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.


Lamar Alexander’s Old/New Ideas for Education Reform

Senator Lamar Alexander will soon assume leadership within the U.S. Senate on the committee that oversees public education.  It seems like a natural fit. After all, he served as the Secretary of the Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush.  He is also a former governor of Tennessee and former president of the University of Tennessee.  Kimberly Hefling explains his plans for updating No Child Left Behind.  With the Republicans now in a position to lead efforts in the education arena, Alexander has plans to address “excessive regulation of local schools by Washington. …”   He plans to address questions … “about whether all the federally mandated annual tests are appropriate and whether states should decide how to assess their students.”

Sounds good so far, right?  He seems to be offering a glimmer of hope to those who seek to ease the testing burden on America’s school children.  That’s a good thing.  But, beyond simply promoting the conservative cause of moving education policy decisions to the states and out of the firm grip of the federal government — and addressing questions about federal mandates and standardized testing — what can we really expect of Lamar Alexander?

To answer that question, all that is required is a look back at the education policies proposed by his former boss — President H.W. Bush.  And the answer is loud and clear:  choice, choice, choice — vouchers and charter schools.  In January, 2014, Alexander spoke at an American Enterprise Institute gathering and laid out his plan for education reform quite clearly.  If you want to know what his agenda for education actually is, watch the video.  You’ll think it’s 1992 all over again.  Here are some themes that emerge from his discussion at the conservative think tank gathering:

Lamar Alexander thinks:

  1. public schools are awful;
  2. local school boards operate a monopoly over education;
  3. the federal government should offer a GI Bill for K-12 school children (H.W. Bush’s failed legislative attempt to privatize education);
  4. K-12 schools should be a “marketplace” of choice;
  5. the legislature should provide an amount comparable to 41% of the federal money for K-12 education in the U.S. to pay for a voucher plan to send children to private or public schools of their choice.;
  6. it’s perfectly acceptable to invoke the plight of low-income children as a rationale to further efforts to privatize the public school system in the U.S.;
  7. it’s a good idea for schools, under choice and voucher plans, to simply kick kids out if parents question school policy.  Public schools can’t do that; they have to work with kids and parents to resolve problems (and Alexander apparently thinks that’s a bad thing);
  8. there is a price on the head of every child in America and, therefore,  he is surprised that there isn’t more competition to get the money children bring with them to the privatization arena in education.  Don’t they see the additional money children have, as Alexander explains, “attached to their blouse or their shirt?” – and –
  9. we should all believe that teachers in charter schools have more freedom to be innovative because the children they teach “choose” to be there.

So, let there be no mistake.  Lamar Alexander is not a champion of public schools in America.  He is a champion of free market policies.  He is a champion of corporate reformers who want to capitalize on federal dollars to use in their quest to make a lot of money in the education arena.  To be sure, Milton Friedman’s ideas are alive and well!  And, let me once again reiterate the last short paragraph in my book:

“For American citizens, if there is only one thing to remember about their 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!”

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