Archive for Education


Their American spirit is AWOL

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Something about Sunday mornings brings out the preacher in me. I wrote about this yesterday, but this morning I’m still fuming about misguided efforts by right-wing ideologues to abandon our system of public schools for whatever crazy reasons, or because freedom. Listen:

One hundred and sixty thousand rugged individuals didn’t suddenly decide to grab a gun off the mantle, don uniforms, build landing craft, and separately invade Normandy on June 6, 1944 because if big gummint did it, it would be un-American, add to the debt, and we don’t like France anyway.

There are things we do as a people, together, that make us US.

Educating our nation’s children together is one of those things. Support for universal public education in this country predates ratification of the United States Constitution. It’s built into the state constitutions and enabling legislation that brought new states into the Union all the way up to and including Hawaii, the 50th state.

I don’t know what country chest-thumping, would-be patriots who want to abolish public education think they want to live in, but it’s not the United States of America.

My father in-law law fought on the front lines in Europe during WWII. One of the things he said distinguished the American GI from the enemy is that when their tanks and trucks and jeeps broke down, the Germans would abandon their equipment on the field of battle and walk away. But the American boys had grown up tinkering with their cars, trucks and tractors. It was a point of pride for them, he told me, that when their gear broke down, they could fix it and get it running again with whatever they had at hand. Shoelaces. Rubber bands. “Duck” tape. And get back into the fight.

That’s the spirit that won the war. You don’t hear that spirit from public school abolitionists. Freedom, my ass.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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The new abolitionists

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Jefferson may never have said an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people, but the idea strikes a chord. The urban legend lives on because the idea speaks to American aspirations that predate the signing of the Constitution. Among some of our American cohort, especially among our right-wing, would-be keepers of the flame, that aspiration is dying.

The movement on the right to abolish public education – that all-American institution – has been growing for some time. Ron Paul wants public schools abolished. So does Rick Santorum. So do T-party types from coast to coast. And, of course, Texas.

Now that fringe, fundamentally un-American idea is being mainlined into public via Fox News.
“There really shouldn’t be public schools, should there?” said “Outnumbered” host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery during a discussion of the Oklahoma state legislature’s proposal to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History in high schoo for not promoting American exceptionalism. Talking Points Memo notes that this movement is spreading:

Efforts by conservative school board members in Colorado to make the Advanced Placement U.S. History course “more patriotic,” prompted a walk-out by students. Under the changes proposed in Colorado “students would only be taught lessons depicting American heritage in a positive light, and effectively ban any material that could lead to dissent.” In South Carolina conservatives asked the College Board to exclude any material with an “ideological bias,” including evolution. Similar efforts are underway in Georgia and North Carolina.

Amanda Marcotte looked at this and other ways “Republicans are purposefully trying to make Americans more ignorant.” I’ve looked at the ideological basis for eliminating from the university classroom any ideas that cut across the conservative grain.

What the new abolitionists want, it seems, is either a Disneyfied version of America (without “Small World,” of course); a pre-American one before universal, public education was a hallmark of the American experiment; or one that serves narrow interests of business interests in producing serviceable workers who will do but not think. Any of those options presents a pretty bleak vision of America’s future.

Last fall U.S. News examined the tension between broad learning and and education focused on technical skills:

The prevailing wisdom and research indicate a growing emphasis on and necessity for career-ready degrees such as computer science, engineering and finance – often included as part of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

At the same time, employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires.

With a sluggish job market and companies still reluctant to reinvest in their workforces, the job prospects for all college grads have actually never been clearer: College graduates with career-ready degrees are best positioned to get hired and earn the quickest return on their educational investment.

But that’s a pretty threadbare method for evaluating an education’s worth, and one the Founders would not have recognized. While studying advanced dynamics, I received a flyer from my old college announcing its 150th anniversary celebration with lectures on medieval arts and sciences interspersed with recorder quartets. Where I was working on my engineering degree, I saw little love of learning for its own sake. Students raised their hands and asked, “Do we need to know this for the test?” The contrast was laughable.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Education, National
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What’s left of our schools once the Midas cult moves on?

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What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?

Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.

What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?

As I wrote after the Center for Media and Democracy posted online a trove of ALEC documents:

The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.

But first, the “risk takers” must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won’t stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it’s the power it brings.

Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” Giroux writes:

Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.

The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these “dangerous times,” Giroux continues:

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Education: Testing the testers

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As someone pointed out the other day, in some circles increased oversight of the police and the military is deemed improper and/or unpatriotic, yet other public employees are fair game. Public school teachers, for instance. Even as tests required under No Child Left Behind come under fire, teachers themselves face increased screening tests using “Big Data, ‘Moneyball’-style” tools. As Politico reports, “Prices vary widely, from $5,000 for a small district to $500,000 for a large district, depending on the product.”

Are they useful, or just another opportunity for investors to turn kids into cash?

