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What’s so great about the public-ization of education?

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The story goes something like this:  “corporate education reform” is a conspiracy to “privatize” public education and to turn a public good into a private cash cow for business profiteers.

With education spending topping $600 billion, we would be naive to believe this isn’t an irresistible target for “privatization.” And, this word, “privatization,” is supposed to have a powerfully negative connotation that we should avoid, somewhat like being an “ist” (racist, sexist, chauvinist, etc.).

But, I’m not that married to the negative conceptualization of “privatization.” I don’t favor or disfavor it as a concept. Could be bad. Could be amazing. Could be neither.

When I see activists lodge the privatization claim, I wonder what they propose as the alternative. If we can’t liberalize schools to have different arrangements, and different models, some completely opposed to those we have now, then what will the one-best-system look like, and will it be better for children?

Anti-reformers would probably say their vision is of “true public schools,” as characterized by unionized workers in a bureaucracy that reports to elected governors with minimal connection to for-profit entities. This would exclude charter schools because most of them are non-unionized and their boards are not made up of elected officials. It would exclude Teach For America because that program short-circuits the college of education feeder system. And, it would definitely exclude scholarships for students to attend non-public schools on the public’s dime.

So then, apparently the opposite of “privatization” is “public-ization,” a concept that we’d do ourself well to explore. Public-ization isn’t new, and it isn’t particularly attractive if you have ever lived through it.

I can’t imagine that any humane person argues that public housing should be restricted only to publicly owned and operated “projects” any more. That bus left a long time ago and no one is trying to get on any more. Most folks now see how that great liberal experiment that trapped families in crumbling housing projects was always a bad idea. That may be why Section 8 vouchers are not a target for anti-reform activists that bemoan education vouchers.

No one is saying that food assistance should be limited to publicly produced commodities any more either. It is commonly accepted that giving families a choice of what to eat – even when we disapprove of their choices – is more dignified than prescribing a few monotonous commodities white labeled by the USDA. It wouldn’t be considered progressive to shout about the privatization of America’s food program. In fact, we often hear rumblings about the subsidies that protect large farming interests that enjoy monopolies equaled only by labor in education.

And, when it comes to health care, even the most government-loving leftists suppot a system that allows for a personal choice of providers.

Housing, food, and health care are all public goods that we fund through a mix of private public systems in order to provide marginalized populations with access into the American mainstream. We don’t hear too many arguments about privatization in these cases. There are no unions lining up to keep poor families stuck in housing projects or limiting them to eating that gross government cheese some of us remember.

Why then is education different?

I can think of one reason. If you are honest, you know it too. When you make social changes, often there are people who have something to gain or lose from the change. The activists who spin the “privatization” yarn will tell you school reform is about corporate types gaining in profits. I will tell you the flip side of that argument is that the activists are tied to unions, which are in fact “private,” and those education monopolies would lose their status as third party labor managers if families had options other than district schools. If public assistance allowed families to enjoy educational options beyond traditional public schools, it would present education unions with a situation not unlike Microsoft’s antitrust case.

Nobody gets out of this argument clean. Not business. Not labor.

No matter how grassrootsy these pieces of urban theater are staged, no matter how down-with-the-people their organizers appear to be, or how many memes they generate in social media to give the appearance of being something other than monopolists or the shills of monopolists, there is but one plausible motive explaining their passion, and it’s ironically the one they accuse their opponents of pursuing.

Money.

That’s what I see when hipster activism pops up as it did at last week’s Free Minds Free People conference. Looking at the sponsors, and knowing their unionist sympathies, we have to know it’s a public-ization festival, and by that measure, it isn’t about our kids as much as the monopolist bottom-line. If we are smart, and have lived in America for five minutes, we understand the double tongue of those who tell us what’s good for us while embodying most of what’s bad for us. Communities of color are burned as often by those slumming in our camps, chowing our food, and loving our women, as those who want nothing to do with us. So, if we’re not clear on the need to occupy the Occupy types, then we haven’t been watching.

If you look at Chicago you’ll see the twisted logic anti-reformers want us to get behind.

They’re raising the red flags to stop 325 Teach For America teachers from joining a teaching force of 30,000, and screaming about it as if it is a massive “privatization” of public schools.

We spend so much time distracted with the question of TFA’s effectiveness and motives that we virtually forget the fact that Chicago Public Schools have been a human rights crisis zone for decades. It’s a wasteland of middle-class vocational profiteering off of underclass social misery. We forget that Chicago teachers send their own kids to private schools at four times the rate of the general public. We pretend as if we would send our own kids to Chicago Public Schools if it weren’t for that nasty school reform enacted by billionaires.

Fail.

I reject the wobbly notion that boys and girls of color deserve the lowered expectations that have permeated CPS for years, so long as “veteran” teachers are set up for life in careers that require neither ability nor results.

It isn’t to make light of displaced careerists who need a consoling narrative to help them make sense of their dislocation. People deserve respect and there are no doubt many good people unable to comprehend how the world has has changed and left them on the curb before their untenable pension plans kicked in.

But, the truism here is that no such thing as a school should exist for any reason other than to facilitate the journey of children through literacy and numeracy  en route to exploring the world as academically prepared citizens. If that isn’t happening then an educator’s claim to a pension should be the very least of our concern.

We should expect there to be emotive stories. There will be touching anecdotes about dedicated veterans who spend their own money on their students and provide them the only bright part of impoverished lives.

And, expect the monopolists to make cartoons of the people who come to liberalize a stoic system, and liberate a captive population of children that deserve freedom.

Those broad cartoons are tactical distractions. They create a completely plausible denial of the bleak, chaotic, inhumane public entities that monopolists use as profitable traps for other people’s children.

Each time we hear about the privatization of schools, we need to think critically about that point, not shrink from it. We should ask ourselves how we can justify the enormously ridiculous premise that people of color are the one human population that actually do better when offered fewer choices for life’s most basic needs?

And, in the end, ask the activists “what’s so great about the public-ization of education”?

Don’t be surprised if the answer has nothing to do with kids.

 

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.


And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.


“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.


Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.


The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.


And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.


And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.

Why?

In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.

 

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