Category Archives: Education

How Universities Are Increasingly Choosing Capitalism Over Education

Naked Capitalism | February 07 2017

Yves here. Some further observations. First, the author neglects to mention the role of MBAs in the reorientation of higher education institutions. When I went to school, the administrative layer of universities was lean and not all that well paid. Those roles were typically inhabited by alumni who enjoyed the prestige and being able to hang around the campus. But the growth of MBAs has meant they’ve all had to find jobs, and colonizing not-for-profits like universities has helped keep them off the street.

Second, this post focuses on non-elite universities, but the same general pattern is in play, although the specific outcomes are different. Universities with large endowments are increasingly hedge funds with an educational unit attached.

By Henry Heller, a professor of history at the University of Manitoba, Canada and the author of The Capitalist University. Cross posted from Alternet

The following is an excerpt from the new book The Capitalist University: The Transformations of Higher Education in the United States since 1945 by Henry Heller (Pluto Press, December 2016):

The fact that today there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States represents an unparalleled educational, scientific, and cultural endowment. These institutions occupy a central place in American economic and cultural life. Certification from one of them is critical to the career hopes of most young people in the United States. The research produced in these establishments is likewise crucial to the economic and political future of the American state. Institutions of higher learning are of course of varying quality, with only 600 offering master’s degrees and only 260 classified as research institutions. Of these only 87 account for the majority of the 56,000 doctoral degrees granted annually. Moreover, the number of really top-notch institutions based on the quality of their faculty and the size of their endowments is no more than 20 or 30. But still, the existence of thousands of universities and colleges offering humanistic, scientific, and vocational education, to say nothing of religious training, represents a considerable achievement. Moreover, the breakthroughs in research that have taken place during the last two generations in the humanities and social sciences, not to speak of the natural sciences, have been spectacular.

But the future of these institutions is today imperiled. Except for a relatively few well-endowed universities, most are in serious financial difficulty. A notable reason for this has been the decline in public financial support for higher education since the 1980s, a decline due to a crisis in federal and state finances but also to the triumph of right-wing politics based on continuing austerity toward public institutions. The response of most colleges and universities has been to dramatically increase tuition fees, forcing students to take on heavy debt and putting into question access to higher education for young people from low- and middle-income families. This situation casts a shadow on the implicit post-war contract between families and the state which promised upward mobility for their children based on higher education. This impasse is but part of the general predicament of the majority of the American population, which has seen its income fall and its employment opportunities shrink since the Reagan era. These problems have intensified since the financial collapse of 2008 and the onset of depression or the start of a generalized capitalist crisis.

Mounting student debt and fading job prospects are reflected in stagnating enrollments in higher education, intensifying the financial difficulties of universities and indeed exacerbating the overall economic malaise.[1] The growing cost of universities has led recently to the emergence of Massive Online Open Courses whose upfront costs to students are nil, which further puts into doubt the future of traditional colleges and universities. These so-called MOOCs, delivered via the internet, hold out the possibility, or embody the threat, of doing away with much of the expensive labor and fixed capital costs embodied in existing university campuses. Clearly the future of higher education hangs in the balance with important implications for both American politics and economic life.

The deteriorating situation of the universities has its own internal logic as well. In response to the decline in funding, but also to the prevalence of neoliberal ideology, universities—or rather the presidents, administrators, and boards of trustees who control them—are increasingly moving away from their ostensible mission of serving the public good to that of becoming as far as possible like private enterprises. In doing so, most of the teachers in these universities are being reduced to the status of wage labor, and indeed precarious wage labor. The wages of the non-tenured faculty who now constitute the majority of teachers in higher education are low, they have no job security and receive few benefits. Although salaried and historically enjoying a certain autonomy, tenured faculty are losing the vestiges of their independence as well. Similarly, the influence of students in university affairs—a result of concessions made by administrators during the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s—has effectively been neutered. These changes reflect a decisive shift of power toward university managers whose numbers and remuneration have expanded prodigiously. The objective of these bureaucrats is to transform universities as much as possible to approximate private and profit-making corporations, regarded as models of efficient organization based on the discipline of the market. Indeed, scores of universities, Phoenix University for example, have been created explicitly as for-profit businesses and currently enroll millions of students.

