Tag Archives: Neoliberalism

Why Flint’s Water Crisis May Be a Boon for #EdReform

Let me start with some background information.

My home state of Michigan has a law that allows an Emergency Manager to be put in place. This  Emergency Manager has dictatorial control. Decisions that were previously made by a democratically elected city council or school board are given over to an appointee of the governor.

If you are a citizen of a country that purports itself to be a democracy, you may have some obvious concerns about this.

If you are a fan of human rights, there are even more.

One of the decisions that the Emergency Manager of Flint has made is to end its contract with Detroit Water and Sewage Department and instead pump water from the local and polluted Flint River for its residents. The good news is that it saves some money. The bad news is that this move is poisoning the residents of Flint.

According to the Detroit Free Press“Mona Hanna-Attisha, a researcher at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, analyzed blood-lead level information collected as part of a routine screening process, and found that the percentage of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels has increased significantly since the city started pumping water from the Flint River in April 2014. In some ZIP codes — those considered most at-risk — the percentage of kids affected by lead has doubled.”

And how much lead is safe in children?

“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there is no safe blood-lead level for children. Lead poisoning causes a host of developmental and behavioral problems in exposed children. It is irreversible.” (Emphasis added)

Which, to me, calls forward a seemingly obvious question: What is more important, economic efficiency or human lives?

I guess we know where the Flint Emergency Manager and Michigan governor stand, because they don’t quite seem to be accepting the data.

“Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Angela Minicuci told the Free Press on Thursday that the increase was ‘seasonal and not related to the water supply.'”

However,

Despite the state’s efforts to discredit the Hurley data, the state’s own data show that there are a higher percentage of kids in Flint with elevated lead levels in their blood after the switch.” (Emphasis added)

So, any level of lead in the blood of a human is unsafe, and yet, the state is arguing that the increase in lead in the bodies of children in Flint is seasonal, as if:

1. Such an increase can be rationalized.

2. The state and its governor can wash its hands of this particular situation.

detroit-water-shut-off-400x240 (1)

And what does all of this have to do with education reform?

Remember, the way that our current crop of top down, data driven education reformers imagine education is via the vehicle of wishful thinking that assumes that teachers and students are alienated individuals who work in isolation from social systems. This logic thus suggests these teachers and students are responsible for their own success and failure. The way to reform is then to reward the successes of these individuals, and to punish their failures. Failure leads to school closures, which leads to privatization (and its corollary of profit-making for some) often in the form of quasi-public, directly for-profit charters. Distractions offered by the social context that they work within, such as poverty or the poisoning of their water sources, are irrelevant because responsibility for success and failure lies completely within the control of the students and teachers involved.

So, forgive my simplification, but the formula goes; low test scores leads to profit for some.

Now, if an entirely evil person were to develop a plan that would ensure low test scores, thereby ripening the potential for profit, what might this person do? Maybe slip something into the children’s water source to  decrease their cognitive ability? This would ensure low test scores, create “school failure,” and allow for all of the profit-making such school failure leads to. (Because of the underlying assumptions explained above, it would also wonderfully and magically point all blame to the victims themselves.)

Can you spell F…l…i…n…t?

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that Governor Snyder is an evil person with an evil plan. I do not pretend to know his intentions.

However, his intentions are irrelevant to the people who are suffering under his policies. What is relevant is the effect that his policies are having on communities. What is relevant is how his policies actually function. And the effect of his policies is exactly what is spelled out above. If his intentions include  helping and supporting people, then it seems  that he would begin to take responsibility for the damage his polices are having.

It seems he would take responsibility for the imposing autocratic decision-making processes where once there was the accountability offered by democracy.

It seems he would take responsibility for the dismantling of  our schools, and for the poisoning of our children.

Meanwhile, the rest of us need to see the connections between water and schooling- between the suffering of our children and the “failure” of our schools. We have to stop seeing poverty, ecological health, mental health and education as separate categories and start to understand that there is truly one issue that works across categories:  Exploitation for the sake of profit.

This is what we must resist in all of the forms we find it.

Photo credit

Front-Loading Change: Why Scott Walker Is So Wrong (Or Maybe Right?)

Most of you reading this are by now probably very aware of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s predictable crusade to deprofessionalize teaching.  Walker offers a long line of proposals in Wisconsin, replicated elsewhere,  that are designed to further the decimation of public education.

The question for today, is how did we get here?  How did we get to this cyclical pattern of, as Noam Chomsky points out, defunding, then blaming, then privatizing, then starting all over? And, assuming we actually care about the lives of children, what is the alternative?

In this excerpt,“Education Reformers Have It All Wrong: Accountability From Above Never, Works, Great Teaching Always Does,” from his forthcoming book, Jal Mehta unravels this important history and points a way forward.

Mehta starts by showing us the history of “rationalism” and its effect on education. It’s important to understand how the roots of the current top-down accountability systems have been deeply engrained in the American imagination. Rationalism was a movement that originated with the ideas of what was known as “Taylorism.”  In their book, Dancing on the Edge, O’Hara and Leceister show how Taylorism “enshrined itself as a cultural norm.”

“It has brought huge improvements in efficiency, productivity and the effective management of ever more complex processes.  But what is less obvious is the particular view of personhood that Taylor’s theory and its 21st-century descendants have enshrined as the cultural norm.  This is the behaviorist view, inherited from the Enlightenment:  that human beings are in essence no more than autonomous agents motivated to act in predictable ways by prompts which provoke responses aimed at predetermined outcomes. ..This logic has driven industrial age thinking since the 18th century and accepts implicitly a simple and direct relationship between causes and effects even in the complex lives of persons, groups and communities.  Administer the right prompt and you will get the desired response.

Human beings can thus be managed through the careful application of efficient design coupled with appropriate rewards and punishments.  The role of leadership and management is to design efficient systems, monitor outcomes and reward success.  In essence this view suggests that what we need are smart systems to compensate for dumb humans.  It is not a mindset likely to foster the development of persons of tomorrow.” (pgs. 50-51. Emphasis added)

Mehta explains how this way of thinking transformed the historical American schooling model of the one room school-house into the system we have today.

