Part II: The Wild, Wild World of Charter Schools: The Attack of the Walmartians


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!

jack nicholson mars attack

The attack of the Walmartians: Part I: The Wild, Wild, World of Charter Schools – Let’s get Something Straight!

By Thomas J. Fiala

The unregulated world of charter schools is about to get another boost if the current ECAA is put into law.  We already know how most of our senators and congressional leaders feel about the ECAA, and in this case, charter school expansion and increased funding.   Many of us have had to engage supporters of charter schools who are always ready to point out that “not all charters are the same,” and of course, their claim that the charter schools they do endorse are taking the right approach to helping students who are being harmed by those nasty public schools.

Now I want to get this straight from the outset, before you read any farther.  I unabashedly support America’s democratic system of public education, regardless of whether a public school is governed by a locally elected school board or a school board appointed by a mayor.   Understand, however, that I do not support the process per se for any mayor appointing a school board.  This is a bad idea that is being shown again and again to be the wrong approach to meeting the educational needs of communities, large and small.  For example, if Chicago is not the poster child for using Rahm Emanuel’s  power to destroy public schools, while he sends his children to an elite private school, then I am certainly open to other contenders for the poster.   I like a city or any other type community having to elect their public school governing board.  This fact alone is going to be foundational in understanding my concerns about the charter onslaught that is increasingly pillaging our public schools across the nation.

First and foremost, charter schools are a scam for those individuals, wittingly or not, who support the neoliberal Friedmanomic educational notions of voucher and choice that circumvent the public school educational process, which has historically been a positive part of our democratic fabric and still needed today.   But let’s get down to the nitty gritty as to why charters are problematic in the very least, while an overwhelming number are simply despicable.  But first and foremost, I am not going to buy the corporate pro-charter line used by many charter start up supporters that goes like this:

Sure I support public schools, but until public schools solve all their problems, then I am going to proceed with creating my idea of what a charter school is supposed to look like!   I know charters have problems but so do public schools!

Now for those pro-charter folks using this line, I am going to school you a little – or maybe a lot!  First and foremost, the wonderful and courageous part about our public schools is that they nobly take on the challenges facing the United States.  These schools reflect the larger society, and all the wonderful aspects of that society – and all the ills of that society.  Our public schools DO NOT require a student and parent to sign a contract that has requirements and rules that if violated means that the student can rather easily be removed and then – of course – be sent back to the good old public school!  So, let me be straight with anyone reading this.  If your charter school requires a contract signed by a parent and child, and if that contract states that the child can be removed from the charter, which of course implies the child will head back to the regular public school, then that is one of the many reasons I think charters are just flat out wrong!

Let’s flip this around a little.  Would it be a good idea for public schools to be allowed to engage in this same practice?  Certainly, a student can be expelled from a regular public school.  However, the process is simply not the same, as we all know – and that WE includes charter supporters!   Public schools must not be easily used as a place for charter school castoffs!  This is particularly true when neoliberal charter supporters claim that competition is key to improving education.  That’s not competition.  That’s stacking the deck!

Let’s look at this issue in another way.  For example, it seems that America’s media certainly worries more about underinflated footballs  at the Super Bowl being competitively unfair than it does when it comes to unfair educational competition and America’s traditional public schools!  So charter supporters, become as noble as the public schools and do not use these contracts to avoid the complex challenges facing our public schools that go beyond the walls of the school!  What’s really amazing is that when looking at the big picture, overall, charters do not outperform the regular old public schools!  Of course, as we will see later, there’s plenty of cash in “them thar hills” when it comes to charter schools!

Another basic issue that cannot be tolerated in my opinion, is that charter school governing boards are not accountable to the public in the same way regular public schools are.  A group that gets together, then gets a school charter and appoints a governing board that is immune from public scrutiny – and then is at the public trough syphoning dollars away from the regular public schools – is not an example of democracy in action.  Certainly the neoliberal Milton Friedman would have defined this as democratic in nature – but I don’t!  If a school governing board takes public money – then the school governing board must be transparent and accessible in a public manner.  Not just accessible to the specific clientele that is part of the charter school of which this board governs!  This is an intolerable action!

