Archives for category: International

PBS ran a special about the love affair between America’s far-right extremists and Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orban. Here is the transcript. It’s worth reading to understand the extremism and not-so-latent fascism embedded in America’s right wing.

In 2013, I visited Cuba with my partner and two old friends. It was legal. It is still legal.

We had a spectacular trip arranged by a Cuban-born travel agent. Her name is Myriam Castillo. You can contact her here:

mcastillo@bespoke-cct.com

She is thorough, efficient, and thoughtful.

We stayed in a beautiful hotel in Havana. We visited excellent restaurants. We had tour guides wherever we went. We visited museums, artists’ homes, and historical sites.

We flew nonstop from Miami. I understand there are nonstop flights now from other cities.

The most exciting moment of the trip for me was when I got the ticket stub that said “Miami-Havana.” After 63 years of non-contact, it was thrilling.

The food was wonderful. The people were welcoming. The sight of 1950s American automobiles, in perfect condition, with leather seats, all in vibrant colors, was fabulous.

Myriam had an agent waiting for us at Jose Marti Airport. The agent helped us check into the hotel. An SUV drove us to places outside Havana.

If you want the thrill of a lifetime, this is the vacation to plan.

John Merrow sees a common thread in the educational philosophies of Hitler, Stalin, Castro and most red state governors: They want to control the beliefs of students. They want them to believe what they are told. They do not want them to think for themselves. They want to indoctrinate students. They “weaponize schools” by using them for thought control.

This is an important article. It shows how governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis are not interested in freedom of thought but in censorship. He and his confreres are moving us ever closer to fascism.

Merrow begins:

“Whoever has the youth has the future.” Adolf Hitler

“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” Josef Stalin

“Revolution and education are the same thing.” Fidel Castro

Like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin is following a well-trod path, using Russia’s 40,000 schools to train all Russian children to believe what they are told and follow orders. Here in some American states, public schools are also being weaponized, but in different ways….

Here in the United States, public education and public school teachers are squarely in the sights of some Republican politicians. Instead of echoing Putin or Hitler, they are waving the flag of “Parents’ Rights.”

Among the Republicans waging what should properly be called a war against public education are Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Bill Lee of Tennessee, Kay Ivey of Alabama, Greg Abbott of Texas, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Tate Reeves of Mississippi, Brad Little in Idaho, Eric Holcomb in Indiana, and Kim Reynolds of Iowa.

They are eagerly copying Glenn Youngkin, the conservative who was elected Virginia’s governor in 2021 largely because he presented himself as a staunch defender of parents and their children–and by extension the entire community–against ‘indoctrination’ by leftist teachers who, Youngkin said, were making white children feel guilty about being white.

So-called “Critical Race Theory” is not taught in public schools, but that’s not stopping the politicians from using it as a whipping boy. Florida’s DeSantis put it this way: “Florida’s education system exists to create opportunity for our children. Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools.” And Florida has now banned a number of math textbooks, accusing the publishers of trying to indoctrinate children with Critical Race Theory.

A blogger who’s particularly upset, Michael McCaffrey, put it this way:

“Indoctrinating children with CRT is akin to systemic child abuse, as it steals innocence, twists minds, and crushes spirits. Parents must move heaven and earth to protect their children, and they can start by coming together and rooting out CRT from their schools by any and all legal means necessary.”

In the name of “defeating” CRT, Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee has invited Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution based in Michigan, to create 50 charter schools in Tennessee with public funds, including $32 million for facilities. As the New York Times reported, Governor Lee believes these schools will develop “informed patriotism” in Tennessee’s children.

It’s not just CRT. Republican politicians are also campaigning against transgender athletes, transgender bathrooms, mental health counseling, any discussion of sexuality, and the “right” of parents to examine and veto school curriculums. While I have written about these issues here, it’s important to remember that less than 2% of students identify as transgender or gender-fluid…

It’s not difficult to connect the dots: Republicans are attacking public schools, accusing them of ‘grooming’ their children to be gay, of making white children ashamed of their race, of undermining American patriotism and pride, and more. One goal is to persuade more parents to home-school their children, or enroll them in non-union Charter Schools, or use vouchers to pay non-public school tuition. Public school enrollment will drop, teachers will be laid off, teacher union revenue will decline, and less money will flow to Democrats.

But it seems to me that their real target is not parents but potential voters who do not have any connection with public education. Remember that in most communities about 75% of households do not have school-age children; many of these folks are older, and older people vote! If Republicans can convince these potential voters that schools cannot be trusted, they will win.

