"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Education Industry Agenda Exposed

Below is a review of the Mark Tucker project to privatize education in the name of American economic survival. The review is posted on a new website called Book Smarts, and here is their intro:
BOOK SMARTS offers brief but informed discussion of books on critical issues in education. Many writers from a variety of fields—notably business and politics—are writing books that promote ideas for educational reform. Given that the future and well-being of hundreds of thousands of children are affected by reform initiatives, BOOK SMARTS intends to help readers cut through the clutter and sort out sound proposals from a contemporary proliferation of unsubstantiated claims about educational policy and reform. We offer not only commentary by education professionals well-versed in theory, research and practice, but also a guide to other reliable readings on relevant topics that incorporate the best of existing research. The editors’ hope is to provide all citizens or civic minded members of the public—parents as well as policymakers—a trustworthy path through the forest of texts trying to shape public opinion.

Thanks to Monty Neill for the link. And here is the review of Tough Choices . . .:

Tough Choices or Tough Times contends that the global economy (especially India and China) is producing highly skilled workers who will work for low pay, putting pressure on the U.S. workforce to outwit its global rivals for the best, most creative work. According to the authors, the education system is the principal means to achieving such a talented workforce. Morever, they assert that producing the desired workforce is the primary responsibility of schools. The book equates national educational well-being with the health of the U.S. economy and claims that the U.S. educational system is presently ill-prepared to compete globally for these scarce jobs; hence the country is at risk of a drastic decrease in material living standards. Once this strictly economic view of education’s potential is claimed with gusto, vitriol, and reference to other scary reports like A Nation at Risk, the report goes on to call for radically transforming public education as we know it.

However, the radical remaking that the report calls for looks nearly identical in substance to the privatization-oriented reform trends that have been gaining ground for the past fifteen years. There is little new here. The remedy to the declared crisis relies heavily on business metaphors, assumptions, and logic (and relies on a standby crew of privatization advocates like Hanuschek and Finn). It includes, for example, the idea that what schools need is deregulation: public schools should be transformed into charter school networks (that the authors handily call "performance schools" so they can avoid the bad news that charters have gotten in performance studies).These charters would be run by for-profit companies and other companies composed of teacher groups and non-profits; parents would shop for schools "among the available contract schools"; the schools would be made to compete against each other until the bad ones went out of business. The authors further suggest introducing teacher merit pay as well as removing local school boards and their democratic governance: "Schools would no longer be owned by local school districts. Instead, schools would be operated by independent contractors, many of them limited-liability corporations owned and run by teachers."

There are three basic problems here. First is the idea that the crisis of the global economy and the problem of providing good jobs and high standards of living, explained by the report, should be solved principally through educational reform rather than through a number of comprehensive checks and controls on the excesses of neoliberal globalization and on authoritative government action in a number of public and private realms. Tough Choice participates in the endless call for educational remodeling as a response to the failures of business to compete internationally and the failures of government to check the damaging effects of globalization. There are a number of other places to look if one wants to understand why, for example, real wages and income have steadily declined since the 1970’s while CEO pay has increased exponentially. The book fails to engage with the tremendous bodies of literature in the social sciences and humanities that engage this broad economic question and it certainly has little to say about the growing global trend away from the neoliberal "Washington Consensus" model of economic development characterized by the WTO, World Bank, IMF dictates for widescale privatization and trade liberalization—a program that results in a global race to the bottom as capital becomes increasingly mobile and wages are suppressed by this mobility.

Second, the book mistakenly suggests that the educational system should principally be understood for its economic role of preparing workers for a business-dominated economy as opposed to, say, preparing citizens for participation and self-governance in a democratic society or preparing human beings to improve themselves and others through free and creative work. The use of people for the continued profitability of business becomes the be-all and end-all in this stunted partisan view that the reader is expected to accept as universal.