“The story starts in the Progressive Era (1890–1920), when an educational crisis was identified by a group of muckraking journalists, who used the power of the press to expose what they saw as a corrupt, nepotistic, and highly inefficient patchwork of schooling. This crisis was seized upon by a group of “administrative progressives”; using the newly ascendant ideas of Taylorism, they sought to develop a system of efficient, rationally governed schools. At the top of this pyramid was a group of city superintendents, who utilized rudimentary tests and cost accounting procedures to compare teachers and schools in an effort to hold practitioners accountable and derive the most bang for their buck. Then, as now, teachers charged that such movements were wrongly applying the logic of industry to schools and argued that education had a deeper “bottom line” than could be measured through actuarial techniques. Ultimately, however, they were overwhelmed by the administrative progressives, who were able to tap into political allies from both parties as well as the legitimacy bestowed by industry. Using scientific management techniques, they transformed a set of one-room schoolhouses into the bureaucratic “one best system” of city administration that still persists today. Universities were a major supporter of this effort, as newly formed departments and schools of education, seeking to establish their scientific bona fides, embraced scientific management in the training of (primarily male) superintendents and distanced themselves from the pedagogical training of the (primarily female) teaching force.”

There is so much here to write about, but note the historical pattern of a crisis artificially created to allow for what we now term “disruptive innovation” which puts control in the hands of those who created and reinforced cultural and economic norms, doing so from a place of spatial and imaginary distance from where the real work occurred.

The next big step was to link educational concerns to economic concerns.

“Developments in the 1960s and 1970s brought schools under fire, but the driving force behind the modern standards and accountability movement was the linking of educational to economic concerns in the 1980s. The impetus this time was the famous A Nation at Risk report, which framed the educational problem in dire economic terms and launched an avalanche of state-level efforts at reform. Again, these reforms were popular on both the political left and right: the left saw in standards a way to create greater uniformity across the school system; the right saw in accountability a way to impose greater pressure on an unresponsive public bureaucracy. With education cast as an economic development issue, state legislators and governors became involved in an arena that had previously been left primarily to local schools and school boards.”

Previously education in America was much more aligned with what we now consider to be a “liberal arts” approach.  That is, education was about exposure to great ideas and great works as a means of expanding and developing the self and society. However, the accountability movement functioned to reduce education to being first and foremost an economic consideration, which synchronized nicely with American market fundamentalist values that consider all through the single lens of economic utilitarianism.  As David Blacker points out in The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame, “Predictably, those who live by the sword of economic utility die by it too; if economic outlays are to be justified on the basis of their economic utility, when the utility is gone, so is the purpose.” If education is justified through the single lens of economic utility, then if a given education system can be shown to be “failing,” why fund it? At the root of our issues with the protection of public education is this acceptance, passive and often unconscious, of the purpose of education as primarily economic.

The “…reform movements share certain features of organizational rationalization. In the name of efficiency, all three sought to reduce variation among schools in favor of greater centralized standardization and control, hallmarks of the rationalizing process. In each of these cases power shifted upwards, away from teachers and schools and toward central administrators. Similar conceptions of motivation drove the three sets of reformers, each using some version of standards and testing to incentivize teachers to do their bidding. Each of the movements prized quantitative data and elevated a scientific vision of data-driven improvement over a more humanistic view of educational purposes. Across the decades, the essence of the rationalizing vision has remained remarkably unchanged.”

So this pattern of rationalization is now firmly entrenched.  This has created what Mehta calls, “The allure of order.”

He points out 3 recurring themes.

1. “The… outsized faith that Americans have placed in the tools of scientific management as a mechanism for improving schools.” Mehta shows how this has been bolstered by connecting education to “higher” categories of social life, namely business and defense.  And he correctly shows that an important limitation of scientific management is its offering of answers that don’t address the contextual demands of distributive justice.

2. “…the inability of the educational profession to take control of its sphere, creating a long-standing susceptibility to these external movements for reform.”  Mehta argues that teaching originated as a “semi-profession,” and I would argue that his previous allusion to how gender power differentials have functioned historically within education goes far in explaining this.  He also describes teachers as historically being at “the bottom of implementation chains.” In other words, teachers worked within a hierarchical system of accountability that disempowered them.

3. “…the double-edged nature of movements to impose scientific rationality on schooling.”  So yes, there is no question that scientific rationalism works very well in imposing order and efficiency.  However, this comes at a very real cost. “As Weber famously noted, rationalization creates order out of chaos, but it does so at the cost of creating an ‘iron cage’ that often emphasizes the measurable to the exclusion of the meaningful.”

Seeing these historical themes at work today is easy. And though Walker’s latest foray into education is predictable given this historical pattern, there is absolutely no evidence that it will work to produce outcomes that will benefit children.

Mehta does see the attraction of scientific rationalism given the current American context of race of class. “Within  this context, “crises” of schooling are inevitable; critics need only point out the very real variation in outcomes or the gaps between what schools are producing and what we wish them to achieve. Policymakers, in turn, quite reasonably seek to act but act within constraints imposed by a fairly conservative political economy. They want to improve schools, but they cannot (or perceive they cannot) integrate students by race or income level or provide significantly stronger social supports. Within this context, a logic of scientific rationalization is an attractive solution.”

However, Mehta doesn’t stop there.  He moves forward by showing the very real limitations of this approach.

“Improving teaching and learning requires the development of skill and expertise; simply increasing expectations does little to bring about results. Teachers, meanwhile, perceiving policymakers to be remote from the realities of their schools, are highly resistant to efforts to control them from afar. Realizing this, policymakers seek to increase the pressure and tighten a loosely coupled system, a response that only increases distrust. A downward spiral between policymakers and frontline practitioners is the result. Particularly where students are most unable to reach the targets, teaching to the test becomes the norm, and a reform initially advanced in the name of improving educational quality can drive practice toward the most anti-intellectual and least academic of ends.”

Thank you Jal Mehta.

So what? If we don’t move forward with scientific rationalism, what is our alternative?

