Truthout has an excellent new article on the role that the “Non Profit Industrial Complex” has played in the rise of charter schools, and in the demise of community agency. Robert Skeels, the author of The Nonprofit Industrial Complex’s Role in Imposing Neoliberalism on Public Education, rightly points out that as most charter schools are managed by either private corporations or non-profits, they are actually private schools. As such, they represent a loss to the commons of the local. Here Skeels touches on the implications:
“It is important to use the phrase ‘privately managed charters’ because the deep pocketed charter advocacy NPICs continually bombard the public with the mendacious phrase ‘public charter schools.’ By definition if a charter is run by a non-profit, then it is not public. The United States Census Bureau frames this issue best: ‘A few “public charter schools” are run by public universities and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofit organizations and are therefore classified as private.’ (US Census Bureau vi). The more of our schools that are handed over to these private sector organizations, the less agency our communities have, and the more control those espousing neoliberalism have over our lives. Our rulers don’t just want exclusive control over the governance and finances of our schools, they want to control both what is taught and by whom.” (Emphasis added.)
In states like Michigan, over 80% of the charters are run by for-profit agencies, and the number of charters continues to increase, so Skeels’ point is important to remember and consider. And in reading the article we find that his use of the word “rulers” above is not mere hyperbole. Skeels does an excellent job of connecting the dots between our children and what he calls “the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate.”
“In exhaustive survey of what these three mega-foundations have done to undermine public education nationwide (e.g. The Gates Foundation’s machinations behind the malignant Common Core State Standards) exceeds the scope of this essay.”
Skeels goes on to explicate the machinations of this triumvirate in Los Angeles, a pattern that is recognizable in most urban cities in the U.S.
Most interesting to me is the link specifically between the Common Core and *neoliberal practices.” I’ve written about this connection between standardization and economic efficiency previously:
“Again, why standardization?
Because it allows for economic efficiency, predictable outcomes and technocratic control. This is what allows for the creation of income. However, we must recognize the purpose for which standardization has historically been used, and the contextual boundaries that it is now leaping over. We must continually ask, what do we want for our children?” (Also see here.)
Skeels recognizes that the Common Core Standards, funded and supported largely by the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate, impose a neoliberal agenda on schools while at the same time using their power to remove contestation of this agenda from the public. Such contestation between goals and means is supposedly a core principle of a democratic societies.
However, Skeels goes one step further in helping us to see institutional racism behind this agenda, and, through the free market value of “choice,” the resegration and increased inequity this “choice” has brought with it. He quotes the scholar Antonia Darder:
“The rhetoric of choice effectively capitalized upon discourses of ‘high-risk’ students, ‘achievement gap’ anxieties and victim-blaming notions of deficit – all of which have served well to legitimate racialized inequalities and exclusions. Hence, the charter school movement, driven by the logic of the ‘free market,’ became an extension of former mainstream efforts to ensure class imperatives and the continuing segregation of US schools. The slippery use of language here effectively captured the imagination of conservative voters and detracted focus away from the increasing wealth gap. Yet, the rub here is that charter schools encourage the merging of public and private enterprise, distorting or blurring any separation or distinction between the public and private spheres and the moral responsibility of the state to provide for the educational formation of all its children. In the process, the glorification of the free market simultaneously legitimizes the covertly racialized ethos of the capitalist economy and its persistent reproduction and perpetuation of educational inequalities, in the first place. Devoid of institutional critiques of racism, current educational discourses posit a false portrayal for the persistence of school segregation and school failure.” (Emphasis added.)
What do our schools still do?
They reproduce our societal inequities.
What does the free market do best?
It reproduces societal inequities in a manner that is more efficient and profitable to those of privilege. (See, for instance, the noted triumvirate above).
Ta-Nehesi Coates writes, “I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life…”
Among other things, it has become obvious that the organizing force of the “white frame” leads to class inequities, concentrated poverty, the state sanctioned murder of people of color and to a history of segregation that continues.
It also has less obviously led to the the neoliberalization of our schools.
The sad part is, we are much more concerned with profit than with children. If we cared about children, our approach would reflect what has been proven to work.
So what’s the answer?
“If our goal is to eliminate educational failure, we must create a system of federal funding to states determined by the actual needs of their people and effectively linked to ameliorating poverty, the only approach that has been shown, time and again, to improve academic achievement. In contrast, initiatives like the Common Core standards are market driven and thus more likely to echo existing inequalities than to eliminate them. National education standards like Common Core simply codify what all children should learn, with little attention paid to the unequal playing field of American society. Despite its liberal overtones, the Common Core initiative reproduces what the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called the banking model of education, debilitating because it narrows what constitutes legitimate knowledge, while excluding those who are outside of its boundaries. Such national policies create a smokescreen of homogeneity and educational equality, which do not create equality.”
When will our actions and policies elevate children over profit?
*I struggle, like many others, with the clunkiness of the word “neoliberal.” However, I still have not found one that works better. And since reading Wendy Brown’s wonderful work, Undoing the Demos, I feel a little better about it.
Photo credit to Doris Mercado Melon.