A Conservative Takedown of Testing and Charters

Progressive education folks foam at the mouth when they talk about the new power of testing and charter schools.  Will conservatives join them?

We see recently a furious conservative condemnation of the current education “reform” mania. [The essay originally appeared last July in Crisis.]

Veteran history teacher Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg offered a conservative rationale for opposition to the Michelle Rhee/Waiting for Superman school reform crowd.

Those folks want to make public schooling more responsive.  They argue that schools should have more wiggle room to fire weak teachers; charter schools should be able to slash red tape to provide effective education for any child left behind.  Such reformers often also promise to hold teachers and schools “accountable” by mandating rigorous testing of students.  Such tests, the argument goes, will force teachers and schools to pay attention to the academic performance of all their students.

Progressive critics have teed off on this reform ideology for a while now.  Some have warned that charter schools are nothing but a capitalist scheme to siphon money away from public education.  And the mania for testing, progressives warn, represents a perversion of the promise of American public education.

Rummelsburg gives a different rationale for this same suspicion.  Placing hope in the panacea of charter schools, Rummelsburg argues, is a mistake.  Waiting for any kind of public-funded superman, Rummelsburg insists, misses the point.  The real responsibility for education must remain with the family, not with the government.  And standardized testing reduces the true goal of education to a series of bubbles filled in.

Rummelsburg doesn’t pull any rhetorical punches.  As he puts it,

Waiting for “Superman” illustrates how severely broken public education is and brings up the real issues of school reform and the voucher system. However, the “magic bullet” of charter schools is not the answer. A transfer of money and power from the dreadful public classrooms to charter schools is a bit like transferring the administrative duties of running Nazi death camps from the Germans to the Belgians, yet still the need for reform is beyond dire. However, reform is futile if the goal remains a high standardized test scores.

Ouch.  Will more conservatives join Rummelsburg’s condemnation of the current reform agenda?



Rhee and Jesus in Public Schools

Michelle Rhee wants to get Jesus involved in fixing America’s public schools.

Image Source: Time Magazine

Rhee, the former chancellor of DC schools, has long been the darling of conservatives.  Her anti-union, market-based approaches to fixing public education have won her plaudits as America’s best hope for reforming sclerotic public education systems.

Along the way, Rhee has become the bete noire of educational thinkers such as Diane Ravitch.

Most of the Rhee talk has centered around conservative shibboleths such as vouchers, union-busting, and market-based reforms.

Recently, however, Rhee organized a meeting of religious leaders in Atlanta to discuss the possible roles of religion in reforming public schools.

Rhee’s willingness to talk with folks who want more religion in public schools may signal her broader willingness to engage with the traditional ‘other half’ of conservative school reform.

Among conservatives, free-market ideas and religious traditionalism have long rubbed alongside one another in any discussion of fixing public education.

Now Rhee seems eager to cross that bridge, too.