The Flipping of Education Policy: When Big Government Became a Good Thing and Local Control Became Bad

Several years ago my husband, Thomas Fiala, and I presented a paper at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) conference regarding education policy.  President Obama had recently been elected and No Child Left Behind was choking the life out of public education. The steady drumbeat of free market privatization was clearly echoing across the nation.  Race to the Top was starting to boil across the country and its scalding corrosive steam was beginning to be felt.  Our paper explored the convergence of education policy discussions across the decades and we presented it at a political science conference because it was as much about the intrusion of economic policy and conservative ideology in the education arena as it was education policy.  The MPSA conference was an excellent venue for vetting our ideas.  Instead of preaching to the choir, we were talking with scholars from other disciplines who could challenge us and help us in our quest to understand how we ended up in this place and time with the federal government driving education policy — something that has been traditionally considered a local issue or, at best, in the hands of state governments to decide.

One of our discussants at MPSA posed an interesting question, asking, “How do you explain the fact that conservatives have always been opposed to centralized federal government and yet it was a Republican president who brought us the most far-reaching federal education policies in U.S. history?  How do you explain that?”  “Aaaah,”  We responded.  “That is the question that drives our research.”  Far from being definitive, our paper had opened up a number of questions that were not easy to answer.  And so we continued to delve into our research.

By 2014, the Common Core State Standards had become a lightning rod in the U.S. and was driving an angry groundswell of dissenters on both the political right and left.  While many conservatives were angry about the federal overreach in promoting a set of national education standards that were suspect by their very nature, many liberals were crying foul over the continued assault on public education and teachers, and an onslaught of standardized tests. And both sides were questioning the profit motive that was driving corporate influence in education policy.

The time was right to write The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.  In this book I try to answer the question posed at the Midwest Political Science Association conference several years earlier.  While the key to understanding current education policy is acknowledging the powerful influence of conservative voices that have never missed an opportunity to criticize the very notion of public education since at least 1931 when Albert Jay Nock wrote The Theory of Education in the United States, to understand how these ideas became the wellspring of current education policy requires an examination of public policy in general. Conservative thinkers such as Nock and those who followed him, most notably free market economist Milton Friedman, were provided a national stage when President Reagan was elected.  And while Reagan’s first order of business in the education policy arena was intended to be the abolition of the federal Department of Education, the publication of the erroneous, misleading, and factually wrong report A Nation at Risk created a heady atmosphere among Reagan supporters that their conservative ideas could finally form the basis of national education policy in the years to come.  While ANAR did not immediately yield the fruit of their most cherished idea — vouchers and school choice — it did provide a platform for promoting the privatization of public education.  And the inflammatory report did provide the impetus for dismantling our nation’s public school system by creating a crisis mentality and promoting the zeitgeist that all our public schools are failing.  This zeitgeist has gone largely unchallenged, and when it was challenged in the early 90s with the Sandia Report, the administration of George H.W. Bush had the report buried so that it would never be publicly reported to the American citizens.

When a Democrat was elected as president, our nation had an opportunity to reclaim our nation’s public school system and celebrate the achievement of a nation that had for so long envisioned public schools as an arena for hope and equity.  Acknowledging that schools serve and reflect communities and that there was still so much work to be done to overcome structural problems like poverty, income disparity, racism, and unequal funding for public schools that interfere with a child’s educational attainment, we could have embarked on an era of genuine reform — both socially and educationally.  Instead, we placed our faith in Bill Clinton and understanding his public and education policies is essential if one is to understand the origins of the Common Core.  He opened the gate, through his allegiance to the free market and his adoption of third way politics, to corporate leaders who took a place at the head of the table in education policies.  And corporate leaders seized the opportunity with gusto.  As a result, Bill Clinton became the architect of what would become No Child Left Behind, which would be skillfully named by George W. Bush to reflect the trademarked motto (“Leave no Child Behind”) of Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund.

