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

Bill Gates and the “Boogeymen” of Free Market Systemic Education Reform

By Thomas J. Fiala

In an attempt to explain, by a fellow traveler who also supports America’s important public school system, how the CCSS came to be, blogger Peter Greene (http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/posted the following:

“When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit (summer 2008) decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

Let’s remember that philanthropist Bill Gates (who had already reaped the benefits of free market capitalism) was not new to the free market feeding ground of systemic public education reform in 2008. He had been increasingly funneling millions of dollars for systemic reform since at least 2001-02. In 2005, he gave the keynote speech at the National Governor’s Association Summit. He gave millions to the original 2001 American Diploma Project and supported the projects 2004 report “Ready or Not” that has been heralded as a forerunner to the CCSS. Very importantly, in July 2008 this project trotted out the report “Out of Many One” that added more detail and clarity to the eventual creation of the CCSS. We do not know specifically what was discussed during the Coleman, Wilhoit, Gates meeting in 2008. However, it seems logical that the report “Out of Many, an extension of the 2004 ADP report “Ready or Not,” was something that was included in the meeting that was used to convince Gates to infuse even more money into systemic education reform. Clearly, Coleman and Wilhoit had a plan in hand when they met with Gates in the summer 2008 meeting. However, it is clear that Gates was already on board the systemic education reform express.

We need to be careful with making Gates the wellspring of the CCSS. Gates is a really big fish that financially helped facilitate the creation of the standards. The story of the origins of the CCSS, however, is even scarier than simply looking at the insidious and manipulative hand of the Gates Foundation – and that’s scary enough! Gates, however, is merely one of the corporate voices that echoes throughout the path to the Common Core and currently is by far the biggest voice. Our country’s total allegiance to free market ideology and to the supremacy of the corporate vigilantes has resulted in a strange conglomeration of free market policy makers devoted to school choice initiatives, philanthropist organizations lending credence to free market ideologues, and venture capitalists poised to make a buck on charter schools, high stakes testing, the infusion of expensive technology as a central focus in school curriculums, and a vast number of “opportunities” created by RTTT and other education policies over the years.

What is most frightening to me as a supporter of America’s locally controlled public schools, is that Gates and a whole raft of other corporate and governmental players were involved in an alternate universe of education reform that was a reflection corporate and governmental mutualism. This relationship was able to carve a path to the CCSS even while NCLB – the “official” reauthorization of the ESEA – was holding the attention of those of us in education trying to deal with the ramifications of NCLB. This, and much more, will be made clear in Deb’s new book, “Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.”

We supporters of locally controlled public schools cannot allow these free market types to destroy one America’s most important institutions! Peter Greene’s voice is important in the struggle.  We are fellow travelers.  I am merely adding to his and other voices in our collective attempt to take back our public schools.