Why Schools Should NOT Be Run Like Businesses

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America loves business.

 

We worship the free market. Nothing is more infallible – not reason, not morals, not even God.

 

Money is the true measure of success – the more you have, the better a person you are.

 

This perverted ideology has taken over much of American life. Where we once cared about our country, justice and fair play, today it has all been reduced to dollars and cents.

 

Every problem can be answered by business. Every endeavor should be made more business-like. Every interaction should be modeled on the corporate contract, and every individual should try to maximize the outcome in his or her favor. Doing so is not just good for you, personally, but it’s what’s best for everyone involved. And this dogma is preached by the high priests of the market who claim that as they, themselves, get wealthier, one day we too will reap the same rewards – but that day never seems to come.

 

These principles are articles of faith so deeply ingrained that some folks can’t see past them. They have become the driving force behind our country and much of the world. Meanwhile, most people get ever poorer, our environment gets increasingly polluted and everything is up for sale.

 

One of the last holdouts against this market-driven nightmare is the public school system.

 

We still have widespread educational institutions run democratically at public expense dedicated to providing every child with the tools and opportunities to learn.

 

They’re not perfect. Far from it. But they enshrine one of the last vestiges of the America of our grandparents. Democracy and justice are the system’s core values – not profit, expansion and market share.

 

However, our schools suffer from disinvestment. Since we’ve segregated the rich from the poor into privileged and impoverished neighborhoods, it’s easy to provide more funding and resources to wealthy children and less to poor ones. That’s the main reason why some schools struggle – they haven’t the resources of the Cadillac institutions. Whenever we look at school spending, we look at an average allotment never bothering to consider that most of that money goes to children of the wealthy and much less to poor kids. Nor do we consider that more than half of our public school students live below the poverty line. Public schools strive to overcome the barriers of poverty, but the way we fund them ensures many of them are burdened by these same factors.

 

 

To make matters worse, our federal and state governments have allowed huge corporations to profit off our schools through an industry based on constant standardized testing and then selling schools the remediation materials to pass the tests. That’s all Common Core is – a more efficient way to market text books and test prep materials regardless of their inherent value (or lack thereof) to students. The same people criticizing public schools for being untouched by a business ethic often ignore how much they have already been brutalized by free market capitalism and the profit motive.

 

In any case, despite all these encumbrances, these problems are all surmountable. Doing so only requires us to go in the opposite direction away from the boardroom and the Wall Street subprime bubble. We need to work intrinsically for the good of each student. We need to see them as ends in themselves and not just incidentally for how much profit they can generate.

 

Unfortunately, such a solution is inconceivable to those in power. It goes against everything in which they believe. Too many Americans have been converted to the cult of the market so that the only solution they can support is to double down on what’s not working – to turn public schools even further into a business.

 

It’s absurd. Not everything benefits from being sold for a profit. Imagine if your spouse suggested running your marriage that way. It would turn you both into prostitutes selling yourselves at ever cheaper rates while any self respect, dignity and love disappeared.

 

Some things just are not for sale. Would you give up your deepest held convictions because doing so might help you turn a profit? Today I’m not a Christian, I believe in Baal because he’s got a bigger market share. Today I’m skeptical about gravity because the Acme Parachute Company is offering a bonus to jump out of the tenth floor naked.

 

Only fools let themselves be manipulated in this way. And that’s exactly what corporations and big business are trying to do with our public schools. Make no mistake. These are our institutions – they belong to us – yet privateers see a way to gobble up tax dollars while downgrading the services provided. They want to play us all for suckers even if it means leaving the next generation of poor and middle class children in the lurch. The only thing that matters to them is making bank.

 

They say we should run schools like a business? What kind of business exactly?

 

There are many different kinds of free enterprise. A coal company runs much differently from a restaurant, for example.

 

Public schools are nothing like any for-profit business. Sure, historically we’ve had a small percentage of private schools, but our country has never survived on an education system that is wholly private. By definition, the model does not work for everyone. That’s what the term “private” means – belonging to one person or group and not another. Our schools traditionally serve everyone. No single business in the country does that day-in-day-out. Perhaps we could find some new paradigm that would fit public schools, but let’s not pretend we can take some business model that already exists and apply it willy nilly. At the start, this mindset is naive at best.

 

Second, most businesses fail.

 

Most public schools succeed. They have a proven track record. Why are we going to jump to a model that builds its success on the failure of competitors?

 

Competition means there will be winners and losers. That’s fine in sports. It’s even fine in most goods and services. There’s not so much at stake. If I go to a bad restaurant, I have a bad meal. No big deal. I just go somewhere else tomorrow. If I get a bad education, there is no do over. I’m screwed.

 

That’s just not acceptable. Would you bet your life on opening a new restaurant? Would you bet your child’s education? Schools might not live up to your expectations, but the system isn’t set up from the outset so that some of them will eventually crash and burn.

 

Third, businesses get to choose their raw materials. If you’re making pizzas, you buy the best grains, cheese, tomatoes, etc. But public schools don’t get to choose their students. They have to teach even those who are more difficult to instruct. They accept kids with special needs, kids who’ve been abused, who live in poverty, who are undernourished, etc. And that’s how it needs to be.

 

If we were to follow the typical business model where the goal is merely profit, we would try to find ways to weed out these difficult students and make them someone else’s problem. In fact, that’s exactly what many privately-run charter schools and vouchers schools do. If they want our tax dollars, they shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against our children. We should be seeking to stop such nefarious practices, not universalize them.