Corporate leaders have been setting the agenda in education for several decades now.  They do not act in a conspiratorial way.  They were invited to the policy table and they have not left.  No one blinked an eye when they openly declared that they envisioned the education arena as a way to make huge profits.  They organized summits and conferences to plot their strategy.  Corporate leaders and think tank executives move freely between governmental appointments and private enterprise to expand their influence.  They act boldly and brush off any criticism about their actions because they can afford to do so.

A growing number of scholars have begun to acknowledge that governmental decision making in the U.S. has been corrupted by this third way of governance.  Mike Lofgren calls it the Deep State, explaining the phenomenon on the Bill Moyers show.  In deciphering the policies that have culminated in RTTT and CCSS, I think I now understand how we got here.  The question now remains — how do we get out of here?  How do we reclaim our public schools?   A first step, I believe, is reclaiming local control over public schools.  This we cannot surrender.  A growing number of education critics are arguing that local school governance is the problem.  We are seeing a growing trend in which entire school districts are being turned over to private management firms and the power of local school boards is being assaulted.  It is only at the local level, with democratically elected school boards, that we can complete the work of reclaiming public schools and address problems inherent with faulty standards, curricula, high stakes testing, teacher evaluation, data mining, and the other toxic policies emanating  from centralized authorities who long ago relinquished their responsibilities to corporations intent on using education policies as a way to make a buck on the backs of our children.  School boards have the power to drive the money lenders from the temple.  Of course, they must seize their power by collectively demanding that our elected officials restructure school funding so that school districts do not have to bow to the altar of state and federal officials to ensure that their children receive equitable funding for their public schools.

The Next Phase in Corporate Education Reform Resistance, Part 2

As I ponder what the next phase of resistance to corporate education reform will or should be, I again turn to the insights of P. L. Thomas.  I am reminded that one of the hallmarks of the corporate reform agenda is the destruction of local governance over school districts.  In 2008, Gates’ forerunner as corporate reformer, Lou Gerstner, issued a clarion call for the elimination of local school boards and Matt Miller published an article for The Atlantic entitled “First, Kill All the School Boards: A modest proposal to fix the schools.”  Indeed, the success of corporate reformers has been predicated on the notion that centralized governance over public schools is essential.  In spite of a national campaign to portray all public schools as failures — a campaign that began in earnest during the Reagan years — Americans tend to be happy and supportive of the local public schools their children attend.  Prior to the Reagan administration, federal education policies were situated within the understanding that local school governance was essential because local communities knew best how to meet the needs of the children their schools served.  Federal policies were seen as a way to enforce civil rights laws and oversee funding to provide equity for underserved and marginalized populations in communities with inadequate local tax bases to support education.  In the decades since the Reagan era, however, as free market ideology swept the land, the education sector was overtaken with corporate reformers who embarked on a feeding frenzy to capture any and all funds available to be harvested through systemic education reform initiatives.  And funds ensuing from federal and state policies are easier to harvest than funds ensuing from local policies.

Thus, the thoughts of P. L. Thomas resonated with me as he discussed the Gandhian notion of non-cooperation. Thomas writes:

The goal of non-cooperation must include seeking ways in which to shift the priorities of the locus of power:

  • First, the central locus of power in education is the student, situated in her/his home and community.
  • Next in importance is the locus of power afforded the teacher in her/his unique classrooms.
  • These must then merge for a locus of power generated within the community of the school.
  • Finally, the locus of power in this school-based community must radiate outward.

Currently, the locus of power in education policy is at the federal level as the Duncan/Obama administration wields the levers of power over state departments of education.  This is the crux of the dissention among those who are resisting corporate education reform.  Defeating federal intrusion into issues of curriculum (strictly forbidden by federal law) is no easy task, however, given the acquiescence of federal policy makers to corporate think tanks and well-financed corporate lobby groups. This didn’t begin with the Obama administration. The current administration has merely brought us the fruition of a decades-long campaign to privatize our nation’s public school system.

