by Christopehr Newfield
"AMERICANS WHO WONDER what the heck is happening to their public colleges can find answers in the British case. While American educational and political leaders deny the negative outcomes of the actions they barely admit to be taking, the United Kingdom’s Tory government has offered explicit rationales for the most fundamental restructuring of a university system in modern history. The stakes are very high. Both countries have been downgrading their mass higher education systems by shrinking enrollments, reducing funding for educational quality, increasing inequality between premier and lower-tier universities, or all three at once.
"Oddly, policymakers are doing this in the full knowledge that mass access to high-quality public universities remains the cornerstone of high-income economies and complex societies. The public has a right to know what politicians and business leaders are really doing to their higher education systems, why they are doing it, and how to respond.
"Those who tried to follow the British drama through scattered newspaper articles and government reports will be glad to know that we now have a one-stop comprehensive guide to the whole affair. It is Andrew McGettigan’s The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets, and the Future of Higher Education. No one has assembled the political and financial pieces of the story as he has, and the book has started to reanimate discussion of higher education policy in Britain."
Jim Lerman's insight:
I’ve encountered 3 articles in the past couple of days that have impressed me as being very significant in relation to education and the future of democracy. I recommend them to you for close reading.
The first is Jordan Weissmann’s Oct. 17 piece in The Atlantic, which reported a Southern Education Foundation study that 48% of U.S. public school students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch in 2011, an increase from 38% in 2001. Translation: half of U.S. public school students are low-income, and the percentage is rising fast.
The second is Christopher Newfield’s Oct. 19 review of Andrew McGettigan’s new book The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets, and the Future of Higher Education, which appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It documents how both the U.K and the U.S. “have been downgrading their mass higher education systems by shrinking enrollments, reducing funding for educational quality, increasing inequality between premier and lower-tier universities, or all three at once.”
The third is Jonathan Kozol’s Sept. 26 review of Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error in the New York Times. Kozol says: “What passes for reform today, Ravitch writes, is “a deliberate effort” to replace public schools with a market system. The “unnatural focus on testing” has produced “perverse but predictable results.” It has narrowed curriculums to testable subjects, to the exclusion of the arts and the full capaciousness of culture. And it has encouraged the manipulation of scores on state exams. “Teaching to the test, once considered unprofessional and unethical,” is now “common.”
Additional commentators have documented well the continuing efforts to transform public education from a “public good” to a “private good”[for example here, here, and here], in the righteously assumed mantle of reform. Public education, on both sides of the Atlantic, which has propelled democratic nations to the highest standards of living, equality, and attainment in human history has been declared “broken”; its custodians and practitioners adjudged mediocre, unworthy, and inept; and fragmented pieces are now being auctioned wholesale to the highest bidders in a frenzy of post-industrial privatization. The ultra-wealthy conservative business class, as exemplified by the likes of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, and the Walton family, has decided that potential new entrants to the middle class are its enemy, and through privatization of public education, seeks to eradicate the greatest driver of democracy and social mobility ever known.