The Worst Teacher in Chicago September 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: arne duncan, benno schmidt, charter schools, chicago, chicago strike, edison schools, education, Greg Palast, public educatiion, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, standardized tests, teacher's strike, teachers
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Greg Palast is the author of the new Book Billionalres and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. For two decades, Palast was an investigator for Chicago-area unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.
They’ve almost stopped pretending, too. Both the Right Wing-nuts and the Obama Administration laud the “progress” of New Orleans’ schools–a deeply sick joke. The poorest students, that struggle most with standardized tests, were drowned or washed away.
One thing Democrat Emanuel and Republican Romney both demand of Chicago teachers is that their pay, their jobs, depend on “standardized tests.” Yes, but whose standard?
But Rahm, after all, is just imposing Bush education law which should be called, No Child’s Behind Left.
Tags: alec, arne duncan, charter schools, chris christie, cyber charter, diane ravitch, education, gates foundation, jeb bush, koch brothers, privatization, public education, Rahm Emanuel, right wing, roger hollander, teachers, teachers' unions
Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week
What You Need To Know About ALEC
Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers.
This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.
ALEC operated largely in the dark for years, but gained notoriety because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. It turns out that ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that empowered George Zimmerman to kill an unarmed teenager with the defense that he (the shooter) felt threatened. When the bright light of publicity was shone on ALEC, a number of corporate sponsors dropped out, including McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kaplan, and PepsiCo. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that it would not halt its current grant to ALEC, but pledged not to provide new funding. ALEC has some 300 corporate sponsors, including Walmart, the Koch Brothers, and AT&T, so there’s still quite a lot of corporate support for its free-market policies. ALEC claimed that it is the victim of a campaign of intimidation.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Groups like Common Cause and colorofchange.org have been putting ALEC’s model legislation online and printing the names of its sponsors. They have also published sharp criticism of ALEC’s ideas. This is hardly intimidation. It’s the democratic process at work. A website called alecexposed.org has published ALEC’s policy agenda. Common Cause posted the agenda for the meeting of ALEC on May 11 in Charlotte, N.C. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has dropped out of ALEC and also withdrawn from the May 11 conference, where it was originally going to be a presenter.
A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.
ALEC has been leading the privatization movement for nearly 40 years, but the only thing new is the attention it is getting, and the fact that many of its ideas are now being enacted. Just last week, the Michigan House of Representatives expanded the number of cyber charters that may operate in the state, even though the academic results for such online schools are dismal.
Who is on the education task force of ALEC? The members of the task force as of July 2011 are here. Several members represent for-profit online companies, including the co-chair from Connections Academy; many members come from for-profit higher education corporations. There is someone from Jeb Bush’s foundation, as well as right-wing think tank people. There are charter school representatives, as well as Scantron. And the task force includes a long list of state legislators, from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Quite a lineup. Common Cause has asked why ALEC is considered a “charity” by the Internal Revenue Service and holds tax-exempt status, when it devotes so much time to lobbying for changes in state laws. Common Cause has filed a “whistleblower” complaint with the IRS about ALEC’s status.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. She is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has written many books and articles about American education, including: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch.
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How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars April 29, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: arne duncan, charter schools, education, privitazation, public education, robert freeman, roger hollander, teacher unions, teachers
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Published on Sunday, April 29, 2012 by Common Dreams
The Vietnam War produced more than its share of iconic idiocies. Perhaps the most revelatory was the psychotic assertion of an army major explaining the U.S. bombing of the provincial hamlet of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” If only such self-extinguishing claims for intelligence were confined to military war.
The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. The tear-it-down option is the civilian equivalent of Ben Tre, but on a vastly larger scale and with incomparably greater stakes: we must destroy public education in order to save it. It’s still early in the game, but right now the momentum is with the wreckers because that’s where the money is. Whether they succeed or not will be up to you.
Here’s a three-step recipe for how to destroy education. It maps perfectly to how to make a prodigious profit by privatizing it. It is the essential game plan of the big money boys.
First, lower the costs so you can jack up the profits. Since the overwhelming cost in education is the salaries of the teachers, this means firing the experienced teachers, for they are the most expensive. Replace them with “teachers” who are young, inexperienced, and inexpensive. Better yet, waive requirements that they have to have any training, that is to say, that they be credentialed. That way, you can get the absolute cheapest workers available. Roll them over frequently so they don’t develop any expectation that they’ll ever make a career out of it.
Second, make the curriculum as narrow, rote, and regimented as you can. This makes it possible for low-skilled “teachers” to “teach.” All they need do is maintain order while drilling students in mindless memorization and robotic repetition. By all means avoid messy things like context, nuance, values, complexity, reflection, depth, ambiguity—all the things that actually make for true intelligence. It’s too hard to teach those things and, besides, you need intelligent, experienced people to be able to do it. Stick with the model: Profitable equals simplistic and formulaic. Go with it.
Finally, rinse and repeat five thousand times. Proliferate franchised, chartered McSchools with each classroom in each McSchool teaching the same thing on the same day in exactly the same way. So, for the math lesson on the formula of a line, you only need develop it once. But you download it in Power Point on the assigned day so the room monitors, i.e., the “teachers,” know what bullets to read. Now repeat this for every lesson in every course in every school, every day. In biology, chemistry, geometry, history, English, Spanish, indeed, all of a K-12 curriculum. Develop the lesson literally once, but distribute and reuse it thousands of times with low-cost proctors doing the supervision. The cost is infinitesimal making the profit potential astronomical.
This is the essential charter school model and the money is all the rationale its promoters need. Think about it. There’s a trillion dollars a year spent on public education in the U.S. and enterprising investors want to get their meat hooks on it. Where else in the world can you find a $1 trillion opportunity that is essentially untouched? Not in automobiles. Not in health care. Not in weapons, computers, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, housing. Nowhere.
Oh, to be sure, you have to soften up the public with a decades-long PR campaign bashing teachers, vilifying their unions, trashing schools, and condemning public education in general, all the while promising the sun, moon, and stars for privatization, which is the ultimate charter goal. Voila! You’ve got your chance.
But to really make a killing, you need not just revenues, but profits. That’s why the low cost delivery and “build it once but resell it millions of times” model is so key. It was that very model that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. It is what earned Microsoft 13 TIMES the rate of profit of the average Fortune 500 company in the 1990s and persuaded the Justice Department to declare it a “felony monopolist”. Gates recognizes the model very well, which is why his foundation is pouring tens of millions of dollars into charters. And you thought it was his altruism.
Of course, anybody who actually knows education, indeed, anybody who is simply intelligent, knows that intelligence does not come from rote repetition or parroting Power Point slides at the regimented direction of a room monitor, no matter how perky or well intended. It comes from an agonizingly complex, intricate, sustained set of challenges to the mind that are exquisitely choreographed over the better part of two decades, all intimately tailored to the specific needs of an individual, inquisitive, aspiring student.
