Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher of history and world languages, has written an eloquent article about the corporate assault on public education and explains why this assault endangers democracy and the American dream of equal opportunity.

 

He begins in this way:

 

A specter is haunting America – the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools.

 

This assault also targets the moral and social vision that inspired the creation of public schools – the belief in a free and inclusive democratic society that unites all of us in a common destiny as we struggle together toward a just society and a better life for ourselves and our children.

 

Public schools were the welcoming gateway to equal opportunity for our nation’s children. The fate of Old Europe with its assigned stations in life, its divinely-appointed places in the order of things, was not to be ours as Americans. Inspired by the stories of Horatio Alger, we would seek our fortune because this was America, the country where dreams came true; the land of promise, where pluck, hard work, and a bit of luck would carry the day.

 

This was the manifest destiny of the poor and marginalized who came to these shores, and public-school children were ushered into this grand tradition of exalted ideals. The poor and the homeless, the sick and the hungry could lay claim to our help because that is what a great nation did – took care of its own, especially those who through no fault of their own couldn’t care for themselves. This was a radiantly humane vision in a dark and indifferent world, a belief that would insure our survival in mutual concern as a compassionate people.

 

Public schools were the flame-keepers of this national creed enshrined in FDR’s New Deal, now under radical assault by corporate America and their neoliberal acolytes who would drag the 99 percent back into the Dark Ages of Social Darwinism, the law of the jungle where might makes right, and the poor and weak go to the wall.

 

The Gates, Broad, Walton, and Koch Foundations deserve special mention in unleashing Armageddon upon our public schools, all the while preening themselves hypocritically as angels of light. So intent are these Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in their class warfare against their own country that the sacrifice of millions of public-school children as collateral damage means nothing to them.

I just noticed that the blog has had 15,000,050 page views since its inception on April 26, 2012.

 

I am amazed and gratified.

 

Thank you to the readers who are here everyday, commenting, sending articles from your town, city  or state.

 

Thank for for engaging in thoughtful dialogue in the comment section.

 

Some of the best-read blogs have been written not by me, but by you.

 

The blog has become a hub of the resistance to high-stakes testing and privatization. I will continue to highlight the hard work you do to strengthen your public schools, to stand up for children, and to defend real education, as opposed to the massive machinery of data collection that is now promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation. I will continue to honor those parents, students, and educators who speak out for real education and for treating students and teachers with dignity. I will continue to support those who fight politically motivated budget cuts that hurt children.

 

Together we will do what now seems impossible. We will one day restore sanity to education policy, which is now completely off-track and determined to tag and label each of us as though we were cattle. The policies that govern federal policy are written for the benefit of the education industry, not for the education of our children. Our policies bear no meaningful relationship to love of learning. We will put a stop to it, because it is absurd. Not today, not tomorrow, but in due time, the cyborgs who now control education policy will return to the planet from which they came and allow us once again to educate our children for meaningful lives, not as pawns of the testing industry, not as consumers of tech products, not as data points, but as full human beings.

The leading advocates for privatization are funding Marshall Tuck’s campaign for State Superintendent of Education in California. If you want to get rid of public schools, Tuck’s the guy. If you want to improve public education, vote for Tom Torkakson.

From the Torlakson website:

Pension/School Privateers Invest in Tuck for Schools Chief

A handful of ultra-wealthy donors who support school privatization and cutting public pension systems are behind a flood of spending supporting former Wall Street Banker Marshall Tuck’s campaign for state schools superintendent, campaign disclosure records show.

Far from “Parents and Teachers for Tuck,” the $4.7 million collected so far comes instead from sources that support school vouchers, privatization of public pension systems and using disruptive business tactics to overhaul public schools.

Major funders include:

$500,000 from Carrie Walton Penner, whose family made its fortune running anti-union, low-wage paying Wal-Mart. The Walmart 1% website reports that Penner’s biography includes serving on the board of the Alliance for School Choice – a school voucher advocacy group.

$300,000 from John D. Arnold, a former Enron trader and funder of efforts to persuade governments to cut public employee pensions. In February, the New York Times reported that a public television station returned $3.5 million Arnold’s foundation had paid to underwrite a series examining the economic sustainability of public pensions.

