The education privatizers are trying to convince us that parental ‘choice’ will solve all the problems in our schools. But the choice they have in mind is to dismantle a once-proud system of education that was nurtured and funded by a society of Americans willing to work together.
The wealthiest among us seem to have forgotten how important it is to cooperate, as most Americans did in the post-WW2 years, in order to forge new paths of productivity and inventiveness. A vibrant society makes great individuals, not the other way around. Education must be at the forefront of such cooperative thinking. Here are four good arguments for it.
1. Equal Opportunity is an American Mandate
In the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. the Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren said that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Equally eminent future Justice Thurgood Marshall insisted on “the right of every American to an equal start in life.”
But now, as The Economist points out, “Whereas most OECD countries spend more on the education of poor children than rich ones, in America the opposite is true.” Poverty, of course, is of all colors, but it’s disproportionately black. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that “segregated schools are systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities,” while the Economic Policy Institute tells us that “African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago.” New York City is the best example of that.
Charters and vouchers are the ‘choice’ of the free market. But the National Education Policy Center notes that “Charter schools…can shape their student enrollment in surprising ways,” through practices that often exclude “students with special needs, those with low test scores, English learners, or students in poverty.” Stanford’s updated CREDO study found that fewer special education students and fewer English language learners are served in charters than in traditional public schools.
2. Michelle Rhee Is Wrong
She said, “I think that we are doing the wrong thing in our society when we are congratulating mediocrity and participation.” But among American children, whether ‘mediocre’ or ‘exceptional,’ the ability to participate in a cooperative manner should be congratulated. Children have to learn to work with others before trying to outdo each other.
For parents, too, the public school system is a cooperative system of democracy in which everyone can participate. Business-minded people have tried to twist cooperation into anti-Americanism. A CNN report referred to our “Soviet-style” educational system. Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast and Ohio Republican State Representative Andrew Brenner both dismissed our system of public education as “socialist.” Netflix founder Reed Hastings made the remarkable assertion that schools “are prisoners” of democratic governance, and that there is “chaos” in freely elected school boards.
The National School Boards Association reminds us that “The school board represents the public’s voice in public education, providing citizen governance for what the public schools need and what the community wants.” Charter schools take away this valuable right. As Diane Ravitch explains, “Because they are loosely regulated, charter schools are often neither accountable nor transparent…Charter schools are ‘public’ when it is time to claim public funding, but they have claimed…to be private corporations when their employees seek the protection of state labor laws.” Or when parents need to know what their school administrators are doing.
3. The Classroom is Not a Warehouse
Education is the next great opportunity for the big names in business, such as Rupert Murdoch, who called K-12 “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” A McKinsey report estimates that education can be a $1.1 trillion business in the United States. Forbes notes: “The charter school movement [is] quickly becoming a backdoor for corporate profit.”
Charter administrators make a lot more money than their public school counterparts, as in New York City, where the top 16 charter school executives all earn more than public school Chancellor Dennis Walcott. The salaries of eight executives of the K12 chain, which gets over 86 percent of its profits from the taxpayers, went from $10 million to over $21 million in one year.
Their buzzwords are “education reform” and “standardized testing.” The Silicon Valley Business Journal reports that “Next year, K-12 schools across the United States will begin implementing Common Core State Standards, an education initiative that will drive schools to adopt technology in the classroom as never before…Apple, Google, Cisco and a swarm of startups are elbowing in to secure market share.” School districts are being hit with unexpected new costs, partly for curriculum changes, but also for technology upgrades, testing, and assessment. Los Angeles, for example, recently agreed to spend $1 billion for iPads for all the students, even as infrastructure deteriorates and art teachers are laid off.
To ensure that the public money keeps rolling in, companies are establishing PACs and lobbyist groups to influence school board elections. Teach for America worked behind the scenes with Chicago officials to plan the opening of charter schools to replace shuttered public schools. In the event of any funding improprieties, charters have their backs covered, insisting that they’re exempt from criminal laws because they are private. They’re public for funding purposes, private for nontransparency purposes.
4. Starve the Beast, Starve Society
The U.S. Department of Education reported that $197 billion is needed to repair the nation’s K-12 public school buildings. But the public system is going broke, starved by a lack of tax dollars. State budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago – in many cases far less.
It was estimated that total K-12 education cuts for fiscal 2012 were about $12.7 billion. In that same year, 155 of the largest U.S. corporations avoided about $14 billion in state taxes. Much of the remaining 50-state education fund is being transferred to charter schools.
Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD). As Diane Ravitch points out, the education privatizers are using FUD to undermine public confidence in public education. The myth of the failing public school is the newest version of weapons of mass destruction and runaway entitlement spending and domino theory. It’s a masterful form of propaganda, inciting self-destructive sentiments among the public, and benefiting the business people who have a growing financial interest in our children.
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Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.