That is what real teachers do. And it is precisely what a cookie-cutter, low-content, low-cost, high-turnover, high-profit money mill cannot do. Because it’s not intended to do that. It’s intended to produce profits. Real education, real intelligence, real character are agonizingly slow, dazzlingly complex, maddening difficult things to create. You can’t make a profit off of it, unless you destroy it in the process. That is why not one of the nations of the world that surpass the U.S. in education performance operate charter-based or privatized educational systems.
If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering?
But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such. Why, look what we got from the deregulation of the banking system: the greatest economic collapse of the last 80 years and the greatest plunder of the public treasury in the history of the world.
This is the essential neo-liberal agenda which Obama enthusiastically supports: privatize and deregulate everything, especially public services, so that the money spent on them can be transferred to private hands. This is how Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, earned his bureaucratic bonafides: he converted more than 100 of Chicago’s public schools to charters while the city’s school superintendent. It’s unbelievable how credulous we are but obviously, propaganda works. That’s why the likes of the Gates Foundation keep pouring money into the cause.
The problem with charter schools is that they simply don’t work, at least not for delivering high quality education. Of course, given their formula, how could they? The most thorough research on charter schools, by Stanford University, shows that while charters do better than public schools in 17% of cases, they actually do worse in 37%, a more than 2-to-1 bad-to-good ratio!
If your doctor injured two patients for every one he cured, would you go to him? If your mechanic wrecked two cars for every one he fixed, would you go to him? Yet that is literally the proposition that charter school operators are peddling. And that 2-to-1 failure rate is after charters have skimmed off the better students and run what can only be called ethnically cleansed schools, counseling out poor performers, special needs cases, and “undesirable” minorities, leaving them for the public schools to deal with. For the data show they do that as well.
The irony of all this, indeed, the hypocrisy, is that America is at least nominally a capitalist county. You would think it would be ok to be honest about your intentions to make money by pillaging children’s futures while looting the public purse. God knows the weapons makers, the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and others aren’t bashful about it. But that doesn’t seem to be true here, in education.
Here, it’s all about “the children,” about “streamlining” education, boosting scores, uplifting minorities, making America competitive, and just about every other infantile fairy tale they can invoke to convince the country to hand over the loot. For that’s what it’s really about. The trillion dollars a year to be made by turning “the children” into intellectually impotent dullards but profit producing zombies? Well, that’s just a lavishly fortunate coincidence. Right?
Remember, you can’t save something by destroying it. Which isn’t to say that swashbuckling entrepreneurs aren’t willing to try. All they need is the liberating impetus of that essential American ethic: “I’m getting mine, screw you.” But the cost of this plunder will be incalculable, for it will ripple through the economy for decades. And the damage will be irreversible for, while public education is the most powerful democratizing institution in the world, it only works when the schools work. When they cease to work, it’s over.
So watch out. A destroyed educational system, a desiccated economy, and a debauched democracy are coming soon to a school district near you.
Robert Freeman teaches history and economics at a public high school in northern California. He is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a national non-profit that helps American schools build schools in the developing world with donations of one dollar. He can be reached at email@example.com.
School Closings Come To Atlanta This Week, To Your City Next Week: It’s Time To Dump Arne Duncan April 14, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Race.
Tags: arne duncan, atlanta schools, bruce a. dixon, charter schools, diane ravitch, katrina, roger hollander, school privatization, standardized testing
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by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
A national movement to save public education is coming to life, in the face of a decades-long bipartisan campaign to discredit, de-fund, destabilized and destroy public education. President Bush’s Education Secretary said teachers unions were terrorist organizations. Obama’s man Arne Duncan believes Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans. Is it time yet to dump, and to dump on Arne Duncan?
School Closings Come To Atlanta This Week, To Your City Next Week: It’s Time To Dump Arne Duncan
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
In a pattern that has become typical across the nation, the Atlanta Public School Board voted early this morning to close 7 neighborhood schools, all in mainly black neighborhoods. Some of the proposed school closings were announced the Friday afternoon before spring break, only ten calendar days, and one business day before the meeting that would finalize their closure. Other proposed closings were announced only 3 calender days before the school board meeting. Obviously the authorities wanted to prevent neighborhood parents from mobilizing to protect their children and communities.
Like their counterparts in cities across the country, Atlanta parents, teachers and neighborhood residents pointed out that their school board seemed more devoted to the promotion of charter schools and privatization than it was to the children in public schools, and that it was doing all it could to push as many children as possible out of the public schools into charters. They reminded the board that by their own flawed standardized tests, charters performed no better than public schools, and when they did it was due to their ability to cream off the best students, rather than their willingness to teach everyone’s children.
Judging from last night’s meeting the gap between what hundreds of local parents and teachers know, believe and demand, and the picture of public education brought to us by corporate media is vast and astounding. News coverage of the meeting, and of opposition to the cuts was sparse and condescending, and grossly misrepresented the intents and motives of parents and teachers.
Like school boards across the country, Atlanta’s honchos turned a deaf ear to the children and communities they supposedly serve, even refusing to consider repurposing the empty school buildings as local community resources. In the rush to privatization, school buildings are valuable real estate prizes that can be awarded to well connected developers, and the only kind of economic development anybody has ever heard of is moving poorer people out of neighborhoods to attract richer ones in.
Atlanta is following the same script as Chicago and Philly and New York and Los Angeles and New Orleans. It’s a bipartisan agenda of standardized testing calculated not to teach children, but to furnish the grounds to brand teachers and schools as “underperforming” so that staff can be fired, schools closed, and their resources funneled to charter school operators.
It’s a local problem, but it’s national policy. Atlanta’s school superintendent is much like Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in that he’s never taught an hour in any classroom. Duncan learned all he needed to know about education from his mother’s tutoring programs, he says, and his time as a pro basketballer, his time in the financial markets and on Mayor Daley’s staff. Atlanta’s Eroll Davis says he learned all he needed to know about running a school system from his time serving on the board of British Petroleum.
Atlanta’s school chief says he’s closing black schools to give them the same thing wealthy and mostly white neighborhoods have, an academic support system. His national counterpart Arne Duncan famously declared that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans. Duncan’s predecessor as Chicago schools CEO was immediately dispatched to Louisiana where he closed more than 100 New Orleans public schools and fire the system’s entire teaching, administrative, maintenance and support staff.
While the place to fight for control of education is in your neighborhood, in your public school while you still have one, it’s a national fight as well. Public school closings, the de-professionalization of teachers and the push to charters have been national policy under the Bush and Obama administrations. So it’s entirely correct to call for the resignation of Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well.
