Saving Our Schools Conference Gets Noticed

The Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Greenfield Reporter both ran Nick Grabbe’s report on Saturday’s excellent conference, cosponsored by Citizens or Public Schools and Phenom, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts.

Keynote speaker assails Obama’s education policies

Staff Writer

Monday, March 29, 2010
AMHERST – President Obama’s education policies amount to an assault on public schools, according to participants in a conference Saturday at the University of Massachusetts.

The connection between teacher evaluations and test scores, the opening of charter schools, and the closing of underperforming schools are policies of Education Secretary Arne Duncan that he implemented in Chicago, said keynote speaker Pauline Lipman.

“These policies are part of a global neoliberal project of the most powerful corporate interests, in alliance with national governments, to restructure global education along the lines of the market,” said Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Saturday’s conference was titled “Saving our Schools: Defending Public Education.”

Chicago provided a prototype for Obama’s and Duncan’s policies, Lipman said. The nation’s third largest city has pioneered in high-stakes tests, mayoral takeover of schools, privatization of public education, and creation of “boutique schools in gentrified neighborhoods,” she said.

Education increasingly serves economic interests, focusing on discipline and preparation of a low-wage work force, Lipman said. The administration is taking advantage of the economic crisis of 2008-09 to intensify the restructuring of education through grants tied to certain policies, she said.

Michael Hussin, a member of the Pelham and Regional School Committees from 2000 to 2009, spoke about the “disastrous effect” of charter schools on public education.

Public schools face a “perfect storm” of increased costs, declining state aid, and a drain on revenues from charter schools, he said. Charter schools, such as the Chinese immersion school in Hadley, take state revenues from the towns where the students live.

“If the state wants it as an experiment, the state should pay for it,” he said.

“Charter schools are expanding and public schools are laying off teachers. They’re growing and we’re shrinking and it’s our money. That’s inherently unfair.”

The trend affects public higher education too, said Ravi Khanna, an organizer of the conference.

“Poor, working-class and immigrant students, and increasingly the middle class, are being squeezed out of higher education even as a college degree has become essential for economic opportunity,” he said.