Archives for category: Privatization

Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider explore what happens when a state government is taken over by a combination of libertarians, who want to diminish government and taxes, and Republicans, who have spent decades attacking government as “the enemy.” It turns out they are indistinguishable. .

This is a don’t-miss edition of their reader-supported “Have You Heard” podcast (with transcript available).

Among the services cut were garbage collection and animal control. So people in the state are getting used to seeing bears ransacking their garbage.

The situation is growing dire for the state’s public schools. The libertarians want to eliminate public education. They want to replace it with charter schools, vouchers, home schooling, and pretty much anything that a parent wants to do.

Under the leadership of Governor Chris Sununu and Frank Edelblut, the home schooler he selected as state commissioner of education, the state is well on its way to its goal of privatizing and/or abolishing public schools.

This is a fascinating paper published in the peer-reviewed Education Policy Analysis and Archives in 2018. It explores the question of how Forbes magazine selects the “edu-preneurs” who are recognized as education leaders. It is quite a plum to receive this recognition, as it supposedly confers recognition on those young people who are “the best hope for revolutionizing and reforming education.” This recognition sets them apart as “experts,” despite their youth and meager experience.

The authors are T. Jameson Brewer, Nicholas D. Hartlep, and Ian M. Scott.

They see this selection process as a means of advancing privatization and the market-orientation of education, given the composition of the judges and the winners.

The marketization of public education in the era of neoliberalism elevates buzzwords like “innovation,” “investments,” “return on investments,” and “technology integration.” Moreover,  within the context of education and schooling, the professional status of educators is challenged in an effort to exalt the logic and norms of the business class. President Trump, a businessman, appointed Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education despite the fact she and her children have never attended public schools. The message the White House sent to Americans is that experience in education is not a necessary component of administrating education. Education reform, both Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education 5 domestically and internationally, has been led by a consortium of organizations and individuals who have expanded market-oriented reforms throughout schools. Those market-oriented reforms have included charter schools, school vouchers, and alternative certification training for teachers. The logic, as it were, is that government based training, organization, and control of schooling is woefully inefficient and would benefit from market competition. Finding roots in Milton Friedman, market-oriented education reformers seek to inject competition (note the business terminology) into the public sphere of public education. And, despite a growing body of research that suggests that charter schools underperform traditional public schools (Miron, Mathis, & Welner, 2015) and exacerbate segregation (Author & Lubienski, 2017; Frankenberg, 2011; Frankenberg & Lewis, 2012), and other research raising concerns over alternative certification programs like Teach For America (Brewer, 2014; Anderson, 2013a, 2013b; Redding & Smith, 2016; Scott, Trujillo, & Rivera, 2016), these reforms continue to expand. And these reforms are not conducted within a vacuum. The disproportionate number of TFA alumni who have received the Under30 and the shared language of neoliberal education reform highlight the common understandings and aims of market-oriented reformers (Lahann & Reagan, 2011)…

Given Forbes’ s ideological commitment to promoting business-oriented reforms in education, the Under30 award itself—using the language of industry—highlights the role that neoliberalism continues to play across education reforms. Grounded in the assumption that government is both too ineffective and inefficient to oversee schools (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Friedman, 1955, 1997, 2002; Greene, Forster, & Winters, 2005; Walberg & Bast, 2003), neoliberalism asserts a solution of free-market competition and individualization (Ball, 1994, 2003, 2007, 2012; Giroux, 2004; Harvey, 2005). As explicated in our findings, the individuals who receive the Under30 not only lack degrees in education, but the judges of the award and the majority of the awardees have direct connections to organizations that operate along an ideological commitment to competition, deregulation, and privatization (often, for-profit). In their discussion of alliances and divisions within the policy landscape, DeBray-Pelot, Lubienski, and Scott (2007) outlined how  various types of ideological groups influence policy outcomes. Our analysis here adds to that work by contributing further empirical evidence that the market-oriented landscape has become more complex in that support for such reforms have shared connections across the ideological (and often competing) stances of “Centrist/New Democratic,” (e.g., National Alliance for Public Charter Schools) “Center/Left,” (e.g., Center for American Progress) “Neoliberal,” (e.g., Center for Education Reform, Walton Foundation, Broad Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund, etc.) and “States’ rights” (e.g., American Legislative Exchange Council) groups presented in their findings

