Teacher and researcher Mercedes Schneider evaluates the No Child Left Behind reform bill that recently passed in the Senate
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. We’re picking up our conversation with Mercedes Schneider. She is a career classroom teacher, trained researcher and author of two books on education reform. Thank you so much for joining us. MERCEDES SCHNEIDER: You’re welcome. DESVARIEUX: So in the first part we really discussed what’s in the Senate-approved Every Child Achieves Act. But now let’s talk about the interests behind the bill. Mercedes, you mentioned that there’s a promotion of charter schools in the bill. Who is supporting charter schools, and which specific members of the private sector are behind this push? SCHNEIDER: There’s a great hedge fund push for charter schools. So we have that group behind the charter schools. We have civil rights groups. Not all of the civil rights groups. The same ones that are promoting the strict accountability and testing as is true for No Child Left Behind. They are pushing for charter schools. We have very conservative school choice groups that are pushing for charter schools. We have the Walton Foundation, staunchly charter and also anti-union. Those two go together. And the Walton money behind charter schools has been a reason that those two have been wed, that many charter schools do not have unions. DESVARIEUX: And the Walton family is behind Walmart, right? SCHNEIDER: Yes. Yes. So we have those groups. There are other groups. Just Republicans, in general. Now, I say in general, but Republicans in general. more conservative, like–public school monopoly. But it’s not just them. We have Democrats like Andrew Cuomo in New York who has called public schools the monopoly, and he wants to break the monopoly and bring in charter schools. But again, who backs Andrew Cuomo? Hedge funds. He’s got hedge fund money behind him, and there’s money to be made in charter schools. DESVARIEUX: And there’s also money to be made in standardized tests. Is that right? Who is to gain from keeping this system of continuously testing our children? SCHNEIDER: Well, the testing companies have major lobbying interest. Valerie Strauss, I believe it was, did a piece recently in April in the Washington Post where she cited the Center for Media and Democracy. I believe that was the group. A study that they did on the testing companies, the big four testing companies like Pearson, Educational Testing Service, McGraw Hill. There was another one in there as well. Spending $20 million on lobbying for testing. In the [inaud.] on Capitol Hill between 2009 and 2014. These testing companies will lose out, a lot of money will lose out if the Every Child Achieves Act, if the reauthorization of [ECA] was to relax standardized testing. DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s also kind of turn the corner her and talk about solutions. If you were drafting legislation that was in the interests of everyday people, everyday families here, what would be some key elements that you’d want to include? SCHNEIDER: The standardized testing emphasis has to go. And I say that as a teacher. I’m a career teacher. I’ve got over 20 years in the classroom, from grade seven to graduate school. And I see the pressure to teach to the test. The test scores mean school survival. And so that needs to go. I think the idea of using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, randomly selecting students to participate in that, just to gauge progress in schools is the way to go. If we want to gauge progress we can do it that way. We can gauge progress of subgroups of students. But to have such money spent and effort spent and time spent on standardized tests, that needs to go. That would be, first and foremost. And I am a supporter of the Every Child Achieves Act, I think it is the equivalent [inaud.] out of a [money] pothole of No Child Left Behind. It is not perfect, but it’s moving forward. Testing needs to go. Under-regulated charter schools, sending money to them, that needs to be regulated. There needs to be a system in process where these schools are systematically audited to make sure that that money is not spent fraudulently. The same civil rights groups that are crying out for testing and accountability because they don’t want children of color forgotten are not crying out for accountability for charter schools that tend to enroll high proportions of children of color. So I would want that, as well. Those are the two big things. DESVARIEUX: All right. Well, we’ll continue to follow this bill and see what happens in the House. Mercedes, thank you so much for joining us. SCHNEIDER: My pleasure. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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