$1 million from corporate CEO Eli Broad. He drew statewide attention when it was revealed he had donated $500,000 to a group with ties to the Koch Brothers to defeat Proposition 30 and pass Proposition 32.

Here’s how Parents Across America, a public school advocacy group, described Broad’s approach: “Broad and his foundation believe that public schools should be run like a business. One of the tenets of his philosophy is to produce system change by ‘investing in disruptive force.’ Continual reorganizations, firings of staff, and experimentation to create chaos or ‘churn’ is believed to be productive and beneficial, as it weakens the ability of communities to resist change.”

Jack Schneider, historian of education, has written a powerful column about why education is actually harder than rocket science.

 

He explains that reform after reform has failed because the reformers think that it is easy to change teaching and learning. It is easy (in their eyes) because they went to school, they were students. But they know nothing about how children learn, they know nothing about children with disabilities, they know nothing about child development. So, armed with ignorance, they assume they can “fix” education by eliminating unions or tenure or imposing a new curriculum or creating a computer-driven metric for evaluating teachers.

 

Thus, elected officials pass law after law, claiming they are “reforming” education, when they are only creating mandates that remove teachers’ professional autonomy.

 

Would they dare to tell rocket scientists at NASA how to do their work? Of course not. They respect rocket scientists, and the politicians know the limits of their knowledge. But when it comes to education, they feel free to impose mandates and interfere with the work of experienced teachers.

 

And that is why “reforms” imposed by politicians in DC and state capitols fail again and again and will always fail.

 

Schneider writes:

 

Imagine Congress exerting control over NASA through a bill like No Child Left Behind, or coercing policy shifts through a program like Race to the Top. Or well-intended organizations like Teach For America jumping into the fray—recruiting talented college graduates and placing them on the job as rocket scientists. Or philanthropists deciding to apply lessons from their successes in domains like DVD rentals to “disrupt” the NASA “monopoly.”

How long would any of this be taken seriously?

The point here is not that various groups involved in school reform should disengage from the field. Their energy and financial support can play a critical role in supporting communities and their schools. And for all their arrogance and errors, reformers have helped turn the nation’s attention to the importance of public education. NASA should be so lucky.

But the egotism and ignorance of the so-called education reform movement are all too often on display. Because the work of improving schools isn’t as simple as reformers believe.

Reformers would know this if they spent their days in schools. But most do not. Unlike working educators, most leaders in the reform movement have never taught a five-period day, felt the joy of an unquantifiable classroom victory, lost instructional time to a standardized test, or been evaluated by a computer. And unlike the vulnerable students targeted by so much reform, most policy elites have not gone to school hungry, struggled to understand standard English, battled low expectations, or feared for their personal safety on the walk home.

 

The other day when I was in Connecticut, an experienced teacher told me about his students. He teaches special education. His students are in ninth grade but they read at a third-to-fourth grade level. Reformers think they should be reading at ninth grade level. Arne Duncan wants them all enrolled in Advanced Placement classes. Why not invite legislators and governors and even Arne Duncan to teach that class for a day, even an hour. They are totally out of touch with reality. There are real children with real learning issues. Their teachers are heroic. They should not be evaluated by those who know nothing of teaching and learning.

 

I do not give “reformers” credit for turning the nation’s attention to “the importance of public education.” The reformers have created  world of illusion, in which 100% of children will succeed, regardless of their circumstances. If they don’t, blame their teachers. This is pie in the sky. It is unrealistic. It is a display of staggering and harmful ignorance.

 

The reformers are hurting children. They are undermining the teaching profession. They are damaging public education. They should be held accountable. And politicians should get out of the way, fund the schools appropriately, and shower respect on those who do the hard work of educating children.

 

 

Richard Brodsky was one of New York’s most enlightened state legislators. He is currently a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York Univetsity.

In this article, he describes the new politics of education: the policy debates are now dominated by hedge fund managers and rightwing billionaires.

When people like me say these things, the corporate reformers say derisively, “Conspiracy theory.”

Brodsky is a level-headed veteran of state politics. This is what he says:

“The usual participants [in legislative debates about education] have been school boards, parents, unions, the education establishment and the occasional adventurous elected official. Starting a few years ago, and more so now, there are new players in New York. The brawny and outspoken new kid is the hedge fund community.

