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.


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.


Pondering the Term Neoliberalism

Friedmanomics, School Vouchers, School Choice, and the Free Market: If you understand Milton Friedman you are on the road to understanding neoliberalism!

Let me save some folk’s time and state from the outset that if you understand the term neoliberalism and how it impacts current education reform, you need not go on reading. Going on might be a waste of time most of us can ill afford!

Now, I have confession to make. First of all, many years ago when I first encountered the term “neoliberalism” I actually thought it had something to do with what was generally considered liberal in the political sense, something like Progressivism and FDR’s New Deal policies – or fighting for social justice like what I thought all good “liberals” were engaged in doing. Maybe there are some folks out there who also had this experience – and maybe there are still some folks who think neoliberalism is just another way to describe the current tension between “liberals” and “conservatives” – and neoliberalism is just another word to describe liberals! Well – as I learned a bit more – I sure was wrong on that one!

Perhaps there are some who believe – just like I did many years ago – that neoliberalism was nothing more than liberalism with three additional words added! Well – I soon discovered that neoliberalism is conservatism in an economic sense. I wonder if there are a goodly number of Americans who when they hear the word neoliberalism Do Not automatically think conservatism?

I have another confession to make. I think the study of neoliberalism is not only intellectually fascinating, but also an essential activity for anyone who supports America’s public school system and wants to understand the free market corporate ideological forces that want to dismantle that system.

And now I have to make another confession, I think studying the writings of people like Michael Apple, Henry Giroux, Joel Spring, Stanley Aronowitz, Svi Shapiro, Noam Chomsky, and David Harvey – to mention only a very few who have written about neoliberalism – is always a truly enlightening and intellectually invigorating experience! (Good God, am I now a full-fledged NERD???) Nevertheless, I suggest that supporters of public schools read some of the works by individuals such as this.

However, here is the problem. They are not easy reads. That is one reason out of a number of reasons why chapter 3 titled “Friedmanomics, School Vouchers, and Choice” in the The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy was written. Its accessible to folks. As chapter 2 of the book explains, the power of the conservatives since the Reagan administration was due in part to the coalescence of different factions of social, political, and economic conservative thinkers. Therefore, the book’s author, Deborah Duncan Owens, chose to use the term “conservatives” to refer to the coalesced group of pundits and policy makers who would drive education policy in the years since Reagan ascended to the presidency.

For me, understanding neoliberalism was an exercise in what the “educationsists” would – I think – call scaffolding. http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/. The term is often applied to children, but in fact as you can see from the definition we all actually learn that way. I know I had to do a good deal of scaffolding before I understood neoliberalism and I could begin to grasp what many of the authors mentioned above were talking about.

I mention all this because when I was teaching both undergraduate teacher education majors and graduate students, most of whom were practicing teachers, a lot of those folks did not really understand neoliberalism and actually were at first thinking the way I was thinking about neoliberalism those many years ago. I think many of them were quite relieved when I told them that that’s what I also originally thought neoliberalism actually meant!

However, if you want to understand the current state of the free market corporate ideological assault on America’s democratic institution of public schools, then you need to understand neoliberalism, and a good place to start is with understanding Milton Friedman and his Friedmanomic ideas.

Sometimes professionals and scholars write in a way that really marginalizes citizens. Of course, sometimes the way they write is essential in analyzing ideas within their professional context. However, sometimes people think that these writers are just being “kinda snooty” but they really are not. On the other hand, Henry Giroux explains, there is a need help citizens understand ideas like “neoliberalism” since citizens in a democracy are generally a pretty savvy group of folks! http:// www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/4349:the-public-intellectual-project

So I think a good way to begin understanding neoliberalism for those folks who find this topic rather new – or rather confusing (always remembering that I freely admit that I was one of those) might be to start here: http://www.globalissues.org/article/39/a-primer-on-neoliberalism

Then you might want to read Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

For me, after experiences like that, I actually began to understand the writings of the folks mentioned above!

And those are my thoughts about neoliberalism this Sunday morning before Thanksgiving!