 

Finally, businesses are not essentially democratic. Corporations are beholden to their shareholders and businesses are beholden to their founders. Who, exactly, fits that role if we model our school after a business?

 

Public schools are run by democratically elected school boards. Privately run charter and voucher schools often are run by appointees. They aren’t beholden to the public who provide the tax dollars they need to operate. They are beholden to the limited group of people who would profit from them economically.

 

This is a terrible model for public schools. It gives very little back to the taxpayer. It gives less value to the student.

 

Should we run our schools like businesses? Not if we value students and taxpayers more than the handful of investors looking to profit off our dime.

What Real School Choice Would Look Like – And Why What They’re Selling Isn’t It

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I can’t hear the words “School Choice” without thinking of Inigo Montoya from the classic film “The Princess Bride.”

 

I hear Mandy Patinkin’s voice saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

 

Because just like the constant cries of “Inconceivable!” from Sicilian boss Vizzini (portrayed by the inimitable Wallace Shawn), policymakers seem a bit confused.

 

You would expect School Choice to mean that parents would get to choose the school their children attend. However, the policy being pushed by corporate education reformers has nothing to do with that.

 

It’s about allowing schools to choose students, not the other way around.

 

Want your child to attend a charter school? Great! In many cases he needs to meet the requirements of admission – good grades, well behaved, no learning disabilities – otherwise they boot him back to the traditional public school he came from.

 

Want your child to use a voucher to attend a private school? Fine! The voucher will pay for some of her tuition, but you’d better be able to make up the rest AND she needs to meet the criteria for admission.

 

If administrators don’t want to accept your child, they don’t have to, nor do they ever have to explain why, nor do you get a public forum where you can question them, nor do you have any power to vote them out.

 

They could decide to turn you down because your child is a minority, disabled, gay, has a belief system of which they do not approve, anything really! And they will never have to explain themselves to anyone.

 

To me, that’s not school choice. But that’s what they’re selling and some folks are buying it all up like an email sent to you by an inconvenienced Nigerian Prince who just needs your help with a funds transfer.

 

However, this isn’t to say that the idea of School Choice – REAL School Choice – is inconceivable. (Forgive me, Vizzini.)

 

You could devise a system of School Choice that actually involved parents being able to choose the school their children attend.

 

I wouldn’t suggest it. I’m opposed to all forms of School Choice for reasons I’ll make clear later. But I would certainly be more amenable to a plan that actually did what it seems to promise.

 

So what would real educational choice look like? What would we need to achieve this goal?

 

First, it would require a massive increase in school funding.

 

Think about it. You’re asking the government to pay for several separate, parallel systems of education. Students won’t just have School A to choose from. They’ll have School A, B and C.

 

So we need to construct more schools. We need to staff them. We need to provide each one with books, computers, equipment, etc. That’s going to cost an incredible amount of money.

 

We’re talking about at least doubling the amount of money we pay for public schools – more likely tripling or quadrupling it.

 

This is certainly possible. Maybe it’s even preferable. But it won’t be politically acceptable for many people. The push has been to downsize government, do things on the cheap, lower taxes, etc.

 

Strangely, School Choice cheerleaders often push their agenda as a way to save money. That’s because they don’t care about the quality of the choices they’re offering. They’re not providing enough money for several excellent schools that parents can pick from. They’re taking the money we already spend on one school and having multiple schools fight for it.

 

It’s like a dogfight for schools. They’ll rip and tear at each other, and the winner gets to take away the most funding. It’s a bad model for animals and an even worse one for schools because everyone loses. No one walks away with enough money to get the job done. You end up with several choices but none of them can really provide the best academic experience. None of them can even provide the kind of education that would come from having just one well-funded choice.

 

What’s worse, in most states even before you start adding parallel schools, the current funding system is broken. We simply don’t provide enough funding for the schools we already have without adding even more choices.

 

All public schools don’t get the same amount of money per pupil. That’s true even when you adjust for costs.

 

Under the current system, schools with a rich tax base provide Cadillac resources for their children. Meanwhile, schools with a poor tax base can’t provide everything that is needed so their kids have to do with less. That means fewer resources, fewer teachers, larger classes, etc.

 

So-called School Choice policies only make this worse. Schools that already don’t have enough funding to meet their students needs have to give larger portions of their shrinking budgets to charter schools. So instead of one school without enough funding, we have two. That doesn’t fix anything.

 

However, both of these problems are solvable and the solution is the same in both cases – money.

 

If you want real choice, you need to do two things: (1) discontinue funding schools based on local property taxes and (2) dramatically increase school funding. Both the state and federal government would have to kick in much more. Local taxes could still be collected to pay a portion for public schools – this could even be collected based on how much each community can afford – but no longer could we allow poor students to get less funding than rich kids. No matter where you lived – in the slums or in a gated community – you’d get whatever funding your school deemed necessary.

 

This would probably be paid for with a substantial tax increase, though you could also make cuts in other places in local, state, and federal budgets. For most people, I think this would be unacceptable, but it is certainly conceivable.

 

Second, you need the same rules governing these separate systems – especially when it comes to admissions.

 

This would be especially hard on charter school and private school administrators.

 

There could be no more picking and choosing which students get to attend your school. If an emotionally disturbed student with bad grades and an even worse record of behavior wants to attend your charter school, you’ve got to accept him. If a poor student whose parents don’t have the money for tuition (even with the voucher in hand) want to attend your private school, you’ve got to accept her.

 

This shouldn’t be such a burden. It’s what traditional public schools do now. They take everyone regardless of grades, ability, behavior or poverty.