We wrote about how Duncan teamed up in 2009 with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton to do a national tour promoting charter schools, privatization, teacher merit pay and other anti-education schemes. Since them the Obama administration’s Race To The Top has made these things pre-conditions without which no state, no school board receives much in the way of federal funding, and the states that fire the most teachers, close the most schools, and grant the most charters get most of the funding. It’s truly a race, and not to the top.
While it’s time to redouble our efforts to save, rebuild, democratize and re-imagine public education in our cities and neighborhoods around the country, it’s also time to come together nationally and demand an end to federal policies that force charters, standardized testing. Change comes from the bottom and from the top. It’s time to demand the resignation of Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Thousands of educators and students and ordinary citizens have already signed the petition at http://dumpduncan.org. You should too, and forward it to everyone you know.
Those of us on Facebook should click here to join the Dump Duncan group on Facebook, from which you will be able to connect with people concerned and active about saving public education around the country, and access a vast array of helpful resources. Duncan’s and Obama’s Race To The Top, as Diane Ravitch assures us, is really a race to the bottom.
Visit Dump Duncan on the web or on Facebook. Sign the petition, get connected locally and nationally. And get busy.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Tags: charter schools, chris christie, david sirota, de-funding education, education, high-stakes testing, private schools, public education, rahm emmanuel, roger hollander, sidwell friends, tom boasberg
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America’s Dangerously Removed Elite
Last week, my local Twittersphere momentarily erupted with allegations that Denver’s public school superintendent, Tom Boasberg, is sending his kids to a private school that eschews high-stakes testing. Boasberg, an icon of the national movement pushing high-stakes testing and undermining traditional public education, eventually defended himself by insisting that his kids attended that special school only during preschool and that they now attend a public school. Yet his spokesman admitted that the school is not in Denver but in Boulder, Colo., one of America’s wealthiest enclaves.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Rahm Emanuel (Photo: AP/Reuters)
Boasberg, you see, refuses to live in the district that he governs. Though having no background in education administration, this longtime telecom executive used his connections to get appointed Denver superintendent, and he now acts like a king. From the confines of his distant castle in Boulder, he issues edicts to his low-income fiefdom — decrees demonizing teachers, shutting down neighborhood schools over community objections and promoting privately administered charter schools. Meanwhile, he makes sure his own royal family is insulated in a wealthy district that doesn’t experience his destructive policies.
No doubt this is but a microcosmic story in a country whose patrician overlords are regularly conjuring the feudalism of Europe circa the Middle Ages. Today, our mayors deploy police against homeless people and protesters; our governors demand crushing budget cuts from the confines of their taxpayer-funded mansions; our Congress exempts itself from insider-trading laws and provides itself healthcare benefits denied to others; and our nation’s capital has become one of the world’s wealthiest cities, despite the recession.
Taken together, we see that there really are “Two Americas,” as the saying goes — and that’s no accident. It’s the result of a permanent elite that is removing itself from the rest of the nation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in education — a realm in which this elite physically separates itself from us mere serfs. As the head of one of the country’s largest urban school districts, Boasberg is a perfect example of this — but he is only one example.
The Washington Post, for instance, notes that it has become an unquestioned “tradition among Washington’s power elite” — read: elected officials — to send their kids to the ultra-expensive private school Sidwell Friends. At the same time, many of these officials have backed budget policies that weaken public education.
Outside of Washington, it’s often the same story; as just two recent examples, both Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have championed massive cuts to public education while sending their kids to private school.
In many cases, these aristocrats aren’t even required to publicly explain themselves. (Boasberg, for example, is never hounded by local media about why he refuses to live in Denver.) Worse, on the rare occasions that questions are posed, privacy is the oft-used excuse to not answer, whether it’s Obama defenders dismissing queries about their Sidwell decision, Christie telling a voter his school choices are “none of your business” or Emanuel storming out of a television interview and then citing his “private life” when asked about the issue.
This might be a convincing argument about ordinary citizens’ personal education choices, but it’s an insult coming from public officials. When they remove themselves and their families from a community — but still retain power over that community — they end up acting as foreign occupiers, subjecting us to policies they would never subject their own kin to.
Pretending this is acceptable or just a “private” decision, then, is to tolerate ancient, ruling-class notions that are no longer sustainable in the 21st century. Indeed, if this nation is going to remain a modern republic, it can’t also be a Medieval oligarchy — no matter how much America’s elite wants to keep governing from behind the palace walls.
Using Federal Power to Resegregate American Schools September 24, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Racism.
Tags: arne duncan, charter schools, Civil Rights, civil rights act, education, esea, jim horn, Lyndon Johnson, public education, race to the top, racism, re-segregation, resegregation, roger hollander, rttt, segregated education, segregation
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Prior to passage of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) in 1965, a savvy Lyndon Johnson, who knew the South would never willingly desegregate schools, crafted the federal legislation so that large sums of money would go to any of the segregated systems of the South that would comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, of course, banned racial discrimination in any public institution receiving federal funds. This strategy of carrot (ESEA) following stick (Civil Rights Act) worked like a charm, and the “segregation now, segregation forever” crowd quietly resolved to accept the federal millions and, in doing so, reluctantly complied with the Supreme Court’s mandate handed down in the unanimous 1954 Brown decision, which had been largely ignored in the South.
I was a sophomore in one of those small segregated Southern high schools in 1965, and I remember the first black kids who, until that time, had had a 60-mile roundtrip daily bus ride to endure if they wanted to go to high school. As a legacy of that ESEA carrot, then, my little school and the rest of the schools in the Old Confederacy became and remain less segregated than many schools in the North, where housing patterns maintain de facto segregation even where the law cannot. By the early 1970s, apartheid schooling in the 19 Southern states was over, or so we thought.
Johnson’s creative use of federal funding, then, was able to accomplish for the commonweal what federal mandates and court rulings could not. Congress amended ESEA in 1966 and 1967 to provide big carrots, too, for special education and English language learners. Major reauthorizations of ESEA followed in 1981, 1994, and in 2001 with No Child Left Behind, with the power of the federal purse strings made more figural in each subsequent reauthorization.
Then, following the 2008 calamity brought on by Wall Street’s casino capitalists, Education Secretary Arne Duncan used a newfound power of $4. 35 billion in federal discretionary Race to the Top (RttT) grants to sidestep the legislative gridlock holding up changes to NCLB that were being advanced by the corporate foundations and the Business Roundtable: 1) uncapped expansion of charter schools (minus any regulations or incentives for maintaining diversity or inclusion of special populations or ELL), 2) proliferation of testing data tracking systems, 3) more value-added standardized testing, and 4) teacher evaluations based on student test scores. Any state or LEA that wanted to get a chunk of Duncan’s 4 billion dollar carrot would have to comply with these four conditions.