If we were to apply social closure theory to Under30, we might ask ourselves: “Who are the judges, and who are the recipients?” The four judges for the 2017 competition were: (1) Stacey Childress, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, (2) Arne Duncan, the Managing Partner of Emerson Collective, (3) Wendy Kopp, the Co-founder of Teach for America (TFA) and Teach for  All, and (4) Marcus Noel, the Founder of Heart of Man Ventures and a TFA alum (see Howard & Conklin, n.d.). We might also ask, “Who were the recipients of the award?” If the award recipients  were found to be mostly from the organizations that were connected to the judges, then we might be able to discern whether social closure is occurring. By nominating and awarding Under30 to people like themselves, the judges effectively act as gatekeepers to the resources and benefits that come to those who receive such a designation. Those benefits are national recognition, marketing of the individual and the individual’s organization or business by Forbes , and networking connections made during the Under30 Summit (a multi-day event of speeches and networking). Given that the purpose of the Under30 is to identify and celebrate those who are leading in their industry, receiving the Under30 designation stands to help recipients expand their business ventures.

Raymond Murphy (2001) points out that social closure is really about monopolization of opportunities. What this means is social closure and closed networks lead to protecting power and maintaining the same messages and signal ideologies. Within the realm of the Under30 network, those ideologies are ones that elevate ideologies of pro-privatization and pro-marketization of schools and education. These ideologies support the de-professionalization of teacher preparation.  The manifestation of social closure increases and is an outcome of echo chambers whereby members of the closed network not only engage in self-congratulations but rely on the growing network information and resources to further its shared ideology. Social closure is not a new area of study; it has been documented to exist in higher education award systems, such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Fellows program (Hartlep et al., 2017). However, the present study contributes new knowledge to how social closure can lead to moving forward policies that are pro-market and pro-privatization and that lead to bolstering edu-preneurship.

The authors reviewed the resumes of five years of recipients of the 30Under30 award. Few of them had studied education.

Only four of 192 Under30 recipients over the last five years have had an undergraduate degree that focuses on education. While 23 have master’s degrees in some field connected to education, many of them completed that training through partnerships between universities and Teach For America (TFA), which has some control over the courses their corps members take...

Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA, and Stacey Childress, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, both have served as judges for the majority of the years that the Under30 award has included the education industry. Additionally, other judges alongside Kopp and Childress have direct ties to the individuals and organizations being recognized through the award. While there is no way to know the academic background and connections of all of the Under30 nominees—that is, we do not know if the majority of nominees are, for example, TFA alumni—it is clear from our analysis that the majority of the recipients of the award have very close connections to the judges and their organizations. And while we explore the specific connections below, because the judges are so closely connected to the individuals that receive the award the Under30 serves as a mechanism through which judges are able to highlight the individuals and alums of their organizations.

Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education 13 recipients can, in turn, use the platform the Under30 award affords to further market and promote their specific brand of education reform. This process feedback loop becomes reciprocal. For example, Marcus Noel, who, having connections to TFA was awarded the Under30 in 2016, became a judge in 2017. Additionally, Joe Vasquez, a judge for the newly announced 2018 cohort of Under30, has direct connections to TFA and was, himself, a recipient of the award in 2017 when Kopp was a judge (Kopp was also a judge in 2018).

The paper goes on to describe the networks within which most of the awardees are embedded, the most prominent being Teach for America. Although TFA comprises less than 1% of teachers in the nation, TFA alums comprise 22% of the 30Under30 awardees. It helps that Wendy Kopp is often one of the judges of the competition.

The paper has some very illustrative sociograms that show the connections among the organizations, the judges, and the awardees.

They conclude:

Our findings suggest that the Forbes  Under30 award, its judges, and the growing network that the award creates both benefits from and reinforces social closure. The theory of social closure examines the myriad ways in which individuals and institutions are able to restrict access while simultaneously protecting the resources, power, and influence that members on the inside have and share among each other. If we believe the Under30 award to be a prestigious award, as Forbes suggests, then we should equally expect that those recommended for the award undergo a rigorous  Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education 19 and unbiased selection process. Yet, our findings suggest that the judges of the Under30 award systematically select individuals who are either directly associated with the organizations that the judges represent and/or those who share the same ideological commitments to education reform— ideological homophily. Such a reality is suggestive of an echo chamber where individuals within, or close to, the reform network are selected for the award as a means of self-congratulating the ideology fueling their reforms and, in short, self-congratulating the judges since the recipients of the awards largely come from the judge’s organizations.

