A new batch of Billionaire-funded flacks for education privatization

Tom Ultican has done some research and has discovered a brand-new crop of bought-and-paid-for AstroTurf groups and spokespersons, all dedicated to fighting teacher unions, bloggers like me, and the very concept of a free, integrated, public school system. Many of the groups and individuals he’s noting are ones I was completely unfamiliar with, and maybe to my readers as well.

Here is the link.

I definitely need to follow Ultican’s blog.

Published in: on March 29, 2020 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  

A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/01/07/a-primer-on-the-damaging-movement-to-privatize-public-schools/

Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians

 

When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.

 

The pitch

 

Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.

 

Tactics

 

Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)

 

Weapon

 

If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”

 

Operating the weapon

 

What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.

 

Weapon malfunction

 

Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.

 

Before you write…

 

If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.

 

Perspective

America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.

 

Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady mbrady2222@gmail.com

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Pro-Privatization Ideologue Rips Privatization of Public Schools

Valerie Strauss goes into some detail about how the person in charge of Stanford’s CREDO institute has concluded that privatization does not work in the public education sector.

Here’s the money quote from Margarte Raymond, the head of CREDO, who happens to be married to Eric Hanushek, who jump-started the Value-Added Measurement syndrome in education:

This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s [education] the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed. Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.

Ravitch Critiques the Current Education Privatization Movement and Offers Suggestions for a Different Way

For a clear summary of the evidence showing that not a single one of the currently fashionable methods of ‘reforming’ public education has worked, then read the first twenty chapters of the latest book by Diane Ravitch, “Reign of Error”, published today by A.A. Knopf.

This book gratifies me because it lays out in a concise and organized manner much of what I and a number of other education bloggers have been trying to point out for the last four or five years. Ravitch’s clear prose is a masterful summary of the evidence that the bipartisan “reforms” being committed against public education are not only ineffective by the yardsticks held up by these ‘reformers’, but are also resegregating our schools and foisting an inferior education onto our poorest kids.

On the other hand, if you prefer to see a clearly-laid out set of suggestions for a more sensible way to fix our school system, then this is still the right book to read! In chapters 21 through 33, she lays out a logical and sensible way to really fix our schools.

Keep in mind, as you read the book, that the “reformers” of public education have been in charge in some of our largest cities for about 20 years now. For example, Paul Vallas ran Chicago Public Schools from 1995-2001, and Arne Duncan ran them from 2001-2009; since then they are under the control of mayor Rahm Emanuel. They did such a WONDERFUL job that Chicago just found it necessary to close down dozens of schools and fire thousands of teachers and other employees. Joel Klein ran New York City’s public schools from 2002 to his departure to head Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Michelle Rhee and her crony Kaya Henderson have run DC Public Schools since 2007.

Those school systems remain in crisis, despite the claims of our wealthiest citizens (Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family and a bevy of hedge fund managers) that those leaders were producing piles of ‘excellence’ while having almost no teaching experience or school leadership credentials.

If you doubt my claims, all you need to do is look at the graphs and tables in Ravitch’s appendices.

It stokes by own vanity to find a couple of my own blog columns cited on pages 150-151, wherein I had delved into the data on Michelle Rhee’s mythical successes in Baltimore from 1992-1995.

(Rhee has since admitted making the numbers up, but chuckled that they didn’t matter. She has no shame! I also discovered that a possible reason for the increases that were noted at her school and grade level may have been due to two facts: (1) Her school and her grade had one of the greatest attrition rates over those two years of any of the schools in the study; and (2) her grade at her school also had one of the largest percentages of students who scored so low on the CTBS that their scores weren’t even counted!)

Here are the headings and summaries for chapters 5 – 20 of Reign of Error:

5: The Facts About Test Scores

Claim: Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.

Reality: Test scores are a their highest point ever recorded.

6: The Facts About the Achievement Gap

Claim: The achievement gaps are large and getting worse.

Reality: We have made genuine progress in narrowing the achievement gap, but they will remain large if we do nothing about the causes of the gaps.

7. The Facts About the International Test Scores

Claim: We are falling behind other nations, putting our economy and our national economy at risk.

Reality: An old lament, not true then, not true now.

8. The Facts About High School Graduation Rates

Claim: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.

Reality: High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

9. The Facts About College Graduation Rates

Claim: Our economy will suffer unless we have the highest college graduation rates in the world.

Reality: There is no basis for this claim.

10. How Poverty Affects Academic Achievement

Claim: Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.

Reality: Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement.

11. The Facts About Teachers and Test Scores

Claim: Teachers determine student test scores, and test scores may be used to identify and reward effective teachers and to fire those who are not effective.