In an ironic twist of policy fate whose impending impact remains as ignored as it is misunderstood by the public, ESEA monies were used, for the first time, as the carrot to re-ignite the policy that the original ESEA had been designed to extinguish: school segregation and poor performance. In peer-reviewed research studies (here, here, and here) that examine the effects of charter schools on school diversity, researchers have found, in fact, that both for-profit charter schools and non-profit charter schools have significant segregative effects when compared to public schools. And study after study after study has shown similar negative effects on school performance as measured by test scores of students in charter schools when compared to matched public schools.
No amount of empirical, reality-based evidence, however, can seem to derail or even slow down the charter train, fueled and driven as it is by conservative ideologues, neoliberal efficiency zealots, and the profiteers of the education-industrial complex like Pearson and McGraw-Hill. And now Congress is getting into the act (pun intended) as well, with House passage of H. R. 2218, whose clone is under consideration by the Senate to provide new segregative charter funds, including monies this time for charter school facilities. In these legislative efforts, inspired as they are to break up the ESEA reauthorization into smaller chunks that Team Obama can never claim credit for (or be blamed for, as the case may be), unwitting or uncaring elected officials of our national government are, in fact, promoting the expansion of school resegregation through the expansion of charter schools that, in 4 out of 5 instances, are worse or no better academically than the public schools they are replacing. And neither House nor Senate versions offer a syllable to demand or incentivize the creation of diverse, inclusive charter schools, thus choosing to make ESEA’s most effective social steering mechanism a tool now of segregationists and social control advocates whose agendas appear aligned with the eugenics era that flourished a hundred years ago.
If these federal bills in support of corporate reform schooling arrive on the desk of the first African-American President of the United States, will he, too, embrace their silent support of the return to apartheid education? Will Barack Obama show up on the wrong side of history?
Obama’s Education Reform Push is Bad Education Policy March 14, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: charter schools, diane ravitch, educatio system, education, education reform, no child left behind, privatization, public schools, race to the top, roger hollander, schools
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(Roger’s note: beware the word “reform.” Under mental health reform, “de-institutionalization” only left psychiatric survivors struggling to survive on the mean streets; Clinton’s welfare reform was little more than an attack on the poor; and Obama’s health reform, if passed, will institutionalize the blood-sucking private insurance industry, probably forever. The Republicrats are one in the same on these issues. The objective is always the erosion of the social safety net and the corporatization of America. Obama’s “Race to the Top” educational reform is no different. The [not so] hidden agenda is privatization and union-busting. Obama may be a brilliant orator, but he is either terribly naïve or wilfully blind. Take your pick.)
One simple solution for our schools? A captivating promise, but a false one.
by Diane Ravitch
There have been two features that regularly mark the history of U.S. public schools. Over the last century, our education system has been regularly captivated by a Big Idea — a savant or an organization that promised a simple solution to the problems of our schools. The second is that there are no simple solutions, no miracle cures to those problems.
Education is a slow, arduous process that requires the work of willing students, dedicated teachers and supportive families, as well as a coherent curriculum.
As an education historian, I have often warned against the seductive lure of grand ideas to reform education. Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done.
Our era is no different. We now face a wave of education reforms based on the belief that school choice, test-driven accountability and the resulting competition will dramatically improve student achievement.
Once again, I find myself sounding the alarm that the latest vision of education reform is deeply flawed. But this time my warning carries a personal rebuke. For much of the last two decades, I was among those who jumped aboard the choice and accountability bandwagon. Choice and accountability, I believed, would offer a chance for poor children to escape failing schools. Testing and accountability, I thought, would cast sunshine on low-performing schools and lead to improvement. It all seemed to make sense, even if there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope.
Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform — codified in its signature Race to the Top program — that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better.
Those who do not follow education closely may be tempted to think that, at long last, we’re finally turning the corner. What could be wrong with promoting charter schools to compete with public schools? Why shouldn’t we demand accountability from educators and use test scores to reward our best teachers and identify those who should find another job?
Like the grand plans of previous eras, they sound sensible but will leave education no better off. Charter schools are no panacea. The nation now has about 5,000 of them, and they vary in quality. Some are excellent, some terrible; most are in between. Most studies have found that charters, on average, are no better than public schools.
On the federal tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, from 2003 to 2009, charters have never outperformed public schools. Nor have black and Latino students in charter schools performed better than their counterparts in public schools.
This is surprising, because charter schools have many advantages over public schools. Most charters choose their students by lottery. Those who sign up to win seats tend to be the most motivated students and families in the poorest communities. Charters are also free to “counsel out” students who are unable or unwilling to meet expectations. A study of KIPP charters in the San Francisco area found that 60% of those students who started the fifth grade were gone before the end of eighth grade. Most of those who left were low performers.
Studies of charters in Boston, New York City and Washington have found that charters, as compared to public schools, have smaller percentages of the students who are generally hardest to educate — those with disabilities and English-language learners. Because the public schools must educate everyone, they end up with disproportionate numbers of the students the charters don’t want.
So we’re left with the knowledge that a dramatic expansion in the number of privately managed schools is not likely to raise student achievement. Meanwhile, public schools will become schools of last resort for the unmotivated, the hardest to teach and those who didn’t win a seat in a charter school. If our goal is to destroy public education in America, this is precisely the right path.
Nor is there evidence that student achievement will improve if teachers are evaluated by their students’ test scores. Some economists say that when students have four or five “great” teachers in a row, the achievement gap between racial groups disappears. The difficulty with this theory is that we do not have adequate measures of teacher excellence.
Of course, it would be wonderful if all teachers were excellent, but many factors affect student scores other than their teacher, including students’ motivation, the schools’ curriculum, family support, poverty and distractions on testing day, such as the weather or even a dog barking in the school’s parking lot.
The Obama education reform plan is an aggressive version of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind, under which many schools have narrowed their curriculum to the tested subjects of reading and math. This poor substitute for a well-rounded education, which includes subjects such as the arts, history, geography, civics, science and foreign language, hits low-income children the hardest, since they are the most likely to attend the kind of “failing school” that drills kids relentlessly on the basics. Emphasis on test scores already compels teachers to focus on test preparation. Holding teachers personally and exclusively accountable for test scores — a key feature of Race to the Top — will make this situation even worse. Test scores will determine salary, tenure, bonuses and sanctions, as teachers and schools compete with each other, survival-of-the-fittest style.
Frustrated by a chronic lack of progress, business leaders and politicians expect that a stern dose of this sort of competition and incentives will improve education, but they are wrong. No other nation is taking such harsh lessons from the corporate sector and applying them to their schools. No nation with successful schools ignores everything but basic skills and testing. Schools work best when teachers collaborate to help their students and strive together for common goals, not when they compete for higher scores and bonuses.
Having embraced the Republican agenda of choice, competition and accountability, the Obama administration is promoting the privatization of large segments of American education and undermining the profession of teaching. This toxic combination is the latest Big Idea in education reform. Like so many of its predecessors, it is not likely to improve education.
Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.”
© 2010 The Los Angeles Times
Send In the Clowns: 3 Stooges, Gingrich, Sharpton & Duncan Hit the Road For Corporate “School Reform” February 2, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: al sharpton, arne duncan, bruce dixon, charter schools, chicago model, corporate school, education, education reform, educational privatization, newt gingrich, no child left behind, obama administration, privatization, public schools, roger hollander, school reform
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Quite separately from each other, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Rev. Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich have long ago forfeited whatever credibility they may once have had. Taken together, they are simply a bad joke: three grown men publicly eye-poking and slap fighting each other while they all come together to sell us high-stakes testing, charter schools, educational privatization and the whole package of corporate “school reform.”
by BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon
Back in the late 19th and early 20th century heydays of vaudeville, when the singers bombed, when the jokes fell flat and audience attention started wandering, management knew what to do. They would send in the clowns. Some things haven’t changed.
Despite a decade of hard sell by right wing think tanks, foundations, and big media, the American people have not bought the corporate version of school reform. Most people just don’t believe public schools should be privatized or militarized, or operated by business people like businesses instead of by educators, parents and communities in the interests of children, parents and communities, like the best schools always have been run. And most educators doubt that high stakes testing improves educational outcomes in any meaningful way.
Since the public debates on charter schools and privatizing education are ones that our elite cannot win, they have decreed there will be no debate. Instead of an honest public examination of the disastrous impact of No Child Left Behind, and its attendant decade of creeping educational privatization, corporate media, the Obama administration and its bipartisan allies are sending in the clowns with a 21st century three stooges remake starring the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with Republican former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, elbowing and slapping at each other, yukking it up about their supposed political differences while they all come together around the corporate elite’s version of “school reform.”
Stooge number one is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a former basketball player and friend of the president who, without a single hour of teaching experience was named by Chicago’s Mayor Daley to head the nation’s third largest school system. Duncan now pledges to extend the Chicago model of high stakes testing and massive school closings to create opportunities for what he calls “innovative” charter schools. Thanks to Duncan, Chicago’s public schools are now being sued by black teachers for racial discrimination in the wholesale dismissal of hundreds of qualified, dedicated black teachers and their replacement with younger, cheaper, less experienced and mostly whiter ones. Even now, the Obama administration is withholding federal education funds from states and school districts to force nationwide implementation of these so-called “reforms.”
Stooge number two is the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose presence allows the stooges to claim they are a “civil rights” act. Rev. Sharpton jumped aboard the corporate education reform bandwagon with both feet after receiving a half million dollar bribe last year for his National Action Network, reportedly brokered by New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein through a right wing not for profit agency that promotes charter schools.
Stooge number three is the same Newt Gingrich who once advocated removal of underachieving children from their parents’ homes to boarding schools and military academies, and whose 1994 Contract For America, demanded the dissolution of the US Department of Education.
Mass media ought to be where the studies, the facts, the experience and the voices of parents, educators, students and communities across the country wrestling with the problems of education are held up for all to examine and understand. But that would be too much like public service for our America’s privatized media. What we’ll get instead is entertainment. They’re sending in the clowns. And here they come!
Privatization Pictures presents a No Child Left Behind Production starring the New Three Stooges, Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich in Corporate School Reform directed by Barack Obama and produced by the Bradley, Heritage and Walton Family Foundations, featuring fake statistics, dubious studies, crackpot merit pay schemes, charter schools including military charter schools, cronyism, patronage, corruption, worse educational outcomes, thousands of school closings, mass firings of qualified teachers, community destabilization, loss of public and community control, and the privatization of education.
For Black Agenda Report, I’m Bruce Dixon apologizing to the ghosts of the original three stooges. They’d understand. On the web, we are at http://www.blackagendareport.com.
The Duncan Doctrine: The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education January 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: andy kroll, arne duncan, charter schools, chicago public schools, chicago school system, contract schools, education, education policy, entrepreneurial schools, junior rotc, militarization education, military acadamies chicago, no child left behind, privatizing, public education, renaissance schools, roger hollander, school reform, secondary education, secretary education, students, teacher unions, teachers, top-down leadership
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by: Andy Kroll, TomDispatch.com
On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. “When it comes to school reform,” the President-elect said, “Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book – it’s the cause of his life. And the results aren’t just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.”
Though the announcement came amidst a deluge of other Obama nominations – he had unveiled key members of his energy and environment teams the day before and would add his picks for the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior the next day – Duncan’s selection was eagerly anticipated, and garnered mostly favorable reactions in education circles and in the media. He was described as the compromise candidate between powerful teachers’ unions and the advocates of charter schools and merit pay. He was also regularly hailed as a “reformer,” fearless when it came to challenging the educational status quo and more than willing to shake up hidebound, moribund public school systems.
Yet a closer investigation of Duncan’s record in Chicago casts doubt on that label. As he packs up for Washington, Duncan leaves behind a Windy City legacy that’s hardly cause for optimism, emphasizing as it does a business-minded, market-driven model for education. If he is a “reformer,” his style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.
Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan’s belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago’s school system is currently the most militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he’s started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.
Rather than handing Duncan a free pass on his way into office, as lawmakers did during Duncan’s breezy confirmation hearings last week, a closer examination of the Chicago native’s record is in order. Only then can we begin to imagine where public education might be heading under Arne Duncan, and whether his vision represents the kind of “change” that will bring our students meaningfully in line with the rest of the world.
The Militarization of Secondary Education
Today, the flagship projects in CPS’s militarization are its five military academies, affiliated with either the Army, Navy, or Marines. All students – or cadets, as they’re known – attending one of these schools are required to enroll as well in the academy’s Junior ROTC program. That means cadets must wear full military uniforms to school everyday, and undergo daily uniform inspections. As part of the academy’s curriculum, they must also take a daily ROTC course focusing on military history, map reading and navigation, drug prevention, and the branches of the Department of Defense.
Cadets can practice marching on an academy’s drill team, learn the proper way to fire a weapon on the rifle team, and choose to attend extracurricular spring or summer military training sessions. At the Phoenix Military Academy, cadets are even organized into an academy battalion, modeled on an Army infantry division battalion, in which upper-class cadets fill the leading roles of commander, executive officer, and sergeant major.
In addition, military personnel from the U.S. armed services teach alongside regular teachers in each academy, and also fill administrative roles such as academy “commandants.” Three of these military academies were created in part with Department of Defense appropriations – funds secured by Illinois lawmakers – and when the proposed Air Force Academy High School opens this fall, CPS will be the only public school system in the country with Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps high school academies.