In short, the 30Under30 competition is an echo chamber where the judges select members of their own or similar organizations and complete a closed circle. The judges use their influence to enhance their power and promote their proteges. In normal terms, this would be considered a conflict of interest.

Three scholars have recently published a very informative book about the history of education in New Orleans. The authors tell this story by scrutinizing one very important elementary school in the city, the one that was first to be desegregated with one black student in 1960. The book is titled William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans (Peter Lang). The authors are Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White, and Martha Graham Viator.

This is the school that enrolled 6-year-old Ruby Bridges in November 1960. Her entry to the school each day, a tiny little girl accompanied by federal agents, was met with howling, angry white parents. Her admission to an all-white school in New Orleans was a landmark in the fight to implement the Brown v. Board decision of 1954. It was immortalized by Norman Rockwell in a famous painting called The Problem We All Live With.

The authors set the stage for their history by pointing out that the Reconstruction-era constitution of Louisiana forbade racially segregated schools. In the early 1870s, about one-third of the public schools in New Orleans were racially integrated. Some schools had racially integrated teaching staffs. School board members were both white and black. When Reconstruction ended, rigid racial segregation and white supremacy were restored.

The William Frantz Public School opened in 1938 as a school for white children. It occupied almost a full city block.It was one of the few schools built during the Depression. It was built to accommodate 570 children. The authors demonstrate the vast inequality between white schools and black schools. Not far away was a school for black children of elementary age. Not only were black schools overcrowded, but black neighborhoods had problems with poorly maintained sewers, streets, sidewalks, gas and water lines, and structurally unsound buildings. Black schools were dilapidated, students shared desks, and class sizes were often in excess of 60 children to one teacher. Black students had fewer instructional hours than white students, due to overcrowding. White teachers were paid more than black teachers.

Black citizens of New Orleans were outraged by these conditions but they were politically powerless. The white power structure did not care about the education of black children.

Then came the Brown decision of 1954, which declared the policy of “separate but equal” to be unjust. The federal courts moved slowly to implement desegregation, but eventually they began to enforce it. The federal district judge who took charge of desegregation in New Orleans was J. Shelley Wright, a graduate of the city’s white schools. He determined to implement the Brown decision, despite the opposition of the Governor, the Legislature, the Mayor, and prominent white citizens of the city, as well as White Citizens Councils.

In 1958, the Louisiana legislature passed several measures to weaken desegregation efforts including laws allowing the governor to close any school that desegregated, providing state funds to any students seeking to leave the traditional public schools, and granting the state sweeping power to control all schools.

Their well-written history brings the reader to the present, to the all-charter model that privatizers hold up as an exemplar for every urban district troubled by low test scores and white flight.

The section of the book that I found most interesting was their detailed account of the white reaction to the prospect of school integration, despite the fact that the black students who applied to attend white schools were carefully screened for their academic potential and their behavior. Ruby Bridges was the one and only student chosen to start desegregation. Crowds gathered every morning to spit and scream. They harassed not only Ruby, with her federal protection, but any white student who dared to enter the school. Their blockade eventually forced whites to abandon the William Franz Public School. A few persisted, but little Ruby never met them. She was assigned to a classroom with no other students and one teacher.

The whites who tried to stay in the school were subject to threats of violence. Some lost their jobs, as did Ruby’s father. They feared for their lives. The hatred for blacks by whites was explosive. The portrayal of malignant racism is searing.

A relatively small number of whites tried to calm the situation. One such group was called Save Our Schools. They reached out to the white parents of the school, trying to bring peace and reconciliation.

In perhaps the most disturbing response to an SOS mailing, a WFPS parent who had received a letter from SOS returned the letter smeared with feces. A handwritten comment on the letter stated the parent would rather have ignorant children then to send them to a “nigger school.”

The mob won. By the middle of the school year, fewer than 10 white students remained in the school, and they too needed protection. By 1993, not one white student attended the school.

As the tumult continued after Ruby’s admission, prominent whites funded private schools so that white students could escape the specter of desegregation. The Legislature passed laws to support the resistance to desegregation and to give vouchers to whites fleeing the public schools and to underwrite the private academies where racist white students enrolled.

When the battle over desegregation began, New Orleans schools enrolled a white majority. Racism led to white flight, and before long the school district was overwhelmingly black, as was the city.

The authors detail the problems of the district. Not only was it segregated and underfunded, but its leadership was unstable. The management was frequently incompetent and corrupt. Its accounting department was a mess. So was Human Resources. Teachers were not paid on time. The management was woeful. The state wanted to take control of the district before Hurricane Katrina. Three months before the disastrous hurricane, the state leaned on the district to hire a corporate restructuring firm at a cost of $16.8 million.