Understand, all this CANNOT – I repeat CANNOT – be construed in any way as being an INNOVATIVE  educational approach to improving education!  And, of course, we always hear that this is what charters are supposed to be all about – INNOVATION free from the constraint placed on regular public school!   I believe that if a charter school does NOT address these two major ways of doing business — 1) contracts and 2) transparency and real public accountability while taking public money —  then the charter should not be allowed to exist.  I am not about to acquiesce to those who want to create, in effect, private schools with public money!  And I am NOT about to buy the claim that this is an example of educational INNOVATION!

So here we end part one of the Wild, Wild, World of Charters!  Stayed tuned for more regarding this particular attack on our democratic institution of public schools.

Part II: The Wild, Wild, World of Charter Schools – The Attack of the Walmartians!

Part III: The Wild, Wild, World of Charter Schools – The Plague of Corruption

2 Good Reasons Not to Endorse Senate’s ECAA: Standardized Tests and Charter Expansion

First, there is no language whatsoever that softens the blow of standardized testing for children.  None.  For children, all standardized tests are high stakes and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter whether these tests are foisted on them by their state government or the federal government.  It still detracts from their education.  Standardized tests merely measure, sort, and label — they don’t educate.

Second, nearly 10% of the bill is devoted to the expansion of charter schools.  The entire bill is 601 pages.  The first 11 + pages consist of a table of contents.  That leaves 590 pages of text.  Fifty-five of those pages — nearly 10% — outline a plan to expand charter schools.  I think the record is clear that charter schools are problematic.  Remember — the charter school movement emerged from the voucher and choice movement.   Milton Friedman’s own foundation — The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice — claims the charter school movement as a boon to the free market, competition driven ideology of neoliberals.  Charter schools = privatization.

Question:  So, what further provides impetus in the move to privatization?

Answer:  A steady stream of standardized tests to support the faulty logic promoted by A Nation at Risk — and barely challenged — that our entire public school system (which Friedman labeled a monopoly and socialistic) is a failure and in need of constant systemic reform.

How can anyone who supports public schools and the children they serve support this legislation?  And I anticipate the final bill that emerges from the House and Senate conference committee will be worse.


Lamar Alexander: And the Beat Goes On ….

It seems that July 1991 was an important month for education reformers.  Lamar Alexander as Secretary of Education under President H. W. Bush was very busy on two fronts: 1) laying the groundwork for a national system of assessment (that would require the eventual development of a set of national standards); and 2) facilitating the corporate world’s entre’ into the education arena in full force.

Thanks to C-Span, we have a front row seat to some of the events and pronouncements of Lamar Alexander in which his education reform agenda is laid on the table – in full view of the American public – and we’re feeling the repercussions in full force today.

At a July 1, 1991,  National Education Goals Panel meeting the groundwork for a national system of assessment was laid.  Democrat Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, with Secretary Lamar Alexander at his side, explained the formation and purposes of the Council for Standards and Testing that was the result of a newly enacted law.  As you will note, beginning at approximately 1:19 on the video counter, Romer provides a graphic of the development process for the national assessment, explaining that NAEP testing was inadequate in that it only provided a national picture of educational progress and comparisons between states.  What was needed was a national assessment or set of assessments based on individual student achievement.  NAEP would remain in place; however, a newly developed national assessment would be administered to every child.

