Sunday, November 07, 2010

Killing Public Education

No Child Gets A Free Education

If the desire to solve educational disparities through legislation like the Leave No Child Behind Act (LNCB) was part of a noble effort offering the children of our nation better educational opportunities to improve their lives, than we would be aspiring to ideals proposed by Thomas Paine and officially instituted when the first taxpayer-funded public school in the United States was authorized by the citizens of Dedham, Massachusetts in 1643. But if the real goal is to end free universal public education and dismantle the system that made it possible, as I believe, than LNCB is just the latest slickly misnamed tool dedicated to destroying one of the founding institutions of our nation. Is this some far-fetched paranoid fantasy? Hardly. United States v. National City Lines Inc tells us that America’s once ubiquitous urban public transit agencies were deliberately acquired and dismantled by private profit-driven corporations under similar circumstances. In that 1949 case, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, General Motors and Mack Trucks, and their agents, were accused and convicted of acquiring and dismantling “46 transportation systems located in 45 cities in 16 states.” Looking at NCLB’s results as detailed in Many Children Left Behind by Deborah Meier, et al, and other sources, and acknowledging the considerable economic and political forces allied against free universal public education as it has existed for almost 300 years, and it seems very much like privatization is the goal, and I’m not the only person claiming this.

Diane Ravitch, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, and former Assistant Secretary of Education during President “Papa Doc” Bush’s administration, also tells free universal public education is under assault. “Big Money has placed its bets on dismantling public education,” Ravitch states in her article “Will Public Education Survive the Embrace of Big Money?” published in Education Week. Ravitch identifies a few of the monied power brokers attacking free universal public education, including the Gates Foundation (MicroSoft), the Broad Foundation (Kaufman & Broad Homes and American International Group), and the Walton Foundation (Wal-Mart). On May 5, 2010, Philanthropy Journal added JP-Morgan-Chase to that list with its $325 million investment in the charter-school business. From the Associated Press we learn in a recent article published in the Deseret News that “Entertainment Properties Inc., known mostly for sinking its money into movie theaters and wineries, recently bought 22 locations from charter school operator Imagine Schools for $170 million,” and L. John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm behind Sun Microsystems, and Google launched NewSchools Venture Fund ten years ago specifically to fund alternatives to public education. Another of the big players invested in restructuring America’s educational system is Democrats for Education Reform, “a political action committee supported largely by hedge fund managers” according to the website DFER Watch. That site also identified Steven Klinsky, CEO and founder of New Mountain Capital, and Peter Ackerman, a former member of the Cato Institute‘s Board of Directors, as major DFER funders. Both Klinsky and Ackerman are closely affiliated with the Republican Party’s most restrictive anti-public education constituencies.

There’s a reason these billionaires and venture capitalists want into the education business, in the Associate Press article above we learn these for-profit institutions want public funding. Jeanne Allen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform insists “states and individual school districts ultimately must … allow charters to use bonds and other public construction funds or give them more money to build their own facilities.” Allen is not the only private charter school supporter planning on feeding deep from the public trough, the Texas State Board of Education plans to spend $100 million of its $22.1 billion Permanent School Fund on vacant shopping malls to house charter schools, suggesting the permanent endowment “might earn eight percent” on this investment by leasing those empty shopping malls to charter schools. The article didn’t inform the reader that shopping malls have been a poor investment since the economic collapse of 2001, as malls across America go in foreclosure or become bank-owned.

Normally national stature politicians would be expected to protect this vital American institution, unfortunately the Republican Party is running currently on an agenda which includes the destruction of universal free education. "I'd start by eliminating the U.S. Department of Education," Utah Republican Senate nominee Mike Lee is quoted in Think Progress just days before the national election. Lee is hardly alone in this outlandish demand. Nevada's Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle insists “its not the federal government's job to provide education for our children,” and promises to unfund all federal education mandates. This is not just the thinking of the Republican Party fringe, currently more than 111 Republican members of Congress or candidates who have stated their support for abolishing the US Department of Education. Nor is this a new phenomenon, in1996, the Republican Party platform declared: “The Federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education.” Where elected Republican officials, such as would-be Presidential-candidate Michael Bloomberg have control over local government these goals are being actively pursued. Under Mayor Bloomberg, New York City’s “Department of Education has closed nearly 100 regular public schools and replaced them with charter schools or new schools,” Ravitch tells us.

Key to destroying public education has been the transformation of America’s once revered public educational institutions. The first step in this process was Brown v. Board of Education which made integration of public schools the law of the land, however the reluctant nation didn’t experience integration until Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education mandated busing.

“Though public schools were technically desegregated in 1954 by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, many were still de facto segregated due to inequality in housing and racial segregation in neighborhoods. In the 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of busing to end school segregation and dual school systems, on Charlotte, North Carolina and other cities nationwide to affect student assignment based on race and to attempt to further integrate schools.”