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New Layers of Dirt on Charter Schools

Paul Buchheit | October 24 2016 | Common Dreams

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Charter schools have turned our children into the products of businesspeople. Enough. (Photo: AgainstAusterity.org)

An earlier review identified the “Three Big Sins of Charter Schools”: Fraud, a Lack of Transparency, and the Exclusion of Unwanted Students. The evidence against charters continues to grow. Yet except for its reporting on a few egregious examples of charter malfeasance and failure, the mainstream media continues to echo the sentiments of privatization-loving billionaires who believe their wealth somehow equates to educational wisdom.

The Wall Street Journal, in its misinformed way, says that the turnaround of public schools requires “increasing options for parents, from magnet to charter schools.” Wrong. As theNAACP affirms, our nation needs “free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children.” For ALL children, not just a select few.

The NAACP has called for a moratorium on charter schools. And Diane Ravitch makes a crucial point: “Would [corporate reformers] still be able to call themselves leaders of the civil rights issue of our time if the NAACP disagreed with their aggressive efforts to privatize public schools?”

Here are the 4 Big Sins of Charter Schools, updated by a surge of new evidence:

1. Starve the Beast

Corporate-controlled spokesgroups ALEC, US Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity are drooling over school privatization and automated classrooms, with a formula described by The Nation: “Use standardized tests to declare dozens of poor schools ‘persistently failing’; put these under the control of a special unelected authority; and then have that authority replace the public schools with charters.” But as aptly expressed by Jeff Bryant, “As a public school loses a percentage of its students to charters, the school can’t simply cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant proportionally…So instead, the school cuts a program or support service.”

Continue reading New Layers of Dirt on Charter Schools

Department of Education Cooperates with ALEC to Privatize Education

Project Censored | October 4 2016

The Department of Education and school districts throughout the US are working with billionaire families such as the Waltons and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to undermine public education, Dustin Beilke reported for PR Watch in January 2016. Instead of defending public education in pursuit of equity for all students, the Department of Education (DoE) is working with organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—an alliance of corporate lobbyists and state legislators—as well as local chambers of commerce to encourage the conversion of public institutions into private charter schools.

A December 2015 DoE presentation showed that the federal government had spent over three billion dollars of tax-payer money to boost charter schools, supporting an uncritical assessment of how effective charter schools actually are. Beilke described the 25-slide overview of the DoE’s charter schools program as “an uncritical PR document embracing a magical idea of charter schools.”

According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), although many charter schools have failed and closed in the last twenty years, the DoE continues to provide significant funding to promote them. An October 2015 CMD investigation, “Charter School Black Hole,” uncovered how much the federal government has invested in charter schools, as well as the DoE’s ties to ALEC. As Beilke reported, a slide from the December 2015 DoE overview of its charter school program acknowledged that it had spent $3.3 billion to “fund the start-up, replication and expansion of public charter schools.” However, Beilke reported, “CMD was unable to extract this number from DOE despite inquiries and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests since 2014.” The actual figure may be higher, because the list of charter schools receiving DoE funding appears to have been incomplete. Overall, the DoE overview suggested that it functions as a “propagandist” for charter schools, Beilke wrote.

Continue reading Department of Education Cooperates with ALEC to Privatize Education

How to privatize a public education system

Lizanne Foster | April 25, 2016 | rabble.ca

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When there’s news every day of yet another school district budget shortfall and yet another school being closed, it’s difficult to see what has really been happening to public education in British Columbia for almost two decades now. But within the seeming chaos there is a clear pattern that emerges. It’s a pattern that can be clearly seen in many countries around the world as corporations turn their profit-hungry eyes toward the $5.5 trillion that is being spent on education worldwide.

Over a century ago public education was a radical idea in Britain. It was considered an utter waste of taxpayer’s money and was strongly resisted by many politicians. Nevertheless, arguments about public education being a public good won the day.

The big idea was that public education would provide an equal playing field for all society’s children. Children from poor homes could work their way up the social ladder through a free education and this in turn would ensure that the state would benefit from having a well-educated workforce and citizenry. Sounds all very democratic, doesn’t it?

Fast forward to the 1970s and a new idea began to spread from a group of economists at the Chicago School of Economics. One of them, Milton Friedman, wrote a seminal paper suggesting that public education be privatized. For most people in North America this was an outrageous idea akin to suggesting that we should sell motherhood. Because of the resistance to privatization of public education, it had to be sold to the public in a way that is subtle, is slick, is soft.

