Corporate reformers undermine public education.
Joining the debate about school reform that has erupted in recent books enthusiastically for and passionately against charter schools, the Common Core, and assessment by testing, Gabor (Chair, Business Journalism/Baruch Coll., CUNY; The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business—Their Lives, Times, and Ideas, 2000, etc.) mounts a strong argument for “a well-designed, collaborative, trust-based approach” to change. Citing reform efforts in Massachusetts, Texas, Louisiana, and New York, the author takes aim at charter schools and the “handful of wealthy, unelected, mostly out-of-town organizations and benefactors” who champion them. In New Orleans, an already troubled public school system responded to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina by turning to charter schools without ever engaging parents or teachers. Most charters, such as the much-touted Sci Academy, focused on test preparation and instituted a no-excuses policy that caused many students to be suspended or drop out; the charters were staffed largely by inexperienced teachers, trained “in highly regimented routines” designed to foster “order and security.” Gabor criticizes the Common Core for favoring easily assessed subjects such as math and grammar, forcing schools to minimize civics and literature, two subjects that she believes are essential in a democracy. Moreover, rating and funding schools through their students’ test scores has fomented corruption and cheating among administrators and teachers, whose jobs may be vulnerable to test outcomes. The “testing mania,” Gabor asserts, “has dumbed down education.” Among successful reform efforts, the author profiles Manhattan’s Julia Richman High School, which adopted a small-school strategy of four schools within a larger complex. Teachers had decisive input, and the school established a trusted relationship with the teachers union. Similarly, at Central Park East, “open-classroom pedagogy and democratic governance” resulted in success. In Brockton, Massachusetts, the city’s benighted high school was revived through the efforts of a strong local leader who marshaled widespread community cooperation. In 2016, Massachusetts defeated a ballot initiative to lift the cap on charter schools.
A vigorous study of how school reform requires vigilance, collaboration, and a capacious definition of true learning.