Education Week recently published a series of articles about the new “advocacy” groups that are reshaping education policy.
The series is well worth reading. But do so, I suggest, by first reading Chapter 10 of my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, as well as the update at the end of the paperback edition. Chapter 10 is called “The Billionaire Boys Club.” It is about the three biggest foundations in the education field: the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Over time, the funding priorities of these foundations have begun to converge around charters and teacher evaluation as the keys to school reform. Walton adds vouchers to the mix, but otherwise shares the agenda. The agenda looks amazingly like the Mitt Romney policy agenda, i.e., the Bush education agenda, the Milton Friedman choice agenda.
The new advocacy groups are not disparate. They are critics of public education. They think it is a failure. They are critics of teachers’ unions. They oppose seniority and tenure. In fact, they don’t think teachers should have any job protections whatever. They think teachers are paid too much. They take test scores as the ultimate measure of education quality. They don’t question the validity or reliability of standardized tests. They think that high test scores equals high achievement. They don’t like local school boards because they slow down the rush to charters.
What do they favor? They favor charters. Some, not all, favor vouchers. They favor privatization. They favor the removal of teacher certification. They want teachers’ compensation tied to student test scores. They favor merit pay. They favor firing teachers whose students don’t get higher scores. They favor closing schools whose students get low scores. They favor No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. They like mayoral control. They have no objection to for-profit organizations taking over schools or providing online instruction.
The new advocacy organizations differ around the edges, but mostly they are pushing an agenda that will privatize public education and de-professionalize teaching.