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Colin Powell's New Gig Meet America's Promise Alliance

Meet America’s Promise Alliance


Before U.S. forces attacked Iraq in March 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell argued at the U.N. for the armed removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whose weapons of mass destruction threatened the American people. Iraq’s WMDs have yet to found. But Powell found a new mission as founding chair of America’s Promise Alliance. USA Today calls it "a group of foundations, advocacy and non-profit organizations, and corporate and religious groups focusing on children’s education, safety and health." Alma, Powell’s wife, is the current chair of APA, which released an April 1 report on which students do (not) earn high school diplomas in the U.S.

The report is titled Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation. It found a 17 percent gap in the graduation rates between students at U.S. urban and suburban high schools. Christopher B. Swanson of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center wrote the report with data from the federal Education Dept. The Education Research Center gets support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation’s largesse is due in no small part to the support Gates gets from the federal government: the copyright monopolies it grants to Microsoft software. This is no case of the market magic. To the contrary, this is a government policy of intervention for a multi-billionaire and his U.S.-based global corporation.

Returning to the APA report, it details the geography of the nation’s high school graduation rates for 2003-2004. U.S. cities such as Columbus, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Chicago have some of the biggest gaps in graduation rates between urban and suburban high schools.

It is worth noting that these U.S. cities have lost vast numbers of unionized factory jobs. This fall-off in high-wage employment has had many negative effects. One is the weakening of the local property tax base that partly funds public schools. The decline of private-sector union employment drags down wages of non-union workers.

The trend of manufacturing job losses flows from so-called "free-market" trade policies. They put American workers who lack a college degree, the majority of the U.S. work force, into direct job market competition with their much lower-paid counterparts overseas, according to economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

Such a bipartisan trade policy, in turn, has spawned harsh prison sentencing laws. In this way, that part of the U.S. work force which private industry no longer needs for wealth-creation gets locked down. They are out of sight and mind for the most part, brought out for the political theatre of new "tough on crime" laws as elections draw near.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates gets a different flavor of government policy: copyright monopolies for his Microsoft software. That intervention weakens market competition. This effect increases profits for Microsoft, some of which fund U.S. education reform.

The APA report ends by noting "deep undercurrents of inequity that plague American public education." Yes, this bitter fact is as plain as day. Who can argue against that? The relevant question is this. What are the economic forces driving the inequity in U.S. high school graduation rates? In the APA report, these causes are hidden, a bit like the WMDs which Colin Powell said Saddam Hussein had before the U.S. government launched the March 2003 "Shock and Awe" invasion of Iraq.

SETH SANDRONSKY lives and writes in Sacramento