How can we defeat the corporate machine?  I would suggest that the next phase of resistance requires an emphasis on reestablishing the locus of control in our local public school districts that serve the needs of children and parents within communities.  We are, according to Thomas, currently in phase 2 of resistance to corporate education reform.  We are loudly proclaiming the failures of free market corporate-driven centralized education policies and we are being heard by some and, particularly, ourselves.  But, while the Phi Delta Kappan poll found that most Americans are happy with their local schools, only a little more than one-third of Americans had ever heard of the Common Core.  What does this mean for the corporate reform resistance movement?  Clearly, we should be heartened that, in spite of the cacophony of declarations that they entire public school system is a failure, the majority of the American public is not buying the public relations campaign by corporate reformers.  They believe their schools are fine.

Indeed, even some of the authors of A Nation at Risk, the document that is largely responsible for lighting the match that started our nation on its current path to the destruction of public schools,  understood that the problems they cited with public schools were generally associated with inner city schools serving large numbers of students living in impoverished communities. What should have resulted from the National Commission on Excellence in Education was not an incendiary document declaring the entire education system as a failure, but a document that highlighted the excellent education the majority of students in America were receiving (the Blue Ribbon award program was ironically begun by the same administration to recognize these excellent schools). And the document should have served as the the impetus for fully funding War on Poverty initiatives to further infuse troubled inner city communities and schools with the resources they so desperately needed.  Instead, the commission chose to ignore the realities of the lives of many students and the teachers who worked with them every day.  They chose to ignore the systemic problems, like poverty and racism, our country had valiantly fought to overcome in the decades leading up to the Reagan administration.  Rather, they were pleased with the celebrity they enjoyed as a result of the hyperbolic and misleading  report they wrote and presented to the president and nation in 1983.  As a result, our public schools have been immersed in a perpetual cycle of systemic and federally driven education reform initiatives, informed and driven in large part by corporate profit-motivated free market devotees.

The key, therefore, to resisting corporate education reform is reclaiming the rightful duty of local school districts to govern their community’s public schools.  And the strength of our public schools is the communities they serve.  Therefore, if we really understand the connection between socio-economic status and educational achievement then we will truly understand the next phase in the resistance movement.  Education reform begins with social reform and social reform begins with communities.  Public schools serve an important function for a community.  They feel the pain when factories are closed and the economy suffers.  They thrive when jobs that pay a living wage become available to citizens and the economy surges. In spite of everything else, schools are a source of pride for many, many communities across the U.S.  Families flock to watch football under the “Friday Night Lights,” gather together for concerts and plays, collect “box tops” to purchase supplies, proudly attend high school graduations (and sometimes preschool and kindergarten graduations) and some parents attend school board meetings to make their voices heard.  Parents and students anxiously await report cards and parent-teacher conferences and look forward to field trips and class parties. Public schools are so much more than generators of capital — financial or in the form of standardized test scores.

So, while we’re engaged in phase 2 of the resistance and making dissenting voices heard, actions that must continue, we must embrace our local public schools and fight for their right to survive under the governance of local school boards.  Each person in the corporate education reform resistance movement lives, teaches, and/or learns in a community and, as Thomas rightfully points out, this is where change begins — first by empowering the student, then by empowering the teacher in the classroom and the community of the school.  Finally, as locus of power is embraced within the school community, power can be generated outward.  I would argue, too, that the power of the community will likewise embrace the power of the school as a place of hope and change in the lives of children.

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.

 

Stopping the Corporate Raid on America’s Public Schools: Local Control Over Education

Britt Dickerson wrote an insightful essay entitled “Investors Ready to Liquidate Public Schools” about the corporate raid on America’s public schools.  Dickerson writes:

“Plans are under way for investment corporations to execute the biggest conversion – some call it theft – of public schools property in U.S. history.