“Say what? Well, there are millions in hedge fund dollars now floating around. Generalities are a little dangerous, but it’s fair to say that a lot of it is from conservative, big money, Wall Street hedge fund types like Home Depot’s Ken Langone, head of Republicans for Cuomo, who says, “Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools. He gets it.” The newest entry is something called “Families For Excellent Schools.” While there certainly are “families” involved, the organization is led and funded by hedge fund managers and assorted right-wing billionaires. They’re very anti-union, anti-tenure, pro-test and pro-charter school.

“Right-wing billionaires and hedge fund managers have a right to be heard. And sometimes they may offer intriguing and important insights. There are valid critiques of many of our current practices. And teachers unions can be criticized. But the issues are too important to be left to attack ads and lawsuits funded by wealthy elites.

“What’s worse is that huge amounts of public education dollars are involved. It turns out that hedge funds are using taxpayer subsidies to fund the charter school movement. Under President Bill Clinton, a tax break called the “New Markets” tax credit has provided a 39 percent tax break for hedge funds that invest in charter schools in underserved communities. Like Albany, for instance. It’s one thing for the financial community to speak out against teachers unions, to fund lawsuits against tenure and to push high-stakes standardized testing as a matter of corporate citizenship. It’s another matter when there are big tax subsidies at stake.

“If the candidates for governor won’t talk about how these things impact New York, we’re left with big corporate money, with a real financial interest in the outcome, dominating the debate.

“In the end, the charter school movement challenges the existence of public schools, not just some of its policies. The drive to privatize education is part of a national attack on government and the empowerment of large corporate interests.

“To me, a healthy debate about the policies could be a good thing. But if we’re going down a path of privatizing public education, I’m worried. Public schools created the American national success story. Whatever their real shortcomings, they need to be strengthened and they need to be funded. And I don’t want that fight to be distorted by huge tax subsidies going to charter schools, even as we reduce federal and state aid to public schools. That’s the wrong kind of financial aid to education.”

Jeannie Kaplan reports here on Jonathan Kozol’s recent visit to Denver. Denver is a city that has become totally devoted to corporate style “reform” for a decade. Now the corporate reformers own the entire school board plus they have a U.S. Senator Michael Bennett.

Kaplan shows how Kozol’s message explains corporate reform, now deeply embedded in Denver:

“THE SHAME OF THE NATION shows how the business model has become the blueprint for education “reform.” Education “reformers” use business jargon to describe their activities: “rewards and sanctions,” “return on investment,” “time management,” “college and career ready,” “maximizing proficiency,” “outcomes,” “rigorous,” “managers and officers,” “evaluation,” “accountability,” “portfolios of schools” (like a portfolio of stocks – get rid of the losers, keep the winners).

“Mr. Kozol describes the infiltration of business into education this way:

“Business leaders tell urban school officials…that what they need the schools to give them are “team players.”…Team players may well be of great importance to the operation of a business corporation and are obviously essential in the military services; but a healthy nation needs it future poets, prophets, ribald satirists, and maddening iconoclasts at least as much as it needs people who will file in a perfect line to an objective they are told they cannot question.” (p. 106)

“Here is how Denver Public Schools has adopted this business tenet. Every email sent by a DPS employee is signed and sent with the statement at the bottom, My name is Jeannie Kaplan, I’m from Youngstown, Ohio… and I play for DPS!

“Further business verbiage: In DPS principals are no longer principals but building CEOs or building managers. At the district level there is a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, a chief academic officer, a chief strategic officer, and within the school buildings themselves there are managers for everything under the sun. You get the picture. And with all of these managers and officers DPS has witnessed increases in facility and resource imbalances and increases in segregation while academics have remained stagnant. Corporate reform is a failure in the United States. But politics, money and lies will not allow it to go quietly into the night, and Denver’s students and communities are paying the price.”

Kozol’s message is the opposite if corporate reform:

“We now have an apartheid curriculum . Because teachers and principals in the inner city are so test driven, inner city children who are mostly students of color are not allowed to have their voices heard through stories and questions, while white students are given that flexibility, opportunity and creativity.