 

Third, all schools would have to be transparent and democratically controlled. Their budgets and internal documents would have to be open to public record. Moreover, decisions about how to run the school could not be made behind closed doors – they would have to be made in public. And school directors would have to be subject to democratic control. Decision-makers could no longer be appointed by boards of investors, the mayor or any other bureaucrat. They’d be selected by voters. These would all be public schools, after all, and as such would be subject to rule by the public.

 

Think about what that means. If your child attends a school, you should get a say in what happens at that school. Even if your child doesn’t attend the school, even if you have no children, you should have a say simply because you pay taxes.

 

This has been the practice at traditional public schools since forever. In fact, unless the school has been taken over by the state, it’s required by law. But at charters and private schools, it’s not always the case.

 

It’s funny. In many ways under our current system, the public gets much more input, much more choice at traditional public schools than at so-called School Choice institutions.

 

Many charters and private schools would balk at this. They are not run democratically and are not beholden to the public.

 

That’s just the way they like it. Their business model requires it. If they had to be fully transparent and accountable to taxpayers, what would happen to those schools organized for-profit?

 

I would assume that they would disappear. I think very few parents and taxpayers would allow a fully transparent school to pocket a large chunk of its budget like that. I can’t imagine the public approving a decision to cut student services to boost the bottom line – but this is exactly what happens at certain charter schools every day. Only the protection of current School Choice policies that shield investors from taxpayers allows this kind of malfeasance.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

We can have real School Choice without all the drawbacks of charters and voucher schools. We can have a system where parents get to pick their children’s schools, where the public is in control, where every child gets an excellent education.

 

To do so, we’d need a series of fully funded, fully transparent, democratically run schools subject to the same rules and expectations.

 

Hmm. But that’s not so different than the traditional public school system we have now. Perhaps doing so would give all schools the latitude to experiment that is usually given to charter schools. But for the most part, we’ve equalized our school system and simply eliminated the worst abuses of charter and voucher schools.

 

We’ve also radically increased the raw number of schools in the system. And we’ve allowed students to attend schools where they don’t necessarily live, but ensured they get adequate funding no matter where they attend.

 

The result is real Student Choice. Parents get to decide where their children attend, and – at least in theory – all choices would be excellent.

 

I’ve got to admit – from a certain vantage point – it doesn’t look so bad. Sure it’s going to cost a lot of money, but maybe it’s worth it.

 

However, finding the cash isn’t the only obstacle. For instance, how do you adequately administrate such a system?

 

I cannot imagine how administrators could decide how much money their school needs from year to year if the student population can change so dramatically in that time period. How would administrators know how many teachers they need and in which subjects? How would they be able to determine the number of classrooms, how many school lunches are necessary and a host of other things? Wouldn’t it be terribly disruptive to have teachers moving from school-to-school every year following student mobility?

 

Additionally, how do we provide transportation with students traveling hither and thither? It would be difficult just to organize buses to get kids to school. Older students could be given bus passes, but that wouldn’t be safe for elementary and middle school kids to be traveling this way unaccompanied by adults.

 

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be very difficult. Perhaps someone could find a system that works. However, I fear this kind of institutional instability would result in some schools being woefully understaffed and underprepared while others have too much.

 

Moreover, such a situation would be extremely wasteful. We’d be spending much more than we need to provide children with an excellent education. We’d be duplicating services unnecessarily. Personally, I can deal with that much more than its opposite. However, flushing tax dollars down the toilet is a bad practice.

 

Is there a middle ground that provides parents and students choice without wasting so much money?

 

Yes.

 

Instead of providing a series of parallel education systems, supply one system that is able to deliver multiple services.

 

First, you’d need to fix the funding inequities mentioned above. You don’t have to double or triple what we spend, but you’d probably have to increase support somewhat. And it would have to be distributed fairly.

 

Then once every school has the funding necessary to give every student what he/she needs, we can work on individualizing that experience. This is exactly the opposite of current education policies from the Bush and Obama administrations.

 

I’m not talking about Competency Based Education, either, the latest scam to make standardization look like a student centered model. I mean no more high stakes standardized tests, no more Common Core, no more corporate education reform.

 

Imagine if every district allowed parents and students to choose what kind of education they got within the system. Your child wants to study music? We’ve got an excellent music program. You want your child to study a foreign language? We have plenty of award-winning programs to choose from.

 

Schools would be able to meet the needs of all students because they would be fully funded. No more poor schools and rich schools – just schools.

 

To meet this ideal, we need to forgo the fake School Choice being offered at present. We need to stop having schools fight over dwindling resources like pit bulls.

 

THAT would be a choice worth making.

 

It would be the best kind of school choice.

Pennsylvania Legislators Want You to Foot the Bill for Unimpeded Charter School Growth With Little Accountability

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Fund my charter school.

Come on, Pennsylvania.

Let me just swipe tax dollars you set aside to educate your children and put them into my personal bank account as profit.

Please!

I’ll be your best friend. Or at least I’ll be your legislator’s best friend.

Chances are, I already am.

That’s why lawmakers in Harrisburg are once again looking to pass a school code bill (House Bill 530) that would let charter schools expand exponentially almost completely unchecked and without having to do any of that nasty, sticky accountability stuff you demand of your traditional public schools.

Sure there are a few provisions in there to make charters fill out more paperwork, but the benefits for privatization and profitization of your child’s education are huge!

For me, that is. For your child, not so much.

For instance, the proposed legislation would set up a charter school funding advisory commission. This august body would have many duties including the ability to authorize charter schools in your local school district.

