School reform is making the failures of vast numbers of Americas children inevitable, Kevin Kumashiro says. What is going on? (p. 3). He implicates conservatives, neoconservatives, neoliberals, billionaires, Christian fundamentalists, Republicans, and Democrats in the imposition of the new common sense (p. 54) that mistakenly focuses on standards, testing, and competition. The result is a system that sorts winners and losers and impoverishes the notion of education. Part personal reflection, part stemwinder, this slender book encourages us to question the motivations behind, and effects of, reform, and to reframe the debate over what it means to be educated.
There are three problems with Kumashiros work. First is the presence of factual errors. He claims that vouchers and charter schools brought about even fewer resources and even further iniquity to post-Katrina New Orleans (p. 29), but education spending leaped (Cowen Institute, 2012) and the achievement gap narrowed (Vanacore, 2011). Funding for public education is shrinking (p. 61), he says, whereas it has grown almost continually, and dramatically, for the past half-century (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).
Second, Kumashiro tends to make claims that can appear more provocative than persuasive. He says that examples abound of curricula that promote a racial hierarchy (p. 35), but names only Hawaiian elementary school history textbooks. He says that education colleges have come increasingly under attack by the Christian Right (p. 53), but does not cite specific attacks. He says that [p]erhaps the creation of fast-track alternative teacher preparation programs was never meant to improve teacher quality overall (p. 55), and that the growth of charter schools suggests that the underlying purpose has been to undermine public education all along (p. 43). Both these conjectures would, if preceded by engagement with the substantial contrary evidence, not risk the casual impugnment of an awful lot of decent people.
The main problem of Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture is that there just isnt much discussion of teachers, bad or blamed. For all the references to the attack on teachers (p. 43), placing the blame solely on teachers (p. 45), and the frequency of blaming teachers for all that is wrong with some public schools (p. 10), there are almost no examples thereof. The sole poll cited says ...over 70% of Americans said that they have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools (p. 11)! Despite claiming that previous and current U.S. presidents and Secretaries of Education... are blaming the problems in education on teachers (p. 45), the three quotes from President Obama and Secretary Duncan do not support this. Apart from the authors own, the book contains no accounts from teachers. Nor does it have surveys of, or interviews with, teachers. This book belongs to another title.
Kumashiro believes that fear drives reform (p. 26). Perhaps it is not fear, but frustration. America is now in the habit of spending cosmic sums for terrestrial results. We are a world leader in health care spending, but not health. A decade, a trillion dollars, and immeasurable blood have not brought what were promised to Afghans, Iraqis, or Americans. Perhaps future blundering abroad will be necessarily curtailed: most American youth are unfit to enlist because of their poor health, education, and behavior (Mission: Readiness, 2009). America did promise these youth they would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, but is now waiving itself out of that law (Brown, 2012). Indebted students, whose outstanding loans surpass the trillion-dollar mark (Martin, 2012), enjoy no such flexibility, and may repent their investment in higher education at leisure, if not employment. Kumashiro is right to ask what is going on.
We should, as Kumashiro urges, reframe the debate and work to see the bigger picture. We should also heed his admonition that [i]mproving public education requires more than having good intentions... It requires doing our homework (p. 88).
Brown, E. (2012, July 19). D.C. gets No Child Left Behind waiver. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-gets-no-child-left-behind-waiver/2012/07/18/gJQAzx9tuW_story.html
Martin, A., & Lehren, A. (2012, May 12). A generation hobbled by the soaring cost of college. The New York Times. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/business/student-loans-weighing-down-a-generation-with-heavy-debt.html?_r=2
Mission: Readiness. (2009). Ready, willing, and unable to serve. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://cdn.missionreadiness.org/MR-Ready-Willing-Unable.pdf
National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Fast facts. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66
The Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University. (2012). The state of public education in New Orleans 2012 report. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://www.coweninstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/SPENO-2012-web-7-17-12.pdf
Vanacore, A. (2011, August 7). New Orleans public school achievement gap is narrowing. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2011/08/new_orleans_public_school_achi.html