Lamar Alexander follows Romer with these insightful words:

“ Sometimes things that look big don’t amount to anything.  Things that seem small amount to a lot.  This is one of those small steps that amounts to a lot — because it represents a beginning to taking the first concrete steps forward to how to exactly develop a national system of examination.  That’s one part and the second part is it includes within that discussion, without committing themselves to a particular way to do it, members of Congress — and I think it’s important to say the Republican and Democratic members of Congress took an issue about which they could have played a game or two with — because there were competing versions of an idea and they put it together.  Dale Kildee [Democrat from Michigan] especially in the House of Representatives took a leadership role in doing that and I think took a very constructive step and it is moving swiftly — but the country needs to [act] as swifty as it accurately and responsibly can in this area because people want some progress.  It is an important step and I thank you [Romer] and Governor Campbell [Republican Governor of South Carolina] deserve a great deal of credit for your leadership in it and that the Congress, both the Democratic and Republican members deserve a lot of credit for putting their partisanship to one side and getting on with this in very rapid order and there are very few things that move through Congress that swiftly and I think it is a very encouraging step.”

Exactly one week later, on July 8, 1991, President H. W. Bush and Lamar Alexander announced the “New American Schools Development Corporation” as the new vanguard approach to reforming public education. This “private” venture was lead by both political leaders and corporate CEOs from companies such as R.J.R. Nabisco, Boeing, AT&T, and Rand.

Several things to note:

  1. …. the declaration that charter school legislation is as an important factor in implementing privatization efforts;
  2. …. Lamar Alexander’s comment that the New American Schools project was “moving rapidly;”
  3. …. the response to a reporter about the possible need for congressional oversight in this new private venture into public education.  This question drew an almost terse response: “There is absolutely no need for that. As a matter of fact, this is an entirely private corporation.  There’s no reason for Congress to be involved in this wholly private venture…”; and
  4. … last, but certainly not least, the mention of Chris Whittle’s private venture foray into the education arena.

Chris Whittle was an important player in the private sector’s incursion in education reform:

In a New York Times article in 1989, Bill Carter reported the names of the luminaries who would serve on Whittle’s Channel One’s board.  These names would include former Department of Education Secretary Terrel Bell (who brought us “A Nation at Risk” under President Ronald Reagan) and Lamar Alexander (then serving as President of the University of Tennessee).  Later in July, 1991, Lamar Alexander’s official position regarding Channel One was, “There’s room for everybody on the reform bandwagon.”

Lamar Alexander’s agenda for education reform has been clear for many years now — national assessment, national standards, and privatization.  I’m detecting a pattern in Alexander’s leadership style.  He likes to move rapidly.  He’s pushing ESEA reauthorization through in the same rapid manner he promoted over two decades ago.  So, does anyone really think he is going to eliminate standardized testing?  And, to be sure, he is moving full steam ahead in the privatization of America’s public schools.

School Choice, Vouchers, and Charter Schools are OFF THE CHAIN!!!

This coming week will see the “Nation’s Largest-Ever School Choice Celebration.” With the ESEA reauthorization process firmly underway and charter school funding largely undebated and undiscussed as a failed experiment by federal policy makers, clearly a celebration is in order for free market devotees and corporate/entrepreneur ed reformers.  Sure, Lamar Alexander is hailed as a hero for holding congressional hearings to discuss the overuse and misuse of standardized testing, but he and his cronies are are very pleased to divert attention away from the big grab for the privatization of public schools.

January 23-31 is now officially, albeit self-proclaimed by school choice/charter advocates, National School Choice Week:

“The largest celebration of school choice in US history will officially start on Friday, January 23, 2015 at a special event in Jacksonville, Florida.

National School Choice Week 2015 will kick off at the Florida Theatre at 12:30 pm on January 23. The event is the first event of an unprecedented 11,082 independently planned and independently funded special events taking place across all 50 states during the Week, which runs until January 31, 2015.

The goal of the Week is to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options for children, and to raise awareness of the importance of, and benefits of, school choice in a variety of forms.”

Headliners for the School Choice Week kickoff celebration include Senator John McCain and Vice President Joe Biden’s brother, Frank, along with other notables from well-funded charter school organizations and we can look forward to a dizzying 11,000 events across the country.

