An exploration of how minority and poor children continue to be the victims of pernicious educational reforms.
Weighing in on the charged topic of public education, Rooks (American Studies/Cornell Univ.; White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education, 2006, etc.) mounts a blistering and persuasive argument against school reforms that she sees as detrimental to disadvantaged students. Charter schools and their management organizations, vouchers, virtual schools, and “an alternatively certified, non-unionized teaching force” are basically capitalist ventures that enforce segregation. She calls the reform efforts “segrenomics”: business strategies that prey on powerless communities and do not account for the necessary voices of parents, teachers, or students. Rooks is equally critical of the past four presidents, whose proposals, despite their optimistic titles, failed to alleviate dysfunction. She traces the movement for privatization to the 1990s, when the Edison Project, an independent for-profit chain of schools, persuaded state and city governments that its schools could “break the mold of traditional education and outperform public schools.” Reaping tax dollars and corporate investment, the Edison Project never achieved “the promised profits or test score gains.” Yet despite its failure, it spawned a growing charter school industry, most recently touted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Rooks opposes vouchers, an idea promoted by economist Milton Friedman, “who wanted to dismantle public education.” Indeed, in communities that instituted vouchers, white families often used them to keep their children in predominantly white schools, and black schools deteriorated. The quest to educate disadvantaged students as cheaply as possible has led to an increased focus on virtual schools, which minimize the costs of buildings, teachers, and staff. In Philadelphia, students in more than a dozen cyberschools failed state achievement tests. Offering a strong counterargument to charter school advocates such as David Osborne, Rooks proposes no easy answers: “our system,” she writes, “will need to be almost completely overhauled and rethought.”
A convincing argument that the only viable, proven school reform strategy is integration, a solution distressingly difficult to achieve.