Reality: Test scores are not the best way to identify the best teachers.

12. Why Merit Pay Fails

Claim: Merit pay will improve achievement.

Reality: Merit pay has never improved achievement.

13. Do Teachers Need Tenure and Seniority?

Claim: Schools will improve if tenure and seniority are abolished.

Reality: There is no basis for this claim.

14. The Problem with Teach for America

Claim: Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.

Reality: Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.

15. The Mystery of Michelle Rhee

(no sub-headings for this chapter)

16. The Contradictions of Charters

Claim: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by thei freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.

Reality: Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.

17. Trouble in E-Land

Claim: Virtual schools will the promise of personalized, customized learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all.

Reality: Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.

18. Parent Trigger, Parent Tricker

Claim: If parents seize control of their school, they can make it better.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

19. The Failure of Vouchers

Claim: Students who receive vouchers for private and religious schools will experience dramatic success.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

20. Schools Don’t Improve if They Are Closed

Claim: Schools can be dramatically improved by firing the principal, firing half or all of the teaches, or closing the school and starting fresh.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

Next, I’ll give the headings of the chapters laying out solutions.

List of Blogs!

From Curmudgucation (Retired English teacher Peter Greene in PA):

(GFB wrote none of this)
The Curmudgureading List
Posted: 27 Jan 2021 11:50 AM PST

I was recently reminded that it has been a while since I’ve done one of these. The edublogging universe has, I think, shrunk a bit in the last year or two, which is not to say that there aren’t still hundreds out there. But lots of folks come and go, and I drop blogs from the list on the side when they’ve gone dormant for more than a few months. There has also been a shift to newsletters and substacks and podcasting, as well as, I think, a loss of more conservative voices in support of public ed.  I’m going to stick to good old fashioned web-based education policy text here, mostly, with blogs, magazine style sites, and a few key organizations. A web presence is not an easy thing to maintain, but here’s what’s out there right now that’s worth reading–or at least, that I know about. 
Recommendations always gratefully accepted.
Let me know what I missed.

Accountabaloney
Florida-centric blog is one of the best-looking blogs around. This duo stays on top of Florida’s education shenanigans, which is no small feat.

Affective Living
Chase Mielke writes this blog that focuses on teacher burnout. Practical and frequently helpful.

Alfie Kohn
Infrequent blogger, but always interesting with plenty of resources, particularly if you’re interested in getting away from grading and testing.

Bellowings
Akil Bello is a testing expert and a good follow on Twitter. While he blogs infrequently, it’s always worthwhile, and this is one of those blogs that’s worth a stroll through the archives, particularly if you’re reading up on big standardized tests.

Big Education Ape
After all these years, still king of the edu-blog aggregators. He’ll give you a taste and a link  and do not discount the value of the art that he adds. 

Bust-ED Pencils 
 One of the few (okay, two podcasts on the list. Passionate and progressive, hosted by Dr. Timothy Slekar. All of the big guns have stopped by at one time or another.

Blue Cereal Education  
Formerly based in OK, he’s now hunkered down in Indiana. Lots of issues covered, but he’s also working his way through Supreme Court cases dealing with church and state separation.

Bright Lights, Small City
Sarah Lahm keeps an eye on Minneapolis schools, policy and politics. It’s yet another regional stage where reformster ideas go for their out of town trial runs.

Caffeinated Rage
North Carolina is the home base for this prolific look at education policy, politics, and public education.

Citizen Teacher
Lisa Eddy taught ELA for 25 years, collected a variety of awards, and just generally worked her buns off. Now she cranks out frequent posts focusing on education and politics

Class Size Matters 
A site devoted to exactly that issue. Loads of good materials here to support the obvious.

Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo
One of the few remaining blogs at Education Week, Ferlazzo talks about pedagogical practicalities and also policy and politics and ethics in the classroom

Cloaking Inequity
The blog of Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig. Lots of smart, researched info, much of it organized by topic.

 Dad Gone Wild
TC Weber covers Tennessee thoroughly and with sharp wit and pithy quotes. “Nobody reads it. Everybody quotes it.”

DCulberhouse
“Engaging in conversations around education and leadership,” and sometimes getting into some heavy but interesting stuff about systems and complexity. 

Defending the Early Years
Research and advocacy for the littles. I’m a big fan of this organization.

Deutsch29
I call her the indispensable Mercedes Schneider. A research monster and prolific writer, even as she does the classroom work. When you’re looking for facts and the background connections, all roads lead here.

