The Long March to Educational Reform

Today’s Marxist Left has captured America’s K-12 schools hire by hire, curriculum tweak by curriculum tweak, and nefarious reform by nefarious reform. Good luck enrolling Junior in a school where he is not conscripted to be an assistant commander in the war on hate, racism, and colonial oppression. The American Association of School Administrations recently announced, “We are living at a time of obscene inequities, and merely trying to compensate is not enough.” The association implored members to “become actively anti-racist” and “ensure that cultural responsiveness permeates all levels.” The Chicago Public School district’s “toolkit” on race and civil disobedience cites Angela Davis, the communist and former criminal fugitive, imploring teachers to fight racism. After decades of marching through the institutions, the Left’s triumph is nearly complete.

Confronting these ideologues at local school board meetings, firing particularly egregious proselytizers, and employing similar guerilla tactics will not kill the beast. As the Left prevailed over the long haul, our side must similarly wage “the long war.” This does not mean eliminating Left (or “Progressive”) indoctrination in favor of a Right-wing version. Today’s political brainwashing must be replaced with good, solid, plain instruction. The kind with an emphasis on discipline and hard work, which were once standard motherhood and apple-pie virtues in American schools. Teach American history without a litany of identity politics grievances. Teach grammatically correct English without the drivel about it being a form of white oppression. Our schools should teach literacy and numeracy, not wokeness.

While the status quo is not good for American K-12 education, it does, however, present opportunities for hundreds of financially troubled colleges and universities. They can create an alternative universe of traditional schools of education whose clear-thinking graduates will be snatched up by those school districts whose parents are tired of, for example, third graders “discussing” their personal pronouns in anticipation of gender transition. This is a win-win strategy for American education top to bottom.

The formula is simple enough.

First, create new schools of education; don’t reform the old or reinvent the wheel. Hundreds of small liberal arts colleges, many currently in dire financial straits, are hungry for tuition-paying enrollees. These schools would gladly add a school of education, and given the robust market for non-ideologue teachers, an ed school would soon attract enrollees. It’s a better alternative for campus survival than adding an expensive computer engineering program or some similarly trendy venture.

Relying on existing schools solves key legal issues of state charters and accreditation roadblocks while supplying necessary campus infrastructure, such as payroll management and building maintenance. They also provide an established “brand” so graduates can assure prospective employees that their diploma is bona fide, not a bogus mail-order degree.

Second, keep tuition low. Out with non-educational ephemera such as divisions of housing and dining. Abolish the office of student activities and replace health services with directions to the local convenient care clinic. Defund all subsidized sports, paid guest lectures, and college-sponsored entertainment. Keep administrative overhead lean—goodbye deans of diversity, supervisors of remedial tutoring, and all the other bureaucratic waste. Encourage instructors to assign e-textbooks already in the public domain. The “librarian” would be a techie familiar with Google Scholar.

Use the Berea College model: student employees earn tuition by mowing lawns or washing dishes. And, with the university exiting its current paternalistic functions, students themselves can operate food trucks, organize concerts, buy cheap houses and rent them out, or tutor struggling classmates. The traditional European university is the business model—provide lectures and exams. Leave all else to the private sector.

Opportunities may also exist for distance learning, especially for part-time, older students. Several schools could coordinate course offerings electronically to cut costs yet further. There may be a large market of former military personnel or other professionals seeking a teaching career, but who are put off by costly schools of education that require tedious courses on woke pedagogy. For this clientele, the inexpensive, plain option means they would be teaching real material in two years, not honoring the PC gods.

Staffing this new college need not be expensive, since many professors of education would happily take a pay cut to teach in a traditional setting with motivated students. Not having to assign gibberish-filled textbooks whose purpose is to achieve social justice is surely worth a few thousands per year, and countless recently retired “old school” professors of education might enlist.

For these newly founded schools of education appealing to potential recruits, the news is encouraging. According to one research report from the Economic Policy Institute, “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers.” In many schools, the exodus from the classroom—even the profession itself—is a jail break, and the number of education degrees are falling. Finally, the proportion of schools  having trouble filling open positions has jumped from 19.7 to 36.2 percent. This is good news for recruiters; earn a graduate degree at a fraction of what a degree in English or Sociology costs, and you will almost certainly have a decent paying job.