Mehta has some excellent suggestions, but, unfortunately, he polarizes the main figures involved without considering the quality of their arguments. Mehta places Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein one side of his spectrum, and Diane Ravitch on the other. And though they are clearly different in their approach, he unfairly criticizes Ravitch by saying she has not been honest about the “failings” of public education.  Thus he makes the same mistake he earlier accuses scientific rationalism of; not considering the broader societal context of distributive justice. Public education, in my mind, and Ravitch’s, is certainly not perfect, and much can be changed.  However, Ravitch and others have rightly argued that public education takes place within a broader context that has great impact on its function. And when we analyze the data used by Rhee and others to show schools as “failing”, we find that data to be faulty as a measurement of learning, and accurate as a measure of social privilege. It is either disingenuous of Mehta to ignore this, or an unfortunate short cut on his part.

With that said, Mehta continues on to make excellent suggestions regarding the improvement of our children’s education. He argues that we have put the whole system together backwards, and instead need to “front-load” the way we develop schools and teaching.

“To overstate only slightly, one might say that the overarching lesson is that the entire  educational sector was put together backwards. The people we draw into teaching are less than our most talented; we give them short or nonexistent training and equip them with little relevant knowledge; we send many of them to schools afflicted by high levels of poverty and segregation; and when they don’t deliver the results we seek, we increase external pressure and accountability, hoping that we can do on the back end what we failed to create on the front end.”

His criticism of teacher rankles greatly.  I know many, many highly talented teachers who have found excellent training for themselves. Nonetheless, considering the way we value and pay teachers these days, who would want to go into this career? How do we fund the continued development of teachers? How many now go into classrooms with manageable numbers of students?

Scott Walker’s answer is to cut and punish after the fact. Mehta offers a much better idea. Value and develop on the front end. He points out that those countries who are seen to have the most successful education systems, “…draw teachers from among their most talented people, prepare them extensively and with close attention to practice, put them in schools buffered from some of the effects of poverty by social welfare supports, and give them time while in school to collaborate to develop and improve their skills. In some cases, as in Finland, such practices largely obviate the need for testing and external accountability, because selection and preparation on the front end makes extensive monitoring on the back end unnecessary. While the United States remains the world leader in assessments and accountability, Finland and Shanghai are the leaders in student performance, and they get there in an entirely different way.”

So I see and experience daily the harm of our legacy and current dependence on scientific rationalism. And I have always seen the vision of valuing and investment in teacher development.

I’m just not sure how to move from Walker’s surreal ascendancy to Finland’s reality.

Then again, Mehta’s argument rests on the assumption that we want education to benefit children. If this assumption is true, then Walker is wrong.

But maybe Walker is working under different assumptions, the assumptions of neoliberalism that his behavior belies. David Blacker reveals what might be Walker’s real intentions.

“It should now be clear to everyone that neoliberal education policy is not about reforming public schools. It is about obliterating any remaining vestiges of the public square via a market discipline that is officially supposed to apply to everyone but in reality is selectively applied only to those lacking sufficient wealth to commandeer state policy.”

Such is the real context we are working within.

Same As It Ever Was: Achievement Data and the Language of Opportunity

Consider Paul Verhaeghe’s discussion of neoliberalism, social Darwinism and the fallacy of meritocracy.  (From  Verhaeghe’s excellent What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market Based Society):

“The analogy is plain to see: just like social Darwinism, neo-liberal meritocracy is aimed at ‘survival of the fittest’. whereby the best get precedence and the rest are selectively removed…Crucially, social Darwinism also discounted such factors as upbringing, social class, and, more broadly, environmental influences. Only factors determined by heredity were deemed important.  If you replace genes with talent, the similarity is clear: it’s all down to the individual; effort and innate characteristics will allow him or her to succeed.” (Emphasis added.)

The current zeitgeist of market fundamentalism erases all factors outside of the individual, which now makes it safe for the right to focus so much on the language of opportunity. (E.g., Michigan Governor Snyder’s recent State of the State’s  theme of “A River of Opportunity.”) I don’t think anyone is going to argue against opportunity, but it’s important to understand how it is used and what it can hide. Opportunity is a word that faces forward into the future. Opportunity says that we all need the same options as we progress.  The problem with this is it erases the past, as if the starting point for this opportunity is equal.  And if we are focusing on the individual- if we take away the context that each individual exists within as if this context is irrelevant- then opportunity sounds great.  If two people of equal social capital start at the same point, then they both have the same opportunity for success.  Right?  (If you haven’t yet, please read Ira Socol’s relevant thoughts on how this plays out in education via the language of “grit.”)

Of course,  context can’t be erased.  If we don’t consider how context and social conditions affect the starting line for opportunity, then we simply propagate the privilege of those who already have a head start.  If we only consider opportunity from the standpoint of the individual, then we can continue to blame individuals for their poverty, for their lack of success.

Ponder the case of Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan, who has taken on the mantle of being a champion for the poor and a brand new promoter of opportunity.  What does that look like in terms of actual policy recommendations?

“On the Republican side, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) has taken the lead in arguing that conservatives should focus on opportunity. But his approach largely consists of cuts to the safety net…Helping the poor by cutting the programs they rely on is, to say the least, a risky theory of uplift. It’s easier to see what Ryan’s plan does to impede sufficiency of opportunity than to spread it…This is why it’s wise to keep debates about principle grounded in actual policies. Changing principles requires little more than changing rhetoric. It’s the policy where you can see if anything is actually different.” (From No One Really Believes in Equality of Opportunity.)

In other words, in spite of the rhetoric, and in the words of the great educational philosopher David Byrne, it’s the same as it ever was.

Verhaeghe provides exactly the lens needed in order to understand how this is analogous to the way “achievement data” functions.  Achievement data is put forward as an objective means of measuring learning.  In fact, it simply is a marker of privilege that is used to reinforce privilege.

Verhaeghe continues:

“This analogy exposes the weak spot in the reasoning.  Social Darwinism and neo-liberal meritocracy create the impression that they favour the individual who is naturally the best. He or she would have made it anyway; we are just giving nature a helping hand to speed the ‘fittest’ up the ladder.  But the reality is somewhat different. Both social Darwinists and meritocratists themselves determine who is the ‘fittest’ and, crucially, how that is to be measured.  In practice, they create an increasingly narrow version of reality, while claiming that they promote ‘natural’ winners.  They then preserve that ‘reality’ by systematically favouring those winners, thus keeping them on top.  The fact that they remain there is advanced to prove the validity of this approach.

