Privatization Of Public Schools Lacks Accountability
Public education in the United States is under attack. Teachers, in particular, are fighting for their professional lives. The assault is part of a national neo-political movement that’s fighting for control of public funding on many fronts. The gold rush of mass privatization is already chipping away at our public lands, military, healthcare, corrections, transportation, and much more. Those takeovers were easy pickings. The impact on America has been costly. They aren’t done.
The battle for our public schools isn’t new. It’s just taking longer than some profiteers would like. That’s because our public schools represent a much more complex take-over target. Public schools are glass houses with thousands of stakeholders watching in every state. The recall of the school board in Jefferson County, Colorado is a great example of what an informed and motivated group of stakeholders can do in the face of corruption, collusion and fraud.
To accomplish these subversive take-overs, public schools are being thrust into crisis in an attempt to dismantle them completely. Our public schools have been converted into turf wars for the benefit of Wall Street and foreign corporations. Students, families and entire communities are caught in the crossfire. It’s an assault on democracy and it’s an assault on our children. Citizens and elected officials alike must defend our children’s civil right to public education.
As a result of the forced dysfunction, students are less prepared for college than ever. National SAT scores reached an all-time low in 2015 as public schools are being bled to death by a focus on over-testing, comparisons, vouchers, charter schools, special interests and partisan political battles. For example, Colorado’s educators are spending 30 percent of classroom time preparing for and administering standardized tests. Teachers, schools and districts are penalized when parents opt their kids out of state standardized tests.
If successful, a select group of private corporations can capture a multi-billion dollar pot of gold that’s refilled every year with taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile, charter schools—the proposed solution—are riddled with corruption, debt and bankruptcy. Even in the face of mass favoritism, private schools are struggling to serve just a small fraction of the students served by public schools. Mass privatization is not a solution to reform. It’s merely a pathway to private enrichment. The privatization of public education under false pretenses is already causing damage to our communities, state and nation on many fronts. Our students, families and communities are being held hostage in the dysfunctional gridlock.
Mass privatization is not a new concept. University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman helped introduce the concept to academics, politicians and Wall Street. Ronald Reagan worshipped the man. Crisis capitalism became a centerpiece of “Reaganomics.”
The United States and several large corporations employed Friedman’s theories on foreign soil in the 1970s and ‘80s. The book, “Shock Doctrine,” by Naomi Klein examines the history of crisis capitalism in America and around the globe. Unfortunately, the movement has come home to roost. According to the principle of shock treatment, if you put people, communities, and nations in so much pain, they will cry uncle and accept any solution that stops the pain. It’s like having a gun put to your head. Victims give the thieves anything that they want in exchange for their lives.
Our public schools and teachers are caught in the crossfire of such a battle right now. The pain and dysfunction are already unbearable to many stakeholders. Many families, kids and teachers are hitting the exit doors in droves. In the world of crisis capitalism, that’s progress. Unfortunately, taxpayers don’t have the option of walking away from their obligations to fund this fraud.
Privatizing our public schools through destruction threatens our civil right to public education. It threatens our democracy.
Many policymakers are being elected and influenced to help tilt the tables toward privatization and toward specific companies. Even though the movement is being sold as “choice and competition,” the movement excludes corporate competition. Many private schools exclude students who don’t meet their standards—so students will be left behind in the rush to privatization.
Private companies, including Pearson Education (a British company), already have one hand in the cookie jar and another one around the necks of students and teachers. Several corporations have their eyes on the prize. Privatization is now a highly coveted growth strategy. Wall Street rewards those who can rob from the poor and middle-class.
These national testing and evaluation policies are causing paralysis through analysis. These controversial policies and practices are strongly promoted by the U.S. Department of Education. The testing bureaucracy is killing America’s public schools, while enriching at least one foreign corporation. Several presidential candidates embrace this ideology of privatization of our public schools, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Dennis Kasich and others.
Private interest groups such as ALEC are fueling the flames. They are recruiting large corporations and foundations to jump on the bandwagon. They’re joining hands to help divide and conquer our public schools for financial gain.
“Dirty Deals,” issued by the Roosevelt Institute, details how banks sold school districts and state and local governments predatory financial products like interest rate swaps and capital appreciation bonds—products that were laced with hidden costs and hidden risks, and in many cases were designed to fail—as well as charging exorbitant fees for products and services.
These deals are affecting schools, towns and cities across the country. For example, in Philadelphia, schools will lose more than $161 million as a result of 10 interest rate swaps. The Chicago Public Schools will likely lose $100 million on a complex financing scheme. Detroit entered into a series of complex financial deals that has left the city $1.6 billion in debt. The public schools have all been privatized as a result.
Even though teachers are still overworked, underpaid and buying many of their own classroom materials, they have been framed as part of the problem in our schools. Teachers are being positioned as scapegoats. They are being marginalized to silence their large political voice in the fraudulent race to reform.
Teachers and their unions represent the greatest threats to this sick form of crisis capitalism. Teachers are the largest constituency within public education. They represent a powerful voting block in every district. The privateers must neutralize this vocal voting block in every state in order to advance their agenda. As such, teachers have been marginalized, demonized and fragmented. Attempts to keep the teachers’ unions from recruiting new members have been experienced and documented. It’s old-fashioned union busting at its worst. The formula has worked very well in Wisconsin.
Stakeholders across America are being told that our students are failing in international comparisons. We are told to blame teachers and break their unions, turn more of our public education system over to private interests and rely ever more upon tests to make critical decisions. These and other tactics are designed to delegitimize and ultimately destroy meaningful public education. Subversives are bleeding schools to death and forcing dysfunction upon them. They are promoting poverty among many students, teachers and communities, while promoting corporate greed.
This privatization movement is being cloaked as a push for accountability, competition and choice. Privatization is being sold as a path to cost containment. Those elements are nowhere to be found in the substance of this elaborate scheme.
Once the pain of current dysfunction reaches a tipping point, public schools will be dismantled and handed over to top political donors and other puppeteers. Everyone will rejoice because the crisis is over. The value of corporations will increase by billions as a result. Prime school properties will be handed over to a select group of bankers and developers. Stockholders will run to the bank with taxpayer dollars. Everyone wins except for the stakeholders who will be left to suffer the consequences. Crisis capitalism is not a solution to school reform.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich isn’t thrilled about the state of public education in America, either. Reich recently released a video that described our education system as “squashing passion for learning, eroding the love of teaching and grinding up generations of young people.”
“We have gone way overboard on testing,” Reich said. “Many students now are learning to take a test rather than to think. Teachers are being promoted or given raises based upon their ability to teach students to succeed on the test rather than to teach students how to solve problems and to come up with new ways of thinking.”