And Republicans seem to be winning. Teacher morale is low, and teachers are leaving the field in droves. Florida and California will have significant teacher shortages this fall, and one state, New Mexico, had to call in the National Guard to serve as substitutes. Enrollment is declining at institutions that train their replacements, and student enrollment in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles public schools dropped for the second consecutive year.

I began by contrasting the approach of dictators like Putin, Hitler and Stalin with the strategies being employed by Republican politicians. However, there are also disturbing similarities. Florida’s DeSantis, now polling strongly for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, recently signed legislation requiring public high schools to devote 45 minutes to teaching students about “the victims of Communism.”

Florida has also passed two bills limiting classroom conversations about race and racism and restricting younger students’ access to lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, but Florida is not alone. The newspaper Education Week reports that fifteen states have passed similar legislation over the past year, and 26 others have introduced bills attempting to restrict these lessons.

Forbidding discussion of Topic X and mandating discussion of Topic Y:  That’s exactly what Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Castro did, and it’s precisely what Putin is now doing.  

Please post your thoughts here: https://themerrowreport.com/2022/07/29/weaponizing-public-schools/

Vladimir Kara-Murza has been in prison since April because he opposes Putin’s war against Ukraine. He faces a sentence of up to 15 years because he called Putin’s “special military operation” what it is: a war. He is a contributor to the Washington Post.

PRETRIAL DETENTION CENTER 5, Moscow — One morning last week, the prison guard called my name through the cell door: “Be ready in 10 minutes. There’s a commission to see you.”

There are many inspections that pass through this prison, but this one was different. Sitting at the center of a long table and flanked by the prison warden and other uniformed officials was Tatyana Potyaeva, the human rights ombudswoman for the city of Moscow. “Quite a few people have inquired about you,” she said. Looking through her folder, she mentioned Natalia Solzhenitsyna, the widow of Nobel Prize-winning writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as well as Dmitry Muratov, editor of the now-closed Novaya Gazeta newspaper and co-recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. “So I wanted to see how you were.”

I was fine, I said, as I do to every visiting commission — adding that my only complaint was over being imprisoned for my political views in the first place. My conditions are okay. I know they must certainly be better than what my grandfather experienced when he was arrested on “anti-Soviet” charges in 1937 before being sent to the gulag. He survived that (and went on to serve in World War II, earning some of the highest military decorations). I can certainly survive this.

I did have one request for the ombudswoman, though. On Sept. 11, Moscow will hold municipal elections for some 1,400 district council seats across the city. Until I am convicted, I still enjoy my voting rights. The prison where I am held is only a 40-minute drive from my home and my polling place in downtown Moscow — so I said I wanted to exercise my right to vote. The ombudswoman promised to look into it.

“Voting rights,” of course, is a difficult phrase in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. For years, our elections have been deprived of any real meaning. Politicians who posed a genuine challenge to the Kremlin have been murdered, imprisoned or pushed into exile. Some opposition parties have been banned. Independent media outlets have been shut down. And, on top of all that, the authorities have introduced a variety of electoral “reforms” that are clearly designed to allow manipulation of the results.

But even when your vote does not affect the results, it’s still important to express your voice. Years ago, I visited the former Gestapo headquarters in Cologne, Germany, which now houses a museum of national socialism. Among its exhibits is a ballot from one of the many plebiscites held in 1930s Germany to demonstrate universal support for the Führer. Someone had carefully put a cross next to the word “Nein” — “No.” I remember looking at that ballot and thinking that, even though the person who used it might not have changed the course of history, he or she took a step to reject the crimes committed with the complicity of the supportive or silent majority.

Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February, more than 16,380 Russians have been detained at antiwar protests across the country. More than 2,400 have been charged with administrative offenses for speaking out against the war. Dozens, including me, have been arrested under a new Criminal Code clause that penalizes public opposition to the war by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced municipal lawmaker Alexei Gorinov to seven years in prison for denouncing the war on Ukraine at his district council meeting. In the same period since the start of the war, some 150,000 people have chosen to simply flee Russia.

But there are many more people in this country who oppose Putin’s war on Ukraine — yet aren’t prepared to risk years in prison by speaking out publicly. (The situation that, I believe, would be true of most societies.) And that is why September’s elections matter. Residents of the capital will have a chance to take a stand on the situation just an hour’s flight away from Moscow, where cities continue to be bombed and people continue to die every day as a result of Putin’s imperial ambitions. Putin’s own United Russia party has placed support for the war — still euphemistically referred to by the state media as a “special military operation” — at the center of its municipal campaign platform. Meanwhile, the so-called official opposition parties, such as the Communists or Just Russia, seem to be competing to show who can be the loudest at expressing support.