…on the basis of figures, decisions are made over people’s heads. And ultimately, those figures create the reality on which they are supposedly based.” (Emphasis added)

Achievement data measures a reality as a means of recreating it. Whose opportunity is that?

 

No More Surprises

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder is about to make an announcement that will move him to the prominent fore in the education reform movement not only statewide, but nationally as well.  Snyder has done much already to shape the education conversation in Michigan and nationally (more on that later) and, as the former CEO of a company on the forefront of casino capitalism, he clearly has the background to weigh heavily in this particular discussion.

Snyder will most likely announce some version of “portfolio districts” as the way forward.  The name “portfolio” is another misappropriated title taken from the business world.  A “business portfolio” is a collection of products and services offered by a company.  As applied to the education field, a district using this model would, as described by Kenneth Saltman,  “…build portfolios of schools that encompass a variety of educational approaches offered by different vendors…”

Saltman has written an important report on the portfolio model, Urban School Decentralization and the Growth of “Portfolio Districts”  (

Click to access Saltman_PortfolioDistricts.pdf

.)  In this brief, Saltman outlines four characteristics of portfolio districts:  “The portfolio district approach merges four strategies: 1) decentralization; 2) charter school expansion; 3) reconstituting/closing “failing” schools; and 4) test-based accountability.”

Elements of a portfolio districtFor those who are familiar with the current education reform movement, there are no surprises here.  And as a pro business market fundamentalist, it is predictable that Governor Snyder would promote a portfolio model.

At the same time, it is crucial to recognize the history that Snyder has created in order to fertilize the ground for this move.

Skunk Works and the Disconnecting Schools from Local Community

In the Spring of 2013, it was revealed that Snyder had put together a secret group in order to design a plan that  “lets parents use tax dollars to choose between private and public schools—something prohibited by the state Constitution.”   This group was headed by Richard McLellan, a pro-voucher, pro school choice advocate.  The intention of this group was to create a model that dismantled local districts in favor of a system that would allow students the choice to take their state funding to any school in the state, including virtual schools.  This was what Snyder called the “anytime, anywhere, any pace” model, a techno utopian dream, and one that, as I have written before, hugely misunderstands the  importance of the teacher.

And a crucial element in this plan was the disconnection of schools from the democratic accountability of local communities.  Essentially, this model imagines humans as abstracted from the relationships and accountability that local community provides.  This cannot be overstated.

In his important book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block writes, “The essential work is to create social fabric, both for its own sake and to enable chosen accountability among citizens.  When citizens care for each other, they become accountable to each other.  Care and accountability create a healthy community.” It is important to understand that the portfolio model is based on a way of imagining humans as alienated from the relationships, context, and accountability that can only be provided by a community where people are known.  As traditional conservatism understands, local community is significant, thus the need to “conserve” community and the values it represents. Traditional conservatives understand that as part of the fabric of their communities, local school districts actually matter in people’s lives.  Snyder and other current Republicans are too often misnamed as conservatives when they in fact, like many current members of the Democrat party, are representatives of neoliberal market fundamentalism, which views everything from the one-dimensional value of money, and as a result, rips apart the social fabric.

When the Skunk Works group was outed, it was disassembled, reconstituted under a different name, and put under the control of the state superintendent. Little of this particular group has been heard from since, though iterations of its plan continue with its DNA clearly seen in the “district portfolio” plan.  (For more on  the history of Skunk Works, see Things Are Getting Stinky.)

The EAA and the Rise of Charters

I and others have written extensively about Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority.  (See herehere and here.) For the sake of this article, simply note that the EAA has taken schools out of the Detroit Public School system and put them into a “state-wide” district of the lowest performing 5%.  For a variety of reasons, those schools are all Detroit schools.  (See Mary Mason and David Arsen’s important report on the establishment of the EAA. It is linked at the bottom of this piece.)  It then instituted the techno utopian dream of a computer driven, “personalized” curriculum that sees little need for qualified teachers and has proved a colossal failure.  Again, the EAA’s elements of misunderstanding the role of the teacher, of a techno utopian vision, and the underestimation of the importance of community  are all replicated in the portfolio model.

While the EAA was on the rise, so were for profit charters in the state of Michigan.  Legislation was passed that allowed for the expansion of charters in the state.  Eighty percent these charters are now run for profit and Michigan has the dubious honor of leading the nation in the number of for profit charters.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press has done an important expose on the effectiveness of Michigan’s charters.  (Read with some wariness.)

Funding and Emergency Management

Throughout his term as governor, Snyder has pushed for broader establishment of Emergency Management, which assumes that local democratically elected institutions are fundamentally unable to handle their finances.  It then allows an Emergency Manager to be appointed, and gives this manager autocratic control over virtually every aspect of these formerly democratic institutions.  The laws that allow for this were developed and promulgated by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, and in Michigan, by the right-wing think tank , The Mackinac Center for Public Policy. (Read more here.)

In his current history of Detroit Public Schools, Bill Wylie-Kellerman writes,

“Though Public Act 436, which allegedly authorizes emergency management, allows that elected bodies taken over and supplanted may vote after 18 months to put out an EM, the courts have ruled that this means the Governor simply has to install a new and different EM. Emergency Management is a permanent feature of black cities in Michigan.

The elected and unpaid school board, though constantly tarred in the media with corruption or incompetence or simply ignored, has continued to function ‘in exile’ as a body conscientiously accountable to parents, students, and citizens, consistently resisting takeover. (Would that our city council had an ounce of such vision or fiber!) Believe it or not, the State Attorney General sued the district representatives on the board for being elected. Since they were duly seated and sworn in, the maneuver failed. Now a foundation-funded and nonprofit-orchestrated campaign seeks oust them altogether for a structure of ‘mayoral control’…Emergency management has been the blunt instrument of privatization.”

At the same time that Emergency Management has been on the rise, the financial conditions necessary for instituting it have also been on the rise.  Mere coincidence? Hmm…

Since taking over as governor, Snyder has slashed business taxes to the ‘tune of 1.6 billion dollars a year…leaving a huge hole in the School Aid Fund.”

Let me quote more from Chris Savage, at Eclectablog:

“Gov. Snyder also took the unprecedented step of diverting a portion of the School Aid Fund to pay partially offset huge cuts he had made to higher education which he claims to value so much. Before Rick Snyder came into office, this had never happened before. How much of a hit did the School Aid Fund take from this diversion of money to higher ed?