Diane Ravitch
If you read me, you probably read Ravitch, whose blog is like the town square for all the advocates for public education. The sheer volume of posts can be daunting, but because she is so very generous with her platform and audience, there is no better place to “meet” all the people writing about public education .

Eclectablog
The source for Michigan news from a progressive perspective. That includes education in the DeVos stomping grounds. Mitchell Robinson writes for these folks.

Ed in the Apple
All about the intersection of education and politics in New York.

Ed Politics
A web magazine covering te political angles. Good place to find Jeff Bryant, a major independent pro-public ed journalist.

Educolor
“EduColor has been at the forefront of anti-racist, culturally competent, justice-centered conversations since its inception in 2014.” 

Fairtest
The organization advocating to keep testing fair and open and, well, less. 

Finding Common Ground
Another EdWeek blog, this by Peter DeWitt, who takes a tempered and thoughtful approach to the issues of the day.

Fourth Generation Teacher
I don’t go back to this blog often enough, but when I do, I always find thoughtful, insightful pieces about the teaching life.

Fred Klonsky
Politics, unions, and education with a Chicago flavor.

Gadfly on the Wall
Nobody gets more fired up than my fellow Pennsylvanian Steven Singer. Unabashedly progressive, pro-union, pro-teacher and pretty fiery about all of it. 

Gary Rubinstein’s Blog Rubinstein is a math teacher, proof that sometimes Teach for America products grow up to be real teachers. He’s been at the blogging work for a long time. He writes about the craft and occasionally digs into the data to debunk popular reformster ideas.

G F Brandenburg’s Blog
A retired math teacher who collects plenty of good reads from around the web along with his own excellent insights. Another blogger who’s been at this for a while.


Grumpy Old Teache
National education perspectives with the kind of attitude you know I appreciate.

Hack Education
If you have even a passing interest in education technology, Audrey Watters is required reading. Nobody is more knowledgable, more insightful, more adept at connecting the dots, or more willing to call bullshit. Required reading.

Have You Heard
The other podcast on the list (though they always post a transcript as well for us reader types). Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire are great interviewers, and this podcast brings some great people to the mic, along with some excellent insights from the hosts.

In the Public Interes
A site and organization with a wide-ranging public interest, and that includes keeping an eye on the privatization of public education.

Jan RessegerThoughtful, insightful, and always well-sourced look at education policy in the US.

Jersey Jazzman  
Nobody does a better job rendering data (especially financial stuff) in ways that make sense to ordinary mortals.

Just Visiting
Inside Higher Education hosts a variety of bloggers, but John Warner is my only regular read. Warner is particular sharp on the topic of writing.

eystone State Education Coalition
Excellent and thorough roundup of ed policy issues and articles in Pennsylvania.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice
Well, blog titles don’t come any more accurately descriptive than that.

Larry Lee on Education
Lee is based in Alabama, a state that provides ample opportunity to consider problems in education policy.

Living Dialogue
Anthony Cody’s site has evolved into a far-ranging education magazine covering a wide variety of topics and writers.

Momma Bears
One of the many parent blogs that maintains feisty, skeptical eyes on corporate education reform.

Mr. Fitz
There ought to be more education reality centered comic strips, but at least we have Mr. Fitz

Nancy Bailey’s Education Website
Activist and pro-public school, looking at topics on the national scale. I never miss a post.

National Education Policy Center
Scholarly responses to reformy articles and “papers” and a blog-post-of-the-day. NEPC is just the place to look for solid responses to what you know is wrong.

Network for Public Education
NPE has established itself as a strong advocacy and research group in support of public education. Check out the research papers, or look at the page #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal for a catalogue of charter misbehavior.

Notes from the Chalkboard
Justin Parmenter is based in North Carolina, where he periodically ruffles feathers and raises some dust. 

Notes from the Educational Trenches  
“I feel like I’m living in the old fable, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.'” Perspective from a classroom teacher.

NYC Educator
He’s been at it a really long time. Sly, snarky and well-versed in the nuts and bolts of education in the city that doesn’t sleep often or well.

Othmar’s Trombone
I couldn’t resist the name. Based in the UK, just so you know some of these issues transcend borders.

Plunderbund
Covering the politics of Ohio, including their crazy-pants ed scene, magazine style.

Politics K-12
EdWeek’s tag team of current ed policy news and the politics attached to it. Always on top of the breaking news.

Public School Shakedown at The Progressive
Remember when every magazine and news organization had an education tab? The Progressive still keeps a stable of quality (education writers (and me)  on tap to write about education.