The one exception is Yabloko, Russia’s veteran liberal party. It has managed to retain access to the ballot in Moscow, and it opposes Putin’s war on Ukraine. Some of its leading members, including journalist and historian Lev Shlosberg and Moscow municipal lawmaker Andrei Morev, have been fined for making public antiwar statements. In September, Yabloko will be fielding candidates across Moscow, and even though they won’t be able to say much because of the new laws criminalizing antiwar speech, the party’s stance is well known. “Our stand for peace is a matter of principle,” said Maxim Kruglov, a member of the Moscow City Duma and Yabloko’s campaign coordinator. The word “peace” is still legal in Russia, at least for now.

In a few weeks, Muscovites will get a rare chance to say “no” to dictatorship and aggression, as that anonymous German did with their ballot. I may have few rights in a Russian prison, but that is one I am certainly intending to exercise.

Fiona Hill has studied the words and actions of Vladimir Putin for years as a Russia expert on the National Security Council. Since Trump fired her, she has been at the Brookings Institurion and is free to speak in public.

I think you will find this interview in Foreign Policy interesting.

She thinks Putin is playing mind games with the West.

What a liar he is. He just signed a “historic” deal with Ukraine to allow Ukrainian wheat to reach global markets and ease world hunger. One day later, Russian missiles struck the port of Odessa, where the grain was supposed to be shipped out.

As the Russian war on Ukraine grinds on, the Kremlin propaganda machine has turned its attention to the nation’s schools, making sure that every Russian students has the “correct” view of the war and sees Putin has a heroic figure.

Starting in first grade, students across Russia will soon sit through weekly classes featuring war movies and virtual tours through Crimea. They will be given a steady dose of lectures on topics like “the geopolitical situation” and “traditional values.” In addition to a regular flag-raising ceremony, they will be introduced to lessons celebrating Russia’s “rebirth” under President Vladimir V. Putin.

And, according to legislation signed into law by Mr. Putin on Thursday, all Russian children will be encouraged to join a new patriotic youth movement in the likeness of the Soviet Union’s red-cravatted “Pioneers” — presided over by the president himself.

Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government’s attempts at imparting a state ideology to schoolchildren have proven unsuccessful, a senior Kremlin bureaucrat, Sergei Novikov, recently told thousands of Russian schoolteachers in an online workshop. But now, amid the war in Ukraine, Mr. Putin has made it clear that this needed to change, he said.

“We need to know how to infect them with our ideology,” Mr. Novikov said. “Our ideological work is aimed at changing consciousness.”

As the war in Ukraine approaches the five-month mark, the vast ambitions of his plans for the home front are coming into focus: a wholesale reprogramming of Russian society to end 30 years of openness to the West.

The Kremlin has already jailed or forced into exile just about all activists speaking out against the war; it has criminalized what remained of Russia’s independent journalism; it has cracked down on academics, bloggers and even a hockey player with suspect loyalties.

But nowhere are these ambitions clearer than in the Kremlin’s race to overhaul how children are taught at Russia’s 40,000 public schools.

The nationwide education initiatives, which start in September, are part of the Russian government’s scramble to indoctrinate children with Mr. Putin’s militarized and anti-Western version of patriotism, illustrating the reach of his campaign to use the war to further mobilize Russian society and eliminate any potential dissent.

While some experts are skeptical that the Kremlin’s grand plans will quickly bear fruit, even ahead of the new school year the potency of its propaganda in changing the minds of impressionable youngsters was already becoming apparent.

Putin sees his future as hero of the USSR in a new Cold War. How sad.

He started the war against Ukraine to stop NATO expansion, and the result so far has been a dramatic expansion of NATO, since Finland and Sweden asked to join NATO. They were spurred to do so by Putin’s aggression.

Putin claimed his profound love for Ukraine, which he wanted to restore to its rightful place in the Russian orbit, but he has spent five months obliterating Ukrainian cities, towns, villages, people, and cultural landmarks. He is creating a wasteland.

Negotiations are the only answer, say outside observers. But Putin has never shown any willingness to negotiate. None. He plans to spend Russian lives and treasure proving that he can destroy Ukraine.

Samuel Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization, noticed a curious omission in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that required Maine to fund two evangelical religious schools. There was no mention of what other nations do. Some European nations fully fund religious schools. But they regulate them! Choice zealots here want religious schools to get public funds without any public oversight. None.

