Wittingly or not, we are being sold a bill of goods.
Willingly or not, some of our board members and district administrators are complicit.
The plays from this playbook are already being executed with precision.
This is happening, not just here but across the nation.
We undermine the success of public education at every turn and then wonder why we’re failing.
The playbook has already been written. And it’s game time!
You’d better be doing your homework. Because this is “no pass, no play.”
Charters are coming. It’s 4th down. Seconds on the clock. There are no timeouts left. We are going to need a hail mary.
We need you to suit up and get in the game!
Stop kowtowing to these tactics. They may seem like the logical or quick-fix solutions. But there are motives behind them. Get back to student-centered decisions. I know, you’d like a copy of this playbook. Don’t take my word for it.
Do your own research.
Follow the money. Question the motives. Examine the investment portfolios.
Don’t be confused by others who may be wearing the same color jersey. Not everyone is on the same team.
Public education is the football. Your job, as our board members, is to protect it at all costs.
WATCH: this is the 3-minute presentation that I gave to the board of education on Sept 13, 2016, regarding the Playbook.
- Drastically cut funding to public schools Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem
- Test and Punish for “accountability’s” sake
- Blame teachers, not poverty
- Bust unions, drive quality teachers away
- Cut arts, music
- Bring in school choice, charters, vouchers, privatizers to “save the day!”
- Replace teachers with non-certified staff
The lobbying power behind this movement is astounding because so are the profits to be made. Profitable for corporations, not children of course. Michelle Rhee through her (Rosemary’s) baby StudentsFirst, “pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.”
Those of us who have been in education for more than a few decades already know how to maximize the strengths of “great teachers!” It’s called: resources, reduced class size, having more teaching assistants per classroom, and NOT demanding endless batteries of high stakes testing, test preparation, and data keeping of those tests all of which waste meaningful instructional time.
From: Public School Teachers: The next endangered species?
A page from the Louisiana Playbook:
On May 12, Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards signed Act 91 into law, making privately-owned charter schools a permanent feature of public education in the state.
New Orleans has been in the national spotlight for the privatization of education since 2005, when the hurricane-devastated city initiated the first all-charter district in the United States. The mechanism utilized to destroy the public schools was the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) formed in 2003 by Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Blanco folded the public school system into the state-controlled RSD. This playbook was developed nationally by the Broad Foundation and was largely implemented in Louisiana by Paul Pastorek, now a co-executive director of the Foundation’s education work. Pastorek is presently working with Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder in similar efforts to charterize the Detroit Public Schools.
In the media, both local and nationally, Act 91 is being trumpeted as a successful return of RSD schools to “local control.” In the sense of local democratic control or public education, it is nothing of the sort. Across the US, “local control” of schools has become a code word for bringing unions and local businessmen on board the national privatization program and providing them a lucrative niche in the billion-dollar education industry.
The new law means that 54 New Orleans charter schools will gradually move back to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), with similar provisions affecting 9 charters in Baton Rouge and 1 in Caddo Parish. Not only will they remain as charter schools, their operators have been handed control over almost every aspect of education indefinitely by state law. This control includes “school programing, curriculum, instruction, materials and texts, yearly school calendars and daily schedules, hiring and firing of personnel, employee performance management and evaluation, terms and conditions of employment, teacher or administrator certification, salaries and benefits, retirement, collective bargaining, budgeting, purchasing, procurement, and contracting for services other than capital repairs and facilities construction.”
School boards will retain the right to determine when new schools will be opened or closed. However, the new law stipulates that charters will be given the right to petition to become a local education agency (LEA) should they want to assume these rights as well.
In charge of this “transition” is a 13-member board, eight members of which are CEOs of charter school companies. The board also includes the superintendents of both the RSD and the OPSB. The function of the board is to assure that the ability of the charters to profit off of public education is not impeded in the transition.