The United States is not Alone in Fighting Misguided Free Market Education Policies: Great Britain’s Struggle to Maintain Local Authority Over Their Schools

Unfortunately, Great Britain seems to be following the Friedmanomic playbook when it comes to education policy in spite of mounting evidence that these policies inevitably lead to an erosion in local control over schools, a devaluing of the teaching profession, and corruption by those who see education as a steady stream of profit for business entrepreneurs.  And, according to the The Guardian, this is in spite of the fact that British citizens do not overwhelmingly support free market education policies.  In an article entitled “Poll shows opposition to education reforms” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/14/poll-opposition-education-reforms), Tom Clark and Rebecca Ratcliffe explain that “The biggest single structural change to English education … has been the rapid conversion of secondary schools into semi-independent academies.”  British academies are the U.S. equivalent to charter schools.  As in the United States, the invention of these schools was engineered by the liberal party, New Labour (Bill Clinton brought us federal government endorsement and funding for charter schools).  As Clark and Ratcliffe explain, the British brand of charter schools are “autonomous from local authorities while being funded through private contracts.”  Only 32% of the British citizens polled prefer the conversion of schools to academies.  According to the article’s authors, the “stampede to academy conversion” is being led by Conservative voters.


An attack on the teaching profession in Britain also seems to mirror the teacher hate that has become the norm in the U.S.  In 2012 academies were given the right to hire teachers who had not received formal training as professional educators.  This policy is aligned with Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan’s Race to the Top policies that favor Teach for America and other alternatively certified teachers. According to article authors, 63% of those polled felt that “teaching is a profession the requires dedicated training.”  Only 33% felt that “people with different career backgrounds should be welcomed into the classroom, to expand the teaching talent pool.”


As in the United States, corruption revolving around free market contracted schools is on the rise.  Guardian reporters Warwick Mansell and Daniel Boffey (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/17/academies-run-superhead-advance-notice-ofsted-checks) revealed that academy schools run by Rachel de Souza received advanced notice before her schools were inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.  Of course, this is highly possible since de Souza had previously been appointed as an inspector for this office.  And she used the advanced notice to warn students to watch their behavior over the coming week, get all the paperwork in order, and plant teachers who had never taught in one school before to teach model lessons.  These efforts earned de Souza’s academies the highest ratings by inspectors.


I urge British citizens to heed education policy in the U.S.  Micah Uetricht was absolutely correct when he wrote for The Guardian in 2013 an article entitled “Chicago is ground zero for disastrous ‘free market’ reforms of education” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/27/chicago-teacher-strike-against-school-closures-and-privatization).   It will be a very long time before the U.S. is able to disentangle itself from the Friedmanomic education policies that are leaving our country’s federal education system in shambles.  The process of systemically reforming the U.S. education system to reflect the free market economics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher began in the 1980s.  Since then, every presidential administration in the U.S. continued with the same failed notion that free market ideologues are the best authorities to decide education policy.  In the U.S. we like to identify who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and treat them accordingly.  Sadly, what we’ve ended up with is the wild west of education policies and education reformers who envision education as a gold rush through privatization.  My book The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy details the decades long campaign to privatize public schools in the U.S.    http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/the-origins-of-the-common-core-deborah-duncan-owens/?isb=9781137482679

Governor Cuomo, a Friedmanomics Devotee

Diane Ravitch posted the following commentary on New York Governor Cuomo on her blog:  http://dianeravitch.net/2014/10/28/cuomo-promises-more-charter-schools-tougher-teacher-evaluations-after-election/.   Her posting references a New York Daily News article entitled “Cuomo will push new teacher evaluations, vows to bust school ‘monopoly’ if re-elected” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-vows-bust-school-monopoly-re-elected-article-1.1989478.  This is a clarion call to all public school supporters.  I, for one, appreciate Cuomo’s open declaration about where he stands on public schools, teachers, local school boards, and children in the state of New York.  He is touting the “company line” — or, rather, the “corporate line” — when it comes to education policy.

Right out of the Milton Friedman Friedmanonics free market playbook, Cuomo declares that public education is a monopoly!

Clearly, a vote for Cuomo for governor is a vote against public schools and a vote for corporate education reformers who envision RTTT as a way to make a lot of money in the education arena.  This is hard for me to write.  I am a Democrat.  However, I can never vote for someone who is promoting teacher hate and a disdain for locally controlled public schools.  It’s time to reclaim our public schools America!