Education Reform Is Drowning America's Children in a Bathtub

I suspect you've heard the definition of chutzpah - the child who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

Saturday, November 12th, a New York Times editorial bemoaned the steady decline in school funding across America.

Politicians and voters often say they want better schools, but that doesn't mean they're willing to pay for them. Voters this week largely rejected attempts to increase school spending through ballot initiatives.

Inadequate school spending over prolonged periods will leave many students behind, especially low-income children.

The New York Times has a lot of chutzpah. The Times, like most major newspapers in America, has been deeply complicit in a Grover Norquist-like plan to shrink public education and then drown it in the bathtub. It's a twisted take on chutzpah, where this time the parents drown their children in a bathtub and throw themselves on the mercy of the court because they are bereft.

I can't know whether this complicity is intentional or if the editorial board is simply blind. To the drowned children, it doesn't really matter whether they were pushed under water or the water was left running and the parents went out for a beer.

The Times is right to bemoan the abandonment of a firm commitment to public education. The numbers are depressing indeed. Voters rejected ballot initiatives and inadequate school spending does indeed disproportionately disadvantage the already disadvantaged. But this sad reality is not primarily a result of cash-strapped communities clinging desperately to their purse strings. It is primarily a result of a long, well-funded, well-orchestrated campaign to undermine public education.

The most prolific and deceptive propaganda is from the corporate education reform industry. Organizations like Families for Excellent Schools, Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform, National School Choice Week, Education Post, Students First, Teach for America - all funded by oligarchs (Gates, Broad, Walton, etc.) - have convinced a great many Americans that money is not the problem.

They claim that excellent charter schools operate on the same or less funding than district public schools. This is a lie, as charters have opaque finances, get significant funding from those same oligarchs, and are no more "excellent" than true public schools, despite their superior resources.

They claim that class size doesn't matter. This is a lie, because class size matters a great deal unless you are merely training children in a grim, unimaginative assembly line.

They claim that teachers are overpaid, incompetent and lazy. I won't even dignify that outrageous lie.

Given the polished ubiquity of these lies, it is no wonder that bamboozled citizens reject ballot initiatives asking for more school funding. Why should they throw good money after bad, when education will be just fine once the calcified, unionized, vilified education system is replaced by all those fantastic charter schools?

Disclaimer: Shameless self-promotion alert.

In my forthcoming book (link below) I compare the education privatization movement to the corrections industry.

The current direction toward privatization in education is equivalent to outsourcing in the criminal justice system. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the criminal justice equivalent of the education privatization movement that is currently underway. CCA is a $1.8 billion company that builds and operates prisons and detention facilities on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Marshals Service, and state and local agencies. All of their incentives are perverse. Maximizing revenue depends on "customers" and "repeat" customers. In the decade ending in 2012 CCA spent nearly $18 million lobbying various government agencies to keep the market robust. In their own SEC filing they wrote:

"The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."

Read that excerpt carefully. CCA sees draconian drug laws and punitive immigration practices as good for business. Their interests are diametrically opposed to social justice. It takes only modest revision of the language of the SEC filing from CCA to imagine it coming from a charter organization:

"The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by proper funding of district public schools and decriminalization of certain activities that currently land young black fathers in jail, particularly with respect to drugs and controlled substances. Any changes that resulted in substantial job creation, fair wages and rebuilding of neglected urban communities might potentially reduce demand for alternative, impersonal "no excuses" facilities to house poor children."

Here too, the interests are diametrically opposed to social justice. To be fair, children in urban charter schools are not prisoners, despite "no-excuses" disciplinary practices that might seem prison-like. Even increasingly profitable charter management organizations are not going to benefit from recidivism. Education reformers do want children to succeed, at least on their own limited terms. But there is common ground with prison privatization along several dimensions. As education becomes privatized, the same perverse incentives arise. Ratcheting up class size and increased use of technology reduce labor costs. Reduced labor costs increase profit. The highly mechanized systems being developed by corporate reform are cost effective, replicable and scalable.

In short, many schools driven by education reform are really an aggressive manifestation of the industrial style of traditional education that has dominated education policy for more than a century. The difference - and it is a critical difference - is that this time it's also profitable.

Unfortunately, my modest blog posts and the work of many others who oppose education reform are mere whispers, lost in the aggressive blare of corporate funded propaganda.

You might consider sharing this post and help turn these whispers into shouts of outrage.