The OPSB, itself fully committed to the charterization of public schools in New Orleans, praised the bill. Speaking for those cashing-in with charter operations and other edubusinesses, OPSB superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. (a founder of an Algiers district charter school) told the media, “The legislation that has passed is an incredible opportunity for all of us in New Orleans to build an excellent school system. The legislation puts all responsibility for our schools into the hands of the local community, while preserving the accountability and autonomy that have led to such great success over the past several years,”
John White, the state superintendent of schools and longtime charter advocate, told the New York Times “The mission was to recover the schools, not to maintain a group of white bureaucrats not from New Orleans”, using identity politics as a cover for his support for the institutionalization of charter schools and the profiteering of local businessmen. White is another significant national figure in the efforts to open public education to the for-profit business sector; he entered public education through Teach for America, and led charter school expansion in New York City under the notorious privatizer Joel Klein.
From the beginning of this assault on public education, the unions, led by the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), have blocked the resistance of teachers. After Katrina, OPSB fired 7,500 teachers and pushed out another 1,200. The UTNO confined itself to filing a lawsuit which took a decade to pass through the courts before finally being rejected. Subsequently it has sought, with some limited success, to unionize the charters, effectively endorsing the privatization of education in exchange for the expansion of its dues paying membership.
While the RSD is the only completely charterized school district in the country, the Orleans Parish School District is not far behind. Fourteen of the twenty schools it operates are privatized, making it the nation’s second most charterized district.
Overall there are only 82 schools left in New Orleans, down 35 percent since Hurricane Katrina. Originally schools were to be automatically returned to local control after no longer being deemed to be “failing.” The law was changed in 2010 to allow schools to choose for themselves if they wanted to remain in the recovery district or not. This created a situation where every year the notoriously dysfunctional OPSB competed with the RSD for the right to administer the charters.
Louisiana has played a major role in pioneering the system which has been utilized around the country to privatize education. While figures like Pastorek of Broad played a significant role, the systematic assault has been implemented in a bipartisan way by both Democrats and Republicans.
The political playbook is now clear. There are national cuts to Title I and other school funding sources (by George W. Bush and now under Barack Obama). Then, business and financial interests in the state legislatures de-fund the schools. High stakes testing is used to categorize a segment of schools as “failing” which are hived off into state-run districts. Schools are given letter grades. A OneApp is used to market charter schools on an equal basis with traditional public schools to parents. Unions are brought on board. This process has been blessed not only by the Broad Foundation and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, but by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top.
This is precisely what happened to New Orleans and is developing around the US. Democrats and Republican political operatives, on behalf of business interests, are deliberately impoverishing public school systems.
In 2014 RSD trimmed its staff by 85 percent, from 562 to 94. Its budget was also steadily reduced, to $20 million by 2014. This essentially left the operations of the schools entirely in the hands of the charter industry. Of the total OPSB budget for the 2014-2015 school year, $345 million, $138 million went directly to the RSD schools, $92 million went to the districts own charters and an additional $30 million went to paying debt service.
The passage of Act 91 is part of an overall austerity drive in Louisiana and comes amidst the largest budget crisis in state history. Public services across the board have been cut or face cuts in the near future. In March the state legislature met in an emergency session to attempt to address the budget crisis. The lawmakers were scarcely able to arrive at a temporary agreement, which included a sales tax hike. When they reconvene later this year, public universities, hospitals, and even the state public defender’s office face steep cuts. The states’ coffers have been depleted in recent years by a combination of declining oil revenues and a series of tax cuts and corporate tax breaks passed by the previous administration of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.
New Orleans remains the center of the drive for the privatization of education, with a new state law making charter schools permanent under the guise of “local control.”
WSWS.ORG|BY MATTHEW TAYLOR
A page from the Iowa Playbook:
Imagine that you are a policymaker who is generally anti-government, anti-union, and pro-privatization. Public schools conflict with all of those, don’t they?
