By Thomas J. Fiala
Once again, let’s get something straight. This is not an all-inclusive discussion about charter schools, nor is it in any way a definitive history of the charter school movement. There are some books out there that actually critically evaluate charter schools. I like Kristin Buras’ work regarding New Orleans, and it’s always good to read books since blogs are only a good place to start understanding an issue or topic. And certainly I like my wife’s book. Nevertheless, after the business community got involved in systemic education reform by the end of the Reagan administration and then increasingly so during the administrations of Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and now Obama, it didn’t take long for these savvy moneymakers to realize there were all kinds of opportunities to profit in the new burgeoning business of education. The Palisades conference in March, 1996, a collaborative effort of state governors and corporate CEOs, is important to always keep in mind because it impacted education reform in so many ways! In fact, according to an official review of the summit, CEO’s outnumbered governors at the conference 49 to 40! In addition there was a small and very select audience of 36 that was referred to as “resource participants.” These “resource” folks included 1) John L. Anderson of the New American Schools Development Corporation; 2) Lynne Cheney representing the conservative American Enterprise Institute; 3) Denis Doyle representing the conservative Heritage Foundation; 4) Chester Finn, representing the conservative Hudson Institute; 5) Christopher Cross a member of the Council For Basic Education and a Maryland State Board of education member; 6) Keith Geiger, NEA President; 7) Albert Shanker, AFT President; 8) former Governor of Maine James J.McKernan, McKernan Enterprises and eventual CEO of Education Management Corporation; 9) Robert G. Morrison, from the conservative Family Research Council; 10) James F. Orr, III, CEO UNUM Corporation and representing the National Business Alliance; 11) Lewis C. Solomon, The Milken Institute for Job and Capital Formation; 12) Marc Tucker for the National Center for Education and the Economy; and a couple of University folks like Diane Ravitch (pre-enlightenment) former Assistant Secretary of Education with the Bush I administration and at that point in time connected to New York University. The remaining individuals were mostly school superintendents, and there was ONE TEACHER! There were NO progressive think tanks represented like the conservative groups mentioned above.
Now why do I mention this? Because by right around the Palisades conference, business already knew that there was “money in them thar hills” when it came to systemic education reform. For example, as explained on page 128 in the Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy, prior to Palisades in in October 1996, Lehman Brothers sponsored the first Education Industry Investment Conference. According to Douglas Dewey, who was writing for the conservative publication The Freeman, those attending were “regaled with new opportunities in an emerging $600 billion industry.” New corporate entrepreneurs were told that they had the potential to eliminate the government completely when it came to education, and that “the savvy investor will focus his attention on the greatest emerging market in decades and treat government schools as just another competitor to blow out of the water!” One month after the conference, the New York Times reported that for profit companies had already captured $30 billion in the $340 billion education business! Eight months after the conference Chester Finn (see above) told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation that smart investors could “make a dime” in an education business worth hundreds of billions!
Now, again, why am I saying this? At the time the flavor of the day was certainly education technology. After all, the Palisades Conference ended up calling education technology – “The Great Equalizer!” Of course, there was all kinds of cash flowing in other areas as well. Pearson and companies of their ilk demonstrate the point.
By 2011, however, Forbes Magazine almost seemed to lament that “once upon a time” the charter movement was a grassroots phenomenon. I have to add that “time” was short-lived to say the least! And by 2011, Dr. Gary Miron of Western Michigan was warning that “charter schools have provided an easy route for privatization; many states allow private schools to convert to public charter schools, and increasing the use of private education management organizations is increasingly being seen as the mode for expanding charter schools.” Furthermore he stated, “Today, one-third of the nation’s charter schools are being operated by private education management organizations (EMOs) and this proportion is growing rapidly each year. In states such as Michigan, close to 80% of charter schools are operated by private for-profit EMOs.”
In 2014, Alan Singer analyzed and pointed out the involvement of corporate types in creating charters and the profitability in charter school ventures! And why not! What a deal! Use public money for private gain! You really need to click the Singer link since Alan sends us on a scary journey into the corporate world of charter school creation!
Alan, however, has not been alone in warning of the “Walmartian invasion” coming from the Corporate Universe. For example, Elaine Magliaro, pointed out that New York was under attack as early as 2010. In 2014, Marian Wang, reporting for Bill Moyers, explained how the Koch Brothers and their minions are supporting the creation of charters in North Carolina within, in point of fact, a burgeoning national education market with the help of ALEC, a group that prides itself in creating charter schools, that are not under local control like most regular public schools are!
The Walmartians are not shy in their assault on the American institution of public education. Of course, why should they be? They basically have all the Republicans and Democrats beginning in 1983 on the side of corporate Wall Street, and certainly now if the current flock of Democratic and Republican candidates is any indication!
In spring 2015, The Walmart Family juggernaut co-sponsored, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (CCSS loyalists), a symposium for investors at the Harvard Club in Manhattan! And what was this symposium called? Bond and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools! I suggest you carefully look at the short 3 page or so conference proceedings. It sure scares the “you know what” out of me! I am not going to summarize. You must read this just to get some insight into how the Walmartians are planning to take over our public schools and who are some of the panelists and the organizations they represented that have allied themselves with these invading corporate Walmartians! I am also not shocked that a representative from KIPP was also on one of the panels, as the program indicates!
Oh my!!! I almost forgot! What Walmartian invasion would be complete without the support of the Broad Foundation’s support for charter schools! Yes, the same Eli Broad of whom the Clintons have had and continue to have a long and warm relationship!
Well, now you see it! Walmartians are not just a family! They are, indeed, a species. In fact, an invading species whose wealth is beyond the comprehension of too many of us insignificant little earthlings who still love our public schools because they have helped our communities as well as each of us as individuals in so many ways! For public schools, and in particular, locally controlled public schools, the invading Walmartians are like invading snakeheads into America’s lakes and rivers! However, I suggest that if some of the lakes and rivers need some cleaning up, don’t try to accomplish the task with snakeheads! I think anyone reading this can figure out the point I am making when it comes to education reform, and the larger social and economic factors impacting our public schools throughout the United States that impact the education of every child.
Wow – all of a sudden I just had a Jack Nicholson moment! I sure hope, for the sake of our historically beneficial locally controlled public schools, that the counterattack against these Walmartians is not too late!