Milton Friedman would be so proud.  What an absolute testament to the economic policies of Ronald Reagan. This is the fruition of all they hoped for in education policy for the U.S.  We can thank Reagan for making Friedman’s voucher concept politically palatable in our country when he substituted the term “school vouchers” to the more benign term “school choice.”  H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, would continue to promote school choice through charter schools — attaching all the accoutrements of equity, civil rights, and education excellence to the p.r. campaign to the American public — while stripping away the democratic intentions of local school governance.  The free market of education policy is the clear winner.  The private sector is celebrating and planning their next strategy for grabbing the tax dollars that students carry with them into the schoolhouse door and the federal grants that will help create more and more charter schools.  And now they’ve claimed a national week of celebration.  Presidents get a day to honor them; Martin Luther King gets a day; labor gets a day; there’s one 4th of July; but — school choice advocates have proclaimed an entire week.  The dog is off the chain!


ESEA Reauthorization – Beware – What’s on the Table and What’s under the Table

I’ve been watching the heated debate about the ESEA reauthorization process and standardized testing.   The joint statement by the AFT and the Center for American Progress is clearly problematic for those who want to end the onslaught of testing in public schools and represents an about face of the AFT.  And the call for maintaining standardized testing as part of the reauthorized ESEA by civil rights groups has the potential to thwart efforts to minimize our country’s obsession with testing and data.  I’m not surprised by these actions.  The same things occur whenever federal education policies have been debated.  One thing is consistent, however.  Over the years, the monied lobby groups tend to prevail — not because what they seek is good for children, but because federal policies represent a whole lot of capital that can be exploited and used to increase the coffers of the private sector.  

It’s a good thing that Congress will hold hold hearings to discuss standardized testing.  At least there will be an official record of the concerns of citizens about the abuse of standardized testing and its impact on children, teachers, schools, and public education.  It’s a good start.  However, the AFT and the civil rights coalition have supplied corporate education reformers with a rationale for maintaining standardized tests as a key component of ESEA.  By framing the discussion about testing as an issue of equity, and by invoking the NCLB mantra of “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” the path for maintaining standardized testing is made clear — whether or not that path is paved with good intentions.  And never forget that standardized testing has proven to be very lucrative for free market corporate education reformers.  

But the conversation about standardized testing is on the table, visible for all to see.  There are, however, other ESEA policy issues at stake, too.  One education policy issue that will survive is the promotion of charter schools and funds for starting charter schools.  And that’s a good thing for the corporate education privatization movement.  I would argue, that they embrace the rancorous discourse regarding standardized testing because it takes the focus off of their real motive — privatization.  As I explained in a recent post about the domino effect and charter schools:

“… hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about [ academic achievement] in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.”

I fear that there is another big issue that the public is not aware of that is at stake in the ESEA reauthorization debate.  According to David DeShryer of Whiteboard Advisors,  “Sen. Lamar Alexander’s discussion draft bill provides new supplement, not supplant language that may have significant implications for the education market.”  To be clear, Whiteboard Advisors is in the business of promoting entrepreneurship in the policy arena.  Its co-founder is Ben Wallerstein who once served as an aide to David Kearns — the former Xerox CEO who worked with Diane Ravitch at the Department of Education under George H.W. Bush during the era in which choice, school vouchers, and charters gained solid footing as a potent education reform mechanism.  Whiteboard Advisors is a go-to source for business as a way to monitor federal and state governmental policies that favor their profit interest.  DeShryer explains how Lamar Alexander’s proposal for ESEA reauthorization would benefit private interests.  Title I funds, intended to “serve at-risk students in schools with concentrations of poverty,” could be tapped without oversight or accountability.  Alexander’s proposal “says that no district would be required to identify individual costs or provide specific services through a particular instructional method or setting in order to demonstrate compliance.”

DeShryer further states:

“The importance of the change cannot be overstated. Today, unless a school is operating a “school-wide” model, the test to ensure compliance is rather fact specific and burdensome – a gift to auditors and attorneys. That changes under this bill. A district need only to show that the methodology of getting state and local funds to its schools is clear and transparent enough to ensure that Title I funds are not used to supplant state and local dollars. Under that test, it does not matter if an innovative digital learning program benefits Title I eligible students and all other students in the district. It does not matter that the service can both address core instruction and remediation. These factors are not relevant to the founding formula compliance test, and this opens up the market and makes innovative school leadership much easier to realize.”