CPS also boasts almost three dozen smaller Junior ROTC programs within existing high schools that students can opt to join, and over 20 voluntary middle school Junior ROTC programs. All told, between the academies and the voluntary Junior ROTC programs, more than 10,000 students are enrolled in a military education program of some sort in the CPS system. Officials like Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley justify the need for the military academies by claiming they do a superlative job teaching students discipline and providing them with character-building opportunities. “These are positive learning environments,” Duncan said in 2007. “I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline.”
Without a doubt, teaching students about discipline and leadership is an important aspect of being an educator. But is the full-scale uniformed culture of the military actually necessary to impart these values? A student who learns to play the cello, who studies how to read music, will learn discipline too, without a military-themed learning environment. In addition, encouraging students to be critical thinkers, to question accepted beliefs and norms, remains key to a teacher’s role at any grade level. The military’s culture of uniformity and discipline, important as it may be for an army, hardly aligns with these pedagogical values.
Of no less concern are the types of students Chicago’s military academies are trying to attract. All of CPS’s military academies (except the Rickover Naval Academy) are located in low-income neighborhoods with primarily black and/or Hispanic residents. As a result, student enrollment in the academies consists almost entirely of minorities. Whites, who already represent a mere 9% of the students in the Chicago system, make up only 4% of the students enrolled in the military academies.
There is obviously a correlation between these low-income, minority communities, the military academies being established in them, and the long-term recruitment needs of the U.S. military. The schools essentially functional as recruiting tools, despite the expectable military disclaimers. The Chicago Tribune typically reported in 1999 that the creation of the system’s first military school in the historically black community of Bronzeville grew, in part, out of “a desire for the military to increase the pool of minority candidates for its academies.” And before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, the armed services chiefs of staff testified that 30%-50% of all Junior ROTC cadets later enlist in the military. Organizations opposing the military’s growing presence in public schools insist that it’s no mistake the number of military academies in Chicago is on the rise at a time when the U.S. military has had difficulty meeting its recruitment targets while fighting two unpopular wars.
It seems clear enough that, when it comes to the militarization of the Chicago school system, whatever Duncan’s goals, the results are likely to be only partly “educational.”
Merging the Market and the Classroom
While discussing his nomination, President-elect Obama praised the fact that Duncan isn’t “beholden to any one ideology.” A closer examination of his career in education, however, suggests otherwise. As Chicago’s chief executive officer (not to be confused with CPS’s chief education officer), Duncan ran his district in a most businesslike manner. As he put it in a 2003 profile in Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine that covers education reform, “We’re in the business of education.” And indeed, managing the country’s third-largest school system does require sharp business acumen. But what’s evident from Duncan’s seven years in charge is his belief that the business of education should, first and foremost, embrace the logic of the free market and privatization.
Duncan’s belief in privatizing public education can be most clearly seen in Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 plan, the centerpiece of his time in that city. Designed by corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney and backed by the Commercial Club of Chicago, an organization representing some of the city’s largest businesses, Renaissance 2010 has pushed hard for the closing of underperforming schools – to be replaced by multiple new, smaller, “entrepreneurial” schools. Under the plan, many of the new institutions established have been privatized charter or “contract” schools run by independent nonprofit outfits. They, then, turn out to have the option of contracting school management out to for-profit education management organizations. In addition, Renaissance 2010 charter schools, not being subject to state laws and district initiatives, can – as many have – eliminate the teachers’ union altogether.
Under Duncan’s leadership, CPS and Renaissance 2010 schools have adopted a performance-driven style of governance in which well-run schools and their teachers and administrators are rewarded, and low-performing schools are penalized. As Catalyst Chicago reported, “Star schools and principals have been granted more flexibility and autonomy, and often financial freedom and bonus pay.” Low-performing schools put on probation, on the other hand, “have little say over how they can spend poverty funding, an area otherwise controlled by elected local school councils [Local school councils] at struggling schools have also lost the right to hire or fire principals – restrictions that have outraged some parent activists.”
Students as well as teachers and principals are experiencing firsthand the impact of Duncan’s belief in competition and incentive-based learning. This fall, the Chicago Public Schools rolled out a Green for Grade$ program in which the district will pay freshmen at 20 selected high schools for good grades – $50 in cash for an A, $35 for a B, and even $20 for a C. Though students not surprisingly say they support the program – what student wouldn’t want to get paid for grades? – critics contend that cash-for-grades incentives, which stir interest in learning for all the wrong reasons, turn being educated into a job.
Duncan’s rhetoric offers a good sense of what his business-minded approach and support for bringing free-market ideologies into public education means. At a May 2008 symposium hosted by the Renaissance Schools Fund, the nonprofit financial arm of Renaissance 2010, entitled “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market of Public Education,” Duncan typically compared his job running a school district to that of a stock portfolio manager. As he explained, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.” He would later add, “We’re trying to blur the lines between the public and the private.”
A Top-Down Leadership Style
Barack Obama built his campaign on impressive grassroots support and the democratic nature of his candidacy. Judging by his continued outreach to supporters, he seems intent on leading, at least in part, with the same bottom-up style. Duncan’s style couldn’t be more different.
Under Duncan, the critical voices of parents, community leaders, students, and teachers regularly fell on deaf ears. As described by University of Illinois at Chicago professor and education activist Pauline Lipman in the journal Educational Policy in 2007, Renaissance 2010 provoked striking resistance within affected communities and neighborhoods. There were heated community hearings and similarly angry testimony at Board of Education meetings, as well as door-to-door organizing, picketing, and even, at one point, a student walk-out.
”The opposition,” Lipman wrote, “brought together unions, teachers, students, school reformers, community leaders and organizations, parents in African American South and West Side communities, and some Latino community activists and teachers.” Yet, as she pointed out recently, mounting neighborhood opposition had little effect. “I’m pretty in tune with the grassroots activism in education in Chicago,” she said, “and people are uniformly opposed to these policies, and uniformly feel that they have no voice.”
During Duncan’s tenure, decision-making responsibilities that once belonged to elected officials shifted into the hands of unelected individuals handpicked by the city’s corporate or political elite. For instance, elected local school councils, made up mostly of parents and community leaders, are to be scaled back or eliminated altogether as part of Renaissance 2010. Now, many new schools can simply opt out of such councils.
Then there’s the Renaissance Schools Fund. It oversees the selection and evaluation of new schools and subsequent investment in them. Made up of unelected business leaders, the CEO of the system, and the Chicago Board of Education president, the Fund takes the money it raises and makes schools compete against each other for limited private funding. It has typically been criticized by community leaders and activists for being an opaque, unaccountable body indifferent to the will of Chicago’s citizens.
Making the Grade?