In June, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board signed an agreement relinquishing the management of the district’s multi-million dollar operating budget to the state. As a result, the district entered into negotiations with a New York turnaround management corporation, Alvarez and Marsal, to oversee its finances. In the contract, the board not only surrendered financial control, it also granted the firm authority to hire and fire employees.

Alvarez & Marsal put one of its senior partners, Bill Roberti, in charge of the district. Before joining the management consultants, Roberti had run the clothing store Brooks Brothers. A&M had previously received $5 million for a year of controlling the St. Louis school district, which was not “turned around,” and collected $15 million for reorganizing New York City’s school bus routes, with poor results (some children were stranded for long periods of time, waiting for buses on the coldest day of the year).


Before the hurricane, the state created the Recovery School District (in 2003) to take control of failing schools. In 2004, it passed Act 9, which allowed the state to take over schools with an academic score of 60 or less and hand them over to charter operators. After the hurricane, the Legislature passed Act 35, which changed the criteria for takeover and paved the way for the Recovery School District to take charge of most of the city’s public schools. Parents got “choice,” but the new charter schools created their own admissions policies, and most did the choosing.

Prior to Act 35, schools with School Performance Scores below 60 were considered to be in academic crisis. Act 35 raised the threshold score to 87.5, virtually ensuring every school in Orleans Parish would be deemed in academic crisis, and therefore, eligible for takeover by the Recovery District…Act 35 achieved what Governor Davis, Leander Perez, and segregationists failed to do in 1960. Act 35, for all intents and purposes, allowed the State of Louisiana to seize control of the Orleans Parish school district…The takeover of the failing schools within Orleans Parish made the Recovery District the largest school district in the State of Louisiana. Had the threshold for the School Performance Score not been raised in Act 35, the Recovery District would have taken over only 13 schools and had a much reduced presence and influence in public education in New Orleans.

After the hurricane, district officials and Alvarez & Marsal issued a diktat permanently terminating the jobs and benefits of more than 7,500 teachers and other staff.

Sixteen years since Hurricane Katrina and the privatization of public schools in New Orleans, the debate about the consequences continues, as it surely will for many more years.

For those interested in New Orleans, I recommend this book, along with Raynard Sanders’ The Coup d’Etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System, Kristen Buras’ Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance. For a favorable view of the charter takeover, read Douglas Harris’s Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education.



The privatization movement is built on the ideology of “a backpack full of cash.” Give the money to the family and let them spend it where and how they want. The money is not actually in the child’s backpack, but handed out to families to spend as they wish. If they want their child to attend a religious school or a private school or a for-profit school or a virtual charter school or home school, here is a voucher worth $5,000.

This approach discounts the obligation of the community and society to provide certain basic goods and services that are available to everyone. We have public beaches, public parks, public transportation, police, firefighters, and other goods and services that are the responsibility of government. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if we don’t have children ourselves. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if our own children are grown and are no long in school. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if our own children attended private schools. That’s what a community does to make sure every child is educated. It is the job of the polity to assure that all public schools have equitable and adequate resources.

The “bait and switch” of the school choice is to individualize the social obligation and turn it into a consumer choice. This is a deceptive way of evading society’s obligation to ensure that every school, wherever it is located, has equitable and adequate resources. All schools should have the resources they need for the children they serve: well-tended buildings, a library with up-to-date technology, a full arts program, experienced teachers, small classes, a curriculum that includes history, science, civics, mathematics, literature and foreign languages.

But some very rich people don’t like paying taxes so poor kids can have what their children have, and they have persuaded many legislators to buy into the hoax of school choice. Persuasion takes the form of campaign contributions, and they are very generous with their efforts to evade taxes that serve the good of all.

This reader explains:

I just don’t get why it is so hard to get the message across that we are not purchasing our own child’s education, we are providing a public good that educates all children. We are not buying the right to use roads or police and fire services, we are participating in the funding of those common goods for the entire community.

This situation points out the importance of avoiding public/private partnerships or at least structuring them much differently (to avoid huge tax write-offs). If everyone pays their taxes, the needs of the community will be met through that common collection. When private sources get to direct what happens, that means the common good has been sabotaged. No private entity should be dictating what the common good will be.

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader:

Jack Schneider is a historian of education at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. He and Jennifer Berkshire recently published a superb book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, which I recommend to you.

