America’s public education system is being deliberately destroyed. If you graduated from high school in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, it is such an unthinkable concept that it is difficult to even imagine. Not only is it possible, it is happening and a lot of damage has already occurred.
Recently I learned that a Republican legislator has proposed privatizing all the schools in Muncie, Indiana. Almost all the schools in New Orleans were privatized after hurricane Katrina. Half the schools in Washington DC and a quarter of the schools in Los Angeles are privatized. However, ninety percent of America’s K-12 students attend public schools. (Note: Charter schools are not public schools, they are schools run by private businesses that have government contracts.)
DPE Movement False Talking Points
- Public schools are failing.
- Teachers’ unions fight for the status quo and against education reform.
- Standardized testing is a tool that fairly holds teachers and schools accountable.
- Standardized testing proves America’s schools are not competitive internationally.
- Teacher quality can be assessed with value-added measures.
- University professors of education are out of touch and an obstacle to school improvement.
- Teacher training and professional development is better run by non-profit organizations and consultants than universities.
- A college graduate with five weeks of training is qualified to be a teacher.
- Experience overrated when it comes to good teaching.
- Advanced training such as a master’s degree in education is not worth extra pay.
- No excuses charter schools are superior to neighborhood public schools.
- Business principles and experience are the key ingredients needed for reforming public schools.
- Market forces and competition are the principles required to improve schools.
- Public education needs disruption.
- Schools districts should be managed using the portfolio model – close failing schools and replace them with higher performing charter schools or voucher schools.
- Failing schools should be transformed into successful schools by changing the administration and replacing the existing teachers.
None of these points are true but they are repeated so often by extremely wealthy people and their sycophants that they sound true. It is all a part of the one great lie, “public schools are failing!”
Seminal Events Along the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Trajectory
“A Nation at Risk” propelled us down the road toward education standards, testing and competition as drivers for education reform. A huge mistake.
In 1983, Terrel ‘Ted’ Bell, the 2nd Secretary of Education in the United States, created the “National Commission on Excellence in Education.” It gave us the infamous “A Nation at Risk.” Beyond just claiming that public education in America was failing and needed drastic reform; the claimants said that reform needed the leadership of people who were not professional educators.
“A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform” looked deceptively like a genuine peer review research paper, however, it was not. It was a political polemic attacking public education written by businessmen and a famous Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Glenn Seaborg. Without substantiation, they said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” And claimed, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
In 1991, Julie Miller wrote about a research study conducted by the Sandia Laboratory in New Mexico. Her Education Week article, “Report Questioning ‘Crisis’ in Education Triggers an Uproar,” is one of the few reports on this government study that seriously questioned claims in “A Nation at Risk.” Miller’s lead paragraph reads,
“Three researchers at a federally funded research center in New Mexico have sparked an uproar with a study of American education that concludes that policymakers and pundits who bemoan a system-wide crisis are both overstating and misstating the problem.”
“A Nation at Risk” propelled us down the road toward education standards, testing and competition as drivers for education reform. A huge mistake.
The Washington Post ran a retrospective article asking “experts” which president deserves the moniker “education president?” Christopher T. Cross, chairman of an education policy consulting firm replied:
“… The unlikely duo of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were the driving forces to put education on the national map in a significant way. Bush did it by convening the Charlottesville Summit in September of 1989, Clinton by securing passage of the Improving American’s Schools Act as an amendment to ESEA and the Goals 2000 Educate America Act, both within a few months of each other in 1994. What Bush had begun, with Clinton’s support as then-governor of Arkansas, Clinton saw to fruition.
“The significance of these actions is that they did cast the die for accountability in the use of federal funds, made an attempt at national assessments in math and reading, and did create national goals for education.”
The Charlottesville joint communiqué listed the four areas of agreement reached at the summit:
“The President and the nation’s Governors have agreed at this summit to:
- Establish a process for setting national education goals;
- Seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability in the use of Federal resources to meet the goals, through both regulatory and legislative changes;
- Undertake a major state-by-state effort to restructure our education system; and
- Report annually on progress in achieving our goals.”
In 1998, Bill Clinton wrote:
“We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools.”
The philosophy of education these “education presidents” put forward accelerated the harm being perpetrated on public schools. It was completely misguided and undermined local democratically oriented control of schools. At least with local control, vast harm to the entire nation is not possible.
“The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”
From 2002 to 2011, The Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education established by the National Research Council studied the results and unintended consequences of test-based accountability. When looking at high school exit exams they concluded, “The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”
A 2013 study by Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institute stated,
“Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures—the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”
In 2001, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush united to complete the federal takeover of public education. The federal education law rewrite that they promoted was called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It mandated standardized testing, incentivized charter schools and demanded schools be held accountable; judged solely by testing results.