Despite his controversial educational policies, Duncan’s supporters ultimately contend that, as the CEO of Chicago’s schools, he’s gotten results where it matters – test scores. An objective, easily quantifiable yet imperfect measure of student learning, test scores have indeed improved in several areas under Duncan (though many attribute this to lowered statewide testing standards and more lenient testing guidelines). Between 2001 and 2008, for instance, the percentage of elementary school students meeting or exceeding standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test increased from 39.5% to 65%. The number of CPS students meeting or exceeding the Illinois Learning Standards, another statewide secondary education achievement assessment, also increased from 38% in 2002 to 60% in 2008.
When measured on a national scale, however, Duncan’s record looks a lot less impressive. In comparison to other major urban school districts (including Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.) in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “The Nation’s Report Card,” Chicago fourth and eighth graders ranked, with only one exception, in the bottom half of all districts in math, reading, and science in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In addition, from 2004 to 2008, the Chicago Public Schools district failed to make “adequate yearly progress” as mandated by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act.
Even if Duncan’s policies do continue to boost test scores in coming years, the question must be asked: At whose expense? In a competition-driven educational system, some schools will, of course, succeed, receiving more funding and so hiring the most talented teachers. At the same time, schools that aren’t “performing” will be put on probation, stripped of their autonomy, and possibly closed, only to be reopened as privately-run outfits – or even handed over to the military. The highest achieving students (that is, the best test-takers) will have access to the most up-to-date facilities, advanced equipment, and academic support programs; struggling students will likely be left behind, separate and unequal, stuck in decrepit classrooms and underfunded schools.
Public education is not meant to be a win-lose, us-versus-them system, nor is it meant to be a recruitment system for the military – and yet this, it seems, is at the heart of Duncan’s legacy in Chicago, and so a reasonable indication of the kind of “reform” he’s likely to bring to the country as education secretary.
Andy Kroll is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a student at the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared at the Nation Online, Alternet, CNN, CBS News, CampusProgress.org, and Wiretap Magazine, among other publications. He welcomes feedback, and can be reached at his website. To listen to a TomDispatch audio interview with Kroll on the new Secretary of Education, click here.
Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling December 17, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Education.
Tags: arne duncan, blagojevich, bush administration, cato, charter schools, chicago schools, commercial club, corporate control, corporations, ctu, curriculum, david brooks, education, education policy, educational reform, experimental schools, fordham foundation, henry giroux, heritage foundation, kenneth saltman, mayor daley, neoliberal, Obama, pedagogical darwinism, penal pedagogies, private sector, privatization, public schools, renaisance 2010, rezko, rote learning, school councils, standardized testing, teachers, teachers union, union-busting, zero tolerance
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President-elect Barack Obama with his nominee for secretary of education, Arne Duncan. (Photo: Reuters) MORE “PLUS CA CHANGE …” YOU CAN BELIEVE IN (RH)www.truthout.org 17 December 2008
Since the 1980s, but particularly under the Bush administration, certain elements of the religious right, corporate culture and Republican right wing have argued that free public education represents either a massive fraud or a contemptuous failure. Far from a genuine call for reform, these attacks largely stem from an attempt to transform schools from a public investment to a private good, answerable not to the demands and values of a democratic society but to the imperatives of the marketplace. As the educational historian David Labaree rightly argues, public schools have been under attack in the last decade “not just because they are deemed ineffective but because they are public.” Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious in the emphasis on standardized testing, the use of top-down curricular mandates, the influx of advertising in schools, the use of profit motives to “encourage” student performance, the attack on teacher unions and modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization. For the Bush administration, testing has become the ultimate accountability measure, belying the complex mechanisms of teaching and learning.
The hidden curriculum is that testing be used as a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians, that students be similarly reduced to customers in the marketplace rather than as engaged, critical learners and that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized. But there is an even darker side to the reforms initiated under the Bush administration and now used in a number of school systems throughout the country. As the logic of the market and “the crime complex” frame the field of social relations in schools, students are subjected to three particularly offensive policies, defended by school authorities and politicians under the rubric of school safety. First, students are increasingly subjected to zero-tolerance policies that are used primarily to punish, repress and exclude them. Second, they are increasingly absorbed into a “crime complex” in which security staff, using harsh disciplinary practices, now displace the normative functions teachers once provided both in and outside of the classroom. Third, more and more schools are breaking down the space between education and juvenile delinquency, substituting penal pedagogies for critical learning and replacing a school culture that fosters a discourse of possibility with a culture of fear and social control. Consequently, many youth of color in urban school systems, because of harsh zero-tolerance polices, are not just being suspended or expelled from school. They are being ushered into the dark precincts of juvenile detention centers, adult courts and prison. Surely, the dismantling of this corporatized and militarized model of schooling should be a top priority under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Obama has appointed as his secretary of education someone who actually embodies this utterly punitive, anti-intellectual, corporatized and test-driven model of schooling.
Barack Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan for secretary of education does not bode well either for the political direction of his administration nor for the future of public education. Obama’s call for change falls flat with this appointment, not only because Duncan largely defines schools within a market-based and penal model of pedagogy, but also because he does not have the slightest understanding of schools as something other than adjuncts of the corporation at best or the prison at worse. The first casualty in this scenario is a language of social and political responsibility capable of defending those vital institutions that expand the rights, public goods and services central to a meaningful democracy. This is especially true with respect to the issue of public schooling and the ensuing debate over the purpose of education, the role of teachers as critical intellectuals, the politics of the curriculum and the centrality of pedagogy as a moral and political practice.
Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the third largest school system in the nation, one that is about 90 percent poor and nonwhite. Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, advocated a growing police presence in the schools, arbitrarily shut down entire schools and fired entire school staffs. A recent report, “Education on Lockdown,” claimed that partly under Duncan’s leadership “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.” Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago. He led the Renaissance 2010 plan, which was created for Mayor Daley by the Commercial Club of Chicago – an organization representing the largest businesses in the city. The purpose of Renaissance 2010 was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability – a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago’s 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district’s alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.
Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and “performance” schools. Kearney’s web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, “Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.”
Duncan’s advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment. At the heart of this plan is a privatization scheme for creating a “market” in public education by urging public schools to compete against each other for scarce resources and by introducing “choice” initiatives so that parents and students will think of themselves as private consumers of educational services. As a result of his support of the plan, Duncan came under attack by community organizations, parents, education scholars and students. These diverse critics have denounced it as a scheme less designed to improve the quality of schooling than as a plan for privatization, union busting and the dismantling of democratically-elected local school councils. They also describe it as part of neighborhood gentrification schemes involving the privatization of public housing projects through mixed finance developments. (Tony Rezko, an Obama and Blagojevich campaign supporter, made a fortune from these developments along with many corporate investors.) Some of the dimensions of public school privatization involve Renaissance schools being run by subcontracted for-profit companies – a shift in school governance from teachers and elected community councils to appointed administrators coming disproportionately from the ranks of business. It also establishes corporate control over the selection and model of new schools, giving the business elite and their foundations increasing influence over educational policy. No wonder that Duncan had the support of David Brooks, the conservative op-ed writer for The New York Times.