“Test preparation is driving out child centered learning. Testing mania has become a national psychosis, driven by business.

“Racial isolation/segregation which does terrible damage to young people, is on the rise. In SHAME, education analyst Richard Rothstein points out how important it is for children of color to become comfortable in the majority culture and how devastating this new segregation is in the long term: “It is foolhardy to think black children can be taught no matter how well, in isolation and then have the skills and confidence as adults to succeed in a white world where they have no experience.” (p. 229). That Tuesday night Mr. Kozol referred to the new segregation as a “theological abomination.”

“And finally, of course, Mr. Kozol believes small class size, enriched curricula, and equitable resources and facilities would offer an equitable education for all children. This recent article in the Huffington Post clearly and disturbingly describes the safety and health hazards brought into Chicago public schools because business has invaded public schools. Bugs, moldy bread, trash left for days, leaks left unfixed. You can bet the East coast decision makers who are driving this “reform” did not attend schools under these conditions.”

Jeff Bryant, a sharp observer of education trends, points out that the well-funded corporate reform movement has hit a brick wall: they have lost the PR war against public schools and teachers, and they know it. It turns out that the public really does support their public schools, really does respect teachers, and thinks that their local public schools need more resources.

 

The evidence is everywhere, especially in their own publications. They write that they want a new conversation; they want a restart on accountability; they know that the public is rising up against their obsession with standardized testing. They surely know (although they don’t admit it) that charter schools do not outperform public schools unless they engage in skimming, and that many for-profit charter chains are frauds and scams that promise the moon but take public money away from public schools while providing a third-rate education to hapless children lured in by their advertising.

 

Do the reformers have any new ideas? No, it is the same old, same old. They will not give up their obsession with standardized testing; they will not give up their faith in test-based evaluation of teachers; they will not abandon their love of charters and other forms of privatization.

 

When you hear the reformers denouncing budget cuts or racial segregation or for-profit schools, when you hear them call for reduced class sizes and higher standards for new teachers, then you can believe in their sincere reformation. Until then, it is old wine in new bottles. Or old wine in old bottles, rebranded.

“All I really need to know I learned in smoke-filled back rooms.” (apologies to Robert Fulghum)

0. *****Always accept grant money from Bill Gates.****

1. Test everything that moves (even the classroom goldfish)

2. Play with cut scores.

3. Don’t hit teachers (Just fire them)

4. Always leave things in more chaos than when you found them.

5. NEVER (EVER!!) CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

6. Never admit you are wrong and never (ever!) say you are sorry.

7. Wash your hands of everything that goes wrong.

8. Flush after each school closing.

9. VAMs and failings (students, teachers, schools) are good.

10. Unions and teacher independence and creativity in the classroom are bad.

11. Mandate a Fair and Balanced (TM) curriculum – teaching some Common Core math and some close reading and never (ever) allowing students to draw or paint or sing or dance or play or go out for recess and making sure they do a minimum of 4 hours homework every day (especially in kindergarten)

12. Take a shot of whiskey every afternoon.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for Diane Ravitch, hold secret meetings, and stick together.

14. Beware the American Statistical Association. Remember Vergara: The student test scores go down and the teacher firings go up and nobody really knows how or why, but we all like that.

15. Statistics and standardized tests and VAMs – they all lie. So do we.

16. And then remember the Common Core books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – Test”

The Common Core standards are copyrighted. The copyright belongs to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Theoretically, states are not allowed to alter them. States can add standards, but they cannot alter what has already been written,  which is treated as a holy scripture or the two tablets brought down from Mount Sinai. This, in fact, is a major defect of the standards, because there is a protocol for standard-writing, which the CCSS violates. That protocol, described very clearly by the American National Standards Institute, says that any standard-writing process must include a means of revising them; CCSS does not. It also says that all stakeholders must be involved in the discussion; this was not true for CCSS. And it says that no single interest should dominate standard-writing (as the Gates Foundation did by paying for everything).

