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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 07/27/2011

Principal: Why I’m marching to ‘save our schools’

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This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, the principal of South Side High School in New York.  She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

By Carol Corbett Burris

We are awash in market-based school reform. From virtual schools and profit-generating charters to sort and select evaluation policies for teachers, so-called reformers gleefully push business solutions down onto our schools. The cheerleaders of market-based change believe that only the fierce competition of capitalism can create great teachers and smart kids. Test scores are the bottom line profits. Don’t fix a school; shut it down instead. Let the kids and staff scramble. The school is a bad business deal, nothing more. Losses must be cut.

They will tell you that today’s schools are artifacts of the old factory model ready to be discarded. They forget to mention that the factory itself was once a marketplace reform. Isn’t it market policies that have stretched the gap between rich and poor wider than it has ever been? Yet, we are told that it is the ways of the market that will close the achievement gap.

Today’s marketplace, designed to further enhance the fortunes and influence of millionaires and billionaires, has left the interests of those who come to the market long behind. Our economy is tattered and torn. Our rate of poverty has doubled in 30 years. Too many unemployed are losing hope, while businesses, flush with cash, hold tight.

Marketplace, first heal thyself.

In her moving commencement speech, prominent Stanford University educator Linda Darling-Hammond reminded the graduates of Columbia University’s Teachers College that the machinations of business in schooling is nothing new. She shared a quotation written by a wise and brave teacher in 1912:

“We have yielded to the arrogance of ‘big business men’ and have accepted their criteria of efficiency at their own valuation, without question. We have consented to measure the results of educational efforts in terms of price and product—the terms that prevail in the factory and the department store.

“But education, since it deals in the first place with human organisms, and in the second place with individualities, is not analogous to a standardizable manufacturing process. Education must measure its efficiency not in terms of so many promotions per dollar of expenditure, nor even in terms of so many student-hours per dollar of salary; it must measure its efficiency in terms of increased humanism, increased power to do, increased capacity to appreciate.”

Darling-Hammond reminds us that we can be education’s “secret weapon” with our determination, commitment and knowledge. We cannot be intimidated by those who would ignore the inequities that plague our schools even as they brand us apologists when we fight for equitable life chances for our students.

I fell in love with teaching the first moment I stood before a class. I have worked with those who can’t learn enough and with those who dared me to teach them. I have beamed with joy at graduations, and wept for students lost. I have worked through great frustrations and been humbled by how much I do not know. Through the days, both easy and hard, I try not to forget why it matters so much. As John Dewey reminds us, “schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

There is much at stake for all who love the promise of what America, through strong public schooling, can be. That is why I will march this Saturday in Washington D.C. to Save our Schools.

One hundred years later, we cannot yield to the arrogance.

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