Radical eyes for equity
Paul Thomas always makes me feel smarter for reading him, but he also knows whart’s what when it comes to comics. 

Rick Hess Straight Up
Another Ed Week blog, this by the education guy from the American Enterprise Institute, so free market ed reform guy, but generally an intellectually honest one. 

School Finance 101
The ins and outs of school finance, with Bruce Baker cutting through the noise. This is where I first learned about how charterization can involve the taxpayers buying the same building multiple times.

School Matters
Longtime observer of the public education scene in Indiana, another hotbed of reformster shenanigans.

Schools Matter
The team of writers here take no prisoners, ever, but they’ve been at this for a while and they do their digging. No sympathy for corporate interests here.

Teacher in a Strange Land
Retired music teacher Nancy Flanagan blogged for years at EdWeek, but a while back decided to strike out on her own so she could write with more freedom. Often personal, always insightful.

Teacher Tom
A pre-school teacher in Seattle offers meditations on education, children, and life. Great look at connections between learning and life’s important lessons.

Tennessee Education Report
Andy Spears knows what’s going on in Tennessee, which is one of the states where ed reformy ideas are road tested. Solid reporting.

The 21st Century Principal
John Robinson has done it all, starting with years as an ELA teacher, so his blog brings together edu-threads from literature to politics to the philosophical underpinnings of the work.

The Answer Sheet
Valerie Strauss’s column at the Washington Post is always on point, and features plenty of good guest stars (Carol Burris often appears). And people answer her emails and phone calls, which means she gets the stuff that most lowly bloggers do not. Plus she’s a pleasantly pro-public school voice at a newspaper that’s not always helpful.

The Jose Vilson
Former NYC math teacher, now grad student, and a heck of a writer. Founding leader of Educolor. What a voice.

The Merrow Report
John Merrow was a leading national education reporter for decades. He’s retired now, but clearly there’s still an itch there.

The Tempered Radical
Bill Ferriter is a teacher and a top-notch PD guy, too. Collaborative teams are his thing, but sometims he just has to speak up about policy and politics.

Tultican
Thomas Ultican sits down and digs deep. In his blog you find many definitive takes that gather everything out there about a particular reformster shenanigans.

When Schools Reopen
This panel of writers is focused on the big issue of the day. When the buildings finally reoppen for good and for real, what could be better?

Wrench in the Gears
Not everybody’s cup of tea, this blog travels way down the global digital data plot, but the research is solid and she often pulls out info you won’t find anywhere else.

VAMboozled
Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a leading researcher and scholar in the bananas field of VAM. Another blog that rewards deep reading inm the archives.
Published in: on January 28, 2021 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Looting of America by the Very Wealthiest

This an opinion piece in the NYT.

=============================

The Neoliberal Looting of America

The private equity industry, which has led to more than 1.3 million job losses in the last decade, reveals the truth about free markets.

By Mehrsa Baradaran

Ms. Baradaran is the author of “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth

“It’s hard to separate what’s good for the United States and what’s good for Bank of America,” said its former chief executive, Ken Lewis, in 2009. That was hardly true at the time, but the current crisis has revealed that the health of the finance industry and stock market are completely disconnected from the actual financial health of the American people. As inequality, unemployment and evictions climb, the Dow Jones surges right alongside them — one line compounding suffering, the other compounding returns for investors.

One reason is that an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years, raising the fortunes of the financial economy — and its agents like private equity firms — at the expense of the real economy experienced by most Americans.

The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism in Cold War Europe. Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — was especially potent because it disguised itself as a neutral statement of economics rather than just another theory. Only unfettered markets, the theory argued, could ensure justice and freedom because only the profit motive could dispassionately pick winners and losers based on their contribution to the economy.

Neoliberalism leapt from economics departments into American politics in the 1960s, where it fused with conservative anti-communist ideas and then quickly spread throughout universities, law schools, legislatures and courts. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization of public functions including schools, pensions and infrastructure. The governing logic held that corporations could do just about everything better than the government could. The result, as President Ronald Reagan said, was to unleash “the magic of the marketplace.”

The magic of the market did in fact turn everything into gold — for wealthy investors. Neoliberalism led to deregulation in every sector, a winner-take-all, debt-fueled market and a growing cultural acceptance of purely profit-driven corporate managers. These conditions were a perfect breeding ground for the private equity industry, then known as “leveraged buyout” firms. Such firms took advantage of the new market for high-yield debt (better known as junk bonds) to buy and break up American conglomerates, capturing unprecedented wealth in fewer hands. The private equity industry embodies the neoliberal movement’s values, while exposing its inherent logic.