 

Mercedes Schneider brings up another worrisome, if speculative point: since the CCSS are copyrighted, could the holders of the copyright sell it? The likeliest buyer, of course, would be Pearson. Suppose Pearson offered the two D.C.-based organizations $100 million? Would they refuse it? In that case, a private, for-profit organization based in the United Kingdom would be sole owner of the United States’ standards. Why not? It makes about as much sense as having the “national standards” developed and written by a committee that included no classroom teachers, a committee led by a Yale- and Oxford-educated entrepreneur who had never taught, a committee that included no experts on cognition or early childhood education, a committee that had an ample representation from the testing industry.

 

Some supporters of CCSS think that the standards could be used all by themselves, disconnected from the testing. But that is not the plan. The plan is a system. The system begins with standards, then testing, then teacher evaluation based on the testing, the testing must all be done online, which makes possible data mining and the creation of a longitudinal data base that follows children from pre-Kindergarten through at least the end of high school. At every step along the way, some corporation has a stake in the process: the testing industry, the technology industry, the consultants who sell teacher evaluation rubrics, the data mining entrepreneurs whose numbers are multiplying, the Big Data industry. I am sorry if this sounds conspiratorial. I don’t believe in conspiracies. It is all out there in the open.

Journey for Justice, led by Jitu Brown of Chicago, has filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, on behalf of children and parents in Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans, claiming that they are victims of discrimination.

 

Their children, parents say, are the victims of reformers. Maybe they mean well, but the results for the children have been disastrous.

 

Far from being “leaders of the civil rights issue of our time,” as the reformers assert, the reformers are violating the rights of black and brown children.

 

Jitu Brown, founder of the Journey for Justice, is a spokesperson for the angry parents of these cities. He says “reform” is actually “a hustle.”

 

Brown, a lifelong Chicago resident who has been working with inner-city schools and neighborhood organizations since 1991, says that school choice has really just been an excuse for politicians to sack neighborhood schools and funnel government money to charter operators, which operate schools that on average take just 64 percent of the money that their district counterparts take.
Brown points to a number of examples in which, he says, Chicago Public Schools intentionally sabotaged successful schools in an effort to prop up charters, using tactics like offering laptops and iPads to lure high-performing students out of traditional public schools and into charters.
“These people are almost like drug dealers and the children are the narcotics, and they flip ’em until they’re able to finally make enough profit,” he says. “That’s how drug dealers work. It’s no different. It’s really no different.”
A report from the Chicago Teachers Union (pdf) released last year detailed how Simon Guggenheim Elementary School in West Englewood was set up for failure, while Jacob Beidler Elementary School, in East Garfield Park, was set up for success. The two schools have similar percentages of low-income students, and both are in communities facing high rates of violence, but Guggenheim, the report says, was denied resources in order to destabilize the environment.
Brown alleges that Chicago Public Schools has done this on several other occasions, citing examples like Beethoven Elementary on the city’s South Side. Once a high-performing school in a poor community, it was inundated over a number of years with students from closed schools in different neighborhoods around the city that ultimately dragged the school’s test scores down to a level where it is now failing.
“[The school district has] been closing schools in this neighborhood since 1998 as they’ve been trying to gentrify the area,” he says. “Those closings accelerated around 2004. We realized that it wasn’t really about school improvement; it was about freeing up that public area for the incoming gentry….”

 

“In Newark, students and their parents in the city’s South Ward boycotted the first day of school to protest One Newark, the school-choice enrollment plan that moved some children far from their neighborhood schools. Weeks later, hundreds of high school students walked out of class in protest.
“More than a month after school started, some parents say that hundreds of children still have not been assigned a school, and frustrations over transportation issues, uncertainty about where to send their children and dissatisfaction over closed neighborhood schools have led to many more not showing up for class.
“For me, as a parent, I know that my children deserve better,” says Sharon Smith, a mother with three children in Newark schools. “And not because they’re just mine, but because every child deserves the best opportunity that they can receive with education. But that’s not happening here. The parents here are stuck with whatever decision the district makes.”
Smith and other critics have chided One Newark on behalf of families without cars, who, she says, sometimes have to put children on two buses to get them to school. The plan doesn’t provide wholesale transportation, and many charter schools don’t offer it.
Zuckerberg’s $100 million matched donation has vanished, mostly into pockets of contractors and consultants and given to teachers unions as back pay. As Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, famously remarked in a New Yorker story about the debacle, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

 

 

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