Third is an essential weakness of the remedy proposed: there is no evidence that the charter schools, for-profit educational management companies, and/or the school choice called for by this plan provide any benefits. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Some of the abundantly dubious research relied upon in the book includes unpublished research from Eric Hanushek and other Hoover Institution "luminaries" who provide a chart that attempts to show that GDP growth correlates to educational quality rather educational quantity. While this is a convenient way to justify the methods-not-money mantra of right-wing educational policy, it decontextualizes the numerous factors involved in economic growth while failing to comprehend the vast limitations of economic growth viewed as an end in itself. These conveniently ignored byproducts include environmental devastation, cultural devastation as consumerist values are universalized and exported, and the idiotic equating of public schooling with private service provision—as if the private accumulation of profit and the public service goals of public schooling are the same. Other purported research study cited in the book attempts to correlate NAEP scores to per pupil expenditure to suggest that quality is not closely correlated to educational investment. Rather bizarrely, the only scores used to make the claim are 4th grade reading scores. More importantly and still more bizarrely, as many readers will know, NAEP score comparisons between traditional public and charter schools have shown that the charter experiment has had unimpressive outcomes to date—though that doesn’t stop the authors of Tough Choice relying on them as one of the primary solutions to the problems of public education.

The brand of market fundamentalism that calls for privatization and trade liberalization and that equates education with business profit is the inspiration for this book. Such market fundamentalism undermines public sector protections and supports, and it has made tough times for more and more people. The proposals in this book call for undermining rather than strengthening public schools.

Readers are advised to stick to somewhat tough-minded educational policy authors who address these issues in a serious way. The following readings offer examples.

Suggested readings:

On charter schools:

Carnoy,M., Jacobsen, R., Mishel, L., & Rothstein, R. (2005). The charter school dust up: Examining the evidence on enrollment and achievement. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute Washington.

Wells, A.S. (2002). Where charter school policy fails: The problems of accountability and equity. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

On globalization and education:

Lauder, H., Brown, P. Dillabough, J. & Halsey, A.H. (2006). Education, globalization and social change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, W.I. (2003). Critical globalization studies. New York: Routledge.

On the issue of the economic misframing of educational and other social questions:

Apple, M. (2001). Educating the right way. New York: Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (2005). The social structure of the economy. New York: Polity.

Giroux, H. The terror of neoliberalism. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Saltman, K. (2005). The Edison Schools. New York: Routledge.


  1. I concur with this review. When I bought the report in December, I was very disappointed to read about the economic and production-focused agenda the authors of this report envisioned for the development of "successful" schools of the future.

    As an elementary educator I have much higher aspirations for my students than to produce a successful worker. I spend a lot of my time helping young minds (and their parents) learn how to become life-long learners. I did not find anything in the report about how we as human beings can continue to develop as a species. The competative, anti-global model is limiting. Students should be encouraged to work with others from other countires, just as educators should be exploring other models of education from around the world. I am making an effort to remain open to best practices in technology in education from around the globe. I am not going to put myself in the mindset of competing with other teachers in other countries.

    I find this report extremely discouraging. I hope highly esteemed organizations like IRA, NAEYC, NCTM, NCTE speak out about the negative impact this report could have on policy development in education in the next few years.

    Sarah Parker

  2. Anonymous6:59 PM

    I grew up in a time when it was nearly impossible to find voters willing to approve school bond measures on local ballots. Education was not seen as important in the 60's.

    I was laughed at when I told the counselor at the university I attended that I was thinking about becoming a teacher.

    I did become a teacher in Los Angeles in 1982 and was paid a yearly salary of $13,700 dollars.

    From the time I began teaching to the present, the use of education as a politically expedient issue has grown beyond reason. It seems that anyone, regardless of their level of knowledge of education, its history and methodology, feels qualified to state an opinion with little or no basis, and expects that opinion to be accepted.

    The rise of charter schools and the increasing call from politicians for school vouchers, is a frightening challenge to our country's historic concept of the purpose of education, espoused by Thomas Jefferson,as a means to produce a well-informed citizenry that can take part on the democratic processes of this country. Jefferson never said anything about preparing people to join the workforce.

    The author of this report would destroy the public system of education and replace it with something Jefferson would never recognize.