The new screening tools slice and dice aspiring teachers into dozens of data points, from their SAT scores to their appreciation for art to their ability to complete geometric patterns. All that data is then fed into an algorithm that spits out a score predicting the likelihood that each candidate will become an effective teacher — or, at least, will be able to raise students’ math and reading scores.

The tools seek to cut through hiring biases that favor “geographic proximity” or “teachers with last names starting with the letters A through G” because résumés get alphabetized. But critics contend there is no magic formula for revealing who makes the best teacher.

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Your little darlings are their cash cows

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Nicholas Kristof provides an opening this morning to spend more time discussing education with his celebration of Conor Bohan, founder of a college scholarship program for Haitian students: the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP).

“Education works,” Bohan said simply. “Good education works for everybody, everywhere. It worked for you, for me, and it works for Haitians.”

It’s a noble effort. But it’s the attack on public education in this country that gets under my skin. Kristof explains why:

Over time, I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves — whether in America or abroad. Yet, as a nation, we underinvest in education, both domestically and overseas. So, in this holiday season, I’d suggest a moment to raise a glass and celebrate those who spread the transformative gift of education.

A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!

Education corrodes extremism is a pretty concise explanation for why Wall Street has joined forces with the religious right in this country in a cynical effort to undermine public education under the rubric of “choice.” For the Big Money Boyz, the “education market is ripe for disruption.” Education reform is about mining public education and transferring as much as possible of that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars to the investor class by expanding charter schools. For the religious right, it’s about shielding their kids from knowledge they perceive as in conflict with their religious views. Like other fundamentalists, they want to keep modernism at bay. Because freedom. And because they resent having their tax dollars fund public education and not their religious schools.

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Categories : Action, Education
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More analysis now of the recent attempt by Colorado conservatives to present students with a properly soft-focused American history. Their preference? To limit history curriculum to only those events that “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” And that do not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” (A unit on the Biblical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution is sure to follow.)

It’s your basic, Lee Greenwood America. You won’t understand why the South seceded or what policies precipitated the Depression or that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, but at least you know you’re free.

Sean McElwee examines for Salon what freaks out conservatives about teaching unvarnished American history.

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Applying Monsanto’s tactics to educating children

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The GSV manifesto declares, “we believe the opportunity to build numerous multi-billion dollar education enterprises is finally real.”

Venture capitalist, Eric Hippeau, believes the “education market is ripe for disruption.”

Writing for the Nation Investigative Fund, Lee Fang details how venture capitalists and firms such as K12 Inc. view it as their mission to disrupt traditional public schools through vouchers applied to private schools, expanded charter schools, and the “next breakthrough in education technology.”

[D]espite wave after wave of negative press, K12 Inc. figures as a solid investment opportunity to many. Baird Equity Research, in a giddy note to investors this year about the potential growth of K12 Inc., noted, “capturing just two million (3.5%) of the addressable market yields a market opportunity of approximately $12 billion … Over the next three years, we believe that the company is capable of 7%+ organic revenue growth with modest margin expansion.” How will it achieve this growth? According to Baird, K12 Inc.’s “competency in lobbying in new states” is “another key point of differentiation.” The analyst note describes “K12’s success in working closely with state policymakers and school districts to enable the expansion of virtual schools into new states or districts” as a key asset. “The company has years of experience in successfully lobbying to get legislation passed to allow virtual schools to operate,” Baird concludes.

In the process, they also educate children. It’s there in the footnotes in 6-point type.

Look, there are friends who happily send their kids to small, community-based, parent-organized charter schools that provide them with a quality education. These aren’t them. Lobbyists and campaign donations from would-be “multi-billion dollar education enterprises” will make mincemeat of those schools the way Walmart kills off mom-and-pop stores. But in the scheme of things, they’re small potatoes. Privatizing public education itself is the breakthrough the Walmarts of the education industry seek.

Next year, the market size of K-12 education is projected to be $788.7 billion. And currently, much of that money is spent in the public sector. “It’s really the last honeypot for Wall Street,” says Donald Cohen, the executive director of In the Public Interest, a think tank that tracks the privatization of roads, prisons, schools and other parts of the economy.

Investors call that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars “the Big Enchilada,” as Jonathan Kozol wrote in Harpers before the market crash.

Standing in their way? “Unions, public school bureaucracies, and parents,” says Hippeau. Because it sure isn’t neoliberals in the Obama administration. It’s hiring education industry veterans to oversee applying to educating our children Monsanto’s tactic of using its GM crops to crowd out competing seed sources.

As I wrote awhile back,

From this perspective, it’s bad enough that states are not providing education on at least a not-for-profit basis. But it’s far worse than that. They’re giving it away! That’s a mortal sin. A crime against capitalism. The worst kind of creeping socialism. Hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent every year in a nonprofit community effort to educate a nation’s children, and the moguls are not skimming off the top. The horror.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Education, Privatization
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Now You’re Talking

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“Folks, they want to destroy public education,” the state Senate minority leader told a room full of supporters last year. He said it as though he had just figured it out.

