Governor Cuomo and Public Education: Wall Street, Conservatism, Milton Friedman, and the ‘Third Way’ of Governance

By Thomas J. Fiala

I think America, and in particular New Yorkers, need a more exact definition of New York Governor Cuomo when it comes to public schools and education reform. I think that in spite of his supposed political mantle seen by many as a champion of liberal thought and action, when it comes to America’s democratic institution of locally controlled public schools, he is certainly a neoliberal conservative loyalist.   Clearly, Governor Cuomo loves the conservative neoliberal ideas of Milton Friedman when it comes to dismantling America’s democratic institution of public education.   What might even be scarier for those who support locally controlled democratic public schools, is that Cuomo is continuing the tradition of “third way governance” by Democrats begun by the Bill Clinton Administration. As Diane Ravitch stated in a speech in 2014 , “I am absolutely furious that the Democratic Party has merged with the Republican Party around a bipartisan agenda that is actually a Republican agenda.”

Four years earlier in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, Ravitch had explained how “Bill Clinton and the New Democrats championed a ‘third way’ between orthodox politics of the left and the right.” So what is this ‘third way’ of governance, and how does Governor Cuomo, a political clone of this Clintonesque approach to running society and who seems intent on proceeding along the neoliberal path of education reform, go about making his pact with Milton Friedman and the billionaires of corporate Wall Street when it comes to privatizing America’s democratic institution of public education at the expense of Main Street?

If you want to begin to get a simple handle on his notion of the ‘third way’ check out the writing of William Black. As Black explains “Third Way is not a liberal think tank. It’s not even a ‘think tank.’ Third Way (at least in America) is a creature of Wall Street.” The goal is to privatize what is now public. Often third way devotees choose to take a liberal position on certain issues such as gun control or gay rights, but when it comes to Wall Street, privatization and making cash, in the case of education reform the ‘third way’ devotees are able to put a price on the head of every child while claiming that their approach to school reform also demonstrates how making cash can also help those students who just do not measure up academically. Cuomo is, indeed, a Clintonesque ‘third way’ type of guy!

Now understand he is also a devotee of the conservative libertarian economist Milton Friedman when it comes to education reform. He may not say it outright, but when one looks carefully at his views and comments about public schools and education reform, it’s almost impossible to conclude otherwise. What we find is that the NY Governor, when it comes to school reform is a Friedmanomics Neoliberal!

Neoliberalism is something for which everyone should become familiar. It’s complex when you start looking into it, so if you’re just beginning this educational journey, think about it as an intellectual imperative all Americans should understand – a least a little bit! There are many many, sources that discuss neoliberalism and in particular the education ideas of Milton Friedman, although my bias comes out when I suggest reading “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free market Became Public Education Policy,” and particularly Chapter Three, “Friedmanomics, School Vouchers, and Choice.   Nevertheless, when it comes to public schools, conservative neoliberals (like Milton Friedman and Governor Cuomo) believe that the institution of American public schools is a government monopoly and a reflection of a socialist state. Therefore, it needs to be destroyed through privatization – or at the very least, challenged by creating a perverse competitive environment in which the supposed free market creates a raft of often unregulated alternative approaches to educating America’s children, regardless of whether the efficacy of these approaches have actually been substantiated. So what neoliberal thought rests upon as Milton Friedman made clear, always understanding that neoliberal is actually conservative in nature, is that you take advantage of a crisis, and then make radical changes to address it.  In the case of education and public schools, a neoliberal like Milton Friedman, and his followers like Governor Cuomo, base their actions on the “manufactured” crisis that the entire public school system in America is failing. This all started with the infamous report A Nation at Risk in 1983. Now if you want to get a handle on why this report is really an obfuscation of the truth, and in particular if you actually believe what has been promulgated about public schools since 1983, then you have to read stuff! Blogs are OK, but real analysis is better. This takes some work and intellectual dexterity – but overwhelmingly most Americans can do this if they put their minds to it!  Again there are some good books out there that begin to destroy this myth, for example Berliner and Biddle wrote a book in about 1995 called the “Manufactured Crisis,” and again my bias leads to me suggest reading “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.” There are other books out there that address this topic to one degree or another, but as they say – Knowledge is Power. However, gaining knowledge does take a little effort.

Now let me be clear. I do not believe this neoliberal take on public schools – so I do not agree with people like Milton Friedman, who passed away a few years ago, and Governor Cuomo who carries on the education ideas of Friedman. I believe that America’s locally controlled public schools are a manifestation of democracy in the best sense of the American experience through which efforts are made to help all Americans get a good education. These schools, as we all know, take on the challenge of overcoming many of the hurdles that have stood, and continue to stand, in the way of a child getting a good education. Yes – we are talking about those factors like social class, race, lack of jobs, crime in neighborhoods, drugs – well – I’m sure everyone reading this can add to the list! Now let’s get down to the “nitty gritty” of Cuomo’s assault on the institution of locally controlled public schools!

