Archive | December, 2015

“The End of Public Education”

27 Dec

Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Rochester, New York, David W. Hursh has written a fascinating little book with the above title. It is subtitled: “The Corporate Reform Agenda to Privatize Education.”[1] Professor Hursh makes two powerful points. First, the threat to public education’s existence is real and serious. Second, this threat is driven by neoliberal philosophy which is widely promoted by many extremely wealthy individuals.

“We may be witnessing the end of public education in the United States. Not in the sense that public funding of schools will cease, although funding is likely to decrease.” These are the first two sentences of the book. When you read Professor Hursh’s detailed account of the money and political clout purchased in the cause of privatizing public education in New York, the reader is left with the sense that the “End of Public Education” in that state is more likely than not.

Neoliberal Philosophy Shakes off Its Laissez-faire History

During a crushing worldwide depression and World War II, Franklin Roosevelt successfully established several popular government programs including social security. It was in this environment that the Austrian born economist Frederic Von Hayek attacked Roosevelt’s “new deal” and its Keynesian philosophy of economics underpinning. Hayek warned about the tyranny of government control in his book The Road to Serfdom. In the early 1950’s Milton Friedman, at the University of Chicago, started making similar criticisms of government programs which he said should be left to the market place and private business.

Hayek and Friedman were marginal personalities until the early 1970’s when the large government deficits caused by spending on the Viet Nam war provided some credence for them. Their rather old and discredited economic philosophy gathered new momentum and a modern name, Neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is a term whose usage and definition have changed over time. Since the 1980s, the term has been used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, its advocates supported extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neoliberalism is famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.”

Coevally, Richard Nixon appointed Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court. Quoting from Wikipedia “he had been a board member of Philip Morris from 1964 until his court appointment in 1971 and had acted as a contact point for the tobacco industry with the Virginia Commonwealth University. Through his law firm, Powell represented the Tobacco Institute and various tobacco companies in numerous law cases.”

Just before taking his place on the court Powell wrote a confidential memo to a friend at the Chamber of Commerce recommending more aggressive action in molding politics and the law in the United States to promote free enterprise. It appears that this memo sparked the establishment of several neoliberal think tanks including the American Heritage Institute and the Cato Institute.

These well financed think tanks and associated lobbying organizations have promoted a neoliberal agenda with spectacular success. Many of their ideas have grown to the status of what Professor Hursh calls “social imaginaries” or ways of thinking shared in society by ordinary people. For example, there is a widely held belief that government is inefficient and wasteful while private business and markets are efficient and fair.

Hursh says (page 34): “Venture philanthropists aim to use philanthropy to design and implement education policies of privatization, markets, efficiency, and accountability.” The “social imaginaries” that have been developed support their effort.

Relative to this idea he quotes the following explanation (page 44):

 “Olssen, Codd and O’Neill (2004) write that: ’every social transaction is conceptualized as entrepreneurial, to be carried out purely for personal gain. The market introduces competition as the structuring mechanism through which resources and status are allocated efficiently and fairly. The ‘invisible hand’ of the market is thought to be the most efficient way of sorting out what competing individual gets what.’”

Education Policy Decided by Unelected Foundations and Corporations

The most powerful neoliberal in the United States is Bill Gates. He is emblematic of the new form of government we have developed. Instead of a representative democracy, we now have governance by foundations. The people making the decisions do so behind closed doors and never stand for election. There are hundreds of private foundations across America spending large amounts of capital to shape a privatized education system. The big three are the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Hursh reports (page 97):

 “Bill Gates uses his fortune to fund the corporate education reform focusing on the Common Core standards, curriculum and assessment and on privatizing education through charter schools. In addition, as evidenced by his funding of organizations such as NewSchools Venture Fund, he is interested in developing projects that will create profits for investors.”

Working with and supporting the foundations to drive the privatization agenda are thousands of corporations. There are real estate firms forming Education Management Companies so they can institute property lease-back schemes. There is an uncountable number of technology companies, both large establish ones and startups, angling to sell products of dubious pedagogical value to schools. There are consulting firms, investment bankers, hedge funds and on and on and on. The largest publishing company the world has ever witnessed, Pearson, has plans to control all curricular and testing services worldwide.

Democratic Party Supports the Neoliberal Education Agenda

Barak Obama and the Democratic Party’s have embraced neoliberal ideology especially in regards to education. In 2008, the hedge fund dominated group Democrats for Education Reform convinced Obama to dump his presumptive Secretary of Education nominee, Linda Hammond-Darling, and appoint Arne Duncan. Obama and Duncan put into place the test centric and competition oriented Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative. For the first time ever, in accord with neoliberal theory, states were forced to compete for education dollars.