The “Public” in Public Schools

There are two stories that we tell over and over these days about our schools. The first is that schools are a mechanism for getting ahead in our society. In a competition of each against every, schools are the ostensibly meritocratic sorting mechanism that determines who gets what. The second story is that schools are the engine of the economy. Education builds human capital, which in turn promotes economic growth.

These aren’t entirely wrong. Despite the fact that the privileged work feverishly to tilt the playing field for their children, schools can and often do serve a leveling function. And it is impossible to imagine the American economy thriving in the same way without an educated populace. Yet this is a torturously narrow way of understanding the value of public education.

We don’t have public schools in this country so that young people can win advantage in an unequal society (and we especially don’t have public schools so that racially and economically advantaged families can launder their privilege). Nor do we publicly fund education so that the private sector can reduce the costs of training labor. Instead, we tax ourselves to pay for universal K-12 education because public schools are the bulwark of a diverse, democratic society. 

The founders knew this. As early as the 18th century, leaders were making the case that education was too important to be left to the whims of the market. If the young republic was to be governed by the people, those people needed access to schooling. Of course, education wasn’t universal from the outset; racially minoritized students were excluded and segregated, low-income students attended poorly-funded schools, and students with disabilities were refused at the door. But access to public education increased in commensuration with the recognition of other rights. Over time, our notion of “we the people” has expanded most obviously in our schools, and the benefit of this has accrued to all of us. We live in a stronger and healthier society because of our investments in public education.

And public schools weren’t merely seen as purveyors of academic content. As early advocates like Horace Mann understood, an increasingly diverse society needed a mechanism for fostering civic relationships and mutual understanding. Schools could draw young people from various walks of life together under a common roof and teach them to work in common cause. Although this inclusive vision of education has often remained an elusive ideal, integrated schools are also a reality. They have strengthened all of the communities in which they exist, and at a time of increased social fracturing it is perhaps more important than ever to heed the wisdom of Thurgood Marshall—that “unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.”

As Jennifer Berkshire and I document in our new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (which Diane wrote about in The New Republic), public education in this country is presently facing an extinction threat. Those who wish to privatize it like to make the case that the “public” part of public education isn’t so important; in fact, they argue that it’s a liability. I vehemently disagree. In the nineteenth century, we had a system much like the one envisioned by the radical right. And is essential to remember that public education was developed as a replacement for that largely-private system, which had proven insufficient at advancing the public good. There are things that all young people in this country should learn, and common destinies for which they should be prepared. Moreover, this is work that should be done in equal fashion for all, since we all stand to benefit from the education of our populace.

We’ve been so distracted by the use of schools for social mobility and economic sorting that many of us have forgotten about the essential role education plays in making and sustaining an American public. Yet what other institutions do we have for fostering the kinds of civic virtues that increasingly seem so short in supply? Shall we leave it to private entities to build that public? Do we trust that the profit motive will advance the interests of us all? Whatever the flaws in our existing system, we risk tremendous harm in unmaking it. 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the North Texas School Boards Association by Zoom. Right now, Texas is ground zero for the charter industry. This is astonishing because the public schools in Texas far outperform the charter schools. The charter school lobby markets themselves as “saviors” of children, but they are far more likely to fail than public schools. This is a summary of what I told my friends in Texas:

I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. My father, who grew up in Savannah, never finished high school; my mother, who was born in Bessarabia, was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools.

I believe that all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have children in public school, have a civic obligation to support public schools, just as we must support other public services, like police, firefighting, public roads, public parks, and public libraries. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, and no investment is more precious than investing in the education of our children. They are our future. 

Texas, like every other state, guarantees a free public education to everyone. The clause in the state constitution says:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

As constitutional scholar Derek Black shows in his book Schoolhouse Burning, the founding fathers of this nation wanted every state to provide free public education. They didn’t have it in their own time, but they saw it as essential to the future of the nation. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1785, the Founders said that any territory that wanted to become a state had to set aside one lot in each town for a tax-supported public school. Not a private academy supported by tax funds, but a tax-supported public school.

The leadership of Texas doesn’t care about the state constitution. Every time the legislature is in session, someone offers a bill to send public funds to religious schools, which are not public schools. Thus far, a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans and the dedicated leadership of Pastors for Texas Children has defeated vouchers.

The Republicans who control the state have substituted charters for vouchers in their eagerness to provide alternatives to the right guaranteed by the state constitution. And they have not given up on vouchers.

