Tag Archives: Bill Gates

What’s the Organizing Force of #EdReform?

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.

Very sneaky.

Very effective.


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.)

Ah yes.

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?

Darder again:

“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.

It All Turns on Affection

I continue to wonder, why do we attempt to impose technocratic solutions on contexts such as education that require the nexus of human relationships? To be more specific, why do use a market driven model of corporate education reform imposed from the top that uses data abstracted from context? It’s kind of like arguing for a first down in the game of basketball. 

One of my heroes is the philosopher/poet/novelist/farmer Wendell Berry, who thinks about this issue in relation to land use, but his thinking goes beyond simple categorization. In his important lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Berry writes of the importance of affection. “I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it…By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind and conserving economy.” 

There is so much in that one paragraph, but, importantly, note that affection is a value that is necessary in an economy that is humane and connected to place. It is an emotion that both recognizes the value and importance of relationship, and of particular, concrete relationships in particular, concrete places. 

This is what is missing from any technocratic solution imposed from above. This is the root reason the education reform movement is bound to fail. (And, as the evidence shows, has been failing for years.) The ed reform movement is looking for a first down in the game of basketball.  It has abstracted numbers and data from contexts to such a degree that those contexts have become irrelevant to them. While reality (and Wendell Berry) shows that when relationships matter, all is context. The quality of relationships that actual teachers have with actual children actually matters, as immeasurable as that may be. The context of the lives of these children, their class, their race, their backgrounds, their families, these things matter. And when the lives of these actual, living concrete people are abstracted into data for the sake of comparison, affection for them and their concrete living are necessarily erased. 


In writing of the James B. Duke, whose relationship as an industrialist to tobacco and power can be rightly compared to corporatist Bill Gates’ relationship to education, Berry says, “The failure of imagination that divided the Duke monopoly and such farmers as my grandfather seems by now to be taken for granted. James B. Duke controlled remotely the economies of thousands of farm families. A hundred years later, ‘remote control’  is an unquestioned fact, the realization of a technological ideal, and we have remote entertainment and remote war {and remote educational policy}. Statistical knowledge is remote, and it isolates us in our remoteness. It is the stuff itself of imagined life. We may, as we say, ‘know’ statistical sums, but we cannot imagine them. “ (Emphasis added) 

So true- such knowing of statistical sums is remote, and, just as importantly, “it isolates us in our remoteness.”  It wipes away the context of our place, of our schools, of the relationships we have in these schools, and reduces “knowing” to the sums this data accrues, without being able to imagine the people and lives affected. The fact is that we humans are not much to be trusted with what I am calling statistical knowledge, and the larger the statistical quantities the less we are to be trusted. We don’t learn much from big numbers, and we aren’t much affected by them. The reality that is responsibly manageable by human intelligence is much nearer in scale to a small rural community or urban neighborhood that to the ‘globe.’ When people succeed in profiting on a large scale, they succeed for themselves. When they fail, they fail for many others, sometimes for us all…Propriety of scale in all human undertakings is paramount, and we ignore it. We are now betting our lives on quantities that far exceed all our powers of comprehension. We believe that we have built a perhaps limitless comprehension into computers and other machines, but our minds remain as limited as ever. Our trust that machines can manipulate to humane effect quantities that are unintelligible and unimaginable to humans is incorrigibly strange.” (Emphasis added) 

The hard fact of the matter is that this corporatist reform movement and the market fundamentalism that drives it will run their course. And then we will be left with all that we’ve ever had from the beginning; each other and what’s left of the land that we depend on. The more we practice affection in the meantime, the better prepared we will be. Against the technocratic assault of the abstraction of “this limitlessness,” as Berry puts it, “…we have only our ancient effort to define ourselves as human and humane.”

Photo from article at National Endowment for the Humanities linked above.

Children and Literacy Be Damned

Education Trust, and its Midwest component, is at it again.  This Gates backed foundation just released a report pointing out that “the trajectory” of Michigan’s education system has Michigan headed to a state ranking of 44th in the country in 4th grade reading by 2030.  In an article on this report, the Detroit News fails to write where the state of Michigan is in the year 2015, but I guess that is much less newsworthy, though it would (at least seemingly accurately) show our present condition.

However, to do so would be to undermine the true purpose of these reports.

The fact of the matter is that these reports put out by Education Trust are not meant to be accurate representations of the current state of education. They are meant to raise alarms and to paint our schools as failing.  

But, before going there, let’s take a closer look at this supposed reading issue. In “Beware Grade Level Reading”and the Cult of Proficiency,” Paul Thomas points out that standardized testing necessarily limits what we mean by “reading.” Thus, the “data” that Midwest Education Trust uses for its report has already bastardized the real life experience and purposes of actual reading.