$400,000,000 a year.

So, let’s do the math here:

   $600,000,000.00
+ $400,000,000.00 
 $1,000,000,000.00  

Yup, that’s a billion dollars, kids. Actually it’s a bit more because the hit the Student Aid Fund took from the business tax cut is MORE than $600,000,000.”

That’s a lot of money that schools aren’t getting.

And the result?

Fifty seven school districts in the state of Michigan are now operating under a deficit.

Surprised?

To put it another way, fifty-seven school districts are now ripe for being taken over by emergency management.

Or, remembering Wylie-Kellerman’s frame, fifty-seven school districts are now ripe for privatization.

Follow the logic.

Connect the dots.

Next?

So this is the current context for Snyder’s upcoming announcement.  This is the groundwork that has been laid, some transparently, some not so much.

But with this in mind, it’s at least clear that a pattern has been established so there should be no more surprises.

Be sure to read Mary L. Mason and David Arsen’s report, Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority and the Future of Public Education in Detroit: The Challenge of Aligning Policy Design and Policy Goals: 

Click to access Saltman_PortfolioDistricts.pdf

No Water, But Lots of Tests

I was recently at a social event when I mentioned to an educator friend that I was off to protest the Detroit water shut offs the following day.  I also added that every educator should be there.

She paused and looked at me, and then asked, “Give me the nutshell explanation that connects water shut offs to educational issues.”

Without the nutshell part, here goes…

Some Context- Detroit Today

As a city on the forefront of what David Blacker calls the  “neoliberal endgame,”  Detroit is a fascinating, if tragic study.  Detroit is under the rule of an Emergency Management.  The laws allowing for the emergency manager were promoted by ALEC legislation (sound familiar educators?) and have disenfranchised the voters of Detroit in favor of a ruler, Kevyn Orr, who has virtually no accountability in our so-called democracy.  Upon acquiring this office, Orr almost immediately led Detroit into bankruptcy.

At the same time, Detroit Public Schools have been under Emergency Management since 2009.  Clearly, this experiment isn’t working in Detroit.  As quoted in Eclectablog:

“What the Detroit schools situation shows is that the problems in Detroit aren’t simply financial and they aren’t simply a matter of poor management. Without addressing the core issues of poverty, blight, crime, and a host of other modern plagues experienced by our aging urban cores, no amount of cost-cutting, privatizing, experimental teaching models, or management gimmickry is going to have the desired impact.”

In addition, the lowest 5% “performing” schools in the state, as measured by achievement data, have been removed from Detroit Public Schools and put into a newly created state-run district, the Educational Achievement Authority.  The EAA is run by a governor appointed superintendent who doesn’t have the pesky obstacle of democracy in his way.  This district is, to no surprise, failing miserably.

Water

So it is in this very general context that the water shut offs are occurring.  Some background:

In May of this year, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department began a crusade to collect unpaid fees by residents of Detroit.  They are currently shutting off water access to any Detroit resident who is either $150 or two months behind in payment. This will affect over 120,00 account holders over a 3 month period at a rate of 3,000 shut offs per week.  (The suspicion of many is that the shut offs are occurring in the midst of Detroit’s bankruptcy in order to make DWSD more attractive for privatization.)

Mind you, this is occurring in a major US city, the richest country in the world, that has a poverty rate of 44%, is over 80% black, whose residents have already have their democratic vote similarly cut off, in a state that is surrounded by 4 of the largest fresh water lakes in the world.

At the same time, commercial interests in Detroit owe over $30 million in water bills, yet their water flows evenly.  (See more here.)

Hmm….

It seems that many of those factors have a strong correlation to the false narrative of  “failing schools.”

Coincidence?

Me thinks no.

Water

Market Fundamentalism

The foundation of neoliberal market fundamentalism is the assumption that all things, including human beings, are valued according to their worth in the market place.  This value is determined by level of  “achievement.”

In education, achievement is measured by test scores.  Those who score highest win.  Those who don’t are punished- and the means of this punishment is defunding, the closing of schools, the loss of local agency, and the correlating re-opening of schools as for profit charter, a race that Michigan is winning hugely with over 80% of its charters being for profit.

In other areas of life, achievement is measured by job status and salary.  Worth is determined by ability to pay.  The less you are able to pay, the less you are actually valued. Those in poverty really aren’t worth much.  Their “value added” to the efficiency of our economy is a negative. Such humans are punished with a system that blames them for their poverty, and then shuts off such necessities for human life as water.

The logic of blaming schools, teachers and students for their problems, in spite of the context that they exist within, is the same as the logic of blaming the poor for their problems, in spite of the context they exist within.  Our market driven system’s answer is to develop “incentives” to drive behavior. Achieve, in spite of the forces working against such achievement, or have your schools defunded and shut down.  Pay, in spite of the forces working against your ability to so, or have your water shut off. (No coincidence that these forces in both contexts are identical.)

Neoliberalism uses the politics of austerity to blame, punish, and then profit.  It erases the context of poverty for the purpose of privatizing the common good.

The United Nations has determined that the water shut offs are inhumane.  So very true.

At the same time, the shut offs simply follow the logic of neoliberalism.

And it is the logic of neoliberalism that those of us who are not in the 1%, including educators, are really fighting.

Allowing the Market, Failing Kids

The Detroit Free Press has come out with a scathing indictment of charter school operations in the state of Michigan.  The series reveals the greed and almost total lack of oversight that has allowed charters to churn over $1 billion in public money spent into private profit.  The series is well-done and a necessary must read. However, because this report accepts the basic assumptions that allow for privatization in the first place, it also dangerously obscures the pattern of elements that continues to decimate public education.

Education as an Economic Utility

The first assumption that the Free Press uncritically accepts as normative is the idea that the purpose of education is economic.  That is, education serves to allow for individuals to have access to our economic system.  That the purpose of education is to allow for students to make money in the future and drive our country’s economic engine.  In his introduction to the series, Free Press editor Stephen Henderson starts with the presumption that charter schools are in theory, as he puts it in the first two words of his article, a “Great idea.”  He positively references former Michigan Governor (and current president of Business Roundtable) John Engler’s push for charters in 1993- a push that was motivated by economic utility.  (And Business Roundtable continues to promote the idea that we need a solid education system because, “America needs a world-class, skilled workforce to lead in global innovation, ensure future economic growth and drive…”) Henderson later writes that children’s future success, “… is largely determined by the quality of public education.”