So you’ve got a challenge. Citizens and communities generally like and strongly support their schools. Somehow you have to create a narrative over time that erodes citizens’ support for public schools and counters their incredible historical legacies of college and career preparation, citizenship development, cultural socialization, economic opportunity creation, and facilitation of intergenerational income mobility.
Here are some things that you and your like-minded colleagues might try to do:
- underfund schools so that they can’t keep up with operational costs, will struggle to meet educational mandates, and will have to reduce personnel (bonus: fewer union members!)
- maintain claims about ‘fiscal accountability’ and future revenue concerns, even when they require ignoring strong revenue generation and projections
- reduce existing revenue streams in order to bolster claims of fiscal hardship (bonus: less government!)
- employ bait-and-switch funding mechanisms that supplant rather than supplement and/or disappear at the last minute
- ignore legal requirements to timely establish school funding levels that would allow districts to adequately plan and budget
- implement new, supplemental ‘bread and circuses’ initiatives (say, STEM or financial literacy) that distract the general public from the year-to-year erosion of base school funding
- give as little policy attention as possible to the known educational needs of students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their primary language (and thus struggle academically), even as those student and family populations increase markedly within the state
- deflect the blame for your underfunding of schools by alleging schools’ inefficiency and superintendents’ mismanagement
- frequently change state standards and assessments and/or make them more difficult so that educators and students struggle to keep up and have less chance of hitting the moving targets
- use selective data (say, NAEP scores) to manufacture educational crises that feed your rhetoric of public school failure
- create school grading and ranking schemes that shame struggling schools, demoralize the educators within them, and alarm parents
- implement teacher evaluation schemes that are guaranteed to be unfair, demoralize educators, and confuse the public
- pitch tax credits and private/religious school vouchers or ’scholarships’ (‘money that will follow students in their backpacks’) to the general public as natural recourses to the failures of public schools
- write legislation that expands public school alternatives such as charters or homeschooling, particularly ones that can siphon funds away from public schools
- create double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not non-public alternatives
- accept policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
affiliate with anti-public-school organizations (say, ALEC) that will feed you ‘model’ legislation proposals,
- connect you with successful players and tactics from other states, and provide ongoing encouragement to stay the course
- hold yearly education summits at which educators can only listen passively to carefully-vetted speakers who feed your desired agendas
- publicly dismiss, disparage, intimidate, or try to silence educators, parents, researchers, and others who speak out against your policies
- and so on, year-after-year, all under the guises of ’transparency’ and ‘accountability’ and ‘global competitiveness.’ Heck, you might even co-opt the journalists that used to ask tough questions about your educational policymaking (by, say, hiring them).
Here in Iowa? Checkmarks on all fronts, I believe (and we’re not as bad as many other states). There’s an evolving playbook out there, folks, and we’re seeing it being implemented in every state.
More of this to come in the years ahead… Do you care? If so, what will you do about it?
Imagine that you are a policymaker who is generally anti-government, anti-union, and pro-privatization. Public schools conflict with all of those, …
A Page from the Playbook From North Carolina:
Actions Against Teachers
1. Teacher Pay — A recent WRAL report and documentary highlighted that in North Carolina, teacher pay has dropped 13 percent in the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation. That is astounding when one considers that we are supposedly rebounding from the Great Recession. Yes, this 15-year period started with Democrats in power, but it has been exacerbated by GOP control. Salary schedules were frozen and then revamped to isolate raises to increments of five+ years. As surrounding states have continued to increase pay for teachers, North Carolina has stagnated into the bottom tier in regards to teacher pay.
2. Removal of due-process rights — One of the first items that the GOP-controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. The courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career status — but that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.
What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed — Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
4. The Top 25 percent were to receive bonus — One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25 percent of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
5. Standard 6 — In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. The amorphous Standard 6 for many teachers includes a “value-added measure” called Assessment of Student Work.
I teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition and am subject to the Assessment of Student Work (ASW). I go through a process in which I submit student samples that must prove whether those students are showing ample growth. In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:
Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.
Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.
Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.
Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.
Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.
Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.
Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible
Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible
NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.
NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.
These comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”
6. Push for Merit Pay — The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?
Those legislators who push for merit pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.
7. “Average” Raises — In the long session of 2014, the state General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7 percent. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.
That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.
8. Health Insurance and Benefits — Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. There is also talk of pushing legislation that will take away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
9. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) — Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership.
10. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests — Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.
Actions Against Schools
11. Less Money Spent per Pupil — The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students. N.C. Policy Watch says per-pupil spending has declined 14.5 percent since fiscal year 2008:
12. Remove Caps on Class Sizes — There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.
Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. When I started 10 years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.
13. Amorphous Terms — North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates”, all of which are among the most nebulous terms in public education today.
When speaking of “test scores,” we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, many states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.
“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the N.C. State Board of Education’s decision to go to a 10-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.
14. Jeb Bush School Grading System — In this scheme, schools are given grades, largely on test scores. This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
15. Cutting Teacher Assistants — Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.
Actions That Deceive The Public
16. Opportunity Grants — These provide public funding for private school tuition. Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families — but that claim is nothing but a red-herring.
Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent, according to the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax-free churches.
17. Charter Schools — Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.
Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that North Carolina uses to finance schools. The financial impact can be overwhelming; in Haywood County, Central Elementary School was closed because of enrollment loss to a charter school that is now on a list to be recommended for closing.
18. Virtual Schools — There are two virtual academies in North Carolina. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately run virtual schools in North Carolina are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
19. Achievement School Districts (ASD) — These districts are created to take the lowest-performing schools in a state and removing local control. Teach For America alum Rep. Rob Bryan has crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in North Carolina. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
20. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges — At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the University of North Carolina system has fallen by more than 30 percent in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.
21. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program — Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost.”
Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.
Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
The national spotlight placed on North Carolina in response to the voter-ID laws and HB2 are only adding pressure to officials to reconsider what they have done.
Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.
I only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.
Here it is, point by point.
It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s actually happening.
The billionaire-backed privatization movement is stealthily advancing an undemocratic agenda, cloaked in deceptive rhetoric, that the public is not aware of and does not understand.
By Diane Ravitch / Basic Books
July 21, 2016
Photo Credit: littleny / Shutterstock.com
The following is an excerpt from the new, expanded edition of The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch (Basic Books, 2016):
Something unprecedented is happening to American public education. A powerful, well-funded, well-organized movement is seeking to privatize significant numbers of public schools and destroy the teaching profession. This movement is not a conspiracy; it operates in the open. But its goals are masked by deceptive rhetoric. It calls itself a “reform” movement, but its true goal is privatization.
This movement has had strange bedfellows. Some of its funders and promoters on the far right of the political spectrum are motivated by ideological contempt for the public sector; others earnestly believe they are providing better choices for poor children “trapped in failing schools.” Still others believe that elected local school boards are incompetent and should be replaced by private management, or that the private sector is inherently more innovative and effective than the public sector. And some are motivated by greed, while others are motivated by religious conviction. These strange bedfellows have included the US Department of Education (during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama); major foundations and think tanks, both conservative and centrist; billionaires committed to free-market solutions—and certain they know what is best because they are so rich; entrepreneurs hoping to make money from school privatization or by selling technology to replace teachers; the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has drafted model legislation to promote corporate interests and to expand the privatization of almost all government services, including education; and numerous governors and legislators (mostly but not exclusively Republicans) who want schools to operate in a free-market system of school choice.
The privatization movement pretends that it is bravely fighting “the status quo,” but having captured policymakers at both the federal and state levels, as well as think tanks, the nation’s wealthiest foundations, a coterie of billionaires, and major editorial boards, this movement is the status quo. It is stealthily advancing an undemocratic agenda, cloaked in deceptive rhetoric, that the public is not aware of and does not understand.
