Joe Nocera, a regular columnist for the New York Times, wrote a column about what can only be described as the legal looting of Burger King.
He describes how one group of financiers bought the company, paid themselves a few hundred million, then sold it to some other Wall Street bunkum artists for a billion, who extracted another billion from the company before selling it to yet another group of investors who had figured out how to milk the company one more time. Every time it changed hands, some smart guys on Wall Street laid off workers, did some fancy footwork with financial instruments, got rich and dumped the company.
I read the books about Enron (The Smartest Guys in the Room and Conspiracy of Fools); I know about Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. I read The Predators’ Ball about Michael Milken and his junk bonds. I read Barbarians at the Gate and Liar’s Poker. I read half a dozen other books about the way that ingenious financiers buy a company, break it into parts, and sell it off for more than they paid, or strip the company of its assets and abandon the shell. I learned about how household names and products disappeared as equity investors descended on their parent companies like vultures and picked them apart to make money (read the book about Jack Welch and GE, At Any Cost). I learned about hostile takeovers and corporate raiders. These are the guys who took down what I used to think of as the American way of life and elevated greed as our highest value. Although so much of this is repellent, I felt a certain resignation. That’s their world, I thought, not mine.
But now they are coming into education. They are hedge fund managers and equity investors. These are the guys who play with millions of dollars every day, and they have decided that rearranging the nation’s education system is a fun hobby. They don’t have much sympathy with working stiffs who earn only five figures, and low five figures at that. They don’t understand why there is such a thing as public education; so few of them went to public school and wouldn’t dream of sending their own child to one. Why shouldn’t all schools have a private board of directors like the one they send their children to? Why shouldn’t all schools be deregulated? That’s the way it works in business. Why shouldn’t schools with low scores be closed and replaced by new ones? That’s the way it works in their world. Why should schools be compelled to take children they don’t want, children with severe disabilities and children who don’t speak English? Isn’t winning what it’s all about? Winning means getting the highest test scores, and if you take in the kids who can’t do that, you can’t win.
What if we ran schools like the stock market? There would be a portfolio; you would keep the winners and sell the losers. That’s the way the world works, right?
Their world and the world of education are different spheres. They operate by different rules. Unfortunately, the barbarians are no longer at the gate. They are inside.