The problem is that this frame of economic utility and the idea that “future success is largely determined by the quality of education” are what allow for the privatization of education in the first place.

Education is important.  Among other things, it’s important as a foundational aspect of democracy. However, we all suffer when education is treated as an individualized commodity that is justified by its effect only on our economic standing. The Insight Lab’s report describes the problem this way:

“Most school reform proposals, as well as policies current among the status quo, were measured by fairly narrow criteria: will more students be prepared for college? Will they have the skills they need to pursue remunerative jobs? Will they form a workforce that will keep the United States competitive? …given that the highest ideal offered by the model was the economic success of individuals, it would be illogical for most parents to commit their time and energy to the future of children besides their own.” (emphasis added)

Education imagined as a one-dimensional, individualized economic vehicle simply doesn’t serve the whole very well.  It becomes one more consumer commodity, and my job is to get mine.

This idea is particularly delusionary when in reality, and especially as our society becomes more polarized and less mobile on the basis of class, education does not cause economic success, in spite of the continuing myth that education is the lever for pulling kids out of poverty.  Instead, as Paul Thomas writes, “Education, then, is a marker for privilege/affluence and poverty, but is not the cause agent for the outcome.”

As Matt Bruenig writes in, What’s More Important: A College Degree or Being Born Rich?:

“So, you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!”

As Bruenig describes, rich people stay rich in our society.  And, regardless of educational level of attainment, with few exceptions, (which  due to college costs is more and more of a dream for those in poverty), poor kids stay poor.

Thomas puts it succinctly, “In short, education alone is not the key to social reform. Period.” 

The myth that education is the answer to poverty allows us to blame the poor for being poor, and to avoid addressing poverty itself.  After all, the logic goes, if education is the way out of poverty, all it takes is some grit and a good school (Charter or private preferably. And is there a difference? )

Wrong.

In The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame, David Blacker writes, “The scene of resistance is the class struggle.  In fact, an excessive focus on education, say, in the form of advancing an allegedly liberatory pedagogy, in the absence of a broader and enveloping social movement, is ultimately going to be delusional.” (pg. 100)

It would be nice if we could stop pretending that education is the silver bullet.

It would be nicer if we could actually address poverty.

The False Narrative of Failing Schools

The other assumption that Free Press accepts as normative is the idea that “schools fail” as determined by the competition of “school rankings.” Henderson’s introduction is ripe with the business language of corporate education reform, of “accountability” and “results matter.”  “Results,” in this formula, are test scores. The need for “accountability,” in this formula, is meted out based on test results. This sentence makes my hair stand on end: “And competition can raise standards- when it’s managed competition.”  All of this shows an acceptance of the neoliberal pipe dream of the market as reformer. Though Henderson critiques an all-out market model, he also assumes the that the educational market model is appropriate and can work, it just needs to be better managed.

The issue being addressed by the Free Press isn’t the model of the market wrongly imposed on a public system- it’s the management of the market.  And the winners of the competition within said market are determined by “school rankings,” and such rankings are based on test results.

And test results are the tool that furrows the ground for the seeds of privatization.

As I’ve put it previously, “What do we know about test scores?  That the best predictor of success is socio-economic status. It is well known that what test scores indicate is not ability, but class status and geography. So what are these test scores really measuring?  By and large they are measuring the health of the communities the schools serve, not the schools themselves.  ‘Failing schools’ do not exist.  What do exist are communities that we have failed.”

So what do school rankings show us?  Where poverty is concentrated.  However, they are used as indictments of the whole public school system, thereby justifying the need for privatization, vouchers, value added measurements, and lots of charter schools, even if, as in the state of Michigan, almost 80% of these charters are for profit.

Diane Ravitch, in Reign of Error, describes the debilitating pattern of achievement testing used as a tool for privatization this way: “Competition may produce better shoes and jeans, but there is no evidence that it produces better schools. The advance of privatization depends on high-stakes testing.  The federally mandated regime of annual testing generates the data to grade not only students and teachers but schools. Given unrealistic goals, a school can easily fail. When a school is labeled a ‘failing school’ under NCLB or a ‘priority’ or ‘focus; school according to the metrics…it must double down on test preparation to attempt to recover its reputation, but the odds of success are small, especially after the most ambitious parents and students flee the school…the more school struggle, the deeper they sink into the morass of test-based accountability.” (pg. 319)

This test based accountability is simply a death spiral for public education that justifies the existence of charters and privatization. Blacker again, “It should now be clear that to everyone that neoliberal education policy is not about reforming public schools.  It is about obliterating any remaining vestiges of the public square via a market discipline that is officially supposed to apply to everyone but in reality is selectively applied only to those lacking sufficient wealth to commandeer state policy.”  (pg. 106) It is this market driven process of the obliteration of the public square that the Free Press fails to address. According to it, the issue is not privatization, but only the management of that privatization.

Let me be fair.  The Free Press does critique the profit making of many of the charters, and the series appropriately takes these charters to task.  Kudos.  Yet it fails to critique the system that allows for said profit making.  And in doing so, it allows for the continued avoidance of the root cause of failing communities- concentrated poverty and the racialized context those communities exist within. If we don’t directly address the issues of poverty and race, the increasing inequity in our country, we will continue to leave children behind.

Read the whole report.  You will find the level of greed and deceit involved in propping Michigan’s charter system absolutely infuriating- though not surprising. (And highly predictable.)

Just keep in mind what it isn’t saying.

The Quest to Eliminate Public Education

It’s summer reading time.

So please read David J. Blacker’s book, The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame

Blacker does a tremendous job of helping us understand the economic background behind what is driving the current mode of corporate education reform. It’s important to understand this because education reform is greatly affected by the context it exists within, and this context is neoliberalism.