RTTT was all about objective measures and competition. In order to win race to the top monies, states had to agree to enact Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent), evaluate teachers and schools based on testing results and open a path for more privatized schools (charter schools). The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, enthusiastically embraced RTTT even parroting Milton Friedman, saying he wants to destroy “the public school monopoly.”

The great American public education system was not built by the federal government nor was it built by corporate structures. It was built by common citizens in their communities to educate their own children. These wonderful schools that produced what Neoliberals call “American exceptionalism” are being stolen from their communities. I agree with Hursh’s conclusion (page 105/6):

 “We need to defend public education as worth public funding and as an area in which everyone has an input, rather than only those who are wealthy or have political connections.”

 I hope my effort to supply a little flavor of what David W. Hursh has written about will encourage you to read his book and take action to save public schools from the ravages of greed, hubris and bad philosophy.

Hursh, David W. The End of Public Schools, Routledge, 2016

Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA

6 Dec

Dear Senators, Boxer and Feinstein

As senior members of the US Senate, please use your influence to stop the disingenuous rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

There is an effort to ram this bill through congress sight unseen. It only became available to the public and our representatives including you on November 30th. As educators from around the country see the details of this bill, they are deeply concerned for the future of public education in America. Is it the intent of the US congress to privatize public schools like Chile or Sweden did?

I left a job doing research in magnetic recording in 1999 to become a teacher. As a person immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, I was a big believer in technology. After more than a decade in the classroom, I am convinced education technology has been mostly a waste of money. It has not improved either engagement or understanding.

Yet, this federal law spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. My personal experience with these ideas says they encourage bad pedagogy. Multiple choices testing to assess drill and skill teaching is the basic strength of these methodologies and that is not good teaching.

This is little more than money being earmarked for the benefit of particular corporations. Most technology spending creates a net harm to our students who are forced into larger classes so districts can pay for the required hardware and software.

The social improvement bonds that appear on page 797 under the name “Pay for Success Initiative” look like a way for Wall Street bankers to get a cut of those education tax dollars. It is a legal opening for investment bankers to pocket taxpayer money. Is this kind of policy the new normal under the citizens’ united ruling?

Today, the biggest threat to quality public schools is the charter school movement. It is a huge problem in California. Charter school theory postulates that charters with less restrictive state regulations are going to experiment with pedagogy and then transfer their successful innovations to the “failing” public school system. This theory was based on a fallacy. Public schools were never failing especially here in California and we have not seen one successful innovative idea come from the charter sector. In fact, those seven-thousand “no excuses” charter schools in the United States are practicing methods harkening back to the 19th century; very regressive education brought by untrained inexperienced people.

Worst of all is the record of charter schools is one of fraud, instability and segregation. It would make sense for the federal government to closely scrutinize this out of control segment of education that is being used by hedge fund investors as an investment vehicle. Instead, this law spends significant money promoting charter schools and coercing states for the benefit of the charter industry. Section 4302 calls for:

 “(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;”

This facet of the law will harm public schools and expose more students to the unsupervised education market. It is not about improving schools for children; it is about pocketing those education tax dollars.

In his massive study of the rise and fall of numerous civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.” We must protect our precious public education system from the sharks; unfortunately, this law is a shark feeder.

In the December 5th Washington Post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle noted that “Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.” He believes this law will do significant harm to teacher education in America.

One facet of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) that I liked was the requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom. As the prominent author and educator, Mercedes Schneider posted to her blog on December 5th:

 “What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in ‘certification obtained through alternative routes.’”

 On December 10th, the writer and educator from South Carolina, Professor Paul Tomas, wrote on his blog a conclusion I have reached:

 “At best, ESSA is a very slight shuffling of the test-mania element of the accountability era; however, this reverting to state-based accountability will guarantee another round of new standards and new tests—all of which will drain state and federal funding for processes that have never and will never achieve what they claim to achieve (Mathis, 2012).

 “ESSA will be another boondoggle for education-related corporations, but once again, that profit will be on the backs of children and underserved communities.”

This law does mandate that every child in grades 3 to 8 and 11 is tested every year. The NCLB era has taught me unambiguously that standards based testing harms teaching and learning for many profound reasons. Feedback from this corporate testing is not timely and there is no learning component related to what is going on in the classroom associated with the big test. And worst of all this kind of testing seriously harms the love of learning and thinking. Massive testing is not just expensive, it is harming children.

I know there are many people like the leaders of the AFT, NEA and PTA supporting this law. They believe it is a lesser evil, however, I think they listened to their big donors before they read the legislation. When a group is getting millions of dollars from Bill Gates, it is easy to rationalize supporting his position. Please look closely at this legislation and stand up for parents, children and public schools in America.