That is not hyperbole. Investment bankers themselves estimate that their taking over public schools is going to result in hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, if they can pull it off.”

Much has been written about the free market corporate plans to cash in on the public dollars associated with RTTT policies and the exploitation of children as profit producing capital.  However, less has been written about how to stop the freight train loaded with venture capitalists hell-bent on reaching the destination of a totally unfettered free market of education in the U.S.

Dickerson succinctly distills the solution.   Who has the power to stop the corporate raiders?

  1. Educators, parents, and concerned community members who “rally to maintain local, democratic control of public schools” … who understand that “any degree of standardization that comes from beyond the state only serves large, nation-wide investor interests.”
  2. Educators who “successfully counter the investor propaganda that parents are the only true stakeholders in a child’s education.” Only “then raiders can be opposed successfully. The oldest to the youngest and richest to poorest members of every community are the true stakeholders in public schools and public education.”
  3. Democratically elected school boards that “stay empowered to make decisions for the local public schools,” … able to resist the raider process.”
  4. Stakeholders who “successfully press legislators to listen to them instead of paid, professional lobbyists hired by large, investor-owned charter corporations… .”

The total destruction of our nation’s public school system is predicated on the elimination of local control over public schools.  Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM and current advisor to the Carlyle Group, who served as a chief architect of systemic education reform in the 90s, understood the need to wrestle control away from local school boards in order to push forward free market corporate education reforms.  Gerstner’s legacy among corporate education reformers was cemented in 1996 when he brought together the corporate world with state governors at the IBM headquarters in Palisades to establish the education reform agenda for the nation.  This meeting brought us Achieve — the organization that is credited with the development of the Common Core standards.  In 2008, Gerstner summarized what he had learned over the years as a leading voice in education reform for the The Wall Street Journal.  One of his recommendations addressed the issue of local control over public schools:

Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.”


Need I say more?

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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

TIME Magazine, Corporate Superstars, and Teacher Hate

I’m infuriated.  I want to declare my allegiance to heros who have dedicated their lives to  America’s public schools.  My list includes Mrs. Zablocki, my 1st grade teacher in St. Petersburg, Florida; Mrs. Gerstner, my 3rd grade teacher in Ledyard, Connecticut; Mrs. Broadmoor, my 4th grade teacher in Staten Island, New York; and Mrs. Hill, my 7th grade English teacher in Savannah, Georgia.  You see, my father was in the Coast Guard and we moved around quite a bit — so I experienced public school education in a number of states.  My list also includes those on the front lines of efforts to reclaim the democratic institution of public schools like Diane Ravitch, Susan Ohanian, Mercedes Schneider, Peter Green, Anthony Cody, and so many others.  My list also includes the millions of moms and dads who have supported their public schools over the years, the children served by public schools across our country, the teachers who are in the business of transforming the lives of their students, and the administrators and school board members who work diligently to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

 

TIME Magazine’s cover story, “Rotten Apples: It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher.  Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found a Way to Change That,” obviously panders to the One Percenters who position themselves as being the standard bearers of the free market that has rewarded them so richly and has allowed hedge fund managers to set the economic agenda for the rest of the country.  This, however, is not a new phenomenon.  Corporate superstars have been inserting themselves in federal education policy for decades.  And leading the charge has been those involved in the tech industry.  David Kearns, credited with saving Xerox in the 1980s, brought his corporate reform ideas to the education arena and the federal Department of Education during the H. W. Bush administration.  Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, likewise became a powerful voice in education reform in the 1990s, hosting the 1996 Palisades Summit at the IBM headquarters, a meeting that brought governors (who he referred to as the CEOs of their states) together with prominent corporate CEOs to decide the fate of public schools in the U.S.  This was the meeting that birthed Achieve, a free market reform agenda, and the CCSS.  It was at this meeting that President Bill Clinton introduced the education policy world to Bill Gates, then embroiled in investigations into his dubious, monopolistic practices at Microsoft.