Texas now has more than 800 charter schools. These are schools under private management, paid for with tax dollars. Contrary to their marketing strategy, they are not public schools. Some of those charters are part of big corporations, like KIPP or IDEA. Some are nonprofit schools that are managed by for-profit corporations. The GOP leadership wants more of them, even though the existing public schools are underfunded and have not recovered from a devastating budget cut of more than $5 billion in 2011.

When the idea of charter schools first emerged in the early 1990s, I was enthusiastic about their promise. I was in Washington, DC, working as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research in the first Bush administration. We heard from their sponsors that charter schools would be more innovative, would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy, would be more successful, and would be more accountable than public schools because they were free of most regulations. 

Three decades later, this is what have we learned: 

   a). Charter schools are not more innovative than public schools. The only innovation associated with charters is harsh disciplinary practices called “No excuses,” where children are punished for minor infractions of strict rules. The largest charter chain in Chicago, the Noble Network, recently announced that it was getting rid of “no excuses” because it is a racist policy, meant to force black children to adopt white middle-class values.  

    b) Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools. In most states, the charter associations fight any effort to impose accountability or transparency. They don’t want to be audited by independent auditors. The only time they are accountable is when they close their doors because of low enrollment or abject academic failure. 

    c) Charter schools do not cost less than public schools. They typically demand the same public funding as public schools, even though the public schools pick up some of their costs, like transportation, and even though they have fewer high-need students than public schools. In some states, like Texas, charter schools get more public money than public schools.

    d) Charter schools are less effective than public schools. Those that have high test scores choose their students and families carefully and push out those they don’t want. On average they don’t outperform public schools, and they spend more money on administration than public schools. In some states, like Ohio, the majority of charter schools are rated D or F. 

Charters are unstable. They open and close like day lilies. Sometimes in mid-semester, leaving their students stranded.

The worst charter schools are the virtual schools. 

The state pays the cybercharters full tuition to provide nothing more than a computer, a remote teacher, and some textbooks. They charge double or triple their actual costs.

Virtual charter schools have high attrition rates, low graduation rates, and low test scores.

There have been huge scandals associated with virtual charter schools.

In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow collected close to a billion dollars over 18 years. It was started by a businessman, who made generous contributions to political leaders. It had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. In 2017, ECOT was audited by the state and found to have collected tuition for phantom students. Rather than pay the state $80 million, ECOT declared bankruptcy in 2018. No one was fined, no one went to prison, no one was held accountable.

The biggest scandal in charter history was the A3 virtual charter chain. It had a massive scheme to enroll fake students. Eleven people were indicted. Eventualy, the leaders of A3 agreed to repay the state $215 million.

The largest of the virtual charters is K12 Inc; it is registered on NY Stock Exchange. Its results are familiar: high attrition, low test scores, low graduation rates. Their top executives are paid millions of dollars each. K12 is are operating in dozens of states.

Poor academic performance is not punished; financial fraud is not punished. There is no accountability. 

IDEA in Texas is in a class of its own when it comes to luxuries. They get hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars, but they decided they needed to lease a private jet for their executives. When the story got into the newspapers, they dropped that idea. The media also reported that IDEA bought season tickets for special seating at San Antonio Spurs games. When the CEO decided to retire, he received a $1 million golden parachute. How many school superintendents do you know who got such a generous going-away present?

Charter schools claim that they “save poor kids from failing schools.” 

That’s not true. There are currently some 356,000 students in charter schools in Texas. Three-quarters of them are enrolled in charter schools in A or B school districts. The charter school students are being drawn away from successful schools in successful districts.

The charter lobby claims that there are long waiting lists. Don’t believe it. The so-called wait lists are manufactured. They are never audited. In Los Angeles, at least 80% of the existing charters have empty seats, yet still the lobbyists talk about wait lists. In New York City, charters buy advertising on city buses. When you have a waiting list, you don’t buy advertising.

The charter industry in Texas has a number of charter expansions already approved and expects to grow by 50,000 students every year. Unless the legislature plans to increase spending on education, charter growth will mean budget cuts for public schools. Charters in Texas currently divert $3 billion a year from public schools. Since they started, they have diverted more than $20 billion that should have gone to the state’s public schools. 

Charter schools in Texas are not more successful than public schools. Texas researcher William Gumbert reported that 86% of public school districts are rated either A or B by the state, compared to 58.6% of charter schools. Only 2.6% of public school districts were rated D or F, compared to 17.7% of charter schools.  