Fix it or kill it.

New ESEA is a Stinker – Kill It

2 Dec

Our corrupted political system is poised to advance the theft of public education from local communities and surrender it to corporate greed. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was agreed to in conference committee around November 17, but withheld from public or congressional scrutiny until November 30th. This thousand page plus law is scheduled for a vote (with no time for comment or study); this week in the house and next week in the senate.

Here are some of the discoveries I have made.

On pages 450 and 469, the federal government commits to giving large grants to promote “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” These are euphemisms that mean replace teachers with computer delivered lessons. There is a complete lack of evidence supporting this education approach, but if you own a large technology company it is a way to capture taxpayer provided education dollars.

So what if it harm public schools?

The doors are also opened for Wall Street actors like Goldman-Sachs and JP Morgan Chase to get their hands on school funds through social impact bounds. These are bonds that do not pay a fixed rate of return. They are paid by the local governments to the bond holder when a particular social need has been successfully solved by the investment. On page 797, this financial scam is called the “Pay for Success Initiative.”

As Mercedes Schneider observed, “Of course, the problem here is that the funder of the pay-for-success initiative could somehow exploit children or influence such exploitation in an effort to shape the desired, ‘successful’ outcome. Only successful outcomes result in profits.”

Testing of every child in grades 3 – 8 and 11 every year is mandated. Every state is required to test 95% of its students and language learners are subject to multiple statewide interim assessments. States are allowed the “opt out” option for parents, but it is not clear what happens if more than 5% opt out of yearly testing. That appears to be illegal. Only 1% of the special needs population is allowed an alternative assessment.

No other country in the world forces their children into this much testing. It truly is folly. Every year since the acceleration of the federal takeover of schools in 2001, student growth has slowed and the learning gaps have increased. These policies are not good for students, they are not good for communities, but they are profitable for testing corporations.

They are also the means by which control over education can be wielded by federal overlords.

I am reminded of something presented by Francis W. Parker of Chicago at the 1891 National Education Association gathering. He wrote:

 “The common school furnishes the essential principles in the development and perpetuation of a democracy, and its growth and progress has been purely democratic; it has been and is, ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people.’ The common school had its birth in the New England school district; and the New England school district with the town is the root from which sprung all the democratic forms of government which have developed in our country. In a word, the spirit and nourishment of the common-school system has always depended, and depends to-day, entirely upon the will of the majority. State and national officials are given little more than advisory influences.

 “… That which has its birth-in-the-desires-and-intelligences-of-the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people.”

Today’s legislators have forgotten the hard won lessons of our ancestors. Instead of protecting the common school concept and the rights of local communities who built and paid for our public education system, they are busy selling it for thirty pieces of silver or worse foolishly giving away what they have no right to govern.

The section titled “21st Century Schools” could also be called the “Public School Privatization” section. It states:

 ‘‘SEC. 4302.”

“(a) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary may carry out a charter school program that supports charter schools that serve early childhood, elementary school, or secondary school students by—

‘‘(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;

“(2) assisting charter schools in accessing credit to acquire and renovate facilities for school use; and

‘‘(3) carrying out national activities to support—“

 Charter schools are not public schools. Citizens have no voting control over their governance and have no right to see what wages are paid or how money is being spent. Public schools are prohibited from pulling students out of schools, dressing them in colorful tee-shirts and making them participate in political demonstrations. That is becoming more and more frequent at charter schools.

The money to support charter schools comes from public school budgets; taxpayers.

Charter schools are plagued with fraud and instability. They have been a powerful agent exacerbating segregation. Across the nation public schools have consistently outperformed charter schools and I do not know of any pedagogical innovations originating in a charter school. In fact, the “no excuses” charter schools are quite regressive.

But billionaires like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family love charter schools, so we the taxpayers of this country are going to support the diminution of our local public schools and doom children to attending corporate for profit schools.

Even the “non-profit” charter schools are really for profit schools. Just look at the salaries founders and top administrators are giving themselves.

In the bill, congress promotes the expansion of temporary teachers with no training like those provided by Teach for America. Today, these idealistic young people are cynically utilized to undermine professional teachers and their unions. Many of the “no excuses” charters schools are predominantly staffed with these untrained – inexperienced youths.

None of this is good for students but there is a lot of money to be made in the burgeoning charter industry.

This bill will be in force at least until 2020 if it is passed. It is clearly both anti-public school and anti-teacher, still, labor leaders Garcia of the NEA and Weingarten of the AFT support it and so does the PTA.

However, unlike them, I am not getting money from Bill Gates and I don’t support Hillary Clinton. So, I say kill this stinker of a bill and start over. I know NCLB is terrible, but replacing it with nearly as bad does not make sense to me.