He writes:

In tandem with its reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court stands to substantially alter everyday life in America with its recent decisions of ­Carson v. Makin, amplifying its support for public funding of religious schools, and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, allowing prayer in public schools.

The significance of Kennedy is blunt. With the Court ruling 6-3 along party lines that the dismissal of a football coach at a public high school in the state of Washington for holding post-game prayer meetings violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, we can expect similar meetings as well as Bible study sessions, nativity pageants, and the like in public schools across the country. Such events will surely lead some students to feel coerced into participating for fear of disappointing peers and authority figures. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor indeed noted that a lower court had determined that some players said they joined the coach’s prayer meetings “because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates.”

The significance of Carson is more subtle but equally profound. In Carson, the same justices ruled 6-3—as forecasted on this site following oral arguments in December—that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from partaking in its Town Tuitioning Program likewise violated the right to free exercise of religion. This program covers all or part of the cost for students in rural districts without high schools to attend either public or nonsectarian private high schools in nearby districts or beyond (if the school is public, the total cost is covered; if it is private, coverage is pegged to per-pupil statewide average spending). With this decision, we can expect religious groups in considerably rural states across the country to lobby legislators to create programs similar to Maine’s.

But there’s another dimension to Carson, which derives as much from what it did not say as from what it did. To grasp the wider implications of Carson requires understanding what is missing from the decision.

While many countries—such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands—have for many years allowed a considerable portion of their students to attend religious schools with public funding, the Court did not cite such foreign practice. In the Netherlands, in fact, 55 percent of students attend religious schools with public funding.

Why then didn’t the Court cite foreign practice? This indifference to foreign practice holds, as well, for the majority opinions in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002, validating the provision of government-funded vouchers to cover tuition at religious schools in Cleveland, and Espinoza et al. v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020, mandating that if a state permits students to attend private schools with scholarships funded by a tuition tax-credit program, it cannot bar religious schools from participation.

American jurisprudence does tend to stick to domestic precedent, but that custom cannot explain this disregard for education policy abroad. After all, former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority in Zelman, was a prominent champion of deference to foreign practice and inspired others to follow in his path. In authoring the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, Kennedy famously drew on British legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights to overturn state laws criminalizing homosexual relations. Two years later, Kennedy made use of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child in writing the majority opinion in Roper v. Simmons to nullify the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

The answer to this question is crucial. To have invoked foreign practice would have been to invite trouble. Publicly funded religious schools in such countries as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands are regulated to a degree that American proponents of religious schools would find unacceptable.

In Carson, Chief Justice John Roberts conceded in this light that while Maine public schools must adhere to specific standards for instruction in a range of subjects, that is not so for nonsectarian and religious private schools. Though accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), such schools, wrote Chief Justice Roberts, “are exempt from these requirements, and instead subject only to general ‘standards and indicators’ governing the implementation of their own chosen curriculum.”

As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out in his dissent, one of the two schools at the heart of Carson, both of which are accredited by NEASC, considers academic and religious education “completely intertwined,” so much so that “in science class, students learn that atmospheric layers ‘are evidence of God’s good design.’”

At religious as well as nonsectarian private schools funded with public money in such countries as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, curricula must comport with national standards (meaning, for example, no attribution to divine design for atmospheric composition). In addition, teachers must be certified and guaranteed access to union membership while members of the LGBTQ community cannot be barred from either enrollment or employment.

The parameters of NEASC and other independent school organizations across the United States do not come close to such expectations, as Justice Breyer’s point about science education indicates. Indeed, many religious schools, such as the two defining Carson, refuse to hire gay or lesbian teachers.

While Maine passed an amendment to its human rights act to bar schools from receiving public money if they discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, that does not mean other states motivated by Carson to create similar programs will enact such protections; nor does it mean that Maine’s amendment will go unchallenged on the grounds that it interferes with an institution’s right to free exercise of religion.

In a guest essay in The New York Times, Aaron Tang, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, cited this amendment as a model for deflecting the impact of decisions like Carson, but he neither acknowledged that other states implementing town tuitioning programs might not take such action nor recognized that Maine’s amendment might not last.

Setting aside whether public funding of any form of religious schooling poses a threat to democratic values by fostering societal division and conflict, as Justice Breyer claimed in his dissent, there can be no doubt that public funding of lightly regulated religious schooling poses precisely such a threat.

Policymakers abroad have understood this. And it is basic to our own tradition. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1925 in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, ruling unanimously that Oregon could not, as decided by a statewide referendum in 1922, bar private schools from operating but that it was empowered to carefully regulate them.

“No question is raised concerning the power of the State reasonably to regulate all schools,” the Court declared in Pierce, “to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.”