Standardized testing is not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, but makes a great messaging tool that can misleadingly indicate that schools are failing. The education writer, Alfie Kohn, wrote in his article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow:”
“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education “saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘blow it up a bit’” (Claudia Wallis, “No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?”, Time, June 8, 2008).”
Barak Obama and the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberal ideology in regard to education became apparent at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The hedge fund dominated group Democrats for Education Reform convinced Obama to dump his presumptive Secretary of Education nominee, Linda Hammond-Darling, and appoint Arne Duncan. Obama and Duncan put into place the test-centric and competition oriented Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative. For the first time ever, in accord with neoliberal theory, states were forced to compete for education dollars.
RTTT was all about objective measures and competition. To win RTTT monies, states had to agree to enact Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent), evaluate teachers and schools based on testing results and open a path for more privatized schools (charter schools). The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, enthusiastically embraced RTTT even parroting Milton Friedman, saying he wanted to destroy “the public-school monopoly.”
It seems apparent that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies with her misses the point.
Consistently in the background of the DPE movement from the late 1970’s on has been an evangelical Christian disdain for public schools. Writer Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children chronicles the undermining of the separation of church and state in school.
Stewart witnessed the infamous Texas school book selection process in 2010 dominated by evangelicals. She describes attending evangelical missionary conferences aimed at infiltrating schools and converting students. She describes President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, winning at the Supreme Court arguing against the separation of church and state in public schools. All Americans concerned about – freedom of religion; Shielding children from unwanted religious indoctrination at school, and protecting public education – should be concerned.
U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is a devout member of an evangelical church, Mars Hill Bible Church. It seems apparent that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies with her misses the point.
It is more likely that religious ideology is the point.
A Large Group of Billionaires are Funding and Steering the DPE Movement
Charter Schools have proven to be second rate, unstable and plagued by fraud. There are some exceptions but the experiment would have been abandoned as a failure without the unrelenting support of billionaires.
It is the same with voucher schools. Only high end expensive private schools compete well with public education but a poor person with a voucher still cannot afford the tuition. Affordable voucher schools are substandard. However, vouchers have opened the door for government support of religious schools and that is probably why voucher laws keep getting proposed.
There are many billionaires pouring money into the DPE movement. The following is a little about just a few of them.
Bill Gates (Microsoft founder – Harvard dropout) – Spends about $500 million a year on education – he pushes portfolio district theory, charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), standards, testing, teacher merit pay, and the list of bad ideas goes on. He has spent multiple billions of dollars on the writing and institution of the common core state standards. He also spends big money influencing education research and education journalism. Makes large political contributions.
Reed Hastings (Netflix Founder and CEO) – Charter school advocate who served on the board of the California Charter School Association; was the primary advocate of California’s charter school co-location law; Investor in DreamBox Learning a company creating software to teach kids at computers. Has said that elected school boards need to be done away with. Supports TFA. Makes large political contributions.
Michael Bloomberg (Publisher and former New York mayor) – Charter school supporter, supports education technology and TFA. Makes large political contributions.
John Arnold (Made a fortune at Enron and with a Hedge fund; retired at 38 years old) – Supports the portfolio model of education and school choice, gives big to charter schools and TFA. Makes large political contributions.
The Walton Family (Wealthiest family in America, owns Walmart) – Support charter schools, vouchers, and TFA. Makes large political contributions.
Eli Broad (Real Estate Developer and Insurance Magnate) – Supports charter schools, TFA and other efforts the undermine the teaching profession. Makes large political contributions.
No less important are Mark Zuckerberg, Laurene Powell-Jobs, Doris Fisher, Michael Dell and several more.
Elections that used to cost less than $5,000 to run a successful campaign are now costing over $35.000. In the last school board election in Los Angeles, more than $30 million was spent.
This billionaire group all gives large contributions to TFA. Although these youthful college graduates have no training in education, they are useful troops on the ground in a cult-like environment. Most TFA candidates are unaware of their complicity in undermining public education in America.
The super wealthy can legally contribute large sums of money for local elections without publicity. They take advantage of federal tax code 501 C4 that allows them to give to a dark money organization like Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children which then funnels the money into the current hot campaign.
Across the United States, school board elections have become too expensive for most common citizens to participate. Elections that used to cost less than $5,000 to run a successful campaign are now costing over $35.000. In the last school board election in Los Angeles, more than $30 million was spent.
It is unlikely that government spending on education will end anytime soon. However, as schools are increasingly privatized, public spending on education will decrease.
Today, we have come to expect high-quality public education. We expect trained certificated teachers and administrators to staff our schools. We expect reasonable class sizes and current well-resourced curriculum. It is those expectations that are being shattered.
Many forces are attacking public education for diverse reasons, but the fundamental reason is still rich people do not like paying taxes. Choice and the attack on public education, at its root, is about decreasing government spending and lowering taxes.
This post was originally published on Ultican.