How to privatize a public education system

You will need the help of politicians. This is easy to obtain since they are always looking for donations for their election campaigns. Spending a few million will reap rewards ten times over. Once you have politicians on board, direct them thus:

Competition

Erode the collaborative and co-operative foundations of public education by introducing competition between schools. As an example, in B.C. the Fraser Institute began to rank schools in 1998 in a way that completely ignored multiple variables that made each school unique but that made sense to a public used to hockey team rankings.

Choice

Continue reading How to privatize a public education system

Cashing in on Kids: 172 ALEC Education Bills Push Privatization in 2015

By Brendan Fischer and Zachary Peters, PR Watch | News Analysis | March 09 2016 | TruthOut 

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ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from an accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests. (Photo: School Money via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org and PRWatch.org. (A PDF version of this report may be downloaded here.)

One of ALEC’s biggest funders is Koch Industries and the Koch brothers’ fortune. The Kochs have had a seat at the table – where the private sector votes as equals with legislators – on ALEC’s education task force via their “grassroots” group Americans for Prosperity and their Freedom Partners group, which was described as the Kochs’ “secret bank.”

The Kochs also have a voice on ALEC’s Education Task Force through multiple state-based think tanks of the State Policy Network, ALEC’s sister organization, which is funded by many of the same corporations and foundations and donor entities.

ALEC’s Education Task Force is also funded by the billionaire DeVos family, which bankrolls a privatization operation called “American Federation of Children,” and by for-profit corporations like K12 Inc., which was founded by junk-bond king Michael Milliken.

Continue reading Cashing in on Kids: 172 ALEC Education Bills Push Privatization in 2015

Charter Schools: The End of Public Education As We Know It?

by Rosemary Jenkins, published January 17, 2016 at L.A. Progressive

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Have you noticed the gradual creep of the charter school movement—the slippery slope meant to take over free public education as we know it and transform our schools to elitist institutions?

It touts itself as the best way to educate our children but it defies the principals upon which our public education system has been built (commencing all the way back to the early tradition of free public schools espoused by our leaders during the American Revolutionary period).

Sure, many charters boast high scores, but those results are often skewed because at-risk children, those with a variety of disabilities, many from dysfunctional backgrounds, and others are far too often not part of most charter programs—deliberate “exclusions” that at first blush help make the charters, particularly the independent ones, look so good.

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A primer on the damaging movement to privatize public schools

by Valerie Strauss ( follow Valerie on Twitter ), published January 7, 2016 in The Washington Post

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(iStock)

Marion Brady is a veteran educator who has long argued that public education needs a paradigm shift. Brady says schools need a complete transformation in what and how students learn — not the Common Core State Standards, standardized tests and other elements of corporate-influenced school reform. Here’s his latest piece, on efforts by some reformers to privatize America’s public school system, which many see as the most important civic institution in the country.

What is school privatization? It is part of a larger campaign to diminish public institutions by contracting out to the private, for-profit sector jobs and responsibilities of the public sector. School vouchers and charter schools run by for-profit companies are seen as part of the school privatization movement, which critics say will ultimately undermine the country’s democracy.

By Marion Brady

When, about 30 years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.

The pitch

Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.

Tactics

Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, iPads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)

Weapon

If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

Continue reading A primer on the damaging movement to privatize public schools

University of Iowa: Earlier Bruce Harreld Visit to Iowa Revealed

by Jeff Charis-Carlson, publshed November 1, 2015 in The Des Moines Register

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Photo: David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Bruce Harreld flew to Iowa and met with key leaders involved in the University of Iowa presidential search in early June, weeks earlier than previously reported.

Harreld, who starts as president Monday, visited Cedar Rapids in early June to attend a meeting with Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and Jean Robillard, UI’s vice president of medical affairs and chairman of the UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee.

Peter Matthes, UI’s interim chief of staff and a staff member assigned to the search committee, also attended. Another member of the search committee, businessman Jerre Stead, arranged the meeting, but was unable to attend.

Revelation of the earlier contact with search leaders follows a storm of criticism on campus contending that the search was unfairly tilted to Harreld long before four finalists were chosen.

Some members of the campus community have criticized Harreld directly. Others have confined their reproach to the Board of Regents and are waiting to see how well Harreld, a former IBM executive with no experience in university administration, performs in the new role.