Private equity firms use money provided by institutional investors like pension funds and university endowments to take over and restructure companies or industries. Private equity touches practically every sector, from housing to health care to retail. In pursuit of maximum returns, such firms have squeezed businesses for every last drop of profit, cutting jobs, pensions and salaries where possible. The debt-laden buyouts privatize gains when they work, and socialize losses when they don’t, driving previously healthy firms to bankruptcy and leaving many others permanently hobbled. The list of private equity’s victims has grown even longer in the past year, adding J.Crew, Toys ‘R’ Us, Hertz and more.

In the last decade, private equity management has led to approximately 1.3 million job losses due to retail bankruptcies and liquidation. Beyond the companies directly controlled by private equity, the threat of being the next takeover target has most likely led other companies to pre-emptively cut wages and jobs to avoid being the weakest prey. Amid the outbreak of street protests in June, a satirical headline in The Onion put it best: “Protesters Criticized For Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First.” Yet the private equity takeover is not technically looting because it has been made perfectly legal, and even encouraged, by policymakers.

According to industry experts, 2019 was one of the most successful years for private equity to date, with $919 billion in funds raised. The private equity executives themselves can also garner tremendous riches. Their standard fee structure involves collecting around 2 percent of the investor money they manage annually, and then 20 percent of any profits above an agreed-upon level. This lucrative arrangement also lets them tap into the very favorable “carried interest” tax loophole, allowing them to pay much lower capital gains tax rates on their earnings, rather than normal income taxes like most people.

An examination of the recent history of private equity disproves the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society. The passage of time has debunked another such myth: that deregulating industries would generate more vibrant competition and benefit consumers.

Unregulated market competition actually led to market consolidation instead. Would-be monopolies squeezed competitors, accrued political power, lobbied for even more deregulation and ultimately drove out any rivals, leading inexorably to entrenched political power. Instead of a thriving market of small-firm competition, free market ideology led to a few big winners dominating the rest.

Take the banking sector. For most of American history, banks were considered a public privilege with duties to promote the “best interest of the community.” If a bank wanted to merge or grow or offer new services, the regulators often denied the request either because a community could lose a bank branch or because the new product was too risky. During the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s and ’90s, Congress and bank regulators loosened the rules, allowing a handful of megabanks to swallow up thousands of small banks.

Today, five banks control nearly half of all bank assets. Fees paid by low-income Americans have increased, services have been curtailed and many low-income communities have lost their only bank. When federally subsidized banks left low-income communities, vulture-like fringe lenders — payday, title, tax-refund lenders — filled the void. As it turns out, private equity firms are invested in some of the largest payday lenders in the country.

Faith in market magic was so entrenched that even the 2008 financial crisis did not fully expose the myth: We witnessed the federal government pick up all the risks that markets could not manage and Congress and the Federal Reserve save the banking sector ostensibly on behalf of the people. Neoliberal deregulation was premised on the theory that the invisible hand of the market would discipline risky banks without the need for government oversight.

Even a former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, the most committed free market fundamentalist of the era, admitted in the understatement of the century, that “I made a mistake.”

We can start fixing the big flaws propagated over the last half century by taxing the largest fortunes, breaking up large banks and imposing market rules that prohibit the predatory behaviors of private equity firms.

Public markets can take over the places that private markets have failed to adequately serve. Federal or state agencies can provide essential services like banking, health care, internet access, transportation and housing at cost through a public option. Historically, road maintenance, mail delivery, police and other services are not left to the market, but provided directly by the government.

Private markets can still compete, but basic services are guaranteed to everyone.

And we can move beyond the myths of neoliberalism that have led us here. We can have competitive and prosperous markets, but our focus should be on ensuring human dignity, thriving families and healthy communities. When those are in conflict, we should choose flourishing communities over profits.

Published in: on July 4, 2020 at 9:40 am  Comments (5)  

A real digger!

I mean that in a good way!

Let me explain.

I’m now re-reading my second copy of Diane Ravitch’s latest book, “Slaying Goliath“, taking notes and looking stuff up. By the way, you can read about 33 pages of that book, at that link, for free, and you can then decide if you want o purchase the whole thing.

(Disclaimer: Ravitch asked her publisher to send me a free copy so I would review it. However, that copy got stolen along with the backpack and the best pair of binoculars I ever had… so I had to buy another copy if I wanted to complete the task. Sorry, Diane, I’m still working on it, but I’m slow.)

This is not that review, by the way. That will come later.