With Carson building on Zelman and Espinoza, public funding of religious schooling appears irreversible. But that does not mean the message of Pierce and the lessons from abroad cannot be heeded. With Kennedy, the public school as neutral common ground is over.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE
June 30, 2022

Published Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

Civil society groups from around the world expressed their opposition to the funding of for-profit schools. Three months ago, in response to protests from these groups, the World Bank withdrew its funding from Bridge International Academies, which operates for-profit schools in Africa.

Civil society groups applaud IFC’s decision to stop investing in fee-charging private schools, call on other investors to follow its lead


14 June 2022


Civil society organizations welcome the announcement from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) that it will not resume its investments in K-12 private schools, following the release of an independent evaluation by the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) on the IFC’s investments in this area. In 2020, the IFC instituted a temporary freeze on all direct and indirect investments in for-profit fee-charging K-12 private schools. Following this announcement, the freeze has been extended indefinitely.


This decision reinforces the work of civil society organizations that, for years, have been monitoring and raising awareness about the negative impact of for-profit commercial schools on the achievement of the right to quality, inclusive education for all, in particular the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups – including girls, children and youth with disabilities, and all traditionally marginalized groups. It also reinforces concerns regarding the operations of some of the transnational corporations who benefit from these investments.


In reaction, Salima Namusobya, Executive Director for the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) in Uganda, said: “Education is a human right, it should not be treated as a commodity or a means for generating financial returns on investment in private provision of education. All children deserve to benefit from a good quality education. We celebrate this decision to cease financing for-profit education and hope that the World Bank will instead prioritize financing public education.”


Johnstone Shisanya, Programme Manager for the Education Support Programme at the East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights) said: “We applaud this bold action by the IFC and call on other investors to do the same. We continue to champion states’ fulfillment of quality public education for all, and we hope this decision is a sign of increased commitment by the World Bank towards supporting Kenya and other states to provide quality public education to the most marginalized and vulnerable groups as a way of guaranteeing inclusive education.”


Katie Malouf Bous, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam, said: “This is a massive step in the right direction for development finance. This evaluation acknowledges the potentially harmful impacts of investments in profit-oriented schools, which risk increasing inequalities in education and negatively impact public school systems. We are pleased the IEG has taken the time to do this evaluation, and we applaud the IFC for taking the findings seriously and demonstrating leadership on this issue among development finance institutions.”


Magdalena Sepúlveda, Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said: “Now it’s time for other development finance institutions to consider the IEG’s findings, step up and follow the IFC’s lead. We also want to see the World Bank Group pivot to increased support to governments to build stronger and more equitable public education systems, through its public sector support.”


The IFC’s announcement was posted on the World Bank IEG’s website on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, alongside the release of the IEG’s evaluation report of IFC’s direct and indirect investments in kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) private schools. In its response to the evaluation, IFC noted that most private K–12 schools are difficult to invest in directly, and cited a number of challenges with such investments including weak financial results and the “potential for investments in private K–12 schools to exacerbate inequalities and have unintended, undesirable spillovers into the public sector school system”.


The announcement comes less than three months after the IFC indicated that it had divested from Bridge International Academies, also known as NewGlobe Schools, a chain of for-profit schools operating in five African countries and India, after a number of complaints about the company’s operations in Kenya were filed with the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO).


The decision is also in line with findings from UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2021, which states that “profit making is inconsistent with the commitment to guarantee free pre-primary, primary and secondary education.” The IFC’s move is also consistent with previous decisions from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2019 and the European Parliament in 2018, both of which prohibited funding to for-profit commercial private schools.

Notes to editors


In 2019, more than 170 civil society organizations from 64 countries called on the World Bank Group to end support to for-profit private education.
In 2020, the IFC committed to freeze investments in for-profit K-12 schools, responding to concerns from civil society and leadership from U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters.


As explained in the IFC management response to the new IEG evaluation report, “this decision will encompass any new (i) direct investments or advisory services related to the provision of education in fee-charging (for-profit and not-for-profit) K–12 schools; (ii) public-private partnerships related to school privatization or the provision of education in fee-charging K–12 schools; (iii) indirect investments in fee-charging K–12 schools through private equity fund clients. IFC also does not plan to resume investment in Risk-Sharing Facilities with local banks to support their financing of K–12 private schools.”