No longer would prospective charter operators have to come before your duly-elected board members and plead and beg to set up shop and suck away hard to come by education funding. They could just appear before the commission and sidestep your local democracy completely.

Who will be on this commission? I’m glad you asked.

We’ve got eight legislators. Got to give THEM a voice. But they’re usually pretty cheap. A few bucks in the re-election campaign and we’ll be golden. We’ll also have the state secretary of education and the chairman of the state board. We’ve got to make the thing look legit, right?

But here’s the best part! We’ll have four public education representatives and FIVE representatives of the charter school industry!

Isn’t that great!? There are significantly more traditional public schools throughout the state, but they’ll have less representation on the commission! It’s stacked with charter friendly votes! The forces of privatization have a built-in majority! Ring the dinner bell, Baby! Once this bill gets passed, it’s charter school time all across the Commonwealth!

Okay. There is a downside. Commissioners can’t be outright voting members of charter boards or their families. And if they’re being paid by charters they have to sign a sworn statement admitting that fact. Also, no criminals – no one convicted of fraud, theft, malfeasance.

Sucks, I know, but we’ll find a way around it. Don’t you worry.

However, the best is yet to come. Once a charter school has been given the go-ahead to exist, the proposed bill allows it to expand without getting permission from anyone!

That’s right! No commission, no local school board, nobody.

If there are children on the waiting list to get in, we have to take them first, but then we can start enrolling kids from outside the district!

Yes! Outside the district!

Here’s what the bill actually says:

“If a charter school or regional charter school and the school district from which it is authorized have voluntarily capped enrollment or the district attempts to involuntarily cap enrollment of resident students and the charter school or regional charter school has enrolled the maximum number of resident students, the charter school or regional charter school may enroll students residing outside of the district.”

This would appear to allow charters to enroll kids outside of the district and still charge the district to pay for them!

But wait, there’s more! If charter operators want to expand in any way, they can – unless they agree not to. If operators want to add more grades, they can. If we want to consolidate one charter school with another, we can! Meanwhile all this expansion sucks away local tax dollars to pay for students that don’t even live there!

I drink your milkshake,” traditional public schools!

So while public schools are shrinking due to loss of funds to unchecked charter expansion, this proposed bill adds insult to injury. If a traditional public school has to close a building or even has a few empty classrooms, charter schools get the right to buy or rent them out before anyone else!

I see you’ve got 7 empty class rooms in your school building. Charter School X will rent those from you. Maybe next year, we can rent out the rest of the floor once we’re done slurping up all your funding!

But wait! There’s more!

We now get to my favorite part of the proposed bill. (Do I keep saying that? It’s just such a gorgeous piece of legislation. ALEC has really outdone themselves writing it!)

We get educational tax credits. That’s school vouchers, folks!

I know, I know. The state legislature tried to pass a voucher system (Senate Bill 1) in 2011, and it was soundly defeated because it was so unpopular.

Three out of Four Pennsylvanians didn’t like that it gave state tax dollars to charters, private and parochial schools without any accountability. Well, guess what folks!? There’s hardly any accountability in this here bill, too!

Here’s how it works. You donate $X to a voucher school and we just take that off of your taxes. And if that’s the same or more than you’d normally pay for, let’s say, public school taxes, then all of your money goes to voucher schools.

It’s not really new. We’ve been quietly encouraging this kind of thing for a while now. This bill just expands it.

It allows public tax dollars to be used by religious schools – a clear violation of the Separation of Church and State. But who cares? Let’s leave that up to the courts. How dare they try to violate state’s rights. And all that. Etc. Etc.

But it’s not all robbing public schools and enriching corporate charter school operators. There are a few sticking points.

For the first time, the proposed bill allows local school boards access to charter financial and personnel records. We even have to submit to full audits. And our teachers will be subject to the same pseudo-scientific evaluations as traditional public school teachers.

In addition, charter schools will have to undergo a whole new evaluation “matrix” to show that they’re doing a good job.

I know. It sounds a lot like what traditional public schools have to undergo right now. It sounds absolutely untenable.

But here’s the difference. This new evaluation system for charters carries absolutely no consequences!

Tee-Hee!

That’s right! Even if charters fail these evaluations, the state can’t do diddley squat to them! Not so with traditional public schools. If THEY fail to show progress, they can be closed down and turned into… charter schools!

Oh! It is a beautiful time to be alive!

If this bill passes, charter school operators will have it made in the shade.

Cut student services and increase corporate profits? Check!

Kick out special education and other hard to teach students? Check!

Escape almost any kind of accountability for our actions? YOU BET!

Pennsylvania lawmakers could bring this bill to the floor anytime now.

It’s up to you, lawmakers. Do you want to keep getting tons of campaign cash from our industry or do you represent those – yuck – voters?

Do the right thing. Or should I say, do the right cha-ching!

Did you see that? Did you see what I just did there?

I am a cad. I mean… card.


In all seriousness, if you live in Pennsylvania, please, contact your legislators and ask them to oppose this terrible bill. The Network for Public Education has made it very easy. Just click HERE and you can shoot off a letter to your representatives in moments.

Oppose HB 530. Fight for public education.

The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

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Apparently facts don’t matter much to Campbell Brown.

 

 

Though her latest “fact” about public schools has once again been shown to be more truthiness than truth, she refuses to retract it.

 

 

During an interview published in Slate where she gave advice to the next president, she said:

 

 

“Two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.”

 

It’s a scary statistic. The problem is it’s completely unsupported by evidence.

 

And when education experts called her out on it, she complained that SHE was being attacked.