One particularly egregious example of Duncan’s vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education,” at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks. Significantly, no education scholars were invited to participate in the proceedings, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.
Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a “movement for social justice.” He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.” He claimed that education can end poverty. He explained that having a sense of altruism is important, but that creating good workers is a prime goal of educational reform and that the business sector has to embrace public education. “We’re trying to blur the lines between the public and the private,” he said. He argued that a primary goal of educational reform is to get the private sector to play a huge role in school change in terms of both money and intellectual capital. He also attacked the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), positioning it as an obstacle to business-led reform. He also insisted that the CTU opposes charter schools (and, hence, change itself), despite the fact that the CTU runs ten such schools under Renaissance 2010. Despite the representation in the popular press of Duncan as conciliatory to the unions, his statements and those of others at the symposium belied a deep hostility to teachers unions and a desire to end them (all of the charters created under Ren2010 are deunionized). Thus, in Duncan’s attempts to close and transform low-performing schools, he not only reinvents them as entrepreneurial schools, but, in many cases, frees “them from union contracts and some state regulations.” Duncan effusively praised one speaker, Michael Milkie, the founder of the Nobel Street charter schools, who openly called for the closing and reopening of every school in the district precisely to get rid of the unions. What became clear is that Duncan views Renaissance 2010 as a national blueprint for educational reform, but what is at stake in this vision is the end of schooling as a public good and a return to the discredited and tired neoliberal model of reform that conservatives love to embrace.
In spite of the corporate rhetoric of accountability, efficiency and excellence, there is to date no evidence that the radical reforms under Duncan’s tenure as the “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools have created any significant improvement. In part, this is because the Chicago Public Schools and the Renaissance Schools Fund report data in obscurantist ways to make traditional comparisons difficult if not impossible. And, in part, examples of educational claims to school improvement are being made about schools embedded in communities that suffered dislocation and removal through coordinated housing privatization and gentrification policies. For example, the city has decimated public housing in coveted real estate enclaves, dispossessing thousands of residents of their communities. Once the poor are removed, the urban cleansing provides an opportunity for Duncan to open a number of Renaissance Schools, catering to those socio-economically empowered families whose children would surely improve the city’s overall test scores. What are alleged to be school improvements under Ren2010, rest on an increase in the city’s overall test scores and other performance measures that parodies the financial shell game corporations used to inflate profit margins – and prospects for future catastrophes are as inevitable. In the end, all Duncan leaves us with is a Renaissance 2010 model of education that is celebrated as business designed “to save kids” from a failed public system. In fact, it condemns public schooling, administrators, teachers and students to a now outmoded and discredited economic model of reform that can only imagine education as a business, teachers as entrepreneurs and students as customers.
It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with Duncan’s history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices – both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks as Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services. At the heart of Duncan’s vision of school reform is a corporatized model of education that cancels out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market or the prison. No longer a space for relating schools to the obligations of public life, social responsibility to the demands of critical and engaged citizenship, schools in this dystopian vision legitimate an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values and those privatizing and penal pedagogies that both inflate the importance of individualized competition and punish those who do not fit into its logic of pedagogical Darwinism.
In spite of what Duncan argues, the greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures that offer the aura of accountability. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, consigns 13 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services and defines rugged individualism through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools. Young people are under siege in American schools because, in the absence of funding, equal opportunity and real accountability, far too many of them have increasingly become institutional breeding grounds for racism, right-wing paramilitary cultures, social intolerance and sexism. We live in a society in which a culture of testing, punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain for critical teaching and learning, it is easier to subject young people to a culture of faux accountability or put them in jail rather than to provide the education, services and care they need to face problems of a complex and demanding society.
What Duncan and other neoliberal economic advocates refuse to address is what it would mean for a viable educational policy to provide reasonable support services for all students and viable alternatives for the troubled ones. The notion that children should be viewed as a crucial social resource – one that represents, for any healthy society, important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests – appears to be lost in a society that refuses to invest in its youth as part of a broader commitment to a fully realized democracy. As the social order becomes more privatized and militarized, we increasingly face the problem of losing a generation of young people to a system of increasing intolerance, repression and moral indifference. It is difficult to understand why Obama would appoint as secretary of education someone who believes in a market-driven model that has not only failed young people, but given the current financial crisis has been thoroughly discredited. Unless Duncan is willing to reinvent himself, the national agenda he will develop for education embodies and exacerbates these problems and, as such, it will leave a lot more kids behind than it helps.
 Cited in Alfie Kohn, “The Real Threat to American Schools,” Tikkun (March-April 2001), p. 25. For an interesting commentary on Obama and his possible pick to head the education department and the struggle over school reform, see Alfie Kohn, “Beware School ‘Reformers’,” The Nation (December 29, 2008). Online: www.thenation.com/doc/20081229/kohn/print.
 This term comes form: David Garland, “The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
 For a brilliant analysis of the “governing through crime” complex, see Jonathan Simon, “Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear,” (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).
 Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, “Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track,” (New York: Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), p.31. On the broader issue of the effect of racialized zero tolerance policies on public education, see Christopher G. Robbins, “Expelling Hope: The Assault on Youth and the Militarization of Schooling” (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008). See also, Henry A. Giroux, “The Abandoned Generation” (New York: Palgrave, 2004).
 David Hursh and Pauline Lipman, “Chapter 8: Renaissance 2010: The Reassertion of Ruling-Class Power through Neoliberal Policies in Chicago” in David Hursh, “High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning” (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).
 Kenneth J. Saltman, “Chapter 3: Renaissance 2010 and No Child Left Behind Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007).
 Sarah Karp and Joyn Myers, “Duncan’s Track Record,” Catalyst Chicago (December 15, 2008). Online: www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/index.php?item=2514&cat=5&tr=y&auid=4336549
 (See Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools 2006/2007 Charter School Performance Report Executive Summary)
 See Dorothy Shipps, “School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago 1880-2000,” (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2006).
 See, for example, Summary Report, “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” Children’s Defense Fund. Online at: www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/CPP_report_2007_summary.pdf?docID=6001; also see, Elora Mukherjee, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” (New York: American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties, March 2008), pp. 1-36.
 Donna Gaines, “How Schools Teach Our Kids to Hate,” Newsday (Sunday, April 25, 1999), p. B5.
 As has been widely, reported, the prison industry has become big business with many states spending more on prison construction than on university construction. Jennifer Warren, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” (Washington, DC: The PEW Center on the States, 2007). Online at: www.pewcenteronthestates.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=35912
Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” (2007), and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed,” (2008). His newest book, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?,” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.
Kenneth Saltman is associate professor in the department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author, most recently, of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,” (Paradigm Publishers 2007), and editor of Schooling and the Politics of Disaster (Routledge 2007).