When white parents saw a proportional increase in the number of children of different colors in the classroom, white flight began. Here in the East Bay white families moved to new developments in former agricultural lands such as Walnut Creek and further east, while others moved north to developments in Marin’s former agricultural lands. Many of those who remained placed their children in parochial or private schools, reducing the number of affluent white children in the public schools, and parents who could afford to donate time, money and political connections to keep the quality of local education at levels competitive for the limited number of student spots at prestigious colleges. The removal of white children from public schools increased the proportion of children of other ethnic identities, exacerbating the situation to the de facto segregation seen in many local public schools today. Concurrent with white flight was the increased resistance to public education. Parents spending $1,000 to $2,500 per month, per child, on segregated private schools complained about the high tax burden of public education. The national renaissance of nativist evangelical Christianism exacerbated the situation with its intolerance for other religious beliefs, abortion, single mothers, and gay rights. These wedge issues were used by the Republican party and corporate opportunists to disparage public education. This did not happen in a vacuum. Lobbyists, propagandists and political operatives were paid substantial sums of money to deliberately stoke the flames of intolerance. Richard Berman, aka “Doctor Evil,” of Washington, DC.-based Berman and Company is one such lobbyist paid millions of dollars a year by Tyson Foods, Wendy’s International, Arby’s, Hooters, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and other corporations and wealthy individuals to disseminate anti-consumer and anti-teacher propaganda through shadow organizations such as “The Center for Union Facts” and “Teachers Union Exposed.” As of May 2009, Berman and Company runs at least fifteen corporate-funded shadow groups created to sway public perceptions. Although his allegations are almost universally disputed, he is frequently cited as an authority on education in the national media, and he is encouraged to published opinion pieces criticizing public education.

Against this well-funded and highly organized effort to destroy universal free public education in America, LNCB, and its honest supporters have little chance of substantially improving education for the vast majority of economically disadvantaged students in the face of a society that embraces racial segregation and economic oppression. While privatized schools receive excellent reviews in the media, the educational results have been mixed at best. Again, Ravitch tells us, this time in the Los Angeles Times, “there is a widespread impression that any charter school is better than any public school. This is not true. Charter schools vary in quality from excellent to abysmal.” When charter schools are able to show substantially improved results, those results typically come from small, well-funded, homogenous population schools which cherry-pick the best students. Again Ravitch puts it best:

“One of the major arguments for turning schools over to private managers is that the resulting competition will spur improvements in the public schools. This did not happen in Philadelphia, nor is there evidence that it has happened elsewhere. Many charter and privately managed schools get extra resources and smaller classes with the help of corporate sponsors, but public schools typically do not. What the public schools do get are the low-performing and disruptive students who are ejected by or eased out of the charter and privately managed schools.”

It seems the two real benefits to privatization are private profits from the public tills for the corporations that own and manage these schools, and racial segregation. These types of schools have always existed in America but it used to be that they were called private schools, now they’re called ‘charter’ schools. It used to be that America stood for equal opportunity for all its citizens, but now the cherished rights enumerated in our Constitution and Bill of Rights seemed to be set aside just to benefit the rich and the white.

Flanigan, James, “Venture Capitalists Are Investing in Educational Reform,” New York Times. February 16, 2006 web.

Grannan, Caroline “Former GOP insider: Billionaire Boys' Club dismantling public education.” SF Examiner/Education. March 25, 2009. Web. Oct. 25, 2010.

Keyes, Scott. Think Progress. “111 Republican Incumbents And Candidates Want To Eliminate The Department Of Education” Oct. 29, 2010. Web. Oct. 30, 2010.

Libby, Ken. “About DFER Watch.” DFER Watch. July 11, 2010. Web. Oct. 30, 2010

Meier, Deborah, and George Wood, Alfie Kohn, Linda Darling-Hammond, Theodore R. Sizer. Many Children Left Behind. Boston. Beacon Press, 2004.

Noguera, Pedro. “A New Vision of School Reform.” The Nation. June 14, 2010. Web. Oct. 25, 2010

Philanthropy Journal. “JPMorgan Chase investing in charter schools,” May 5, 2010. Web. Oct. 25, 2010

Ravitch, Diane. “Will Public Education Survive the Embrace of Big Money?Education Week. Web. Oct. 25, 2010
Charter and private schools might not make the grade either.” Los Angeles Times. Aug. 11, 2009. Web. Oct. 25, 2010

Scharrer, Gary. “State mulls investing in charter schools,” Express News/My San Antonio. May 1, 2010. Web. Oct. 25, 2010

Think Progress. “The Progress Report: ELECTION: An Extreme Makeover” Oct. 30, 2010. Web. Oct. 30, 2010

Twiddy, David. “Private sector investing in charter schools.” Associated Press/Deseret News. Sept. 8, 2009. Web. Oct. 25, 2010

United States Supreme Court. “United States v. National City Lines Inc.” Web. Oct. 25, 2010

Wikipedia. “Brown v. Board of Education.” Web. Oct. 25, 2010
Dedham, Massachusetts.” Web. Oct. 25, 2010
Desegregation busing in the United States.” Web. Oct. 25, 2010
The Great American Streetcar Scandal.” Web. Oct. 25, 2010
Richard Berman/Teachers Union Exposed/Center for Union Facts.” Web. Oct. 25, 2010

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