Trying to summarize Blacker’s thesis in a short blog entry is impossible, but let me try. He argues that because of the technological changes affecting everything, combined with capitalism’s inherent internal structure, the ability to create profit is shrinking. Adjustment to this profit shrinking requires a shift from extracting from labor for profit to extracting from financial markets, a shift that is aided and abetted by technological advances. With this shift, not only is labor no longer needed to the same degree, but it becomes an obstacle to profit. As Blacker puts it, “In capitalism’s neoliberal phase, however, the ‘more is better’ mania for exploitation is replaced by a technologized ‘less is better’ mania for eliminating labor costs.”  People become dispensable.  Austerity rules. And thus students, who in the past were educated for positions in a labor economy, have no additive function.  Which makes an education, and schools, and educators, expendable according to neoliberal logic.

Got it?

You, educators and students, are at best superfluous and costly burdens on the back of a neoliberal economy.

Here is a more from his introduction:

“Not as many workers are needed to turn whatever profits remain and government largesse is reserved exclusively for ‘too big to fail’ financialized capitals which have, as a result, become state-corporate hybrids that exist as government-secured monopolies even while they spout neoliberal rhetoric about ‘freedom,’ ‘competition,’ and the like….the bulk of the population is no longer seen as a resource to be harnessed- as dismal as that moral stance once seemed- but more as a mere threat, at best a population overshoot to be managed by a self-perpetuating and therefore pseudo meritocracy.  If the peasants are no longer needed to work the fields, then why not go ahead and kick them off the estate?  The scenery will improve.” (pgs. 10-11)

So this is the economic context in which we exist.  An economy that once was able to extract profit through labor is no longer able to do so.  It’s searching recklessly for profit, and labor has become simply a cost with no value.  It must be cut- eliminated.

Public education must be eliminated.

Blacker continues:

“This is where the austerity kicks in.  It’s a one-two punch sort of situation: fewer human beings are needed for capital accumulation and the public coffers are urgently needed by elites in order to continue leveraging their insatiable cash cow financial sector (almost all of the sovereign indebtedness is due to tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations and, more importantly, the bailouts and federal guarantees that have been tendered to the banking sector).  Thus the ‘shit rolls downhill’ nature of austerity that requires teachers and schoolchildren to pay for the solvency of sinecured bankers and their political enablers.” (pg. 11)

I must admit- that’s depressing.

It gets worse.

Blacker describes what we are seeing now, “…the demise of the grand ideal of universal education that has animated enlightened capitalism since the nineteenth century.  What capitalism gives, it now takes away.  In the realm of education, this process represents a final coup de grace:  The abandonment of government provisioned and guaranteed schooling for all- after first ‘privatizing’ and channeling those commons’ erstwhile value into elite coffers.” (pg. 13. Emphasis added)

And, with this frame in mind, understanding the importance of how the Common Core Standards were developed and supported by Gates Foundation money becomes clearer. Understanding the impetus put on high-stakes testing, on the blaming of teachers when poverty is the issue, on Value Added Measurements, becomes a bit easier.  Understanding the complete elimination of all public schooling in New Orleans, the development of Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority, etc. etc…. All of these reform attempts blame the individuals within the education system and therefore serve to take attention away from the broader context this system exists within.  At the same time, these approaches function to further serve the decimation of public education: A system that, within the one-dimensional, market fundamentalist approach of neoliberalism, serves no positive economic value.

It becomes abundantly clear that all of these educational reform measures are not put in place to help and support children.  They are natural functions of economic system that has no longer the same need for labor.  And thus the supplier of that labor, public education, is nothing other than a costly burden.

And so needs to be eliminated.

But not before a profit can be made by privatizing as much of it as possible.

Scared? You should be.

Read the book.

 

Public Education in an Econocracy

Is there hope in fighting the neoliberal agenda for education?  Is there a chance of pushing back against a one-dimensional, market driven approach to everything, one that most certainly includes education?

An answer lies in Paul Carr and Brad Porfilio’s,  The Obama Education Files: Is There Hope to Stop the Neoliberal Agenda in Education?   This article has been around since 2011. I just stumbled on to it, and it goes a long way in helping to understand some of the underlying forces that are working to dismantle public education- and the bigger picture of how these forces are working to dismantle anything labelled “public.”

The article rests on the assumption that, “The political economy of democracy must, we argue, foreshadow any serious discussion of the role of education in contemporary times.”

And what is the current state of this “political economy”?  The authors refer to this as an “econ-ocracy,” a word which another scholar defines as “…a society where economic efficiency take precedence over all other policy decisions…”  A very fitting definition.

So the context for political decision making occurs within a neoliberal econocracy, which means that the primary value that determines anything is economic efficiency.

“According to Hursh (2011) neoliberal ideology is grounded in the belief that economic prosperity and improvements for segments of the social world, such as health care, education, and the environment, emanate from ‘unregulated or free markets, the withering away of the state as government’s role in regulating businesses and funding social services are either eliminated or privatized, and encouraging individuals to become self-interested entrepreneurs.'”

Now, you may be wondering, where does this place concerns about democracy?  Poverty? Income inequality? Educational inequity? Questions of race?

Um….nowhere.

Not only does neoliberalism not consider other values, it erases them.

Consider the context that Obama is operating within:

“Since Obama has been in office, Wall Street bankers have had free reign over the economy (Taibbi, 2010). Obama’s continued support of Wall Street has not only allowed many investors to ‘thrive right now’ (Harvey, 2010), but, importantly, has put the banks and their leaders in better financial position than before the financial collapse of 2008.  Unfortunately, catering to the financial elites has done little to eliminate poverty, homelessness, provide jobs, rebuild the infrastructure, of develop ‘sustainable energy technologies’ (Hursh 2010).  The situation is even bleaker when one considers that African-Americans and economically-marginalized groups, who were considered to form a part of his base, are most affected by the lack of attention paid to them in favor of bankers and stockholders.  The argument goes that Obama cannot speak out on behalf of those groups most affected because they would deflate his support from the wealthiest people, which elucidates the conundrum we’re facing: if he does what he said he would do, he will have only one term as President, and, if he does what the elites want, he will lose support, credibility and ‘hope’ for ‘change’.”

Got it?

The market wins at the expense of democracy.

In other words, we all lose to  the current hegemony of the free market. And in this context, democracy, the environment,  issues that affect those in poverty and of color and all others without status or power, are non-existent.

