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Public Schools Under Attack

Want names of and motives for public school reformers? Read A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Education by Mercedes K. Schneider (Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2014).

The author has skin in this game. She is a public school teacher against the corporate conquest of community-based public education. Schneider opens with a chapter on Joel Klein, former head of New York City’s Department of Education, now on the payroll of Rupert Murdoch, a billionaire media owner. In an era of growing income inequality, such corporatists and reformers are two sides of the same coin, according to Schneider.

Her evidence for this assertion is compelling. The implications are chilling.

Klein is not a former teacher. On his watch, the Big Apple’s public schools fell prey to reforms that benefit private interests, a trend that runs a red line throughout Schneider’s whistleblowing book.

She follows the pattern of reformers’ high-minded words and profit-driven deeds doggedly. Not trained as an investigative journalist, Schneider shines bright lights on the acquisitive structure of the deception and misrepresentation that is today’s reform of public education.

What accounts for the reformers’ success is not actual facts but copious greenbacks from wealthy interests. Schneider tracks these dollars that buy political influence, with 88 pages of Endnotes.

Call this class war. And according to billionaire investor Warren Buffet, his class is winning. Funding this conflict are venture philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad, and the Walton Family foundation. They fund Democratic and GOP lawmakers, think tanks (Fordham Institute) and advocacy groups (National Council on Teacher Quality), a partial list of recipients.

These three billionaire funders are powerful interests. In a capitalist society, they have the dollars to get what they want and want what they get.

In NYC, Eva Moskowitz, vacuums up cash from Wall Street financiers and taxpayers to expand her privately-operated charter school franchise. School privatizing and financializing of the economy dovetail, while Moskowitz, a former professor, demands and gets government help. Wendy Kopp founded Teach for America, a contract agency that provides teachers with five-weeks of training for a two-year classroom commitment. Like Mr. Klein, Kopp has no classroom teaching experience, but advances her business-brand of school reform, while lapping up tens of millions in greenbacks from taxpayers and the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the owners of union-free Walmart Inc., the global retail giant whose workers rely on public assistance to survive.

Schneider flays economist Erik Hanushek, who supports a reform policy of financial incentives for school principals and teachers to raise pupils’ scores on achievement tests. He assumes such professionals are self-maximizers who measure their labor services on a cost-benefit basis.

Defining “high standards” for students and teachers on the sole basis of scores on students’ achievement tests is the Holy Grail of education reformers such as Michelle Rhee, who Schneider slices and dices for her role in undermining public education, first in Washington, D.C., then nationwide as the head of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group that depends on corporate donors. As a classroom teacher who blogs regularly on education reform issues, Schneider’s moral outrage against private firms’ profit-driven motives to alter public schools is on display in chapters on what took place in Chicago under Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan and Rahm Emanuel. The trio lack teacher credentials and classroom experience. In the biased practice and theory of public school reform, Chicago reformers’ twin deficits become qualifications to disrupt communities with the magic wand of education privatization via standardized tests and charter schools.

Vallas helps to worsen public schools in Philadelphia and New Orleans. Meanwhile, he collects mind-numbing compensation.

David Coleman, architect of the Common Core State Standards, is a non-teacher. His company, Student Achievement Partners, composed and promoted the CCSS in conjunction with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Schneider writes. She details this favored pattern of reformers with no classroom teaching experience, their profit motive and, federal government intervention. In Coleman’s case, states that adopt the CCSS receive funding from Race To The Top (successor to the No Child Left Behind Act of high-stakes standardized tests and harsh penalties).

The CCSS is not piloted, or tested. Classroom teachers are uninvolved in pushing the CCSS, and its “evidence” for improving students’ learning is a mirage, unlike the Gates Foundation’s dollars distributed to both political parties, think tanks and the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. This is influence-peddling the old-fashioned way: buying it. A lapdog mainstream media has with some exceptions missed this story that Schneider narrates concisely. In her last chapter, she unpacks education reform from the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is proof of corporate America’s lifeline via elected lawmakers, the opposite of the so-called “free-market.”

Here, I have a minor quibble with Schneider. ALEC self-defines as conservative for “avoiding government regulation of corporate activity so that what is public money might become corporate profits,” she writes.

So-called conservative politics actively shapes government regulation to boost the bottom line. In ALEC’s case, its policy disapproval of the CCSS ended when Rupert Murdoch stood to profit from the national standards’ requirements for assessment and data collection. Follow the money. Watch capital accumulation undermine public education. This is not rocket science, folks. This is the wealthiest Americans conquering our education system to line their pockets. In all, Schneider hits her target of expanding a national discussion on public school reformers. Hers is a fact-based counter-narrative for Americans upset over the corporatist assault on public education.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild.

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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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