This has huge implications for schools, teachers, and, most importantly, students.  Congress is throwing a party, in the form of congressional hearings, to discuss standardized testing in the spirit of democratic and transparent discourse — setting the table for the issue they are willing to put on the table for discussion.  However, what is most important is what is going on under the table.  While invoking the equity argument to maintain standardized testing, what the AFT and the civil rights groups are not discussing is the fact that Lamar Alexander’s proposal for ESEA reauthorization could, in fact, deprive the students, who need Title I funds the most, of the resources they need to be successful.  An unfettered free market of education would certainly benefit one group the most — the businesses who market their services and wares to public schools.  Cha Ching!!!

Charter Schools and the Domino Effect

Two items caught my eye this week.  The first was a news item about proposed legislation in Wisconsin that would require traditional public schools with low test scores to be closed and converted into charter schools.  The second was a posting by Gene V. Glass entitled “Cream Rises to the Top in Charters?”

School choice and the charter school movement is a failed experiment on our nation’s school children.  Enough time has elapsed now and enough data has been gathered to demonstrate that this is a failed experiment in the quality of education in the U.S.  However, it has been a huge success for corporate free market education reformers.  So, while our nation’s children and local communities are the ultimate losers in this grand venture, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs are the ultimate winners.

As Gene Glass explains, “Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average.”  In short, “choice” and charter schools are not so much about children and families choosing schools, but about charter schools choosing the students who can bolster their bottom line, increasing their capital in the form of higher test scores that will add to their brand and keep them in business — with a steady stream of income from the tax dollars citizens pay for public education.

The impact of Wisconsin’s proposed legislation would be extremely beneficial for the free market of education.    In essence, this legislation will have a domino effect on public schools and hasten their demise and the unity of the local communities these public schools serve.  If passed, the legislation would require that “persistently low-performing public schools would be turned into charter schools.”  In other words, low performing public schools would disappear, never to be improved and never to return to the democratic public sector.  There is no indication that low performing charter schools would be converted back into traditional public schools.  Rather, they would most likely merely be turned over to another charter school operator.

The impact could be devastating for public education because inevitably and by design, once opened, each charter school would begin the process of weeding out low performing and special needs students.  And where would they go? To the remaining traditional public school.  Of course, then, the student population of the public schools would shift as they accommodate more and more of the poorer performing students and students who require more services in order to be successful.  Their test scores are likely to go down — not because they are not good schools and not because their teachers are ineffective, but because they are doing what all public schools should be doing — trying to meet the needs of all students.  But, eventually, these remaining public schools run the risk of being deemed failures as their test scores decline.  And then, of course, according to the proposed law, they will be turned into a charter school — which will again further weed out the low performing and special needs students.  This is the domino effect.  One by one, public schools will fall.  A fait accompli for the private sector.

And what about standardized testing in this brave new world of privatized education?  Will student achievement rise across the nation?  Will our students’ scores top the list on PISA tests?  Of course not.  But, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about that in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.

The Fordham Institute Credo: Disrupt Public Education by Removing Disruptive Students from Charter School

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been a stalwart advocate for free market systemic education reform since the 1990s.  Under the leadership of Chester Finn, the institute has built a strong coalition of organizations, think tanks, and allies from the private and public sector.  Michael Petrilli assumed leadership of the institute when Finn stepped aside as president of the organization earlier this year.  His work is supported by a host of partner organizations like ALEC, AEI and the Hoover Institute and a board of trustees that include luminaries such as former secretary of the Department of Education, Rod Paige.

I wasn’t surprised, therefore, that Petrilli wrote the following:

“Because these are schools of choice, they have many advantages, including that everyone is there voluntarily. Thus they can make their discipline codes clear to incoming families (and teachers); those who find the approach too strict can go elsewhere.