Today I just wanted to write about that digger, or sleuth, to whom Ravitch introduces us on page 211 of her book: a certain Maurice Cunningham, who has been diligently following the money. He has been researching, connecting the dots, and then showing the public how a handful of billionaires have been attempting to subvert democracy and buy public policy by undermining public education in Massachusetts. He’s still doing it, too, it appears. Here is a Link to his blog.

Ravitch writes:

“He was relentless in investigating the money behind the [pro-charter 2016 Massachusetts] campaign. He focused on one issue: Follow the money. The No on 2 alliance was easy. It came from teachers, their unions, and small individual contributions.

“The Yes on 2 funding, however, was mysterious and opaque. Cunningham shone a bright light on that funding. He was fascinated with Dark Money, and he often reminded readers that “money never sleeps.” He referred to the Corporate Disrupters as the Financial Privatization Cabal.”

For example, he discovered that the handful of people who paid for the vast majority of the extremely expensive pro-charter campaign were all extremely hedge fund managers: just 14 people versus an overwhelming majority who wanted to NOT open up every single district to charter schools.

Excellent work! We need more like him in every region! (And yes, I need to get busy again also.)

Published in: on February 11, 2020 at 12:05 pm  Comments (1)  

“Slaying Goliath” by Diane Ravitch

I wish I could write half as well as, or as much as, Diane Ravitch manages to do, every single day. I also admire her dedication to fighting the billionaires who have been dictating education policy in the USA for quite some time.

If you are reading this post, you are no doubt aware that only ten years ago, Ravitch did a 180-degree turn on major education issues, admitted she had been wrong on a number of points, and became one of the major forces fighting against the disruptive education-privatization agenda of the billionaires.

Since that time, she has been documenting on her blog, several times a day, nearly every day, the utter failures of the extremely wealthy amateurs who have been claiming to ‘reform’ education, but who have instead merely been disrupting it and failing to achieve any of the goals that they confidently predicted would be won, even using their own yard-sticks.

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I found DR’s most recent book (pictured above) to be an excellent history of the past 37 years wherein certain billionaires, and their well-paid acolytes, have claimed that the American public school system is a total failure and needed to be torn down and rebuilt through these steps:

  1. Pretending that American students were at one point the highest-scoring ones on the planet (which has NEVER been true) and that the fact that they currently score at middling levels on international tests like PISA is a cause for national alarm;
  2. Claiming that student family poverty does not cause lower student achievement (however measured), but the reverse: that the schools that have students from poor and non-white populations are the CAUSE of that poverty and low achievement;
  3. Fraudulently assuming that huge fractions of teachers are not only incompetent but actively oppress their students (particularly the poor, the brown, and the black) and need to be fired en masse (as they were in New Orleans, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC);
  4. Micromanaging teachers in various ways, including by forcing all states to adopt a never-tested and largely incomprehensible ‘Common Core’ curriculum and demanding that all teachers follow scripted lessons in lockstep;
  5. ‘Measuring’ the productivity of teachers through arcane and impenetrable ‘Value-Added’ schemes that were devised for dairy cows;
  6. Mass firings of certified teachers, particularly African-American ones (see #2) and replacing them either with untrained, mostly-white newbies from Teach for America or with computers;
  7. Requiring public and charter schools (but not vouchers) to spend ever-larger fractions of their classroom time on test prep instead of real learning;
  8. Turning billions of public funds over to wealthy amateurs (and con artists) with no educational experience to set up charter schools and voucher schools with no real accountability — the very worst ones being the online charter schools.

One great aspect of this book is that Ravitch points out how

  1. All of those claims and ‘solutions’ have failed (for example, a study in Texas showed charter schools had no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings (p. 82);
  2. Teachers, parents, students, and ordinary community members have had a good deal of success in fighting back.

I will conclude with a number of quotes from the book in random colors.

“How many more billions will be required to lift charter school enrollment to 10 percent? [It’s now about 5 percent] And why is it worth the investment, given that charter schools, unless they cherry-pick their students, are no more successful than public schools are and often far worse? Why should the federal government spend nearly half a billion dollars on charter schools that may never open when there are so many desperately underfunded public schools?” (p. 276-277)

“Any movement controlled by billionaires is guaranteed […] to preserve the status quo while offering nothing more than the illusion of change.” (p. 281)

“There is no “Reform movement.” The Disrupters never tried to reform public schools. They wanted to disrupt and privatize the public schools that Americans have relied on for generations. They wanted to put public school funding in private hands. They wanted to short-circuit democracy. They wanted to cripple, not improve, the public schools. They wanted to replace a public service with a free market.” (p. 277)

