Monday, October 21, 2013

Jeff Johnson is confusing innovation with privatization

On Alberta Prime Time, Alberta's Education Minister Jeff Johnson was asked to respond to the Parkland Institutes recent research on for-profit Cyber Charter Schools in K-12 education:
"One of the reasons Alberta has one of the best education systems in the world is that there is a choice of different types of schools and programs in which students can enroll... I'm open to options that create excellent learning opportunities for our kids."
As a parent, teacher and Albertan, I object to Johnson's response in four ways:

1. This is not a thoughtful response at all -- this is a shrug. This is indifference towards privatizing public education. Albertans should be immensely proud of our world-class public education system -- simultaneously, Albertans should be appalled when our elected officials consider for-profit, private schools as a way of improving our education system. I've written a post here about why Cyber Charter schools are such a bad idea. It's one thing to suggest that students should be encouraged to become entrepreneurial but it is quite another to unleash entrepreneurs to profit off of children and public education. To be clear, this is not about pedagogy -- it's about privatizing public education which is ultimately wrong.

2. I am in my fourth year of teaching in a children's inpatient psychiatric assessment unit in a hospital. I work with children that present with a variety of different mental health problems -- while some do well in school, many do not. I fear that too many of these children may be seen as candidates for cyber school. Too many of the children I work with already isolate themselves and cyber schools double-down on an already failed strategy.

3. While it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that choice via privatization undermines education equity and excellence, this is precisely what the research has been showing us. The assault on public education is not just an agenda pursued by Americans; Alberta would be wise to see American education reform and privatization as a cautionary tale and a model for how not to improve our schools. Johnson's use of school choice reflects a neo-liberal agenda that confuses public education as a private interest -- when in reality it is a public good. For a brilliant take down of the hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to our public schools, check out Diane Ravitch's latest book Reign of Error where she has an entire chapter on the folly of cyber schools.

4. Being open-minded is one thing but Johnson's response is growing old and tired. Every time someone asks him about a potential idea in education, regardless of its quality, he fires back with this hollow political boilerplate. Inspiring Education is a wonderful initiative that Johnson's predecessor Dave Hancock had the foresight and wisdom to start. However, Inspiring Education is not a blank cheque for the Alberta Government to do whatever they want.  Phil McRae from the Alberta Teachers' Association may have said it best on Alberta Prime Time, "What Albertans should be concerned about when I hear [Jeff Johnson's statement] is that when the minister speaks about innovation, he is actually speaking about privatization. These corporations exist essentially to extract a profit."

Inspiring Education was never about privatizing public education, so it's time for the Alberta Education and Jeff Johnson to stop confusing innovation with privatization.

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