 

Teacher hate and a disdain for public schools is not new to the tech millionaires.  In 1995, speaking at the National Governors Association, Lou Gerstner ironically began his speech by stating, “I’m here because of Willie Sutton.  Willie robbed banks, the story goes, because he realized that’s where the money is.  I’m here because this is where the power is — the power to reform — no, to revolutionize — the U.S. public school system.”*  Almost two decades later, I think it’s safe to say that Gerstner’s first assertion has turned out to be more accurate.  The corporate world was there at the table of education reform policy because, indeed, that’s where the money is.  In 2008, Gerstner would reveal the corporate agenda for education reform, calling for “The abolishment of all local school districts except for 70 — one for each of the 50 states and one for each of the major cities and the establishment of a set of national standards for a core curriculum.”

 

There has been no secret conspiracy to privatize the American public school system.  Corporate reformers have been quite bold in establishing their agenda.  As I write in my upcoming book, The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy, “The steady drumbeat of corporate encroachment into the education arena was there the entire time. However, its cadence was so steady and natural that, like cicadas at sunset, the noise went almost unnoticed by too many Americans.  The idea that the nation’s public school system was a failure had become an unquestioned zeitgeist by a burgeoning number of critics who jumped on board the anti-public school bandwagon.  Those on the political right and the political left seized every opportunity to point to the need to systemically reform public education.”*

 

“There is a price on the head of every child in America.  As the free market theories of Milton Friedman became the driving force behind public policy in the United States, beginning with the Reagan administration, public schools would inevitably become ensnared in the dragnet of entrepreneurs who envisioned public education as a burgeoning market.”*

 

The issue of teacher tenure is just the latest focus of corporate reformers intent on destroying public schools in America.  Is teacher tenure protection really the problem?  I began my education career as a public school teacher in Mississippi.  There is no tenure protection in Mississippi and no real union presence to advocate for teachers.  Mississippi, therefore, should be the exemplar for the power of eliminating tenure protection and allowing teachers to be fired more easily as a way to improve education and student achievement.  The reality is, however, that Mississippi students have and continue to rank much lower on measures of student achievement than other students across the country.  Apparently, teacher tenure laws are not the largest barrier to student achievement.  Research has demonstrated time and again that poverty and other social factors contribute greatly to student achievement.  So, it is no wonder that Mississippi, with some of the highest rates of poverty in the country, lags behind the rest of the country in rankings of student achievement.

 

Clearly when it comes to corporate led education reform, “America’s public school system has once again become a scapegoat for all that ails American society, while heralding all the ramifications of free market systemic education reform as the means of saving the United States from its supposed enemy –  the public school system writ large.”*  However, as the last short paragraph of my book proclaims, “For American citizens, if there is one thing to remember about public schools it is this: Public schools are not government schools, nor are they corporate free market schools.  Public schools belong to the public.  Public schools are citizen schools, and it is now up to citizens to reclaim what is theirs!”*

 

* Quoted texts are excerpted from my upcoming book The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy (Palgrave Macmillan, January, 2015).

Respectfully,


Deb Owens

Stop the War Metaphors when Talking About Education Policy: Have You no Shame?

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education declared, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”  And thus began an era in which a culture of shame was attributed to America’s public education system.  I don’t know about my fellow public school supporters, but I am quite frankly tired of the use of war metaphors by critics of public schools.  We are talking about children after all.