The IFC’s accountability body, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), has received a series of complaints about the IFC’s investment in the commercial school chain Bridge International Academies (BIA). These include a complaint filed in April 2018 by EACHRights in Kenya on behalf of parents, students and teachers, raising valid concerns about the company’s health, safety, and labor conditions as well as economic discrimination, lack of parental inclusion, and transparency. In October 2019, CAO’s compliance appraisal report found “substantial concerns regarding the Environmental & Social outcomes of IFC’s investment in Bridge”. The final investigation report is still forthcoming.Three other cases have been filed since then, 02, 03, 04, all of which have yet to be resolved and involve the health and safety of students.


Contacts


• Annie Thériault in Lima (Oxfam) | annie.theriault@oxfam.org | +51 936 307 990
• Johnstone Shisanya in Nairobi (EACHRights) | johnstone@eachrights.or.ke | +255 735 798306 • Salima Namusobya in Kampala (ISER) | snamusobya@gmail.com | +256 772 473929
• Zsuzsanna Nyitray in Budapest (GI-ESCR) | zsuzsanna@gi-escr.org | +36 20 911 8018
Endorsements

  1. ActionAid
  2. Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ Argentina)
  3. Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education (Brazil)
  4. Centre d’Entrainement aux Méthodes d’Education Active de Côte d’Ivoire (CEMEA-CI
    Côte d’Ivoire)
  5. Coalition Éducation (France)
  6. Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE Liberia)
  7. Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA Nigeria)
  8. East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights Kenya)
  9. Education For All Sierra Leone Coalition (EFA-SL Sierra Leone)
  10. Eurodad
  11. Global Campaign for Education (GCE)
  12. Global Campaign for Education-US
  13. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR)
  14. Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER Uganda)
  15. Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE)
  16. National Campaign for Education Nepal (NCE-NEPAL)
  17. OMEP World Organization for Early Childhood Education
  18. Organisation pour la Démocratie le Développement Économique et Social (ODDES) 19. Oxfam
  19. Platform for the Defense of the Basque Public School
  20. Right to Education Initiative
  21. RTE Forum (India)
  22. Solidarité Laïque (France)

An economics and business writer at the New York Times named Peter Coy wrote an article titled “This Company Knows How to Increase Test Scores.” The article celebrates a study of a for-profit company called Bridge International Academies (renamed NewGlobe) that operates a large number of schools in Africa. Coy says the study by various American economists finds that the NewGlobe schools produce remarkable test score gains. What he doesn’t say is even more important. Civil society groups from across Africa and elsewhere urged the World Bank to stop investing in for-profit schools. The World Bank announced three months ago that it would no longer invest in the company praised in this article.

Coy begins:

Some of the world’s most successful educational techniques are being applied today in Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda and India, in schools serving poor children that are run or advised by NewGlobe Schools, a company founded by Americans with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. These techniques deserve to be applied more widely, including in wealthy nations such as the United States.

A new study led by a Nobel laureate economist, Michael Kremer of the University of Chicago, found that in Kenya, enrolling in schools run by NewGlobe for two years increased test scores by an amount equal to being in school for an additional 0.89 year for primary school pupils, and to being in school an extra 1.48 years for pre-primary pupils. The poorest children improved the most.

The secret of NewGlobe’s success? Standardization. Every lesson is completely scripted and standardized. The teachers are told what to say and they say it. Most of the teachers are not high school graduates; they are not certified. They are paid less than union teachers. Yet the students get higher test scores! A reformer’s dream!

Coy compares these privately-run schools to the large KIPP chain (which, as I understand it, having visited KIPP schools, is not standardized, and whose results are not always as good as regular public schools) and to New York City’s Success Academy, a chain that has very high test scores but also very high student attrition and very high teacher turnover.

Coy writes:

“The test score effects in this study are among the largest observed in the international education literature, particularly for a program that was already operating at scale, exceeding the 99th percentile of treatment effects of large-scale education interventions,” Kremer and his colleagues found.

NewGlobe clearly has built a better mousetrap, but it has taken a while for the world to beat a path to its door. It has encountered multiple obstacles, including from the U.S. Congress, although it is gradually winning followers.

One reason for the slow uptake in the early going was resistance from teacher unions, including the Kenyan National Union of Teachers. During the period studied, NewGlobe paid teachers only one-third to one-fifth of what Kenyan public school teachers were earning. Many of its initial recruits didn’t have teaching certificates. (NewGlobe says it adapted to the government requirements as they changed over time.)

Here is the study. The title: “Can Education Be Standardized?” The authors believe it can and should be.