“…advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming ‘grade level”’and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas…While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.”

And Thomas raises the necessary question too often unasked in the use of such faulty data:

Who benefits from the use of such data?

We get some hints when we look at Education Midwest’s call for “accountability.” The report reads, “If we’re going to hold our students accountable for reading by third grade, the state must hold adults accountable for doing everything they can to get them there. Leading states like Tennessee and Massachusetts have shown that a key to real reform is ensuring that teachers and principals are held accountable for their students’ academic success. This means creating an accountability and assessment system that can accurately measure student performance and growth in reading and giving schools the support – and accountability – they need to raise levels of reading performance.”

“Systems of accountability” means “systems” that are tied to high-stakes testing. And, as Thomas has pointed out, “accurate” in this case leaves much latitude. These simply represent more of the same failed policies (see the response to these in the current opt-out revolution) that necessarily remove teacher voice and professionalism from the process.

As Thomas puts it, “This narrow and inadequate view of text and reading (and readers) serves authoritarian approaches to teaching and mechanistic structures of testing, and more broadly, reducing text and reading to mere technical matters serves mostly goals of surveillance and control.”  That’s what is meant by “accountability,” surveillance and control.

This surveillance and control is necessary whenever change is being implemented from the top down.  And top down change just doesn’t work, for a variety of reasons, but most importantly here because the voices of actual educators, people like Phd. and reading expert Paul Thomas, are not included in the change. Actual educators who actually are professionals are ignored while those who speak for corporate interests are heard.

In her expose of Education Trust and its founder, Katy Haycock, Mercedes Schneider writes,

“She (Haycock) has become ‘the system.’ Given her continued push for top-down, test-driven pressure on states to ‘prove’ a papier-mache form of ‘equality of opportunity’ via ever-elusive, gap-closing test scores, it seems that Haycock is unaware of her role in perpetrating a failing system.

Test score worship cannot create equality of opportunity. It can only sabotage.

In that 1990 article, Haycock asks this question:

How do you design a wonderful, model curriculum and make sure all schools implement it?

The problem is with the question. The idea of ‘making’ schools implement curriculum designed by some ‘you’ is top-down.

Change absent ‘bottom-up’ investment is not genuine change and will never succeed for that reason.”

So here we have Education Trust Midwest pushing the same old, top-down, “achievement data,””accountability” system that has been tried and has failed, failed absolutely. It continues to push an agenda at the expense of children, for the benefit of corporate profit.  Education Midwest triumphs Florida as a state leading this accountability effort.  How is this working, and who does it benefit there?  In Florida, according to a telling new article, Corporate Interests Pay to Play to Shape Education Policy, Reap Profits“:

“FEE staff sought legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of the state’s school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now ‘asking for the following which, the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be ‘at least 50%, but no more than 60%’ of a high school’s grade.’ Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida’s education system.” (Emphasis added)

Read the whole article, it’s important in showing who profits from these “systems of accountability.”

Again, we know the formula. Decry schools as failing, defund them, then privatize them. As Noam Chomsky puts it in regards to the commons,

“… if you can defund it, it won’t be in good shape. And there is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change. You say okay, privatize them and then they get worse. In that case the government had to step in and rescue it.

That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

So public education funding continues to decline, and now we need evidence, as faulty as it may be, that education is failing. Thank you Education Trust. With this formula firmly established, all continues to ripen for profit.

Actual evidence is irrelevant.

Thomas makes this clear.

“Thus, alas, there is simply no reading crisis and no urgency to have students on grade level, by third or any grade.

The cult of proficiency and grade-level reading is simply the lingering “cult of efficiency” that plagues formal education in the U.S.—quantification for quantification’s sake, children and literacy be damned.”

The Detroit News opinion on this report ends with these disheartening lines.

“Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder have begun some of this work, but the education establishment is still wasting time fighting over essential and inevitable reforms. Michigan is in an education free-fall, and cannot afford further delays in fixing its schools.”

I guess I am just wasting time in asking that people consider education from the perspective of evidence that is actually related to learning rather than falsity of the privilege that comes wrapped in the language of “achievement.”

I guess that corporate interests will rule, children and literacy be damned.

The Myth of Neutrality and the Common Core

The other day I got myself involved in a little Twitter dust-up over the Common Core.  The gist of it was that the other twitteree was arguing for the standards, while I was arguing that, even if you believe the standards are fine, to ignore the political implications of high-stakes testing is naive.  We now have a clear pattern brought to us through the history of high-stakes testing that shows us that Common Core is one more step in the decimation of the common good.  (See more on my stance here.)