In an hour-long, one-on-one interview Friday with The Des Moines Register, Harreld discussed his initial hesitance at UI officials’ overtures toward him, the search process and how he came to decide the president’s job was one he wanted.

Harreld said he had “absolutely no” interest in the job when Rastetter, who was on the search committee, called him in late spring and brought up the topic “out of the blue.” Rastetter’s introductory call was followed a week later by a more personal invitation from Stead, who has known Harreld professionally for more than two decades.

How Harreld got interested in UI

It was Stead who persuaded Harreld to fly to Iowa and meet with other members of the search committee. Although Stead eventually was unable to attend the meeting, it was there that Harreld first heard something that made him want to learn more about the job — the story of UI Health Care’s development and growth under Robillard’s tenure.”

“(For) most organizations that change … the motivating force for change is a crisis,” said Harreld, who taught from 2008 to 2014 at Harvard Business School. Very few organizations, he said, manage to accomplish what he calls “punctuated proactive change,” in which the organization changes before being forced to do so.

Continue reading University of Iowa: Earlier Bruce Harreld Visit to Iowa Revealed

Landmark Look at US Charter System Reveals Waste, Fraud, ‘Ghost Schools’

by Deirdre Fulton, published October 21, 2015 at Common Dreams

‘The bottom-line is taxpayers know far too little about how much their federal tax dollars are being used to fund charters,’ says Center for Media and Democracy
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No one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector until CMD started poking around. (Photo: GotCredit/flickr/cc)

A year-long investigation by the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy has revealed a severe dearth of public information about how federal and state taxes are being spent to fuel the charter school industry in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 2.23.13 PMAccording to the report released Wednesday—Charter School Black Hole (pdf)—no one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector until CMD started poking around. Now, after filing close to 50 open records requests and reviewing more than two decades of federal authorizations and appropriations, the national watchdog group has calculated that sum to be a whopping $3.7 billion.

Furthermore, how those billions were spent was equally difficult to discern.

“What is even more troubling is how difficult it is to find essential information on how some charters have spent federal and state tax dollars, even as governments continue to increase funding for charters while slashing funds for traditional public schools,” reads the report. “Unlike truly public schools that have to account for prospective and past spending in public budgets provided to democratically elected school boards, charter spending of tax monies is too often a black hole.”

The study attributes this lack of accountability “to the way the charter industry has been built by proponents, favoring ‘flexibility’ over rules.”

Continue reading Landmark Look at US Charter System Reveals Waste, Fraud, ‘Ghost Schools’

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland

by Tim Walker, published October 01, 2015 at The Atlantic

Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”

The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.

That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes  “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.

A working paper, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” confirms what many experts have suspected for years: The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play. The late psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, even raised the concern in an article for The Atlantic in 1987.

The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play.

Researchers at the University of Virginia, led by the education-policy researcher Daphna Bassok, analyzed survey responses from American kindergarten teachers between 1998 and 2010. “Almost every dimension that we examined,” noted Bassok, “had major shifts over this period towards a heightened focus on academics, and particularly a heightened focus on literacy, and within literacy, a focus on more advanced skills than what had been taught before.”

In the study, the percentage of kindergarten teachers who reported that they agreed (or strongly agreed) that children should learn to read in kindergarten greatly increased from 30 percent in 1998 to 80 percent in 2010.

Bassok and her colleagues found that while time spent on literacy in American kindergarten classrooms went up, time spent on arts, music, and child-selected activities (like station time) significantly dropped. Teacher-directed instruction also increased, revealing what Bassok described as “striking increases in the use of textbooks and worksheets… and very large increases in the use of assessments.”

But Finland—a Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, where I’ve lived and taught fifth and sixth graders over the last two years—appears to be on the other end of the kindergarten spectrum. Before moving to Helsinki, I had heard that most Finnish children start compulsory, government-paid kindergarten—or what Finns call “preschool”—at age 6. And not only that, but I learned through my Finnish mother-in-law—a preschool teacher—that Finland’s kindergartners spend a sizable chunk of each day playing, not filling out worksheets.

Finnish schools have received substantial media attention for years now—largely because of the consistently strong performance of its 15-year-olds on international tests like the PISA. But I haven’t seen much coverage on Finland’s youngest students.

So, a month ago, I scheduled a visit to a Finnish public kindergarten—where a typical school day is just four hours long.

* * *

Continue reading The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland