Harry TargMay 20, 2017
The new Secretary of Education, Betty DeVos, will be speaking in Indianapolis, Monday, May 22, 2017, at the American Federation for Children, National Policy Summit. As a former chair of this Federation she has been instrumental in marshalling resources in support of school vouchers, charter schools, and shifting public resources to private schools. According to the Indianapolis Star, DeVos and her organization played a pivotal role in making Indiana the state with the largest private school voucher program in the United States. She is expected to unveil a new round of proposals for federal legislation to support the further privatization of education.The essays below, posted in November, 2015 and January, 2016 provide some information on the impacts of the school privatization movement on education, particularly as it impacts African American and other minority and working class communities.
In Seattle, Washington in September, 2015 teachers went on strike to demand fair wages and working conditions in their new contract.
During the spring, 2015, parents all around the state of Indiana were keeping their children home during school days as a mark of their resistance to painful, frustrating, ill-conceived, and misused batteries of tests that state/federal policymakers were imposing on young people.
Beginning in the 1970s, various special interest groups, many well-funded, began to advocate for the privatization of education. Looking at aggregate data showing some failing school performance, they argued that private corporations, charter schools, could educate children better. They blamed the lack of marketplace competition for waste of taxpayer dollars for poor performance. The arguments ignored the fact that failing schools were schools underfunded by state legislatures and were often in communities where resources were scarce because of inequalities of wealth and income. Most often under-performing schools were underfunded schools: underfunded because of racism and patterns of segregation.
IMPACTS OF THE PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
The political economy of public sector failure is wholly ignored when schools are declared failing and threatened with closure. Further, parents, guardians, community members, educators, and youth are systematically excluded from decisions to close schools and plans to redesign their replacements. The cover story about saving communities from educational crisis grows a bit suspect when the very communities presumably being saved are kept out of the process--and their children are often denied admission to the replacement schools. (Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine, Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2012, p. 98. These comments were made about New York but are relevant almost everywhere. ht).
First, the shift of scarce state budget funds from public to charter schools has meant a significant decline in resources to maintain and improve public schools. If funds for new charter schools and increased money for vouchers are transferred from adequately performing public schools to under-performing charter or religious schools the changes in educational policy would lead to a decline in the quality of education provided to all students. For example, in the 2014-2015 Indiana budget, $115 million was diverted by the state legislature from public education to the growing voucher program.
Second, a high percentage of school closings occur in poor and Black communities. These closings create what the Journey for Justice Alliance calls “education deserts.” Parents have to find adequate, affordable schools elsewhere in the cities in which they live. Oftentimes charter schools refuse to admit particular students because of biased estimates of their probability of success, disabilities they may have, insufficient English language proficiency or other reasons. “Charter schools use a variety of selective admissions techniques, such as targeted marketing strategies, burdensome application processes, imposing academic prerequisites, and the active discouragement of less-desirable candidates.” (Journey for Justice Alliance, Death By a Thousand Cuts, May, 2014, pp.11-12). In some cases parents cannot find adequate schools for their children anywhere near their community.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability summed up studies of the impacts of voucher programs on educational performance: ‘None of the independent studies performed of the most lauded and long standing voucher programs extant in the U.S.--Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.--found any statistical evidence that children who utilized vouchers performed better than children who did not and remained in public schools.”
The documentary Education Inc. demonstrated cases in which the frequency of public school board hearings was reduced and meetings were summarily adjourned to avoid debate on controversial issues. And legislatures, such as in Indiana, have prohibited state executive or legislative bodies from regulating the “curriculum content” of private schools that accept vouchers.
Therefore the full force of state educational policy includes transferring status, respect, adequate remuneration from long time public school teachers to marginalized, under-trained new workers in charter schools. Also, the charter school movement is avowedly an anti-teacher union movement.
The sum total of the thirty year effort to transform the educational system under the guise of “reform” are the following: the tradition of public education is being destroyed; access to quality education is becoming more difficult and more unequal; transparency and parent input into policy making is becoming more difficult; and the attack on professionalism and teachers unions is making it more difficult to teach.
The November 14, 2015 essay and this one only begin to tell the story about the attacks on the educational process and quality education. Other issues need to be discussed including testing, evaluations based on dubious metrics, charging parents for text books, inequitable access to school supplies by district and by public versus private schools, inadequate funding, the development of curricula appropriate for a twenty-first century educational agenda, and the need to combat the “school to prison pipeline” that seems to undergird much of urban education. Responses to protect and enhance the quality of educational life for children require the following:
Create an educational movement in the state of Indiana that says “enough is enough” to those advocates of so-called education “reform.” That means developing inside strategies that include running and electing legislators and executives who believe in public education. It means lobbying at the State House during the legislative season. It means launching litigation when politicians and educational privateers violate the Indiana constitution’s guarantee that all children have a right to a quality education.
The educational movement must also embrace an outside strategy, building a social movement. It should include education, agitation, and organization. Pamphlets, speakers, videos, and other public fora need to be organized all around the state. Educators and their supporters need to rally and protest so that the issue of quality education is discussed in communities and the media.
1.Increasing, not decreasing, federal, state, and local funding of public education.
3.Policy-making bodies in all branches of government should be open and transparent so that parents, teachers, and students can observe and participate in decision-making.
5.Assessments of school performance should be determined by teachers, school administrators, and parents, not politicians or educational corporations. Teachers should not be forced to “teach to the tests.”