Here is the abstract:

We examine the impact of enrolling in schools that employ a highly-standardized approach to education, using random variation from a large nationwide scholarship program. Bridge International Academies not only delivers highly detailed lesson guides to teachers using tablet computers, it also standardizes systems for daily teacher monitoring and feedback, school construction, and financial management. At the time of the study, Bridge operated over 400 private schools serving more than 100,000 pupils. It hired teachers with less formal education and ex- perience than public school teachers, paid them less, and had more working hours per week. Enrolling at Bridge for two years increased test scores by 0.89 additional equivalent years of schooling (EYS) for primary school pupils and by 1.48 EYS for pre-primary pupils. These effects are in the 99th percentile of effects found for at-scale programs studied in a recent survey. Enrolling at Bridge reduced both dispersion in test scores and grade repetition. Test score results do not seem to be driven by rote memorization or by income effects of the scholarship.

Here are a few quotes from the Kremer et al study:

Three-quarters of teachers in public and private schools had acquired more than a secondary school education compared to just under one-quarter of teachers in Bridge schools. Relative to public school teachers, Bridge teachers were younger, less experienced, and more likely to be novice (first-year) teachers. On average, their total compensation amounted to between one fifth and one third of the average public school teachers total compensation and approximately the same as teachers in other private schools serving this population. They worked longer hours, including Saturdays...

Subsequent to the period analyzed in our study, Bridge’s parent company NewGlobe reduced the number of private schools operated by Bridge from 405 to 112, and launched a new model in which it primarily acts as a service provider to governments. Under this model, which now accounts for the bulk of students reached by NewGlobe, teacher qualification, compensation, and working conditions follow standard public sector guidelines; governments similarly set curricular, school infrastructure, and child safety standards, and costs of standardization are covered by the state rather than through fees to parents.

Note that Bridge has changed its main model, the one lauded by the Kremer study and Peter Coy. Why is Coy waxing enthusiastic about a model that has been downsized? Bridge dramatically reduced the number of for-profit private schools (where families had trouble paying $5 or more a month, and students were suspended for non-payment of fees). Instead it now has inserted its standardized model into the public sector, where its costs are paid by the government, not families, and it has to meet standards set by the government. But its costs are far beyond what these governments can afford to pay. Coy missed that detail.

Another study of Bridge schools in Liberia was discouraging for Bridge. The condition of the free public schools in Liberia was dismal, which paved the way for outsourcing of schools to private management. About 25% of students in fifth grade could not read a single word in the public schools. It should not be hard to beat that low bar. The study found:

Outsourcing the management of 23 randomly-selected government primary schools in Liberia to Bridge International Academies led to learning gains of 0.35σ after three years, equivalent to reading roughly 2.2 additional words per minute. Beyond learning gains, Bridge increased dropout by more than half and reduced transition to secondary school (overall, Bridge had a -6.53 percentage point effect on the probability of being enrolled in any school after three years). Bridge had no statistically significant impact on corporal punishment and failed to reduced sexual abuse. Overall, any assessment of outsourcing public schools to Bridge must weigh its modest learning gains against its high operating costs and negative effects on access to education via increased dropout.

Bridge raised test scores, but the dropout rate was high, which probably increased test scores. Bridge was too expensive for the Liberian government: in its first year, it cost $640 per year. By year three, the Bridge cost was down to $161 per pupil. The Liberian government’s goal is $50 per pupil per year. This model does not look like the money-maker that its sponsors envisioned.

I first learned about Bridge International Academies when I read an article in the New York Times Magazine called “Can a Tech Start-Up Successfully Educate Children in the Developing World?” An American couple, Shannon May and her husband Jay Kimmelman, along with a third partner, had the audacious idea that a company that provided $5 a month private schools could dramatically disrupt education in Africa while creating a billion-dollar corporation. What was not to like?

Just as titans in Silicon Valley were remaking communication and commerce, Bridge founders promised to revolutionize primary-school education. ‘‘It’s the Tesla of education companies,’’ says Whitney Tilson, a Bridge investor and hedge-fund manager in New York who helped found Teach for America and is a vocal supporter of charter schools.

The Bridge concept — low-cost private schools for the world’s poorest children — has galvanized many of the Western investors and Silicon Valley moguls who learn about the project. Bill Gates, the Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the World Bank have all invested in the company; Pearson, the multinational textbook-and-assessment company, has done so through a venture-capital fund.

The company’s pitch was tailor-made for the new generation of tech-industry philanthropists, who are impatient to solve the world’s problems and who see unleashing the free market as the best way to create enduring social change.

The basic idea of the Bridge Schools was standardization. The lessons were written by charter school teachers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then read out loud by Bridge teachers on an e-reader in their classroom. Every teacher taught the same lesson at the same time in the same way, as instructed.

