How did we did we get to this place in education? A little background – starting tonight and continuing in installments yet to come in the nights and weeks ahead.
The First Wave
There have been three predominate waves in education since World War Two. The wave began just after the war and lasted until the mid- 1970s. Throughout many of the modern world countries a safety social net was built to help society rebuild and to protect the many sacrifices, opportunities and freedoms that had been fought for in the war. It was generally considered that “investment in state services were not just a social good but also a benefit for the economy.” From this came an establishment of national health services, investments in public housing, and an expansion of comprehensive secondary public education. This period was defined as rebellious in its teachings, demonstrating a creative spirit full of experimentation, innovation, free schooling for all and teaching that was child-centered. Teacher autonomy and respect was the hallmark of this era.
By the mid-10970’s to the late 1980’s things were changing socially with the advent of free market philosophies through a neoliberalism movement led by Thatcherism and Reaganism. Free market philosophies became the focus of educational policy, infusing market principles into the welfare state. They pushed through the full or partial privatization of services and market providers in schools under the name of school reform. The US saw the emergence of the charter school movement through a coalition with Libertarians. In Britain, under the Thatcher government magnet schools were developed so that children could concentrate on areas of interest in which they excelled.
Under Thatcher’s guidance Britain underwent secondary school reform. Vocational education began, forcing those with academic aspirations to head to private schools from as early as kindergarten while public schools became the poor cousin, left to focus on vocational training and poorly funded. The advent of mentoring and tutoring programs for every individual students was the birth of modern day personalized learning.
In 1981 in the US the Reagan administration published the Nation At Risk document which created common core educational standards along with the provision for consumer choice and and increased control of teacher professional development in districts. Professional autonomy was stripped from teachers, with a focus on a common standardized core leading to the stifling of classroom creativity. A new focus on market pressures and government guidelines and control of the system was fuelled by a belief that pressuring teachers in various ways would raise student achievement. The collapse of common understanding between parties was the result of the system’s failure to invest in people.
End of the First Wave .
The Second Wave
Mounting, government fed, distrust of the public education combined with an economic climate of limited public expenditure and overall financial tightening led to a growing frustration with the system. Market principles were combined with a growing level of government control on the public education system leading to increased performance standards, even tighter control of professional development and greater adherence to common core learning and standardized testing.
Common elements during this time period was increased competition among schools fueled by publication of rankings based on test results, prescribed curriculum, compliance officers, political targets and timetables, sanctions on those who did not conform to what was considered to be in the common good, and replacement of broad professional learning by in-service training on government priorities.
Reagan and Thatcher systems introduced students as clients, customers or consumers. Thatcher claimed that the growing costs of public education and her belief that there was an economic crisis led to her “demonizing the system as a thief of taxpayers’ money”. Parents who could afford private and Charter schools were freed from this bond, leaving the rest to go to public school. Those left in the public school were subject to greater surveillance and government dictates.
Systems such as England no longer were seen as innovative and top-down pressure became the norm by the mid-1990s. In Ontario at this time teacher resources were being slashed, Grade 10 exams were being instituted and the government “broadcast doubts about teachers’ commitments to the public good.”
Parents during these times had many choices but only for the most affluent. School choice declined rapidly as ability to pay was reduced. Local schools were no longer the norm, even although the school down the street seemed like a great choice for someone farther away. The second wave was characterized by a loss in teacher autonomy and professional judgement, as well as “feelings of fear, frustration and lost effectiveness.” Creativity was lost as was teacher motivation. Market place business practices had taken a firm hold of public education systems.
End of the second wave.
THE THIRD WAVE
The third wave came quickly in some parts of the world. It swept through a new breath of fresh as public education once again returned to serve the people as it was designed. Finland, for example, returned to a high respect for teachers, high pay, high expectations that resulted in high results for their students. Others were not so lucky. Some have morphed slowly back into a public education system that is there for the people. Some, such as the US is moving to the third wave very slowly. Then there is BC. No wave has touched these shores as of yet.
“Neo-liberalism,” according to Wendy Poole, “is a political ideology grounded in an unshakeable belief in unbridled markets as the source of all benefits for a society and its citizens. Neo-liberals conceptualize education as a commodity to be bought by customers (students and parents) and sold by suppliers (schools and others). From a market perspective, schools are training grounds for future workers and consumers, as well as multi-billion dollar industry offering opportunities for profit. Efficiency, accountability for student outcomes, usually measured by standardized test scores and other measures like graduation rates), choice for parents, privatization, and attacks on teachers unions are hallmarks of neo-liberalism in education.”
Why does this sound so familiar? This is because, since the Campbell government in 2001, we, as a province have been locked into this ideology as the focus of educational policy disagreements. This is keeping out the third wave that other countries are now, at least beginning, to experience and keep us firmly entrenched in the old second way. For the time an entire generation has been in public school and more – conceptions of teacher professionalism and the purpose of education have been at the focus of a battle. The result has been a slashing of the public education budget, cuts to teaching jobs especially for the most vulnerable, attacks through Bills 28, 22 and now 11, and a blatant attempt to enforce privatization principles on an “unsuspecting” public.
A representative of the Ministry of Education stated “Every child counts – either as a taxpayer or social welfare recipients”. Now children are referred to as human capital. Either way, there is little acknowledgement that they are also citizens and in need of a proper education. The government focus for public schools became simply developing workers for foreign investment. Private schools could handle educating the leaders of tomorrow. If only developing workers the level of funding (as a % of the total provincial budget) could be lowered. While the ministry will proudly announce that education funding has increased, it has not kept pace with inflation or come close to offsetting additional costs passed on by the provincial government to local school boards. Severe cutbacks to public facilities such as education, contrived during the neo-liberal years of Thatcher and Reagan, have become an enduring legacy for the current BC government. This is but only one of the indicators leading to a prediction of state of public education in BC.
Next day – the need for School District Companies