Why does the head of the Tennessee Achievement School District say the things he does?

3““Public” means government, which stands for benevolence and justice. “Competition” means markets, and those embody callous selfishness. Keep those icky markets away from the children!”

The above quote comes from an article tweeted out by the head of the Achievement School district the other night (http://thefederalist.com/2014/04/29/the-lefts-line-on-school-choice-is-a-joke-from-the-1800s/) I encourage you to read the whole article. It’s quite the eye opener. While reading it, keep in mind that this is an article shared by a man who is a government worker. That’s right. He’s employed by the state.

I know its easy to forget sometimes, what with their focus on charter schools and other private entities, but the Achievement School district was created by and funded by the state of Tennessee. In fact remember all that money Tennessee got through Race to the Top? Well 22 million was earmarked for the ASD. The New Teacher Project got 5,175,000 for “identifying and staffing Achievement School District with teachers”. Ten million went to the Charter School Growth Fund Tennessee LLC. to help create charter schools to take over schools in the ASD.

Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a lot of tax dollars to give someone who embraces the market and ridicules government. Lets just assume for a minute though that this is just an article that Mr Barbic called attention to for academic discussion. He doesn’t really embrace these beliefs right? Well that might hold some weight unless you actually listen to the things he says.

“I do think that the system of public education is a system that was created 100 years ago. I think the question we have to ask ourselves now is are we trying to make the Model T work better or do we want to make the car for the 21st Century…I do think this idea of let’s tinker around the edges with the Model T and make it work better is a fool’s errand.”

That quote comes from an article by Nashville Public Radio and sounds to me like a lack of confidence in a system he was hired to improve. (http://nashvillepublicradio.org/blog/2014/05/05/talking-tennessee-education-reform-chris-barbic/) To improve, not blow up and create one that he thinks is better, but to guide and improve. I have no issue with his right to believe what he wants and to work as hard as he likes as a private citizen to “blow up” our education system. I do however take issue when my tax dollars are paying him a generous six figure salary while he pursues his ideological beliefs.

What would the reaction be if the local police chief came out and said, “I believe that our system of law enforcement was created based on codes of a 100 years ago. I’m going to start hiring private police forces to take over in areas of high crime. They’ll do a better job.” I believe the general population would have a thing or two to say about that, but that’s what’s going on through the ASD.

Barbic is essentially saying that the very government that is paying his salary is incapable of improving schools and that the only way to make improvements is to privatize the system. Excuse me a minute because just writing that sentence gave me a headache. Would you celebrate someone who sold your house when you just hired them to do some renovations? That’s exactly what’s going on here.

Look at the very language used in reports on the ASD. These quotes are from an report on the ASD by the Fordham Group.(http://edexcellence.net/sites/default/files/publication/pdfs/20130423-Redefining-the-School-District-in-Tennessee-FINAL_7.pdf)

 “If the ASD concentrates its efforts in Memphis, and if it is successful at improving achievement radically, and if every three years a new set of schools qualifies for bottom- 5-percent status, then as successful turnarounds exit, more will be ready to enter. The bottom-5-percent floor will keep rising until all schools are operating at an acceptable level, and the ASD will be the hydraulic lift.”


Sounds great except earlier in the report this acknowledgement is made,

 “What was not clear—and still isn’t—is what happens when schools return to the district. The legislation and rules are mute, so far, on whether districts would be required to retain ASD teaching staff, or whether the district might get any share of supplemental resources when a school is strong enough to return.”

Now do you believe for one minute that those schools will be returning to the district? The majority of the schools that the ASD oversees have been turned over to charter operators. The talk with the upcoming school takeovers is all about new charter operators. So here’s the way it appears to me, school gets absorbed, school get turned over to charter operator, whatever the results turn out to be, school is removed from district forever. One less school that is accountable to a locally elected school board.

Scan the internet sometime and read the articles written about Louisiana’s Recovery School District. Despite the lack of evidence of any real success, privateers salivate like the wolf in old Bugs Bunny cartoons at the prospect of scaling up this experiment. Meanwhile, less and less parents have a direct voice in their children’s education because elected school boards become more and more marginalized. In New Orleans over 90% of children attend a charter school. Each school governed by a separate school board. None elected by local citizens. Kind of takes the public out of public education.

Looking back at Mr. Barbic’s quote, by using a reference to a Model T, he tries to paint our established public school system as archaic and not engaging in any reformation. Truth is, that is not an accurate illustration in the least. Many urban school districts have successfully adopted an Academy model for their High Schools. President Obama was here in Nashville recently to celebrate the success of one such Academy. This reform came from traditional public schools not charters.

Traditional public school across the country have adopted project based learning strategies. PBL teaches kids by having them learn by engaging in actual real world projects. There has been quite a bit of success with this curriculum and more and more schools are implementing it. Once again this curriculum was developed in traditional public schools not charters schools.

Knoxville is experimenting with community schools. Community schools are schools that engage the entire community in finding ways to combat children’s challenges to learning. Evening meals may be provided in some, classes for adults in other. They usually work as a partnership between local business and schools. Community schools are creating transformation in our public schools not Charter schools.

It appears that there are a multitude of options available in turning around so-called “failing schools”. Still Mr Barbic makes reference to our education system as being a “Model T” despite evidence to the contrary. Therefore, based on the evidence, the only assumption I can make is he’s either ignorant or disingenuous. I’ll leave that decision to you. I will ask though, is either a person who will use our taxes dollars to protect a public institution? In a state where the government draws a majority of its income from sales taxes, don’t we owe it to our children to designate that money to someone who will look out for our democratic interests and not try to subvert them?thRL2A8WPN


Categories: Uncategorized

2 replies

  1. His analogy to the Model T is flawed. The public schools in the United States are nothing like they were in 1900. In fact, they are in danger of evolving into something that causes fear in the top 1% explaining why Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family and Hedge Fund billionaires (among others) fear what will happen to their power if the majority of the people end up with the ability to think critically and solve complex problems. If that happens, how will the 1% fool enough people to support agendas designed to grow the power and wealth of the top 1%?

    In 1900 about 6% of 17/18 year olds graduated from high school and they came from the top 1% of the socioeconomic pyramid. The other 94% were locked out. The schools back then were also modeled after the Prussian method of teaching—rigid rote learning and discipline for the children of the top 1% who were expected to take over industrial empires when their parents left this mortal coil—keeping the power in the hands of those same families.

    In 1900, half of the workers in manufacturing were children as young as seven. Adults and teens were considered too difficult to manage and too expensive because they expected to get paid more and demanded more rights and benefits.

    And in 1900, teaching did not focus on innovative ways of critical thinking and problem solving.

    The fake education reformers want people to think teachers are stuck in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, but teachers are part of the evolution of education that will set most of the people free to think for themselves instead of having the top 1% do their thinking for them.

    But teaching to Common Core Standards tests that can get one fired if students don’t score high enough, robs teachers of being innovative and stops them on the road of education’s evolution. Instead, the draconian Common Core standards testing regime throws us back into the Prussian model of of education that is in the interested of those in power as inferred in the video included with this comment. The Common Core standards demand that kids stay on track on the Prussian assembly line of education or else teachers will get fired, schools closed and kids will not be allowed to graduate from high school.

    The end result: an end to the evolution of education that threatens the current power structure.



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