 

When pressed, Brown admitted she got this figure from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a test given to random samples of students in fourth and eighth grades every two years.

 

However, Brown either misunderstands or misinterprets the scores. If one were to interpret the data in the way Brown suggests, the highest scoring countries in the world would be full of children who can’t read at grade level. Hardly anyone in the world would be literate or could add and subtract. It’s beyond absurd.

 

And when she was notified of her error by authorities in the field including Carol Burris, Tom Loveless and Diane Ravitch – who, by the way, served on the NAEP Governing Board for seven years – Brown responded by likening her critics to Donald Trump.

 

She wrote:

 

“That the people who disagree with my characterization would react by attacking me personally… speaks volumes. Those feigning outrage over the difference between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” are the people who profit off the system’s failure and feel compelled to defend it at all costs. Sadly, in the age of Donald Trump and Diane Ravitch, this is what constitutes discourse.”

 

I especially like the bit where she attacks experts, teachers, and PhDs because they “profit off the system’s failure.” It’s pretty rich stuff coming from Brown who makes a pretty penny retelling the fairytale of “failing public schools.”

 

Once upon a time, Brown was a respected reported for NBC and anchorperson for CNN.

 

 

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

 

 

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

 

 

She co-founded and edits a Website called The Seventy Four – a reference to the 74 million children across the country who are 18 or younger.

 

 

It might be more honest to call it The Four, instead, for the $4 million she receives annually from the mega-rich backers of school privatization to bankroll the endeavor.

 

 

She claims her site is “nonpartisan.” Funny. I guess that explains why she continually backs every cause and campaign championed by her donors.

 

 

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

 

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

 

 

Ignore the overwhelming preponderance of stories about charter schools cheating the public and their students? Check.

 

 

When called out on her bias, she proudly proclaimed, “I have learned that not every story has two sides… Is The Seventy Four journalism or advocacy? For 74 million reasons, we are both.”

 

 

Pithy. Yet it remains unclear exactly how the nation’s school children will benefit from Bill Gates and the Walton Family having an even larger say in education policy.

 

Brown has sold her image and rep as a journalist so it can be used to purposefully mislead the public into thinking she is still dedicated to those endeavors. She’s not. What she’s offering these days is not News. It’s bought-and-paid-for public relations meant to destroy our nation’s public schools.

 

If anyone thought Brown retained even a shred of journalistic integrity left, she should have removed it when she called herself, “a soldier in Eva’s army.” This is a reference to Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of a New York City charter school chain – Success Academy – where children are put under such pressure they wet themselves during testing and kids in first grade are shamed and berated for math mistakes.

 

As a public school teacher, myself, this makes me sad.

 

John Merrow, one of the elder statesmen of education journalism, recently proclaimed that we live in the “golden age of education reporting.”

 

I must respectfully disagree.

 

Yes, there is more being written about education policy and public schools than ever before.

 

But most of it is just paid advertisements from the standardization and privatization industry.

 

Look who’s funding these stories.

 

 

TV Networks such as NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo have broadcast various education segments on “Nightly News” and “Today” underwritten by Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

 

 

The Education Writers Association – which boasts more than 3,00 members – receives money from Gates and Walton. The L.A. Times receives funds from Broad for its Education Matters Digital initiative.

 

On-line publications also have been infiltrated. The Education Post took $12 million in start-up funds provided by Broad, Bloomberg and the Waltons. The site focuses on “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students,” according to the Washington Post.

 

Even well-respected education blogs including Chalkbeat and Education Week are funded in part by the Waltons (in the latter case, specifically for “coverage of school choice and [so-called] parent-empowerment issues.”) Education Week even tweets out paid advertisements for Teach for America as if they were news stories!

 

 

We’ve all seen “Waiting for Superman,” the infamous union bashing, charter loving propaganda film packaged as a documentary. Its popularity was helped with outreach and engagement funds by the Waltons and a host of other privatizers. It’s far from the only effort by market-driven billionaires to infiltrate popular culture with corporate education reform. They tried to sell the parent trigger law with “Won’t Back Down,” but no one was buying. Efforts continue in Marvel Studios television shows.

 

A plethora of teachers, academics and other grassroots bloggers have taken to the Internet to correct the record. But they are often ignored or drowned out by the white noise of the same corporate education reform narratives being told again-and-again without any firm footing in reality. In fact, after blogger and former teacher Anthony Cody won first prize from the Education Writers Association in 2014 for his criticism of Gates, the organization banned bloggers from subsequent consideration.

 

We bloggers are almost completely unpaid. We do it because we care about our profession. Meanwhile the so-called “news” sources are funded by corporate special interests, yet it is bloggers that are looked at as if they were somehow reprehensibly compromised and biased.

 

Education journalism is not going through a golden age. It’s a sham, a farce.

 

When we allow our news to be funded by private interests, we lose all objectivity. The stories are spun to meet the demands of the big foundations, the billionaires bankrolling them. And the real experts in the field are either not consulted or left to quixotically do whatever they can on their own time.

 

Education journalism isn’t about what’s best for children. It’s about how best to monetize the system to wring as many taxpayer dollars out of our schools as possible for corporate interests.

 

It goes something like this: reduce the quality to reduce the cost and swallow the savings as profit. But it’s sold to the public in propaganda that we call journalism.

 

As famed cartoonist and counter-culture figure Robert Crumb wrote in 2015:

 

“You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore. What they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.”

 

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

 

Just as Broad was initiating a plan in February to double the number of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Brown’s site, the Seventy Four, was given control of the LA School Report, an on-line news site focusing on the second largest district in the country. Brown was expected to run interference for the takeover. She was running the propaganda arm of the privatization push.

