Wow. I take a few weeks’ break to recharge after the school year, and the whole situation gets even more complicated!
The background to our understanding of the developments in public education in the urban core of Rhode Island is the rise of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academy movement, backed up by RI-CAN and featuring a number of players for power in the state. It’s really about money and power, not about children and education. But you knew that already!
What is so breathtaking about the recent developments is how brazen they are, and what they say about a layer of people who bought the education reform line but who are now in the process of falling by the wayside.
I was at the Socialism 2011 conference in Chicago, attending talks on Pedagogy and Liberation and Capitalism and Education, when I heard the news that Taveras, through the agency of State Rep. Paul Jabour, had made a power grab, stripping the School Committee of its power to negotiate contracts by means of a bill slipped in under the radar in the final moments of the General Assembly session. The bill strips appointed school committees of their power to negotiate contracts with teachers’ and other unions, while preserving that pwoer for elected school committees. Oh, and there’s an exception for Central Falls. In case you weren’t paying attention, there are only two appointed school committees, and one is in Central Falls.
How brazen! The article from the ProJo indicates that the School Committee was basically shut out of all negotiations any way. But what takes the cake is Taveras’s assertion, quote the Journal, “that those accountable are the same people who negotiate and sign agreements on behalf of the city and its taxpayers.” In other words, he uses the argument in favor of an elected school committee to usurp the power of an appointed committee that he controls anyway.
The response is quite interesting. School Committee president Cathy Crain publicly resigned last night, following the example of Philip Gould a few weeks ago, and apparently, Supt. Tom Brady. I think we should not make heroes out of people who drank the Kool-Aid and realized only too late what was in it. Personally, I think it’s great that Crain and Gould resigned, and I’d like to see ALL of the School Committee members do the same. I was happy to hear Crain state, paraphrased in the Journal, that “she hopes parents will take control of their children’s education because it’s clear that the politicians will not.” What a realization! Of course, I think the politicians already have taken control, backed up by their billionaire buddies and with the help of “reform-minded” individuals like Crain herself. Maybe she should read that Diane Ravitch book…
But it’s notable that Crain and Gould did not apologize for the actions they took while on the School Committee. Crain did not apologize for the school closings, the teacher firings, etc. Instead, she clearly felt herself to have been used as a tool by the Mayor (which is true), but then believes herself to be a martyr. Gould’s statement was along the same lines. These are people who believed the wrong things about education reform, and now realize they’ve been had—but are still unclear about whom they’ve been had by, and for what reason. Are they our allies? I’d hardly trust them!
It opens up a larger question that I’ve been pondering for some time now. In brief, it seems like Taveras has been trying to out-Broad the Broadies. For all that the Broad Academy trains bureaucrats in draconianism, it still preserves some veneer of being about education; in contrast, Taveras seems to have pulled a number of maneuvers that the Broadies have gone along with, but that are even faster and more destructive than they’re used to. Now the rats are abandoning the ship! But it begs the question: what’s really going on?
This is a bigger question than I can answer with certainty here, but here’s my suspicion: the education reform movement really was about squeezing money out of the last public sector institution that had not already been privatized wholesale. But that was in the mid-2000’s, when the cash flow was free and the mortgages were sub-prime. The crisis of the last few years has accelerated the smash-and-grab modus operandi of the banks and the privatizers, but it’s also opened up fissures between them. Furthermore, in the “good times”, the venture philanthropists needed a cadre of propagandists who could talk the talk; now that they’ve paved the way, a new line of vultures is descending on the system, preparing to shred it completely for the benefit of those who already don’t pay taxes. This is my sense broadly of the motion of the thing, the way that firings have been used not just in Providence but also in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, etc., to bust teachers’ unions; the way that the budget cutting axe has been wielded to downsize the resources of the public schools so they can be auctioned off to charter management organizations; the way that budgets have been balanced on the backs of teachers, parents, and especially students—while no new taxes have been levied. Who benefits?
There are big questions now about the way forward. It’s not completely obvious at this point where the next big struggle will break out—and I think we should be clear that the major developments of the last month have not been accompanied by big struggles from below. (I intend to write about this cycle of crisis and struggle in public education later this week). But I do think there’s one campaign that make a ton of sense: the campaign for an elected school committee. An elected school committee is not a panacea—not by a long shot. But at this moment, such a campaign would do two things: 1) it would mobilize the movement to defend public education into a focused, proactive campaign that would force the question of explaining our side to ever-broader masses of people, rather than simply running ourselves ragged attending every single charade of a meeting that their side calls to push through their pre-determined agenda; 2) it would be a major blow to the expanding power of the Mayor. That first elected school committee would have the grassroots movement to thank for their position, and though that’s not a fool-proof guarantee against manipulation, it’s at least a start.
Oh, and did you hear that Asa Messer is being sold to a charter school? Apparently, neither did Carleton Jones.