This is a good compromise to a difficult problem: Not all parents (or educators) agree on how strict is too strict. Traditional public schools that serve all comers have to find a middle ground, as best they can, which often pleases no one. Schools of choice, including charters, need not make such compromises. That’s a feature, not a bug.

It’s not too strong to say that disruption is classroom cancer. It depresses achievement and makes schools unpleasant, unsafe and unconducive to learning. We need to think long and hard about taking tools away from schools — especially schools of choice — that allow their students to flourish.”

I am very glad Petrilli made these ideas public on the pages of the New York Times.  While free market “choice” proponents have longed proclaimed that the key to their supposed success is the purported superiority of their educational approach, free market “choice” critics (see Emma Brown for detailed analysis of charter school practices in Washington D.C.) have likewise pointed out that any purported success of charter schools has more to do with the fact that they can “choose” their students and remove low-achievers and students they deem to be disruptive.  Traditional public schools cannot simply remove disruptive students.  They are required to “serve all comers” as Petrilli points out and are not able (or willing) to simply abandon children who bring to the education experience a range of problems.  That charter schools are able to remove disruptive students is “a feature, not a bug” of the choice system.

This is certainly not a new proposition.  It has been at the core of the free market choice movement.  Consider, for example, a video of Chester Finn in 1996 at Georgia Public Policy Foundation.  I post this video as a reminder to those engaged in resistance to corporate education reform that the issues we are grappling with are not new and did not begin with the Bush/Paige administration or the Obama/Duncan administration.  In this brief video, Finn provides a great deal of insight into the agenda of the free market driven “choice”/charter school movement that would later become the RTTT policies that the public, whether on the political right or left, is currently living with — and resisting:

  1. On the issue that Petrilli addressed in his New York Times commentary, Finn explains in 1996 that the power of the charter school rests with the strength of their discipline policies, which are made clear to students and parents prior to enrollment.
  2. Finn positions local school board governance as a problem, praising cities like Chicago and Boston that had, by 1996, already turned governance over their schools to their mayors who had the ability to appoint members of the private sector to oversee public schools.
  3. In response to concerns about standardized testing and the practice of “teaching to the test,” Finn explains that there is nothing wrong with teaching to the test.  All you need is a good test to teach to.
  4. Finally, and probably most importantly, in 1996 Finn explains that the free market of public education policy provides an excellent opportunity for the private sector to possibly “make a dime.”

While there is justifiable outrage over Petrilli’s missive about disruptive students and the power of charter schools to remove them from their rosters, this is certainly not a new idea.  He is simply reiterating the Fordham Institute’s credo of privatization through free market principles in the education arena.  One thing is certain about the corporate reform movement.  They have remained true to their message and they have the power and money to continue their quest.  Fordham Institute is well situated to remain at the table of policy discussions, with board members who have entered and exited the federal policy arena through the Department of Education.  The policies they have long promoted are now the law of the land and, in fact, much more than a dime has been made by entrepreneurs seeking to expand their wealth through the privatization of the education sector.

“I Can’t Breathe”: The real problem in the U.S.

“I can’t breathe.”  Those were Eric Garner’s last words on Earth.  He was unarmed and killed by police officers who are hired and trained to “serve and protect.”  But they didn’t protect Eric Garner.  I suppose they were protecting the citizens from a man who was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island, New York.  I say allegedly because Garner will never be officially charged, never go on trial, and never have a right to be defended by an attorney.  He is dead.  And no one will be held accountable for his death.  Our nation is still reeling from the events of Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown, another unarmed man was killed — shot to death — by police officers.  And the officer who shot him was also acquitted by a grand jury.  Michael Brown allegedly stole some cigars and was walking in the middle of the road.  Of course, Michael Brown, too, was never officially charged, never went to trial, and was never defended in a court of law by an attorney.  He is dead.

These are not isolated cases.  As Josh Harkinson reported in August, four unarmed black men were killed last summer in the span of a month in the U.S.  And in Cleveland, Ohio, police officers are under investigation for the shooting death of 12 year old Tamir Rice in a playground.  Tamir was shot because someone called 911 after seeing him brandishing a replica handgun — and the caller made it clear that the gun probably wasn’t real.  All of these men and Tamir had two things in common: they were black and they were Americans.

We have a problem in the U.S.  Take a minute to read the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.  Consider, in particular, the following:

“… 35% of black children grades 7-12 have been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers compared to 20% of Hispanics and 15% of whites …”

We should all be having a little trouble breathing.  We must stop dehumanizing black lives  in our country.  It starts when they’re kids.  And no-excuse charter schools are not the answer.  I agree with Jon Stewart.  We certainly are not living in a post-racial society.


Jeb Bush: Another Friedmanomic Devotee Redefines Public Schools

“The situation is wholly different with a socialist enterprise like the public school system, or, for that matter, a private monopoly.”  Milton Friedman

Jeb Bush is officially thinking about running for president. And, in case anyone is wondering, he has provided a video outlining his education policy agenda. Andrew Cuomo and Jeb Bush have one essential idea in common. They both think public schools are a monopoly and both want to bust that monopoly. Milton Friedman began his assault on public schools in the 1950s with his assertion that public schools were a socialist enterprise and the only solution was to privatize education and use public tax dollars to send children to private enterprise schools.

Jeb Bush has lost his patience. He just hasn’t seen the change he thinks is necessary in our education system. Of course, corporate reformers have been saying that for years. In 1995, former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner spoke at the National Governors Association and excoriated the governors for their lack of progress in education reform since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. What was needed, according to Gerstner, was “a fundamental, bone-jarring, full-fledged, 100 percent revolution that discards the old and replaces it with a totally new performance-driven system” (in chapter 5, Origins of the Common Core). Lou Gerstner’s impatience brought us the Palisades summit of gubernatorial and corporate CEOs in 1996 — the birthplace of Achieve (who would bring us the CCSS).

Free market corporate reformers, like Andrew Cuomo, Lamar Alexander, and Jeb Bush know all too well that in order to completely free marketize our education system, we must be in a perpetual state of reform.  They also know that democracy impedes privatization efforts. Both Lamar Alexander and Jeb Bush asserted that local school boards represent a monopoly. Corporate education reformer Lou Gerstner would agree. In 2008, he proposed abolishing all local school districts, “save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities).”

It does seem incongruent that the education policy of a purported Democrat like Andrew Cuomo would be so aligned with long time conservative Republicans like Lamar Alexander and Jeb Bush. However, as I explain in my upcoming book, we have been, at least since the Clinton administration, making policy through a third way of governance — in which corporate leaders are invited to the policy table to facilitate policy making decisions.

In New York, Zephyr Teachout and Mohammad Khan explain in a white paper how corporate free market rich billionaires are subverting America’s democratic process in their efforts to dismantle America’s locally controlled public schools, stating, “The 2014 effort, a kind of lightning war on public education, is important for many reasons: it is hasty and secretive, depending on huge speed and big money, and driven by unaccountable private individuals. It represents a new form of political power, and therefore requires a new kind of political oversight.”  This document is must read because it clearly demonstrates how corporate and governmental mutualism on a national scale impacts an individual state.

On a national scale, the efforts of these free market corporate reformers, cloaked in the disingenuous façade of saviors to American democracy, however, have not been all that secretive.  Rather, these reformers up to now have often been simply operating below the radar of public – and most importantly – media scrutiny.

What these corporate reformers and their political operatives are doing is first and foremost an exercise in distorting the democratic nature and definition of locally controlled public schools.  They do this by perversely explaining that America’s locally controlled public schools are actually a monopoly.  However, this is a distortion of history to the extreme.  As Diane Ravitch points out, America’s institution of locally controlled public schools actually reflects the true essence of American democracy.

Radically changing the historic definition of public schools and ignoring the true democratic nature of these schools is the height of chicanery.  However, all citizens who support America’s institution of public schools need to realize that this political ploy when used by individuals such as Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and a raft of others such as Lamar Alexander, is essential in realizing the education agenda of corporate free market education reformers.