Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Real Enemies of Education

Teachers have become the latest political bogey man. We are now officially responsible for everything wrong with public education, even delusional, nonexistent wrongs. We are even blamed for corrupting the political process. However, the real enemies of public education are the Duncans, Gates, Buffets, Waltons and Broads who are attempting to give the school house away to educational profiteers like Pearson and McGraw-Hill, Platform Learning, Imagine Schools, Edison, White Hat, Reed Elsevier and Neil Bush. As far as they’re concerned, the real problem is that public education is locally controlled, unionized and nonprofit, thereby limiting their access and control of this huge potential market. Public education is mandatory. Consumption is required. The funding stream is secure, so long as the anti-tax movement doesn’t succeed in abolishing taxes entirely. If only they ran the schools instead of local school boards.

Arne Duncan had a solution: as CEO of Chicago schools he privatized many of its schools. When he called “Katrina the best thing to happen to the education system of New Orleans,” it was because it allowed the government to privatize it. Within two years of the disaster, 107 out of 128 New Orleans schools had been converted to charter schools and the number of unionized teachers dropped from 4700 to 500. They also fired 7500 school employees, many of whom had school age children who would now be attending New Orleans public schools hungry, homeless or stressed out by the economic uncertainty at home, or simply fleeing the city entirely, like so many of New Orleans’ lower income residents. The “reforms” have been hailed as a success since New Orleans test scores have improved since Katrina. However, the relative wealth of city residents also rose after Katrina and affluent students generally do much better on standardized tests than lower income students.

Waiting for Superman,” which blames teachers for the problems with public education is essentially just an expensive piece of advertising for charter schools. It was largely funded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two proponents of school privatization. Almost immediately after the film was aired, the donations to charter schools started to pour in. The venture capital Charter School Growth Fund recently secured $100 million from sources including the Walton Family Foundation. Oprah just coughed up $6 million for six charter schools.

Neil Bush, Reed Elsevier and McGraw-Hill were all well-connected with President Bush and all were beneficiaries of NCLB give-aways. While schools were forced to buy their products, money and time for real teaching and learning were diverted to test preparation and testing. As NCLB declared increasing numbers of schools to be failing, teachers were forced to work harder and longer, usually without extra compensation, to implement “reforms” that had no possibility of solving the problem. They couldn’t solve the problem because NCLB was designed to increase failure, not increase student achievement.

Even banks and investment firms can be seen as the enemies of education. They are largely responsible for the current financial crisis that has bankrupted cities, lowered property values and school funding, and made millions of people unemployed, homeless and angry. In all likelihood, we shall see test scores and graduation rates decline, as more and more families become impoverished. Meanwhile, they blame teachers for hindering real educational improvements and bemoan the lack of sufficiently educated workers to fill their nonexistent job openings, implying that teachers are the cause of high unemployment rates and the persistence of the recession.

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