“Our current education policy is madness. It is madness to destroy public education in pursuit of zany libertarian goals. It is madness to use public funds to put young children into religious schools where they will learn religious doctrine instead of science. It is madness to hand public money over to unaccountable entrepreneurs who want to open a school but refuse to be held to high ethical standards or to be held accountable for its finances and its performance. It is madness to ignore nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. We sacrifice our future as a nation if we continue on this path of de-professionalizing our schools and turning them over to businessmen, corporate chains, grifters, and well-meaning amateurs. We sacrifice our children and our grandchildren if we continue to allow them to be guinea pigs in experiments whose negative results are clear.” (p. 281)

Ravitch proposes a number of things that billionaires could do that would be more helpful than what they are currently doing. She suggests [I’m quoting but shortening her list, found on page 280] that the billionaires could …

  • pay their share of taxes to support well-resourced public schools.
  • open health clinics to serve needy communities and make sure that all families and children have regular medical checkups.
  • underwrite programs to ensure that all pregnant women have medical care and that all children have nutritious meals each day.
  • subsidize after-school programs where children get exercise, play, dramatics, and tutoring.
  • rebuild the dramatics programs and performance spaces in every school.
  • lobby their state legislatures to fund schools fairly, to reduce class sizes, and to enable every school to have the teachers, teaching assistants, social services, librarians, nurses, counselors, books, and supplies it needs.
  • create mental health clinics and treatment centers for those addicted to drugs.
  • underwrite programs based on “the Kalamazoo Promise.”
  • They could emulate the innovative public school that basketball star leBron James subsidized in Akron, Ohio.

She also quotes Paymon Rouhanifard, who was a “prominent member of the Disruption establishment [who] denounced standardized testing when he stepped down as superintendent of the Camden, New Jersey, public schools […]. He had served as a high-level official on Joel Klein’s team in New York City […] Upon his arrival of the impoverished Camden district [….] he developed school report cards to rank every school mainly by test scores. But before he left, he abolished the school report cards.” She quotes him directly: “[…] most everybody in this room wouldn’t tolerate what I described for their own children’s school. Mostly affluent, mostly white schools shy away from heavy testing, and as a result, they are literally receiving an extra month of instruction […] The basic rule, what we would want for our own children, should apply to all kids.” (p.271)

“Disrupters have used standardized testing to identify and take over or close schools with low scores, but they disregard standardized testing when it reveals the failure of charters and vouchers. Disrupters no longer claim that charter schools and inexperienced recruits from Teach for America will miraculously raise test scores. After three decades of trying, they have not been successful.

“Nothing that the Disrupters have championed has succeeded unless one counts as ‘success’ closing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of community public schools in low-income neighborhoods. Ths Disrupters have succeeded in demoralizing teachers and reducing the number of people entering the teaching profession. They have enriched entrepreneurs who have opened charter schools or developed shoddy new products and services to sell to schools. They have enhanced the bottom line of large testing corporations. Their fling with the Common Core cost states billions of dollars to implement but had no effect on national or international test scores and outraged many parents, child advocates, lovers of literature, and teachers. “

Fortunately, the resistance to this has been having a fair amount of success, including the massive teacher strikes in state after state. As Ravitch writes (p. 266):

“The teachers taught the nation a lesson.

“But more than that, they taught themselves a lesson. They united, they demanded to be heard, and they got respect. That was something that the Disrupters had denied them for almost twenty years. Teachers learned that in unity there is strength.”

 

 

On the malign influence of Eli Broad in education

This is a good summary by Wendy Lecker on the results of billionaire Eli Broad’s strenuous efforts to reshape American education. Even though Broad’s rhetoric is a lot more progressive than that of the Koch brothers, Broad’s results have not been good at all – not only in human terms, but even on his own terms and using his own benchmarks. I might add that in terms of Broad’s failures, Lecker could have included the Broad-financed reform effort under Michelle Rhee here in Washington DC had a 98% failure rate in reaching its own goals. (See here for a link to my analysis thereof.)

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Putting a price tag on public schools

By Wendy Lecker|January 5, 2020

When it comes to using one’s fortune to influence American policy, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch stand out.

The Kochs have spent a fortune pushing American politics and policy to the right. Their secretive organization, Americans for Prosperity, is a major player in anti-labor activities, such as Wisconsin’s slashing of union rights, and fighting minimum wage increases nationwide. The Kochs poured money into the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) a stealth lobby organization that writes bills that advance Koch industries’ interests specifically and the Koch’s extreme free market ideology in general, and then gets legislators all over the country to introduce them.