The fact that Governor Cuomo claims that his $150 million or so tax credit now being proposed is somehow a reflection of what is in the best interests of the profound notion of the American public is a cunning political ploy. That’s what I believe and I am not alone in thinking this.

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Gov-Andrew-Cuomo-seeks-150-million-education-6259573.php

  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/opinion/a-costly-tax-break-for-nonpublic-schools.html `

It seems that when the educationally conservative, neoliberal, Wall Street devotee Governor Cuomo makes claims such this, for many, it is like putting “lipstick on a pig.” It is a shameless attempt to hoodwink America – and in particular New Yorkers – into believing that the Governor is the great Democratic egalitarian – fighting for the rights of Main Street over Wall Street. Unfortunately, when a person takes this approach to education, once again we see, in the case of preserving the democratic institution of locally controlled public schools, it is hard to serve two masters – making money and helping public schools. This is getting to sound a bit Biblical, but that is not my intent. Somehow the Governor believes that New Yorkers – and the rest of America – are going to believe that his “choice approach” to education reform would make him Mr. Egalitarian when it comes to education. I, for one, do not believe that the majority of New Yorkers – let alone Americans in general – are going to buy his education snake oil. By now everyone should know that the Conservative Cuomo – a person I believe is a neoliberal conservative when it comes to following the money and education reform – sees public schools as a monopoly that needs to be “busted.”

He said this even before he was re-elected last November – and God knows why so many teachers, teacher union leaders, and supporters of public schools are now shocked by his current actions! Take a look at this video.   What is really indicative of his loyalty to Milton Friedman’s ideas about education is his view that locally controlled public schools are a monopoly. If he is NOT an anti-public schools ‘third wayer’ who does NOT see locally controlled public schools as a pillar of our republic – and if he is NOT a devotee of Milton Friedman neoliberalism – then I must be a guy smoking my Crayola’s! Trust me – I am militantly against smoking Crayolas no matter what the color! That’s what I am seeing in this video anyway! Most shocking is that I also see an important defender of America’s public schools passively sitting as Cuomo assails this long honored American institution! As a former public school teacher and a former member of the AFT governing board within the school district in which I taught, this kind of inaction both saddens me and infuriates me. Do some teacher union leaders actually believe that America’s democratic institution of locally controlled public schools is nothing more than monopolistic entities that need to be destroyed?   Do locally controlled public schools need competition to meet the challenges these schools face on a daily basis? Challenges such as those associated with social class, money, and the historical reality of racism in America, poverty, and lack of jobs in many communities where historically marginalized individuals and groups often reside, communities in which good families and their children must face the daily challenge of crime and drugs that impede their daily lives?   Do these public schools need competition from charter schools that can easily send those students and their families back to the public school when they cannot measure up – or do not live up to the contracts they sign before being allowed into the charter school? Do these public schools need competition from private schools who will be able to take public tax money away from public schools and use the funds to finance their curricular and social views – without public scrutiny?    I support the right of private schools to exist and flourish! Does it make sense, however, to send one’s education tax money to a private school – whether non-sectarian, Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever other kind may pop up as a result of “free market entrepreneurship,” without some kind of public control over what is taught in these type schools? Everyone needs to think about this, including the private schools who might think about taking public money for their private school. Do New Yorkers really want to support school vouchers in their state even if it is disguised as a tax credit for billionaire donors? This is what Governor Cuomo wants!

One thing is sure. Governor Cuomo, when it comes to education, is a neoliberal conservative that sees locally controlled public schools as a monopoly that needs to be “busted.” He takes a Clintonesque ‘third way’ governance approach to running education in the State of New York. He favors Wall Street over Main Street under the guise that big money folks must be allowed to engage in making even more money as they supposedly go about helping New York’s children.   Now if only the media can get Governor Cuomo to acknowledge all of this, and in the process do their job in helping inform the democratic electorate about what is really at the root of Governor Cuomo’s course of action when it comes to New York’s locally controlled democratic institution of public education. However, I am not holding my breath that this will happen. In any case, that is my definition of Governor Cuomo when it comes to public schools in New York. One thing must happen Governor Cuomo, if a school is publicly funded, then it MUST be transparent in all they do and held up to public scrutiny! Or is this just too “democratic” for your political ‘third way’ of governance?