 

And that’s really what’s happening with our education journalism.

 

I’m not saying there aren’t actual journalists out there trying to tell unbiased stories. But they are few and far between. They are beset by corporate interests. And anyone who wants to tell the truth is silenced or marginalized.

 

As we’ve seen, when you actually try to point out errors like Brown’s ridiculous assertions about eighth grade students, the media treats it as a he-said-she-said.

 

They say, “Wow! Teachers really hate Brown.” Shrug.

 

Meanwhile the truth is left murdered on the floor as our schools are pillaged and sacked.

The One Reason Bernie Sanders is the Best Mainstream Candidate for Parents and Teachers

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It really all comes down to this.

You can talk all day about delegates and superdelegates.

You can talk about polls and electability.

You can talk about political experience, likeability, and authenticity. You can talk about political dynasties, union endorsements and campaign ads. You can talk about how many people show up at who’s rallies and who did what during the Civil Rights movement.

But when push comes to shove, there is one undeniable reason Bernie Sanders is the best mainstream 2016 Presidential candidate: He is running against privatization.

That’s it. Sold.

Everything else is nice. It adds to the appeal, but that one essential reason is enough to tip the scales – knock them over, really – to Bernie’s favor.

America’s parents and teachers are fighting a battle for our children’s schools. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stand against us. They are giving away the store. They are selling our system of public education – once the envy of the world – to for-profit corporations piece-by-piece.

They are stealing our schools out from under us, giving them to unscrupulous charter school operators who are stripping away services for our children so that they can pad their own bottom line.

And only Bernie truly stands against them.

It’s not about who said what. It doesn’t matter if he slipped up and said something ignorant about “public charter schools.” It doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton, too, has occasionally criticized charters.

What matters is that standing against privatization is the backbone of the Sanders campaign. It is the bedrock which supports all of his other platforms. It is the foundation of his entire career in politics.

Might he screw it up once in office? Sure. He’s only human. But the odds are in our favor that he’ll actually improve things.

Hillary Clinton is an intelligent, capable politician. She is not the evil witch that the Right paints her to be. However, her campaign is largely supported by the same people who are privatizing our schools. They aren’t giving her all that money for her to act against their interests.

Might she make some compromises that forestall the worst effects of privatization? Sure. But odds are against us that she’ll be much help. The best scenario we can expect from another Clinton administration is a continuation of the status quo – a status quo that has dramatically increased school privatization.

There are worse things, but can’t we do better than vote for 4-8 more years of slow educational death?

If privatization is the first front of the war against public schools, standardization is the second. Schools are being forced to march in lockstep with Common Core Standards while giving a barrage of high stakes tests.

Both Sanders and Clinton have spotty records here. Sanders voted against the terrible No Child Left Behind legislation that spawned the beast, while Clinton helped nurture it. However, just this year Sanders joined Congressional Democrats trying to continue the era of test and punish through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – some of which failed and some of which became part of the final law.

But it doesn’t really matter.

Standardization is the claw of the beast. Privatization is the beast, itself.

High stakes testing is the justification for privatization. Low test scores at under-resourced schools are the excuse for turning them into charters. If Sanders stops the move to charterize, he removes the reason to standardize. A dead lion will not use its claws.

Moreover, he’s had some genuinely good ideas about how best to improve our schools. It was Sanders who inserted into the ESSA a provision allowing some states to develop alternatives to standardized testing.

While most Democrats champion increasing funding to the neediest districts, they blame their inability to do so on the Republicans. Meanwhile, Sanders has proposed rewriting the way schools are funded in the first place. He is the only mainstream candidate with a plan to ensure every school in America receives equitable funding. His solution: federalize pubic school budgets similar to the Scandinavian model that has been proven effective. Is it a risk? Sure. Might it not work? Sure. But at least Bernie has new ideas that could potentially do more than just put Band-Aids on decades of wrongheaded school policies.

This is radically more than just fighting privatization – it is turning it around in its tracks. Only Bernie is actually suggesting a robust, equitable education for all children from preschool through college.

THAT’S why I support Bernie Sanders. THAT’S why I can’t wait to cast my vote in the Pennsylvania primary. THAT’S why so many teachers, parents and concerned citizens are feeling the Bern.

Come join the Revolution already in progress.

It is our fight to win or lose.

Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY

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Charter schools are public schools.

But are they?

Really?

They don’t look like a duck. They don’t quack like a duck. Do you really want to serve them confit with a nice orange sauce?

Sure, charters are funded by tax dollars. However, that’s usually where the similarities end.

They don’t teach like public schools, they don’t spend their money like public schools, they don’t treat students or parents like public schools – in fact, that’s the very reason they exist – to be as unlike public schools as possible.

Advocates claim charters exist as laboratory schools. They are free to experiment and find new, better ways of doing things. Once they’ve proven their successes, these improved practices will eventually trickle down to our more traditional houses of learning.

At least, that’s the ideal behind them. But to my knowledge it’s never happened.

As a public school teacher, I can never recall being at a training where charter operators taught us how to do things better with these time-tested strategies. I do, however, recall watching excellent co-workers furloughed because my district had to meet the rising costs of payments to our local charters.

Moreover, if the freedom to experiment is so important, why not give that privilege to all public schools, not just a subset?