They have also donated millions of dollars to establish research centers at universities to push their brand of unregulated capitalism. They impose conditions and performance obligations on the donations, interfere in hiring decisions, and make curriculum and programming decisions. The Kochs often demand pre-approval of any public statements and include anti-transparency provisions in donor agreements. This research is then cited as the scholarly basis for Congressional decisions favoring the Kochs’ interests. The Kochs are proud of their integrated strategy to build a pipeline of influence. The president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation boasted that “(n)o one else has this infrastructure.”

Eli Broad, a billionaire who made his fortune through real estate and insurance, seeks to build a Koch-style infrastructure to push his education reform ideology. Broad recently announced that, with a $100 million donation, he is bringing his Broad Center to Yale’s School of Management (“SOM”).

The Broad Center trains school district leaders and those who seek to influence education policy. The center emphasizes applying business principles to running school districts and de-emphasizes education. In seeking candidates, the Broad Center prioritizes “a strong and direct alignment with specific (Broad Center) reform priorities” — which include school privatization and weakening labor protections. The Center openly aims to reshape American public education according to Broad’s ideology.

Eli Broad is a major player in some of the most aggressive — and controversial- education reform policies in America. Like the Kochs, Broad employs an integrated strategy of influence. For example, he bankrolled the education reform slate in the Los Angeles 2018 school board election. His star beneficiary, charter operator Ref Rodriguez, later resigned from the board and pled guilty to felony election fraud conspiracy. Broad also poured millions into Broad alumnus and charter operator Marshall Tuck’s 2018 unsuccessful campaign for California State Superintendent.

Broad used his money and influence to push the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to run Detroit’s public schools. He provided significant funding and even summoned Broad alumnus and then Kansas City superintendent, John Covington, to be its first chancellor. Covington had wreaked havoc on Kansas City, firing hundreds of teachers and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America members, and imposing other disruptive reforms. After his chaotic departure, Kansas City’s school district lost its accreditation. It then abandoned Covington’s reforms to regain its footing.

Covington left the EAA abruptly after charges of questionable spending, and the Broad Center hired him. The EAA was a devastating failure, plagued by financial mismanagement and abysmal academic failures.

A succession of Broad alumni ran Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, which was also plagued by financial mismanagement and poor student achievement — worse than in schools under local district control.

Broad alumni were forced out of Seattle and Los Angeles amid financial impropriety, and Barbara Byrd Bennett, a Broad executive coach, is in federal prison after pleading guilty to a bribery scandal in which she engaged while head of Chicago Public Schools.

These scandals reflect poorly on Broad’s emphasis on applying business practices to school districts.

Much like the Koch’s foray into higher education, Broad’s move to SOM seems like an effort to profit from Yale’s name and perhaps sanitize the questionable track record of Broad alumni. Since Yale has no school of education — unlike other universities in New Haven — Broad’s interest is not to bolster any knowledge of how children can learn successfully.

In an effort to discern how much of the Koch playbook Broad is employing at Yale, I asked SOM about Broad’s involvement in the governance, curriculum, programming and hiring at SOM’s new center. After first indicating they would run these questions by SOM’s dean, SOM now fails to respond, despite my request for follow-up. Apparently, SOM’s Broad Center is adopting the Koch’s lack of transparency.

It is disturbing that a major university is helping enlarge the Broad pipeline, which has funneled scandal and upheaval across American public schools.

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Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center

A former charter school teacher and a former charter school parent speak out

They explain why the proposals of Senators Warren and Sanders are reasonable: accountability, and end to the federal new-charter-school slush fund; big increases in Title I and special education funds to the states. They also write:

“both candidates also call for stronger charter oversight, and would ban for-profit charter schools and those that outsource operations to for-profit managers, which have been found to be particularly prone to fraud. And both call for a moratorium on charter school growth, following the lead of the NAACP and Black Lives Matter, which have made this a central point in their advocacy, because charter schools have worsened school segregation and the school to prison pipeline through “no excuses” disciplinary practices that lead to excessive suspensions and expulsions. 

One of the authors worked at a charter school founded by non-educators that churned through six different principals during its first year (and many more teachers); the other one is the mother of one of the children pushed out by, and had many of his rights violated by, the infamous Eva Moskowitz at one of her “Success” Academies.

The teacher author added: “We also lost special education students because our school wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the services they needed. Instead, they were sent to nearby public schools. Now that I work in a public school in District 14, we experience the reverse process — my school has no choice but to accept the many students pushed out by charter schools when they don’t conform to their rigid academic or behavioral expectations.

Published in: on January 5, 2020 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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