Mmmm? I wonder how Hillary feels about all this – let alone those dozen or so Republican presidential hopefuls that seem to be sprouting everywhere like dandelions this time of year?

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.

 

Ruby Bridges: Grit, A Dream Deferred, and the Destruction of New Orleans Public Schools

On the 54th anniversary of Ruby Bridge’s courageous and lonely walk that led the charge in desegregating New Orleans’ public schools, I want to pause and say a heartfelt thank you to one of America’s heros.  In 1960, little Ruby’s parents heeded the call of the NAACP for families who wished to exercise their right to send their children to the school of their choice and break the color barrier in New Orleans’ public schools.  Day after day, Ruby walked the gauntlet to William Franz Elementary School amidst white racist protesters shouting racial epithets at her, one woman even placing a black doll in a miniature coffin for the brave little girl to see.  As a result, President Eisenhower sent U.S. Marshals to accompany Ruby to school and keep her safe.  This action helped Ruby to persevere.  She never gave up and today speaks of the success of her efforts.

Cain Burdeau spoke with Ruby Bridges and provides an excellent commentary (http://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/ci_26936821/ruby-bridges-us-divided-by-race-again?source=rss). According to Bridges, “… white students returned to William Frantz and the school became integrated … she went to integrated middle and high schools in New Orleans. Fast forward to today: The school now occupying the William Frantz building is 97 percent black, according to school data.”

Education policy makers are enamored with the idea of “grit” as the factor that will help low income and/or low achieving students to overcome the structural factors that inhibit academic achievement.  They laud perseverance, self-control, and the ability to embrace challenges.  Grit has become a research agenda in education and scales have been developed to measure “grittiness.”  I suggest that if you want a model of grittiness in a young child, look to Ruby Bridges.  Of course, the power of her grit was not used to document a standardized test score.  Rather, her grit sparked a social movement and resulted in the fruition of a dream that Dr. Martin Luther King would eloquently speak about almost three years later in August, 1963, when he said “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  For a short period of time and in some schools, and although not seamlessly, that dream was realized in New Orleans.

The dream did not last very long in New Orleans, however.  In the decades following Ruby Bridges’ lonely walk, the dream was sadly deferred.  Education policy discussions no longer focused on the impact of poverty, racism, and equity.  We will never know what the educational achievement of our public schools would have been if we’d kept the dream of integrated schools alive in the U.S.   Efforts to ameliorate the impact of poverty on educational attainment begun during the Johnson administration were never fully realized.  I am reminded of the Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred.”

A Dream Deferred

by Langston Hughes

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

As the War on Poverty initiatives were steadily defunded, the dream dried up in cities like New Orleans.  Segregated schools slowly but surely once more became the norm.  And the problems festered.  Poverty’s grip on the city placed a stranglehold on its schools and, not surprisingly, students’ educational achievement suffered.  It’s a story that repeated itself across the country in large urban areas.  Jonathan Kozol wrote extensively about the problems of schools like those in New Orleans and urged America to right the wrongs associated with schools trying to survive in desolate, crime ridden neighborhoods with shrinking tax bases and funds in which students, predominantly of color, were increasingly isolated.

In the headlong rush to demonstrate that America’s public schools were a failure and to systemically reform our public school system through free market principles and efforts to privatize education, New Orleans and other urban areas in the U.S. would become ensnared in the corporatization of public schools.  The syrupy sweet public relations campaign surrounding the charter school movement would provide the propaganda needed to further efforts to dismantle the public schools in these cities and divert efforts to reform the schools by addressing poverty, racism, and other structural factors at the heart of educational disparities.

And then the dream exploded in Ruby Bridges’ own home town, New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina hit the city square on, bringing death and destruction and leaving families displaced.  Friedmanomic free market coporate reformers grasped at the opportunity to totally remake New Orleans’ public school system and privatize education.  Teachers were fired en masse and public schools were closed and re-opened as charter schools.  As Kristen Buras explains in Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, “Time and again in New Orleans, charters would be given funding and facilities in what amounts to an educational land grab premised on historical erasure and the racial-spatial redistribution of resources.”

There are no traditional public schools in New Orleans any more.  They are all gone.  The school Ruby Bridges’ attended, William Franz Elementary — a historical landmark — does not even bear its own name.  It was taken over by the charter school management group Crescent City Schools and renamed Aliki Academy.  I am left to wonder why the legacy of Ruby Bridges’ efforts was not important enough to preserve the name of the school that has such an important part in history?  It seems that the name of Ruby Bridges’ school is being erased from history in New Orleans.  Is this part of the erasure that Buras talks about?