The reality is much different than the ideal. In the overwhelming majority of cases, charter schools are vastly inferior to their more traditional brethren. To understand why, we need to see the differences between these two kinds of learning institutions and why in every case the advantage goes to our much-maligned, long suffering traditional public schools:

1) Charters Don’t Accept all Students

Charter schools are choosey. They don’t take just any old students. They only accept the ones they want. And the ones they want are usually easy and less expensive to teach.

The process is called “Creaming” because they only pick the cream of the crop. Then when these students who are already doing well continue to do well at a charter, the administrators take all the credit. It’s as if they were saying – Look how well we teach. All these former A-students continue to get A’s here at our school. It’s really quite an achievement. (Not.)

However, sometimes the bait-and-switch isn’t so obvious. Occasionally, charters actually do accept special needs and/or difficult students – for a few months. Then when the big standardized test is coming up, they quietly give these kids the boot. That way they can claim they accept everyone but still get excellent standardized test scores.

Ironically, that’s what they mean by “School Choice.” It’s usually touted as a way of giving alternatives to parents and students. In reality, the choice only goes to administrators. Not “Which school do YOU want to attend?” but “Which students do WE want to accept to make our charter look good?”

Keep in mind, this situation is allowed by law. Charters are legally permitted to discriminate against whichever students they want.

By contrast, traditional public schools accept all students who live within the district. It doesn’t matter if children have special needs and therefore cost more to educate. If a child lives within district boarders, your neighborhood public school will take him or her in and provide the best experience possible.

Bean counters complain about poor test scores, but traditional public schools aren’t gaming the system. They aren’t weeding out difficult students. They take everyone. Administrators have no choice. This is dictated by law. Public schools are equal opportunity educators.

2) Charters Have No Transparency

Have you ever been to a school board meeting? Ever listened to school directors debate the merits of one course of action versus another? Ever looked over public documents detailing district finances and how money is spent? Ever read over bids vendors provide for services? Ever spoken at a public meeting to school directors about what you think is the best way to proceed in a given situation? Ever had a school director or two disappoint and then worked to vote him or her out of office?

At traditional public schools, you can do all of this – even if you don’t have any children in the school system! At a charter school, you’re out of luck.

Charters rarely have to tell you how they spend their money, rarely debate management decisions in public, rarely invite or even permit you a seat in the audience. Heck! They don’t have to!

Charters survive on public money, but once that money goes in those charter doors, the public never sees it again. If you don’t like how the charter is treating your child, you can remove the little dear from the school. But if a non-parent doesn’t like how they suspect the charter is spending his or her tax money, there is absolutely no recourse. You are taxed without any representation. Wars have been fought over such things. It’s hard to imagine how that can be Constitutional.

In sum, traditional public schools are like most other government organizations. They are required by law to be transparent to the public. Charter schools, however, are money pits and what goes down those gaping holes is lost forever from public view.

3) Charters Advertise

Have you ever seen those huge billboards by the side of the road trying to convince motorists to send their children to a charter chain? Ever hear a radio advertisement about how happy little kiddos are at Brand X Charter School?

Those advertisements cost money. Your money, to be exact. You paid for those commercials. And what’s more, every penny spent on those glossy advertisements is one less that actually goes to educate your child.

By contrast, traditional public schools are not allowed to advertise. All their budget dollars have to be spent on things broadly educational. They have to spend on books, teachers, building upkeep, etc.

Not only are charters allowed to keep quiet about how they spend their money, even if they told you, it doesn’t all have to be spent on the children in their care. What could possibly go wrong with that?

4) Charters Defraud the Public

Despite all their best efforts at secrecy, charter school operators have been caught in countless financial scandals in recent years. According to Integrity in Education$200 million in taxpayer money was lost, misused, or wasted in just 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools.

These aren’t mere allegations. These abuses are well documented. The report states: “Charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more.”

Mountains of evidence demonstrate fraud throughout the country: Schoolchildren defrauded in Pennsylvania; “out-of-control” charters in Michigan and Florida; rampant misspending in Ohio; bribes and kickbacks, also in Ohio; revenues directed to a for-profit company in Buffalo, NY; subpoenas for mismanaged charters in Connecticut. Heck! In California alone, $100 million in fraud losses were expected just last year.

And that’s just the fraud we can see!

I’m not saying our traditional public schools are scandal free, but nothing like this level of malfeasance has been revealed. Traditional schools are under much stricter regulations. People are actually watching to make sure nothing like these charter scandals happen at our time-tested neighborhood schools. They are much better value for your money.

5) Charters Often Get Worse Results

It all comes down to teaching and learning. When we compare the results at charters versus traditional public schools, who does better?

Bottom line: the research shows that the overwhelming majority of charter schools are no better – and often much worse than traditional public schools. This is true even of studies backed by the charter school industry, itself!

For example, a recent study by charter-friendly CREDO found that in comparison to traditional public schools “students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

In a study of Chicago’s public schools, the University of Minnesota Law School found that “Sadly the charter schools, which on average score lower that the Chicago public schools, have not improved the Chicago school system, but perhaps made it even weaker.”

Another report from Data First – part of the Center for Public Education – says, “the majority of charter schools do no better or worse than traditional public schools.”

However, there is plenty of evidence of charter schools producing dismal academic results for students. For instance, a Brookings report showed low performance in Arizona’s charter schools. A District of Columbia researcher for In the Public Interest group, “could not provide a single instance in which its strategy of transferring a low-performing school to a charter management organization had resulted in academic gains for the students.” The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that “Students in most Minnesota charter schools are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth.” Over 85 percent of Ohio’s charter students were in schools graded D or F in 2012–2013. In the celebrated New Orleans charter experiment, the Investigative Fund found that “eight years after Hurricane Katrina…seventy-nine percent of RSD charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.”