Lee Fang’s article, “Venture Capitalists Are Poised to ‘Disrupt’ Everything About the Education Market,” published by The Nation on September 25, 2014, illustrates how pervasive this use of violent war metaphors has become (http://www.thenation.com/article/181762/venture-capitalists-are-poised-disrupt-everything-about-education-market#).  Fang cites Michael Moe and a document produced by his investment firm, GSV Capital, entitled “American Revolution 2.0” which serves the dual purposes of providing a manifesto for education reform and a blueprint for how venture capitalists can make a lot of money in the educational sector.  According to Fang:

“The revolution GSV goes on to describe is a battle to control the fate of America’s K-12 education system. Noting that this money is still controlled by public entities, or what’s referred in the document as “the old model,” the GSV paper calls for reformers to join the “education battlefield.” (A colorful diagram depicts “unions” and “status quo” forces equipped with muskets across businesses and other “change agents” equipped with a fighter jet and a howitzer.) The GSV manifesto declares, “we believe the opportunity to build numerous multi-billion dollar education enterprises is finally real.”

Further examination of GSV’s 300+ page document (http://gsvadvisors.com/wordpress/wp-content/themes/gsvadvisors/American%20Revolution%202.0.pdf) is alarming.  Children are not referred to merely as students — they are “knowledge troops.”  GSV provides a “budget battle” detailing the expected market growth and profit through 2018 for every aspect of the education marketplace from pre-k education to charter schools and e-learning to test prep and counseling.  Other sections in GSV’s manifesto bear war inspired titles such as “Shock and Awe,” “Modern Weaponry,” “Time to Fight,” and “Weapons of Mass Education – Investment Themes.”

As Fang adeptly points out in the subtitle of his article, “Venture capitalists and for-profit firms are salivating over the exploding $788.7 billion market in K-12 education.”  And apparently, they have no shame when declaring a war on public education.  In their “Strategic Battle Plan,” they openly call for the elimination of local school boards and employ all the rhetoric of free market advocates.

And what about those “knowledge troops” — or children as I prefer to call them?  What is their role in this supposed war/revolution?  Should kindergarteners be issued combat fatigues on their day of school to complete the war metaphor?  Or, as is increasingly evident, are they collateral damage, suffering from battle fatigue and post traumatic stress disorder as the result of wave after wave of high stakes standardized tests being being launched at them?  If children are, indeed, as envisioned by corporate reformers and venture capitalists, the troops in this war on public education, then I have to ask, who protects the children from the ravages of war?

The use of violent metaphors has been a consistent theme for corporate and free market reformers.  In 1971, conservative libertarian economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard invoked the war metaphor in his attack on America’s public school system with his book “Education: Free and Compulsory” when he proclaimed on the cover, “We are Ready — How about You?  SCHOOLS AT WAR!”  In 2008, Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress, wrote an article entitled, “First, Kill all the School Boards” for The Atlantic.  At the 1995 National Governors Association meeting, corporate superstar Lou Gerstner (of RJR Nabisco and IBM fame) called for complete revolution in education policy, stating, “The only way this will happen … is if we push through a fundamental, bone-jarring, full-fledged, 100 percent revolution that discards the old and replaces it with a totally new performance-driven system.”  One year later, at a gathering of governors and corporate CEOs at the IBM Palisades NY headquarters, the organization Achieve, Inc. was formed — the organization that would bring us the Common Core State Standards.  And the bone-jarring revolution continues.  But whose bones are getting jarred in the end?  The federal Department of Education?  No — its still going strong.  The venture capitalists and corporate CEOs?  No, they’re getting richer by the minute.  The bone-jarring revolution, however, is leaving a lot of children bewildered and frustrated along with the teachers who spend their days with them.  And let’s not forget the parents who are trying to make sense of it all.

Thank you, Lee Fang, for reminding us that there is a price on the head of every child in America.  We’re not giving up, however.  I urge all Americans to call for unilateral disarmament in the war on public schools.  Of course, there is really nothing unilateral about it.  The reality is that there are no “knowledge troops” — just children.  They have no war machines to lay down.  They just want to pick up their books and learn.

I eagerly await the publication of my book by Palgrave Macmillan in January entitled, “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.”  I believe it will further expand the discourse among citizens and scholars interested in taking back their public schools.  Knowledge is power — and I’m not talking about the KIPP Knowledge is Power Program — and power in the form of knowledge is not violent.