Anyway, as it became abundantly clear that each of us was wasting our time and simply using this argument to reinforce our own positions, I quit.  And then I was sent this final tweet that said,

“…sadly there is no one neutral enough to clearly explain the facts.”

I wonder, to what degree does this myth of neutrality feed in to our problem?

If you don’t know who Grace Lee Boggs is, I recommend you find out.  And if you’re not aware of the work of the Boggs Center in Detroit, check them out.

Grace sent out an email today that quoted E.H. Carr from his 1961 essay, “What is History?”   The quote:

“It used to be said that facts speak for themselves.  This is of course, untrue.  The facts speak only when historians call on them:  it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.”

It’s pretty to think that facts somehow float above the grounding of the context they work within.  They don’t.  We need to understand that regardless of the way they are presented, facts are always grounded in a story, which communicates a view-point, which is attached to a set of values.  This understanding necessitates certain questions:  Whose story is this?  Who benefits from this story?  Who loses in the story?  And, as Howard Zinn and James Loewen (among others) have pointed out so well, history is told by the winners.

The real problem is that this myth of neutrality occurred not only in history, but as we are creating history now.  And because this myth obscures the values underlying it since it wrongly assumes no values (neutrality),  it continues to serve those who benefit from the way things currently are, those in power and of privilege.

The story of the Common Core as a set of neutral standards that serve all students is simply a myth.  The Common Core exists within a context of values. It is part of a narrative that benefits some, and hurts others.  However, because the myth of neutrality hides the narrative,  it requires some extra work  on our part to dig into the story  behind it.

As citizens, public intellectuals and educators with a stake in this story, our job is to do the homework and unpack the story of the Common Core, to problematize it with our questions, and to determine the beneficiaries of this particular narrative, and to determine those who are hurt by it.  We simply can not accept the myth of neutrality because the pattern of history shows the common good is being destroyed by the values it obscures.

Fortunately, lots of others have laid the groundwork for unveiling the stories underlying the Common Core.

Here are some beginning resources for your homework:

Diane Ravitch’s statement of her stance on the Common Core:  Why I Oppose the Common Core

Susan Ohanian’s page of Common Core resources:  http://www.susanohanian.org/core.php

Mercedes Schneider on the money behind the Common Core:  A Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending

One of Anthony Cody’s recent essays on Common Core:  Is the Common Core Becoming a Fiasco?

Carol Burris on her change of position on the Common Core:  I Was Naive on the Common Core

Jeff Bryant connecting our testing obsession with the money behind it:  Sorry Michelle Rhee, But Our Obsession With Testing Is All About Money

And Paul Thomas’s call to action:  A Call for Non-Cooperation

On Overcoming the Idealistic Delusion That We Still Live in a Democracy

There is a fantastic new web-site that is collecting teachers’ letters written to the most powerful man in education.  The letters share teachers’ experiences under this powerful man’s influence.  They are heartfelt and moving, and they expose the impact of data driven corporate education reform on the teachers and students who live with it daily.  Please take some time to read them.

Now, you may wonder, who is this most powerful man who these teachers choose to share their stories with?  In a democracy that has control of its publicly held commons, you may think it is a person who is elected and accountable to the public.  And, following our long-held tradition of pushing democratically held institutions down to the lowest common denominator for the purpose of the greatest control and accountability, you may think these letters are written to he president of the local school board.  It’s pretty to think so.  How about a local state representative, or state governor?  Sorry, not even close.  How about the President of the United States, the highest office in our so-called democracy?  Wrong still.  Then it must be that president’s own appointed Secretary of Education?  Nope.

The most powerful man in forming education policy in the United States is actually a private citizen who has no accountability whatsoever to the public.  The letters are written to Bill Gates.

And, you may wonder, how did this single private citizen acquire more power in educational policy than the rest of us, including all of the voiceless teachers and students left out of the process?

The answer is fairly complex, so let me break it down into two parts for you minions of our corporatocracy:

1.  Bill Gates has a shit-ton of money.

2.  And you don’t.

And how does this money work in the good old US of A?  Check this article which exposes the flow of corporate and foundation money and its translation into actual legislation via the American Legislative Exchange Council.  (Duly note the role of the Gates Foundation.)

So what’s a poor minion left to do?

Study up on the Citizens United ruling.

If you pray, pray for what’s left of our democracy.

Educate everyone you can on the ways corporate money is impacting all of our children.

And for the  biggest impact, write to Bill Gates.