With the fights over high-profile, controversial bills related to reproductive rights laws in the General Assembly last year, a number of other seismic bills slipped through the media coverage cracks. On the education front, a bill allowing for tax credits to be granted to individuals giving scholarship donations to private schools passed through relatively easily and is expected to pass state constitutional muster. What this means, ultimately, is that tax dollars normally received into the general fund for public education will now be diverted to private schools that have more discriminatory leeway. It is expected that this controversial policy will survive legal challenges.
Much has been made in the coverage of education issues nationally of the so-called “Education Reform” movement. It's taken many forms, from the carrot-stick approach of the Obama/Arne Duncan-favored “Race to the Top,” to a straight-up, market-based voucher program, such as the one passed in the state of Louisiana last year where the per pupil funding follows the pupil to any public or private school. All of these plans claim to have the student at the center of any reforms. Neither really gives much say to the teachers, or parents who want their students to have the best teachers rather than the smartest sounding business plan. In both cases, the less power the teacher has, the better. While vouchers place teachers at the whim of market forces while also allowing for taxpayer-funded vouchers to be spent on religious education (as the Virginia bill is expected to do and the Louisiana bill did to wacky extremes), “Race to the Top” has quietly imposed upon school systems a number of controversial classroom “innovations,” including more high-stakes testing (despite the President's own admonishment of “teaching to the test”), the expansion of privately-run charter schools (who are in turn given low oversight of their activities, and have proven to be no better, if not worse than public schools), online schools (many of which, while attractive to technophiles and pitched as good options for students who have an attention deficit, are ineffective at best), and merit pay programs that demand job instability for teachers in exchange for school funding.
Beginning Sunday, Sept. 26, NBC will be broadcasting a national "Summit" on education, which it has titled Education Nation. There will be panel discussions, an exhibit hall, and it will begin with an electronic town hall with Brian Williams, broadcast live at 12 Noon EDT (so much for people on the West Coast who might be attending religious services). NBC hopes to have several hundred thousand teachers signed up for that town hall.
In theory, one might think what NBC is doing is good - it is a focus on education as a national priority. In practice there are some serious concerns which have already been expressed publicly as well as in numerous communications to people responsible for organizing the event.
Perhaps the most significant concern is this - there are many voices being included, but the voices of parents and teachers are surprisingly not considered a significant part of setting the agenda.
Please keep reading for more details.