Meet JANUS: The two-faces of “reform” of education, both equally dangerous

Janus-faced – marked by deliberate deceptiveness especially by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another; “she was a deceitful scheming little thing”- Israel Zangwill; “a double-dealing double agent”; “a double-faced infernal traitor and schemer”- W.M.Thackeray

Janus-faced - marked by deliberate deceptiveness especially by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another

The corporate Janus-faced reformers are playing to both sides of aisle using language that appeals to their political bases. But those politicians and policy makers are not beholden to us; they are beholden to one another. The federal government (via NCLB and RtTT) partner with private corporate interests. But what they use to sell the public on these policies parallels the dual face of Janus; telling anyone what it is they want to hear, even if it’s not true. The policies of “accountability” (i.e. Common Core curriculum and new national tests like PARCC) go hand-in-hand with policies of school “choice.” Unfortunately few folks really know this. Sec. Arne Duncan (so-called “Liberal” for accountably) claims that education is the “civil rights issue of our time” while also claiming that “Katrina was the best thing to happen to New Orleans.” He also partners with so-called Conservatives for a “free market” approach to schools, claiming that “choice” and vouchers will make schools improve via “competition.” Mind you, none of these claims have any real world supporting evidence to show they are working. There’s ample evidence to show that they are not.

Through brilliant marketing and advertising campaigns policy makers garner support for their policies by appealing to the deep seated beliefs and values of the constituents most likely to represent those policies.

Reform from the so-called “Conservative” side: Privatization is Not “Choice”

Corporate ownership or federal control are masters of a different kind, but they are masters never the less, wielding the decisions for our children to serve their own corporate interests (control and profit). “Competition” in education will reveal itself to be little more than cheating scandals, high attrition rates, and doctoring the evidence.

Defunding and destroying entire public school systems in a community and parceling them out to billionaire-run charters is not a choice. It’s forced privatization. We are not creating a space where locally -run and community- based charters, or private schools, can exist alongside well-funded public schools where parents have a real and reasonable set of options. Starving a public school into failure forces parents to flee and seek solace in equally poor performing charter schools. That is, if they’re “lucky” enough to get in, and they’re “lucky” enough to not get kicked out. The word “choice” serves the charters, not the parents or the children. The charters choose you. The privately-run corporate-owned charter schools do not perform any better than the schools they closed. They do not live up to their promise to help children in the communities with the greatest needs. They help themselves.

Parents and community members who identify themselves as Conservative/libertarian are “getting on board” with the hyped narrative around “choice.”  The reality is that the corporations who own the federal government from whom you are trying to run will be waiting to collect your tax payer dollars and children’s private information. Predatory investors want parents to believe that “choice” is the balm to sooth our educational woes. Read more on predatory reform.. Is that really the choice you envisioned? Bait….and switch.

Common Core was not created by a “progressive” agenda (at least not single-handedly so!). It had alot of help from the Business Rountable and other free market driven enterprises, who saw the profitability of it. It’s roots go back decades across the political spectrum. However, creating the illusion that it was created by “liberals” for a “leftist” agenda enables ideologically-driven right wing organziations to get conservative parents to distance themselves from it, while they continue to promote the larger agenda of privatization, of which Common Core is actually a huge part. It was developed out from a move to to turn public education into a free market enterprise which began in the 1980’s. See connections between UNESCO and private education technology industry here. More and more schools will be labelled as failing as a result of the new CCSS standards and tests. More and more public schools will closed as a result. More and more corporate CEO’s will take over. The end goal of this bundle of reform, in the words of Kirsten Lasron is, “pure oligarchical, monopolistic/oligopolistic control over education…and thus, in the end, over our society.”

Reform from the so-called “Liberal” side: Accountability is Not “Equity”

There is a need to provide high quality instruction and resources to students in low-income and/or urban communities with the greatest levels of need. We have never, as a nation, made good on our promise following Brown v Board, to provide quality schools and education to all children. Yet, like the bait and switch from choice to privatization, there is a bait and switch going on with the language around “equity” and “accountability.” That policy makers and our nation at large must remain accountable to our underserved children goes without saying. That children living under the conditions of poverty can, and do, often succeed because they are bright and hard-working is also true. The irony is that current policies (crafted by federal government in partnership with private corporations) which claim that high stakes standardized tests are the way to provide for what children need, and honor what they’ve learned, does the exact opposite of what it proposed. How is it possible that standardized tests, whose roots lie in the Eugenics movement could possibly be the vehicle to “equalize” education and communities beset by generational racism and classism? For more on why this is impossible, read How Standardized Testing Harms Urban Communities or Why People of Color Must Reject Market-Based Reforms . The effect of these powerful “reform” marketing tactics is that some civil rights organizations and leaders are “getting on board” with our national dependency on “new and improved” testing to deliver a socially-just education system. The Common Core and its “new and improved” tests have made children accounatble to the policies rather than policies accountable to children. Never mind that it is testing that has largely created the inequities we currently experience and portend to worsen.

Forget Labels: It’s Greed

We’ve got Bill Gates selling a so-called “liberal” Common Core national curriculum and the Koch Brothers pushing a so-called “conservative” agenda to eliminate public schools altogether. Each has their “pet” organizations and think-tanks selling these claims to the public. But Bill Gates also funds the privatization movement, and Jeb Bush supports the Common Core. Additionally, numerous corporations associated with ALEC (a so called “free-market” organization) funded the creation of the Common Core. They also put forth model legislation that promotes privatizing public education via charter schools. Why? Because of the financial gain sought by the companies that will provide education in lieu of public schools and teachers. New tests aligned to Common Core will assuredly increase the number of “failing schools” and hand them over to the “choice” charters and corporate CEO’s. Do you see where this is going? It’s not a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It’s a money thing. And the price is our children and our public schools.

Parents, teachers, activists and organizations from all sides the political spectrum need to wake up and realize that if we use facts to guide our beliefs, rather than our political platforms or beliefs (or assumptions) to drive what we choose to “see” we find that the world (or who we think is “the opposition”) are not as they appear. The destructive capabilities of current policies are directly proportional to the spin and hype with which they push them upon us. Education “reform” will not get any better until we become really honest with ourselves, stop being led by “what we want to hear” and start paying attention to what the facts really tell us. Policies of accountability and choice serve no one but each other and those that will profit from them.


Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

4 thoughts on “Meet JANUS: The two-faces of “reform” of education, both equally dangerous

  1. Accountability is important and must be done. Those of us who have been fighting for educational excellence for all of out children for a long time (and have seen how some battles pit educators and families as in the birth of AFT) will side with the families. Granted the issues are complex and there are very powerful moneyed interests spreading malicious propaganda but we will always be wary of schools, administrators and teachers becoming more concerned about the well-being of the educators involved at the cost of the children. Remember that AFT went Republican for a time.

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