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Anthony Cody is confused by the contradictions of the corporate reform movement. “On the one hand, we have a seemingly utopian project with bold pronouncements about the boundless capacity of all students – even those with serious learning disabilities – to succeed on ever more difficult tests. On the other hand, we have tests that are apparently intentionally designed to fail in the realm of two thirds of our students.”
Cody considers the views of Bill Gates, who has finally admitted that student motivation plays a role in whether students learn.
Cody points out that student motivation is affected by their sense of their own future. Yet as Gates himself admits:
“Well, technology in general will make capital more attractive than labor over time. Software substitution, you know, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses… It’s progressing. And that’s going to force us to rethink how these tax structures work in order to maximize employment, you know, given that, you know, capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set. And so, you know, we have to adjust, and these things are coming fast. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower, and I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”
So if there are fewer jobs, a shrinking middle class, and fewer opportunities for social mobility, students face a bleak future. How can they be motivated in an economy where their prospects are dim?
“Gates is suggesting we increase taxes on consumption by the wealthy, and use those revenues to provide a sort of subsistence level payment to the poor. He opposes an increase in the minimum wage because it might raise employer costs, which they would then try to cut by laying people off.
“Gates is unconcerned about income inequality as an issue. He defines poverty as abject starvation and homelessness, and hopes employers can be convinced to keep on employees because they do not cost very much.
“The motivation of 50 million K12 students in the US is directly related to the degree to which their education leads to a brighter future. We have a big disconnect here when the future does not, in fact, offer much chance at access to college or productive employment. And as Wilkinson and Pickett established in their book The Spirit Level, the level of inequality societies tolerate has a dramatic effect on the mental state and wellbeing of its citizens…..
“As I wrote earlier in the week, there seems to be an attempt to use ever more difficult Common Core aligned tests to certify as many as two thirds of our students as unworthy of such opportunities.
“This brings to mind a dystopian future where an underclass of Common Core test rejects is allowed to subsist with the bare minimum payments required to keep starvation at bay, while a shrinking cadre of insecure workers maintain the machinery that keep the lights on and the crops harvested.
“The fundamental problem of the current economy is that we have not figured out a means by which the top 1% can be persuaded to share the prodigious profits that have flowed from technological advances…
“I cannot reconcile how this future of growing inequality and a shrinking workforce intersects with the grand utopian vision of the Common Core. So then I go back and have to question the validity of the promises made for the Common Core, since the economic projections Gates is making here seem sound….
“These economic problems will not be addressed by Common Core, by charter schools or any other educational reforms. They will not even be addressed in a significant way by what we might praise as authentic education reforms, such as smaller class sizes or more time for teacher collaboration – though these are worthwhile and humane things.
Imperfect as they have been, public schools have been an institution under mostly democratic control, funded by taxpayers, governed by elected school boards, and run by career educators. Market-driven education reform is bringing the cruelty of commerce into what was part of the public sphere, attempting to use test scores to open and close schools like shoe stores, and pay teachers on test score commissions as if we were salesmen.
“The rhetoric of the corporate reform project draws on the modern movement for civil rights, and even Bill Gates asserts that his goal is to fight inequity. But elites have rarely, if ever, designed solutions that diminish their privilege, and this is no exception. It appears that corporate education reform has devised a means to affix blame for inequity on classroom teachers, even as technological advances make it possible to transfer even more wealth into its sponsors’ bank accounts, with fewer people being paid for the work that remains necessary. The promise that the Common Core will prepare everyone for the American dream is made a lie by the intentionally engineered failure rates on Common Core aligned tests.”