As a simple example quite close to my home: Since Carr and Porfilio wrote their article, Detroit has been taken over by an Emergency Financial Manager and then guided into bankruptcy.

Think about that.

Very simply put, the value of economic efficiency has taken precedence over the messiness of democracy.  The citizens of Detroit have had their vote trumped by a neoliberal, right-wing governor who has come to save the day.  Never mind the history behind the bankruptcy, a history which includes white flight, corporate abandonment and a state that has failed to rightfully support the city.  (Note that in this Detroit, even public pensions have been privatized.) These things aren’t relevant in a econocracy.  (For more on the history of Detroit that led to the bankruptcy, see Thomas Sugrue’s important work, The Origins of the Urban Crises: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.)

I know all of the arguments for the EFM and bankruptcy-  “…it had to happen…”

Sure.

This is exactly the logic  of neoliberalism.

And the same logic is dismantling our public schools.

In referencing the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, Carr and Porfilio rightly call it “…a $4.35 billion dollar ‘competitive incentive program’ that is designed, we contend, to further gut public schooling in the US, structure schools on market ideologies and practices, and provide the corporate elite an additional avenue to profit off of children.”

Yes, as I’ve written previously, under the corporate, market driven approach, “Students become objectified as workers for the purpose of increasing profit at the expense of the welfare of these children. Tax dollars, ostensibly spent for the public good, become corporate profit at the expense of our children.

Under the logic of neoliberalism, where the free market trumps all, it is natural that our children become a capital investment.

Carr and Porfilio do point to some hope. They argue that the educational alternative to decimation of these spaces of democracy is:

“Education predicated on the ideals of love, democracy, and justice, as well as what Freire (1973) called conscientization, and geared to fostering students’ understanding of the larger forces responsible for injustice in schools and society, has the potential to stop students from dropping out of schools, and being alienated from the formal educational process, unlike any of the Obama administration’s aforementioned policies to improve the US educational system.”

I agree.  (And  Carr and Porfilio’s book, The Phenomenon of Obama and the Agenda for Education, for which this article serves as an introduction, goes a long way to addressing this.)

But maybe even more importantly, because we hope for an education that promotes democracy, and because we are all swimming within the deep waters of neoliberalism, we first of all need to recognize ALL of the spaces in which democracy is becoming constrained or disappearing as a result of these forces.

Neoliberalism is a freight train that is leaving all other values behind.

And in this case, behind means not at all.

 

Corporatist Ed Reform as Symptom

Two recent pieces came out that insightfully show that the current push of corporatist education reform is actually a symptom of something much more ominous, the destruction of all that is held for the common good, all that is “public.” Both the recent Commonweal review of Diane Ravitch’s important new book, Reign of Error, and the Bill Moyers’ interview with Henry Giroux connect many important dots.

First of all, Reform of the Reform, the review of Ravitch’s book, serves as a primer of the neoliberal movement in and of itself. Jackson Lears starts by grounding his piece in a history of the damage done by “creative destruction.” Lears tells the story of the phrase as it runs from Harvard economist Joseph Schrumpeter, through Schrumpeter’s current and well-known disciple of innovative disruption, Clayton Christensen. Lears writes:

“Policymakers and business gurus have endowed the word ‘disruption’ with almost fetishlike power in recent years. And Christensen himself has pioneered the application of ‘disruption theory’ to social institutions outside the market: government agencies, public-health organizations, schools. The Americanization and expansion of Schumpeter’s concept—the transformation of creative destruction in the economic sphere to creative disruption everywhere—is another symptom of our most serious social malady: the hollowing out of the public sphere, the reduction of nonmarket institutions to market-driven ‘profit centers,’ the monetization of everything.”

Lears shows us that this “disruption” is actually market fundamentalism run amuck, and he continues in the next sentence to begin to show, through Ravitch, how this fundamentalist approach is used as a sledge-hammer against all that is “public,” including, and especially, schools.

“Nowhere is this sickness more apparent than in the world of education, where ‘reformers’ like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein have promoted privatization in the guise of the pursuit of excellence. The consequences have been disruption that is anything but creative.”

The narrative is that market fundamentalism is value free, that the invisible hand of the market is what guides decisions, and this invisible hand transcends human values, it is a mysterious, all-knowing force that knows better than we do. Lears and Ravitch show that, in fact, the market simply ignores the values of democracy in its conflation of capitalism with democracy. And in doing so, it values capitalism over democracy. All of the public institutions required for the maintenance of democracy are disrupted by these market forces, and therefore democracy itself is disrupted.

Henry Giroux calls this casino capitalism because this type of capitalism chooses winners and losers merely by the luck of the draw as determined by birth. Giroux says, “This casino capitalism as we talk about it, right, one of the things that it does that hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t just believe it can control the economy. It believes that it can govern all of social life. That’s different.

That means it has to have its tentacles into every aspect of everyday life. Everything from the way schools are run to the way prisons are outsourced to the way the financial services are run to the way in which people have access to health care, it’s an all-encompassing, it seems to me, political, cultural, educational apparatus.”

The inertia of the corporatist movement focuses on public education as symptom of the common good, that which is intentionally designed as a safe haven from the market. The common good is a place of protection, where all are served, not just the rich. Where voice is determined by participation, not the size of a bank account. As such, the common good is an affront to the neoliberal movement. And, by focusing on public education, (and all connected to it- i.e., unionization, the rights of women, health care, etc.) the debate around schooling allows for the continued ignoring of the fundamental aspects of a society that cares for all of its members. Lears writes, “What’s left out of these debates is as important as what’s left in. Complaining about failing schools is a way of avoiding the structural issues of systemic poverty, inequality, and racial segregation. Celebrating better schools as a panacea is a way of not mentioning unmentionable policies that might challenge existing power arrangements. Never have these ideological exclusions been clearer than in our contemporary neoliberal moment.” (Emphasis added)

All of this is to say that as people who care deeply about our schools, and the children who are served by them, we must continue to see that we must not work only for the continuation of public education, but in support of all of that makes up the common good. We must address divisions of class, work to alleviate the conditions of poverty, we must argue against drone warfare. We must support the connections of community and work against any attempt to, as Giroux says, “..individualize the social…which means that all problems, if they exist, rest on the shoulders of the individual.”

We are all in this together.

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.