Texas Public Radio reported that graduation rates at charter schools were 30 points lower than the rates at public high schools. 

Two economists—Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer—studied the outcomes of charter schools in Texas. They concluded that charter schools have “no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.”

William Gumbert, an independent analyst in Texas, has calculated that graduates of charter schools enter college less well prepared and are less likely to perform well in college, compared to students who went to public schools. He reported that the 2019 state ratings showed nearly 40% of charters approved by the state have been closed. 

The charters claim that they can close historic achievement gaps between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is not true. According to careful research by analyst Gumbert, public schools do a better job of narrowing the achievement gaps between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students than charters in the same districts. 

Again, using state records, Gumbert found that graduates of public schools were more successful in college than graduates of charter schools. Public school graduates were more likely to have a higher grade-point average in freshman year than charter school graduates. First-year grade-point average has been shown to predict college graduation. 

Now the charter industry is lobbying for a vast expansion in Texas. They don’t want to have to deal with elected school boards or other elected officials. Democracy is a nuisance, an obstacle. So they are promoting SB 28, which would remove any elected school boards or elected municipal officials from the charter approval process. The state board of education could veto a charter application only with a supermajority. Only one appointed state official—the State Commissioner, appointed by the Governor– would decide whether charters may invade your district, recruit the students they want and locate the charter school wherever they want. That is a major blow to local control of schools. 

Why are state officials in Texas, why is the Legislature, opposed to local control of schools?

After three decades of experience, we have learned about the policies and practices of charter corporations.

First, many charter schools are run by non-educators. They see a business opportunity and they compete for market share. 

Second, they market charter schools by making extravagant claims. They promise that their students will be successful in school and will go to college even before they open their doors. As we have seen, this is usually false.

Third, the few that get high test scores do so by cherry-picking their students or by setting the standards so high that only high-scoring students choose to enroll. BASIS is an example of that. Students have to pass a certain number of AP exams to graduate, so average students need not apply. In Arizona, where most of the state’s students are Hispanic or Native American, the BASIS schools enroll mostly white and Asian students.

Fourth, some charter schools raise test scores by pushing out students who get low scores. That means excluding students with disabilities and students who don’t speak or read English. It also means counseling out or finding creative ways to discourage the kids who are discipline problems or the kids who perform poorly on tests. The most successful charter chain in NYC accepts kids by lottery in kindergarten. Then they begin weeding out those they don’t want, and after third grade, no new students are accepted. By senior year, most of the students who started in K or first grade have disappeared

Fifth, charter schools typically hire young and inexperienced teachers who cost less than older experienced teachers. The turnover is high—sometimes as much as half the staff leaves every year and is replaced by newcomers to teaching. 

Sixth, the true secret of charter expansion is the money behind them. They are supported by a long list of billionaires who want to eliminate public schools. They mock our community schools as “government schools,” but they might as well mock our community police officers as “government security agents.” Our community public schools belong to “we, the people.” We pay for them with our taxes. They reflect our community history. They have the trophies that our parents, our cousins, our aunts and uncles won at football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, chess, and debate tournaments. They are audited and overseen by our neighbors. We elect the school board, and if we don’t agree with their decisions, we elect another one. 

Don’t give your public dollars to entrepreneurs and corporations to educate your children. 

Don’t replace your public schools with a free market where schools compete for customers. Markets produce winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity. Use your tax dollars to make your public schools the best they can be for all the children.

Whatever your political views are, these schools belong to you, not to Wall Street or libertarian billionaires or opportunists. Tell your legislators to support your public schools. 

School choice means that the schools choose.

Public schools must take everyone. 

School choice is a hoax.

Don’t fund failure.

At a time when there are so many divisions in our society, we need our public schools to teach appreciation for our common heritage as Americans and as Texans.

I especially appeal to those with conservative values: Conservative conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. People who want to blow up community institutions are anarchists, not conservatives.

Preserve and improve your community public schools for future generations. 

Privatization of important parts of the public sector is a great scourge of our times. No institution is more fundamental to the American Dream than public education, and it is under assault by powerful and well funded forces. By billionaires who have dreams of lower taxes and libertarians who want to destroy whatever government provides. We must fight privatization of the goods and services that belong to us.

Frankly we should join together to fight for a society where there are no billionaires and no poverty. Let us agree to take care of one another and have a fairer society, where everyone has a decent standard of living, where there is no hunger or homelessness. I recommend a book called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, in which two British sociologists-Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett-demonstrate that societies with more equality are happier than those where great inequality persists. By contrast, scan Bloomberg Billionaires Index. I am not a socialist, but I don’t believe we should have either billionaires or poverty.

