because their, their idea of making change is that we can’t bring our own program, our own platform. We have to sit at the table. And if what you’re dishing up at the table is poison, then we really need to think about whether we should be sitting at the table for that meal. So the unions endorsed NCLB. Both unions endorsed linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. They, they worked out what they thought were compromises in the amount that it would count, but that was–you know, that was an impossible system for evaluating teachers, because the standardized tests measure social class more than they measure any other criterion. And so now the unions were really forced by members, organizing, mobilizing with parents, the unions were forced to come out, to reverse their position. And when they reverse their position they started to exert pressure on the state and the federal government to pull back. So there was this really impressive mobilization by reform caucuses of several teachers unions. We saw that in Philadelphia, for instance. There’s a terrific reform caucus, [caucus] of working educators in Philadelphia. We saw that in Chicago, that really fought against using the tests for teacher evaluation. We’re seeing that all over the country, that, that teachers are organizing with parents to fight a, to fight back against the testing. But the struggles are very uneven. You know, there are places in which they’re, the forces are quite weak. And so we’re going to see uneven, I think, we’re going to see uneven struggles on state–on a statewide basis. But we are going to see struggles that are going to continue. We need struggles about funding, we need struggles in the cities. For instance, what we’re seeing in Chicago is a fight for Chicago to have an elected school board. That’s extremely important. And the right of self-determination has been taken away from parents and communities in so many major cities, and we really have to fight back on that. And the unions have not been, the teachers’ unions have not been doing that the way that they should. It’s a political fight. We have some examples of the unions, of individual unions that are doing that. The Chicago Teachers Union has a wonderful, wonderful platform about what the state should be doing differently to fund education. But we need the national unions to step up to the plate on this, and they’re not. PERIES: All right. I thank you so much for joining us, and I know it’s been difficult technologically. So thanks for doing this [inaud.]. WEINER: Well, thank you for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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