Howie Hawkins on Governor Coumo’s Teacher Hate and Public School Disdain

Hawkins Condemns Cuomo’s Attack on Schools. Stands With Teachers, Parents, Students

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“Education is Not a Game”

NY Times Story on LIPA Cover-Up Shows Cuomo: Has Pattern of Coverups and Can’t be Trusted

(Syracuse, NY) — “The battle for the future of our schools is on. On one side are powerful and wealthy figures who see our public schools as a potential source of profit. On the other side are parents, teachers, and students who are fighting to defend and improve our public schools. We, Brian Jones our Lt. Governor candidate and I stand solidly with our state’s teachers, students and parent,” said Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor.

After Governor Cuomo’s recent description of schools as the “last public monopoly,” Hawkins said that this is just the latest episode in Cuomo’s ongoing attacks on public education and teachers.

“Andrew Cuomo is turning New York’s schools into the Hunger Games. He pushes a game of competitive grants, charter schools, and high-stakes testing. This type of competition leaves a lot of losers. But our children’s education is not a game.”

“What is Cuomo going to attack after he breaks the schools and teachers? Break up the police and fire departments? Have competing companies to deliver drinking water?” asked Hawkins.

Hawkins noted that under Cuomo funding for education has fallen to the lowest percentage of the state budget in 65 years, with a $9 billion cumulative shortfall from what the courts have ordered. He has also enacted tax caps to undermine the ability of local schools districts to make up for the state’s funding shortfall.

Cuomo has also led a drive to privatize the schools, favoring charter schools and promoting high stakes testing, both of which increase profits for his campaign contributors. Last week he vowed to challenge public school teachers by supporting stricter teacher evaluations and competition from charter schools.

“A governor who treats public education as some corporate entity, who shows no support for public education doesn’t deserve a second term. The remarks made clear that Cuomo is an enemy of our public education system. And that he wants to break it,” added Hawkins.

“Cuomo claims to want competition in the education market, but he doesn’t really want a free market—he’s rigging the game. He’s underfunding the public schools at a 65-year low as a percentage of the budget. He’s providing extra subsidies to privately managed public schools. He is not for competition; he’s favoring the charters. His real agenda is about undermining public education to privatize it.”

“This whole idea of competition is wrongheaded anyway. Education should be a human right. New York’s constitution says every child should be provided a sound education; that’s not to be outsourced to corporations and investors, yet that is his goal. ”

Hawkins wants assessments written by educators, not corporate contractors. “We want to end the role of using testing to punish schools, students or teachers. We support community—parent, teacher, student—control of schools, with adequate resources to write their own curricula. We need schools that respect, nurture, and support the cultures and languages in our communities,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins said that Cuomo’s deeply disturbing comment on education is part of a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior by Cuomo in the closing days of the campaign, starting with his mishandling of the Ebola epidemic. Yesterday he dismissed the Moreland Commission scandal as “political baloney.”

Cuomo also has shown a clear pattern of cover-ups, where he hides or alters information from the public for his own political needs. He shut down his second Moreland Commission once it began asking questions about the massive campaign contributions he was receiving. He altered a federal hydrocracking study he commissioned to downplay fracking’s threat to the water supply. And today the NY Times reports in an expose that Cuomo hid from the public the role his administration played in leaving the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) short staffed, which contributed to its disastrous performance in Hurricane Sandy. He also blocked their efforts to communicate with the public during the Sandy emergency. He used the report to privatize LIPA.

“Cuomo has a Nixonian compulsion for cover-ups. He can’t be trusted to tell New Yorkers the truth,” Hawkins said.

“There is a reason why Cuomo’s nickname is the Prince of Darkness. He is the top dog in the culture of corruption that dominates the State Capitol. He deceives the public, he bullies_—his administration has been one of the most secretive in history, evading the Freedom of Information law. And he trades political favors, at taxpayer expense, in exchange for massive donations,” added Hawkins.

“One has to wonder why a party like the Working Families Party wants people to vote for a candidate who attacks workers and public education, opposes making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, waffles on fracking, doesn’t support universal single payer health care, and covers up information critical to the public to suit his political goals.”

Hawkins has been endorsed by a wide range of teachers union and educators, include Diane Ravitch; Nassau County’s East Williston Teachers’ Association; northern Westchester County’s Lakeland Federation of Teachers; Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, Valley Central Teachers Association, Buffalo Teachers Federation, The Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers.; New York Badass Teacher Association, United Opt Out Independent Community of Educators, Independent Commission on Public Education (ICOPE), and Coalition for Public Education.
Video: April, 2014 Howie Hawkins on Education – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCVr0LqzsAY
July 2014 – An Open Letter from Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones for Lt. Governor to NY Teachers

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!

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.