In time, there will be a multiplicative effect. As these graduates gain seniority, they will hire those similarly inclined, and with each new recruit the teaching profession will evolve. Publishers may even junk today’s Marxist-flavored textbooks given the shifting markets. Heather Has Two Mommies may well give way to How John D. Rockefeller Saved the Whales with His Cheap Kerosene.

There is, however, a downside. It’s hard to imagine wealthy educational donors embracing this reform. It’s not especially sexy in an environment where even hard-headed business folk drink the PC Kool-Aid. Megadonors interested in education spend lavishly for charter and vouchers to narrow race-related achievement gaps, but giving a million dollars to Patrick Henry College, a small Christian college in Purcellville, VA, hardly seems alluring. The New York Times and other mainstream media may well ignore or even mock the gift for favoring “white schools” who already enjoy their unearned privilege while millions of marginalized minorities face insurmountable barriers to a college degree. Megadonors are not stupid—they know where the accolades lie.

There is also a differing time perspective. Wealthy donors focus on short-term results—a test score, a graduation rate jump, or some similar, quick bang for the buck. A thirty-year return on investment, even if it means saving America from Marxist madness, is hardly appetizing. The Left, by contrast, know otherwise, and they are willing to wait, as we know all too well. Perhaps the best we can hope for is for philanthropists to make their million-dollar contributions and then patiently wait. The convincing comparison might be creating a big-time football program—you give the $20 million to start from the ground up, hire a winning coach, and build a glittering stadium, and in a few years you’ll get a national champion. Surely even a modern billionaire can grasp that business plan.


Image: NeONBRAND, Public Domain

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor emeritus of political science at The University of Illinois-Urbana.

4 thoughts on “The Long March to Educational Reform

  1. I kind of like this. It could work and do some good at least in the more red states. It might take some cooperation and help from governors and legislators. Try to interest them in the issue, if that is possible.

    I think a little-noted reason for the total dominance of academia, including K-12, is the failure of right of center people to go into K-12 teaching. Leaving it all to the liberals. Who then got rolled by the crazies.

    It may not be impossible to roll it back some.

  2. Utterly ridiculous article devoid of any intelligent thought. It presupposes there is a cadre of education faculty out there yearning for a school that will let them teach REAL stuff without political bias or influence and motivated students. Well this cadre doesn’t exist. Neither is there evidence of cohorts of motivated students (except those in STEM or business). Most college students today aren’t interested in pursuing a real education. Why do you think so many students are taking worthless garbage courses such as womens studies or ethnic studies or critical race theory? It’s because, not being a serious subject, all you have to do is parrot what the prof says and BINGO!!! An easy “A” grade.

    And where, pray tell, is there an existing—let alone growing—shortage of teachers? In Oregon every K-12 teacher opening has more than 100 applicants. The supply of educators exceeds the demand.

  3. Professor Weissberg, I do not think we can start with the colleges of education: we must simply go back several steps more. For instance, at least in the American context, we ought to account for the antecedents and influence of John Dewey.

    What we are seeing now is often described as the results of a “Long March through the institutions” but the roots are much deeper than the generation of the Sixties. Consequently, reforms or new models of primary and secondary education can only succeed on foundational, philosophical change.

  4. This is like starting a lot of new law schools, and you’d run into the same issues.

    First, even though the college itself is accredited (most likely by a regional accreditor), Schools of Education are themselves accredited by what used to be NCATE and now is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

    Now not having CAEP accreditation won’t itself preclude your graduates from teaching (although they may have trouble getting hired) but all 51 “states” (46 States, 4 Commonwealths, and 1 Federal District) all require that K-12 teachers in their jurisdiction obtain a license from them prior to teaching in the schools of their state. Each state’s certification rules are unique and it largely comes down to if they recognize your college’s program as meeting their requirements or not.

    Further complicating things is the fact that some states (e.g. Massachusetts) now require teachers to have an undergraduate major in the subject they wish to teach, with the actual teacher education program spun off into a MEd, and you really are supposed to be a university to offer graduate degrees.

    But the larger issue are all the local Superintendents who make hiring decisions — they have been hiring left-leaning teachers for the past 40-50 years, and what’s going to stop them from hiring more?

    Q: “What is the most common name of a Social Studies teacher?”
    A: “Coach.”

    Seriously — a lot of schools hire a coach and then pay him or her to be a teacher.

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