This combination of money and political power has been potent in advancing school vouchers, which were once considered a cranky right wing extremist idea, but have recently been enacted in a score of states. Vouchers are seldom now called vouchers, because voters have consistently rejected them: in 2007, vouchers were defeated by a margin of 62-38 in the red state of Utah, and Florida turned them down in 2012 by 58-42. Thus, the promoters of vouchers enact them through the legislature without holding a referendum and try to hide their purpose by calling them “opportunity scholarships,” “tax credits,” or “education savings accounts.” Whatever the name, the result is the same: these programs transfer public money to private and religious schools, even when the state constitution (for example, in Nevada and Indiana) specifically prohibits it.
This same movement—unfortunately bipartisan—has encouraged the growth of privately managed charter schools, which are marketed as superior to public schools (although they usually are not). Charter schools are a less controversial form of privatization than vouchers because they do not involve church-state issues. And yet charter schools eliminate democratic control of schools because they are privately man aged and in some cases controlled by out-of-state corporate chains sometimes nonprofit, sometimes for-profit. In many states, the charter schools get no better results in terms of student test scores than the lowest-performing traditional public schools, and sometimes they are even worse than the lowest-performing public schools. Charter schools are supposed to be innovative, but their most effective innovations to date consist of choosing their students carefully, excluding or removing students who might get low test scores, and enforcing boot-camp discipline on those who remain.
This well-funded campaign to shift public dollars to charters and vouchers has had a damaging effect on public schools. The money for choice schools is taken away from the schools that enroll a majority of students, reducing their budgets and causing them to lose teachers, services, and programs. Some school districts, like Philadelphia, teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, having cut their services to students (for example, closing libraries and reducing the number of school nurses) and increased class sizes because of budget cuts and the drain on their resources caused by charters. The greater good of the overwhelming majority of students is sacrificed to satisfy the privatizers’ ideological commitment to “choice.”
The campaign for privatization is sustained by billionaires and mega-millionaires who fund charters, vouchers, and school choice advocacy groups and contribute large sums of money to candidates and elected officials who support school choice. The same people and groups who support privatization have fought legal battles to end tenure for teachers and eliminate collective bargaining, which deprives teachers of academic freedom and any voice in the conditions of their workplace. The privatizers hope to establish a free market for schooling where people think of themselves as consumers, not as citizens who have an obligation to educate all the children in their community. They believe that teachers should serve as at-will employees, constantly fearful of losing their jobs. Competition, they believe, will improve the schools, although there is no evidence that this belief is true even after twenty-five years of experience with charters and vouchers. In Michigan, for example, the state encourages schools and districts to compete for funding by attracting students; as a result, every district spends $100,000 or more to market its wares and poach students from neighboring districts. Millions are spent to lure students, with no evidence that it produces better education.
Turning public education into a free-market system of choice is a terrible idea. No high-performing nation in the world has done this.
In a democratic society, all citizens are responsible for paying taxes to educate the next generation, even those who have no children. Public education is a public service available to all. When education becomes a consumer marketplace, every family is on its own in choosing a school. Moreover, the general community feels no sense of civic responsibility for private choices. When it comes time to approve a bond issue, why should the public support a system of private choices? In other words: Why should people who have no children, or whose children are no longer in school, pay for private choices? Those who demand “school choice” give little thought to these consequences of their advocacy; they do not fret about their role in the likely destruction of a democratic institution.
The purpose of American education is to prepare our children for the duties of citizenship in a democracy. The federal and state policies of the recent past have aimed to turn education into a competition for higher test scores, despite the fact that testing always favors the advantaged over the disadvantaged. The creation of competing publicly funded sectors—one public, the other nonpublic—has not improved education. Instead, it has divided communities. And it has created a booming and politically powerful “education industry,” where the big prize is profits, not educated citizens.
Adapted excerpt from The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch. Copyright © 2010. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education.