That’s not exactly a record of success!

Meanwhile, our traditional public schools often do a much better job.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that U.S. math and reading skills have improved for all levels of public school students since the 1970s, with the greatest gains among minority and disadvantaged students. Other results indicate that our schools achieve even greater success when properly funded.

The facts seem pretty clear. Charter schools are not like traditional public schools at all.

Most charter schools are a losing prospect for our children and our Democracy. Yet well-funded corporate lobbying interests continue to push charters as a public policy solution while instigating the closure of an increasing number of traditional public schools.

This is like closing hospitals and opening clinics on the power of crystals, snake oil and phrenology.

We need a national moratorium on new charter schools. We need to investigate every existent charter to determine if each are providing a quality service to students and not just the charter’s corporate share holders.

We know what works, and it isn’t charter schools. Support your friendly, neighborhood, traditional public school.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Turning Kids into Cash

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For too many children, public school is just a “GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL” card.

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

The institution that should be raising kids to the skies is chaining them to the ground.

It’s called the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and it disproportionately affects students of color and the poor.

School policy at the highest levels is designed to sort and rank students. Some go to the college track. Some go to the industrial track. And even more end up on the prison track.

We actually have procedures that prepare certain children for life behind bars.

Why? Because people make money from it.

Think about it. The United States represents only 4.4% of the world population but we house 22% of the world’s prisoners. We’re the number one jailor!

It’s not that our citizens are out of control. It’s not a rise in violent crime. In fact, the crime rate has decreased to 1970s levels.

But instead someone has found a way to convert prisoners into cash.

Since the 1980s, we’ve been handing over our prison system to private companies to run for a profit.

The number of inmates in privatized prisons has increased by 44% in the last decade alone, according to a 2013 Bloomberg report.

This creates a market. Without a steady stream of prisoners, these institutions would go bankrupt. And corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group spend tons of cash lobbying our government to ensure just that.

It’s no accident that our national education policy meets the needs of the for-profit prison industry.

Look at the so-called education reforms of the last decade: increasing standardization, efforts to close schools serving poor and minority children, cutting school budgets and narrowing the curriculum. All of these serve to push kids out of school and into the streets where they are more likely to engage in criminal activity and enter the criminal justice system.

Federal education policy – whether it be No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top – continually doubles down on privatization and standardization. These policies consistently have failed to produce academic gains but are offered as the only possible solution in school reform initiatives.

Question: Why do we keep enacting the same failed policies?

Answer: Because they are not MEANT to succeed. They are meant to fail a certain percentage, race and economic bracket.

If we had effective education procedures that increased academic success, we wouldn’t have enough prisoners to feed our for-profit prisons. Lawmakers would loose valuable lobbying revenue.

Call it what you will – misplaced priorities, profiteering or an outright scam. But the reform-to-profit cycle is advocated, perpetrated and championed by the most prominent figures in the so-called education reform movement.

Take Bill Gates – the monetary force behind Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of the leading policies in education.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also is an investor in The GEO Group – one of the biggest for-profit prison providers in the country. It’s most recent tax filing (2013) shows a more than $2 million investment.

Nominally a philanthropic organization, the Gates Foundation refuses to admit if it still backs the industry or by how much. Sure Gates underwriting is just a drop in the bucket, but it proves how the organization’s interest is economic and not charitable. It is one of a herd of Trojan horses stampeding over the cries of critics under a banner of largesse.

Likewise, Common Core essentially isn’t concerned with increasing the quality of children’s education. CCSS has never been proven to be effective and is – in fact – developmentally inappropriate. But it’s touted as a panacea to a host of ills when its real concern is to continue fortifying the prison machine.

We live in a country where more than half of the children attending public school live below the poverty line. They need proper nutrition, social assistance, tutoring, counseling and a host of wrap around services. But instead they get so-called “higher” academic standards and standardized tests.

It’s like a sporting goods store withholding wheelchairs to the Special Olympics and instead donating extra hurdles – all the while claiming it was trying to help participants become better hoppers!

Even worse, these standards aren’t actually better. They’re just confusing, ignorant and ill-conceived. After all, they weren’t developed by educators. They were made by ideologues who admit they were unqualified for the task.

Was this a huge mistake? No. These standards and the associated bubble tests that drive them do exactly what they were meant to do.

They increase the numbers of failing students. They push more kids out of school and into the waiting arms of the prison industry.

And when kids have difficulty sitting through the hours, days, and months of test prep that are increasingly replacing a well-rounded curriculum, they face unfair discipline practices.

We treat misbehaving kids like little criminals.

Can’t sit still in class? Can’t keep quiet? Can’t control your frustration?

Out you go! Detentions, suspensions, expulsions!

We have zero tolerance for your childish behavior – even if you are still a child.

And unsurprisingly the majority of the children who are crushed by the hammer of discipline have dark skin.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that misbehaving children shouldn’t be disciplined. Far from it.

But we need to stop criminalizing their misbehavior.

If we can’t provide them with schools that teach in a developmentally appropriate manner – it’s not the children who are misbehaving. It’s us! The school system!

Moreover, when a child has a problem conforming to the norm, our first reaction shouldn’t be punishment. It should be understanding. The goal should be to find ways to change the negative behavior, not weed the kid out of the system.

But this means treating children as ends not means.

We have to care about their well-being. They have to be more than just piggy banks for big business.

Otherwise, it is our sick society that really deserves to be sent to jail.


NOTE: This article also appeared in the LA Progressive, ConversationED and the Badass Teachers Association blog.