Corporate influence hurts more than helps education

December 30, 2013 

20130123 Broken schools

300 dpi Gabriel Campanario illustration of school desk with a broken leg; can be used with stories about problems with the education system. The Seattle Times 013

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  • At issue: Nov. 20 Herald-Leader article, "Papers of Prichard Committee, Sexton go to UK"

It's hard to grin when you're choking on your breakfast, but that's what I had to do when I read the Nov. 20 article. The news of this publicity stunt was pretty hard to swallow.

I don't mean to personally disrespect my friends on the Prichard Committee, or Stu Silberman, or the memory of Robert Sexton, whom I met only once. He seemed like a nice fellow.

But I must point out the truth.

The Prichard Committee has had a negative effect on Kentucky schools, and Sexton, in his role a director, was a shill for corporate influences which have had a deleterious role in education.

Readers will remember that, for decades, schools in Kentucky suffered under niggardly attention from the commonwealth's politicians. Underfunding, consolidation and shenanigans on the local level were chronic problems. Just like roads, bridges, sewers and such, the schools were not maintained at an adequate level.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act had a couple of laudable goals: to increase and equalize funding and to stop nepotism and corruption at the county level.

However, another facet of KERA has been counter-productive and damaging to our schools. So-called "education reform" introduced politics into schools and classrooms.

The Prichard Committee, funded by corporate interests, has pushed for an education system run by testing, platitudes and public-relations hype. This top-down, corporate model is focused on politicians and bureaucrats rather than teachers and students.

This can be seen in many ways. Standardized testing rules the day. In classrooms, even elementary school students are subject to testing pressure, such as frequent "learning checks" or "exit slips." Such things are not designed by teachers to help students, but mandated by bureaucrats and "experts" to increase scores on tests.

Somehow, the state cannot afford new textbooks, but can spend millions of Kentucky dollars on tests from out-of-state corporations.

In Fayette County, there's no money for school nurses, but we can pay to hire the superintendent of a neighboring county to try to increase test scores.

Statewide, our schools are subjected to unproven policies that are really public-attention grabs: replacing the failed KERA with Senate Bill 1, raising the dropout age, increasing graduation rates and implementing common core standards.

The ability of teachers to run their classrooms and of principals to run schools and to back up teachers, has been subverted by questionable testing and monitoring schemes implemented by the state school board in Frankfort, with complicity by the Prichard Committee and its moneyed backers.

Teacher professionalism and political strength has been undermined for the past two decades. Our high schools are becoming diploma mills (with colleges soon to follow, under similar pressure).

Teachers know that reform isn't working; parents are finding out. There is already a growing, nationwide movement against testing (an old nemesis) and common core standards (a new one).

Meanwhile, the politicians and bureaucrats act as though everything is OK. The article about the priests and acolytes of reform getting their shrine is an effort at convincing parents of this.

Parents shouldn't believe it. They should take any story about public-education reform with a large grain of salt. They should refuse to allow their children to take these standardized tests.

And they should remember, as I did with a smile, a delicious irony: The committee which has done so much to harm education while pretending to help is named for Ed Prichard, whose vote fraud conviction made him the most infamous crook in Kentucky political history.

Jim Hanna, retired from Fayette County Public Schools, teaches at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

At issue: Nov. 20 Herald-Leader article, "Papers of Prichard Committee, Sexton go to UK"

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