The pandemic impoverished millions of people. But the billionaire class got richer, much much richer. Senator Bernie Sanders said recently that the fifty richest people in this country have wealth equal to the bottom 50 percent of the population. That is gross, disgusting, obscene inequality.

Our nation and its democratic ideals are being undermined by extremes of wealth and income. The middle class is struggling not to slip into poverty.

From Forbes in 2018:

In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.

This is not the America I grew up in, and it’s not what America should be.

I have found these old English rhymes to be inspiring.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

Two prominent Idaho citizens, Jim Jones and Rod Gramer, warned that proposed voucher legislation violates the clear language of the Idaho state constitution and threatens the future of public schools.

Jim Jones is the former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and former Idaho Attorney General and Rod Gramer is president of Idaho Business for Education.

They wrote:


Supporters of privatizing education are about to change the Idaho Constitution and 130 years of education policy without going to a vote of the people. Instead, those who want taxpayers to fund private schools should take their case to the people and let them decide as the Constitution requires.

Idaho’s founders were clear when they adopted the Constitution that the Legislature should support public schools. In Article IX, Section 1 they wrote: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The Founders did not say the Legislature should fund private schools. They did not say the Legislature should fund religious schools. In fact, in two other sections of Article IX they specifically said no taxpayer monies should go to fund religious schools.

Yet on page two, line (b), House Bill 294 says that state funds can be used for “tuition or fees at private schools.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that if a state spends funds on private schools it must also provide funding to religious schools, thus allowing House Bill 294 to undermine both the letter and spirit of the Idaho Constitution.

This attempt to undermine the Constitution is piggybacked on the popular Strong Families, Strong Students program Governor Little created last year to provide computers, internet service and tutoring to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If that’s all the bill did, we would support it. But the bill’s sponsors slipped in the private school tuition provision and made it sound like the bill was a harmless continuation of the Governor’s program. Several lawmakers and veteran reporters missed the bill’s real impact.

Supporters of House Bill 294 have some powerful allies like the Idaho Freedom Foundation which advocates for the abolishment of public schools. Another backer is “Yes. Every Kid” which is funded by the Koch Network, created by the billionaire Koch brothers. It is buying time on Idaho TV stations proclaiming how the bill benefits families. Of course, they don’t mention that it threatens the future of our public schools and violates the Idaho Constitution.

Instead of listening to out-of-state billionaires, legislators should listen to our founders and generations of lawmakers who clearly believed that the state’s responsibility is to fund public schools, not private or religious schools.

There is another reason lawmakers should listen to our founders. Idaho ranks last in the nation in spending per student and is already out of compliance with the Constitution’s mandate to fund a uniform and thorough public school system.

This shortage of state funding has caused local communities to raise their own property taxes by millions of dollars to ensure that their schools can operate. If the state cannot fund our public schools adequately, it makes no sense to divert badly needed state funds to support a private education system too.

Ultimately, the people of Idaho should decide whether to change the Constitution and fund private schools. That’s what our state’s founders intended, that’s what the Constitution says, and that’s what we should do. Not have the Legislature make an end run around the Constitution – or the people of Idaho.

The Texas Senate Education Committee bowed to the wishes of the powerful charter lobby and granted sole power to the State Commissioner (appointed by the Governor) to approve charter schools. His decisions can be vetoed only by a supermajority of the State Board of Education.

The State Commissioner of Education is Mike Morath. He is not an educator. He is a software executive who served on the Dallas school board and advocated for charter schools.

Local elected authorities—including mayors and school boards—are prohibited from blocking a charter school that wants to open in its jurisdiction. Charters can locate wherever they choose without regard to the views of local communities that want to protect their own public schools from rapacious charters.

Right now, Texas is being overrun by corporate charter chains aiming to grab market share. This bill will help them by canceling democracy and the will of the people.

This is the bill that passed the committee.

CSSB 28 (Bettencourt), as substituted, increases the threshold – from a majority to a supermajority – required for a State Board of Education veto of a charter awarded by the commissioner and defines reasons why the SBOE may veto a charter. It also prohibits a local governmental entity from enacting or enforcing an ordinance, order, regulation, resolution, rule, or policy or taking action that prohibits an open-enrollment charter school from operating a public school campus, educational support facility, or administrative office in its jurisdiction.