Since the Republican sweep in 2010, Democrats have spent so much time in state capitols defending against one frontal assault after another coming from yards away. They tend not to notice troop movements on the fringes of the political battlefield. Is The Village any different?

Outside the bubbles, it’s been clear for years that destroying public education is where charters, vouchers, and online schools are taking us under the guise of helping the disadvantaged. But one rarely sees it put so bluntly as this week. The WaPo’s Valerie Strauss quotes the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of public policy and economic development:

“The business community is the consumer of the educational product. Students are the educational product. They are going through the education system so that they can be an attractive product for business to consume and hire as a workforce in the future.”

Yup. Like Robocop, your kids are product. Maybe. Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson explained that globalization means, “I can get [workers] anywhere in the world. It is a problem for America, but it is not necessarily a problem for American business … American businesses will adapt.” So unless the little darlings offer some upside to their bottom lines, they add no value. Why should the 1% pay to educate American children when other nations will pay to educate theirs for us? And besides, how much education do waiters and gardeners really need, anyway?

OTOH, if corporations could tap the unrealized potential of that government-guaranteed, recession-proof, half-trillion-dollar stream of public tax dollars states “waste” each year on not-for-profit, K-12 public education? The Big Enchilada? Now you’re talking.

Which is why, as the Education Opportunity Network explains, charters don’t need ad campaigns. They need regulation. There are some good “mom and pop” charters out there, sure, but they are just small fry, bait for the bigger fish. The Progressive reports:

There’s been a flood of local news stories in recent months about FBI raids on charter schools all over the country.

From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnati to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents, and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments.

It’s almost as if charters have become what the Progressive calls “a racket.”

Over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a national push to privatize public schools, pushed by free-market foundations and big education-management companies. This transformation opened the door to profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public funds.

In 2010, Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. has been an ALEC member, declared K-12 public education “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

The transformation has begun.

“Education entrepreneurs and private charter school operators could care less about innovation,” says [associate professor of education policies at Georgia State University, Kristen] Buras. “Instead, they divert public monies to pay their six-figure salaries; hire uncertified, transient, non-unionized teachers on-the-cheap; and do not admit (or fail to appropriately serve) students who are costly, such as those with disabilities.”

Hide yer children. And yer wallets.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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(Cross-posted from Thomas Mills’ Politics North Carolina.)

Guest blogger Gerrick Brenner is Executive Director of Progress NC .

How many Republican state lawmakers does it take to defend the GOP’s cuts to our public schools?  Apparently at a town hall meeting in his own district, House Rep. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County knew he could not do it alone.

There was Moffitt Thursday night in a high school gym that was packed with about a thousand parents, teachers, and students.  They wanted answers on repeated decisions in Raleigh to cut public schools.  Many of these folks were Moffitt’s constituents. It was a chance for Moffitt to speak directly to voters on the hotest issue in state politics – public education. Instead, Moffitt brought in other seemingly anonymous GOP lawmakers from 150 miles away for help.  But Moffitt’s bullpen only made matters worse.

Virtually no one in this Asheville gym had ever heard of House Reps. Bill Brawley of Mecklenburg or Craig Horn of Union Counties.  No one had ever seen their names on a Buncombe County ballot.  But there they were, trying to carry water for Moffitt in front of an audience that was clearly agitated to hear Brawley claim the GOP had passed the largest education budget in state history.  People groaned. Brawley started lecturing in a condescending tone reserved only for politicians who don’t really care because they are speaking to someone else’s voters. No one was buying it. Some started heckling.

Rep. Horn came next and explained he was Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.  People were more interested in cuts to their children’s classrooms than the politician’s job title.  Horn rolled out a now familiar accounting claim that North Carolina is actually 10th in the nation in education spending if you don’t count local dollars. People shook their heads, and Horn finally admitted on some of the GOP decisions on education funding:  “We screwed up.  We’re going to fix it.”

Most in attendance had to wonder, “Just who are these guys?  Where did they come?  And why isn’t our own Representative leading this conversation on our public schools.”  Moffitt, of course, is the lawmaker who once said in a legislative committee in Raleigh:  “I’m very suspect of early childhood education.  I’m very suspect of education in general.”  This time, he hoped to import some politicians who are more seasoned at talking about schools.  Instead, all three looked like the GOP is out of answers.

Other local Republican lawmakers spoke after Moffitt, but they too sounded almost apologetic in the high school gym.  

Yes, Republicans will likely offer some kind of teacher pay raise in the short session, which starts this week.  But it’s likely too little and too late.  Their tax cuts have dug a $445M budget hole.  Any miserly one-time pay raise they offer for teachers will make hardly a dent in North Carolina’s embarrassing ranking of 46th in the nation in teacher pay.  And if lawmakers like Moffitt need to wheel in other politicians to explain the cuts to public schools, the voters and media will quickly come to see that the folks they send to Raleigh are not really engaged in a top priority.