John Thompson, historian and teacher, thought that corporate reform was happening elsewhere, but not in Oklahoma City. But now they have arrived in full force, with all their failed and demoralizing strategies. It is such a good post that I am quoting a lot of it, but not all of it. I urge you to read the whole thing.


He writes:


It wasn’t until I left the fulltime classroom in 2010 that I saw out-of-state corporate reformers, ranging from the Walton Foundation and the Parent Revolution to ALEC, try to bring their competition-driven, edu-politics to Oklahoma City. I saw plenty of examples of Sooner state Reaganism, and the gutting of the social safety net. After all, we expect businessmen to play political hardball, as well as take risks and leverage capital in order to increase their profits. That is why we need the checks and balances of our democratic system to counter the “creative destruction” of capitalism. Some free market experiments will fail, but “its only money.” When schools gamble on market-driven policies, however, the losers are children.



Actually, even the economic game involves more than money, as we in Oklahoma have learned after our state adopted so much of the ALEC agenda of shrinking the size of government. Even as we cut funding by about 1/4th since 2008, national corporate reformers have imposed incredibly expensive and untested policies (such as Common Core testing and test-driven teacher evaluations), while encouraging the creaming of the easiest-to-educate (and the least-expensive-to-educate) students from neighborhood schools and into charter schools.



Before 2010, I only read about national conservative and neo-liberal school reformers who adopted a strategy of “convergence” or “flooding the zone” to drive rapid, “transformational change” in selected districts and schools. I didn’t personally witness the way that they used mass charterization, now called the “portfolio strategy,” to avoid the messiness of constitutional democracy. Freed of local governance, corporate reformers promoted a school culture of risk-taking, and urgent experimentation to produce “disruptive innovation.”



Now, it looks like local edu-philanthropists have joined with the Billionaires Boys Club and they may be ready to pull the plug on the OKCPS. Before embracing the policies pushed by national reformers, Oklahoma City and other urban areas should consider Sarah Reckhow’s and Megan Tompkins-Stange’s “‘Singing from the Same Hymnbook’: Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad.” It begins in the glory days of test-driven, market-driven reform, from 2008 to 2010, when the Broad Foundation proclaimed,



“We feel the stars have finally aligned. With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”

Reckhow and Tompkins-Stange explain how this dramatic change was conducted in the “absence of a robust public debate.” An alphabet soup of think tanks, funded by “venture philanthropists, produced the best public relations campaign that money could buy, and they did so while playing fast and loose with the evidence. As a Gates insider explained:


“It’s within [a] sort of fairly narrow orbit that you manufacture the [research] reports. You hire somebody to write a report. There’s going to be a commission, there’s going to be a lot of research, there’s going to be a lot of vetting and so forth and so on, but you pretty much know what the report is going to say before you go through the exercise.”

It should now be clear that corporate reform failed. The ostensible leader of the campaign, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is gone, as are the highest-profile leaders of transformational reforms in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Houston, Memphis, Washington D.C. and other districts. The quantitative portions of teacher evaluations are all but dead, and Common Core has replaced NCLB as the most toxic brand in education. After the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced NCLB, and after Hillary Clinton distanced herself from charter schools, it is likely that federal support for this top-down social engineering experiment is history.



The prospect of the eminent demise of test-driven, competition-driven reform seems to have prompted the most fervent reformers in the Broad and Walton Foundations to double down on mass charterization, i.e. the “portfolio” model, in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Newark, D.C. and, apparently, Oklahoma City. I believe it is also obvious why top-down, corporate reform failed. It came with the sword, dismissing educators as the enemy. The “Billionaires Boys Club” hatched their secret plans without submitting them to the clash of ideas. These non-educators ignored both social science and the hard-earned wisdom of practitioners. The “astroturf” think tank, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), has gained a foothold in Tulsa and they seem to have the ears of competition-driven reformers in Oklahoma City. The CRPE may best illustrate the way that reformers are doubling down on the edu-politics of destruction, even while they belatedly try to cultivate a kinder, gentler image.



I hope that Thompson is right about the demise of corporate reform. It is so lucrative that I don’t expect the hedge-fund-manager-driven demand for privatization to go away quietly, nor do I expect Broad and Gates to abandon their obsession with privatizing the nation’s public schools. I think that once they realize that the public rejects their malignant beneficence and that their reputation is endangered, and that history may view them as scoundrels for the damage they have inflicted on a democratic institution, then they might desist and pick some other sector to micro-manage.


By the way, it was Paul Hill, founder of the Center for Reinventing Public Education who invented the idea of the portfolio strategy about a dozen years ago. His theory was that the school board should look on their schools as akin to a stock portfolio: get rid of the weak ones, hold on to the top performers. Open and close schools to balance the portfolio. This is already a failed strategy because it ignores the reasons for low academic performance.