The new study says the concept works. However, it has run into political obstacles. The Bridge idea is opposed not only by teachers’ unions but by every civil society organization in Africa, which opposed the concept of privatizing African public schools. No matter how poorly resourced they are now, they will be destroyed by privatization. If the private companies can”t make money, how long will they stay?

I shared the new Kremer paper with an eminent economist, who responded, in part:

This approach seems crazy to me. Read section 9 of the paper which describes and explains the dramatic downsizing of the endeavor. That section confirms my initial response that the Bridge approach is ultimately likely to do far more harm than good. Shouldn’t young children have an opportunity to learn through play and personal engagement? Moreover, how does the approach deal with the fact that children develop at different rates and have different talents? And why would anyone who cares about children want to teach in such an environment? This is all very scary and disturbing.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg can’t be pleased to see that the model they funded has been reduced from 405 schools to 112 schools. The pupils it is supposed to serve can’t afford the fees. Nor can the governments in the nations where they are located.

Peter Coy should read more carefully before he touts an experiment that has already failed.

We are told again and again by libertarians that the free market solves all problems.

In Africa, it failed to provide better education at a price that families or governments can afford. Africa desperately needs more money for education, not for profits.

Bridge (NewGlobe) is not a model for American schools or the schools of any other nation.

Standardization is for electrical outlets and machines, not for children, teachers and education.

The Washington Post reports that Putin feels increasingly confident that he can win a long war of attrition in Ukraine because public opinion in the West will turn against support for Ukraine due to inflation and the high cost of gasoline. By contrast, he controls public opinion in Russia and continues to enjoy the economic security provided by oil and gas exports.

We can expect that Russian propaganda will exacerbate divisions in the U.S. and Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is digging in for a long war of attrition over Ukraine and will be relentless in trying to use economic weapons, such as a blockade of Ukrainian grain exports, to whittle away Western support for Kyiv, according to members of Russia’s economic elite.

The Kremlin has seized on recent signs of hesitancy by some European governments as an indication the West could lose focus in seeking to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially as global energy costs surge following the imposition of sanctions on Moscow.

Putin “believes the West will become exhausted,” said one well-connected Russian billionaire, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Putin had not expected the West’s initially strong and united response, “but now he is trying to reshape the situation and he believes that in the longer term he will win,” the billionaire said. Western leaders are vulnerable to election cycles, and “he believes public opinion can flip in one day.”

The embargo on Russia’s seaborne oil exports announced by the European Union this week — hailed by Charles Michel, president of the European Council, as putting maximum “pressure on Russia to end the war” — would “have little influence over the short term,” said one Russian official close to Moscow diplomatic circles, also speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “The Kremlin mood is that we can’t lose — no matter what the price…”

The populations of E.U. countries “are feeling the impact of these sanctions more than we are,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The West has made mistake after mistake, which has led to growing crises, and to say that this is all because of what is going on in Ukraine and what Putin is doing is incorrect.”

This posture suggests that the Kremlin believes it can outlast the West in weathering the impact of economic sanctions. Putin has little choice but to continue the war in hopes the Ukraine grain blockade will “lead to instability in the Middle East and provoke a new flood of refugees,” said Sergei Guriev, former chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The Kremlin’s aggressive stance seems to reflect the thinking of Nikolai Patrushev, the hawkish head of Russia’s Security Council, who served with Putin in the Leningrad KGB and is increasingly seen as a hard-line ideologue driving Russia’s war in Ukraine. He is one of a handful of close security advisers believed by Moscow insiders to have access to Putin. In three vehemently anti-Western interviews given to Russian newspapers since the invasion, the previously publicity-shy Patrushev has declared Europe is on the brink of “a deep economic and political crisis” in which rising inflation and falling living standards were already impacting the mood of Europeans, while a fresh migrant crisis would create new security threats.
“The world is gradually falling into an unprecedented food crisis. Tens of millions of people in Africa or in the Middle East will turn out to be on the brink of starvation — because of the West. In order to survive, they will flee to Europe. I’m not sure Europe will survive the crisis,” Patrushev told Russian state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta in one of the interviews…

With risks growing for all sides, “it is going to be a war of attrition from the economic, political and moral point of view,” the Russian official said. “Everyone is waiting for autumn,” when the impact of sanctions will hit the hardest, he said.


So far, however, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimating Kyiv needs $7 billion in aid a month just to keep the country running, Putin appears to be betting on the West blinking first, the former U.S. government official said. Putin’s “goal of subjugating Ukraine and eventually placing a Russian flag in Kyiv has not changed.”