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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Unlimited Tax Credits for Supporting School Privatization

I hate to pick on my new hometown paper so soon, so let it be said that the Boston Globe’s support for corporate solutions to the problems of the public schools is no different, really, than the LA Times, the NY Times, the Washington Post (which could be weekly by now if it were not for the profits of Kaplan keeping it afloat), or any of the other corporate news outlets whose accountants and marketing departments essentially determine editorial policy. Nonetheless, the Boston Globe often gets its Irish dander up more than most when faced with the stubborn insistence on the part of Massachusetts public officials to preserve the civic space occupied by the state system of public schools.

This past Sunday, for instance, the Globe gave former head of the State’s Board of Education (under Romney®), James Peyser, almost 2 of the first 3 pages of its “Ideas” Section to promote the investments of his venture philanthropy outfit, the NewSchools Venture Fund. Actually, it is not James Peyser’s outfit—this tax haven for the rich and ultra-rich is much too connected and too wired to the power sources for any one individual to control, even Bill Gates.

Mr. Peyser, you might say, acts as part and partner of a well-connected brokerage house for venture philanthropists, where brokers put together donor-investors with investments such as corporate charter schools that pass the conservative ideology smell test. These investors, then, are involved in ways that provide funding and control of urban education reform, even to the point of creating (through in-house alternative teacher preparation programs) a teacher corps appropriately indoctrinated and without unions or collective bargaining. And all in the name of philanthropy—and tax credits. Did I say that NewSchools Venture Fund is a non-profit? The same kind of non-profit, of course, as the College Board, which brought in over a nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in “non-profit” last year.

Peyser’s piece entitled Brain Drain: Why so many talented educators are leaving Boston for New York, laments the fact that, following the profitable Romney years of using government to attack government, some of Boston’s pioneers of the charter school business have moved on to “greener” pastures such as New York, where the Bloomberg-Klein juggernaut stands poised for a final assault on the public schools of the City.

The real and unacknowledged drain that is at the heart of Peyser’s concern is, of course, the dollar drain, the one that he sees flowing away as Boston and its environs reach the statutory cap for charter schools. This is the real reason for alarm and the prominent placement of this piece in the Boston Globe to begin with. The loss has nothing to do with the loss of educators and everything to do with the loss of market potential for the corporate philanthropy industry and the education industry that provide a new, morally-sanctioned machinery aimed to complete the conversion of urban schools into contained work camps for behavioral control and parrot learning.

While calling for the Massachusetts Legislature to allow charter schools to “expand and replicate without limit, and [that] the arbitrary municipal caps on charters . . . be eliminated in the Commonwealth’s lowest performing school districts,” most of Mr. Peyser’s piece, it seems, is really aimed at promoting the contents of the NewSchools Venture Fund portfolio: outfits like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Mastery Charter Schools, and Victory Schools (is that where Winston Smith graduated)? All of these academic chain gangs operate in poverty-blighted urban communities, and their Pavlovian pedagogy, scripted curriculums, uniform teaching methods, uniformed children, and unceasing testing and test prep are seen by the conservative cognoscenti as the final solution to educating the poor—at a 20% cost savings (remember the new teacher corps with the “relentless work ethic”and no union), a 20% cost savings that can be passed on to more leafy school districts that are trying, damn it, to attract the high tech industry execs into their foreclosure-strewn cul-de-sacs.

The NewSchools Venture Fund represents, in fact, the confluence of consumer capitalism, an Abramoffian conservative ideology, and entrepreneurial philanthropy. And it operates for the simultaneous preservation of wealth by the wealthy, a backwards-aimed social policy that is racist at its core, and the replacement of public institutions by corporate welfare non-profits that suck up public dollars, occupy public buildings, all the while collecting tax credits for its corporate sugar daddies who provide the bribes that are offered teachers and students for higher test scores. This new phalanx of fascism offers a clever, and seemingly respectable, route to the continued partitioning of the non-privileged in poor communities that have only gotten poorer over the past thirty years, while allowing the privileged to sleep better at night for the fact that part of their wealth is invested in efforts to attack the "achievement gap" while simultaneously shoring up their privilege gap, all accomplished while humbly supplementing the public school coffers, the same coffers that continue to be melted away by the tax credits that are redeemed by the same humble, though generous, patrons whose gifts, er, investments must surely assuage any conscience that may, otherwise, be sullied by accusations of not caring for the poor. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too!

And as for the educators who are supposedly moving to New York and New Jersey for better schools? The ones who are moving are moving for business reasons, not education reasons. There are some of us who still know the difference.


  1. Why am I not surprised by this. May I suggest Naomi Kline's The Shock Doctrine. It is one of the most important books written in years. One of the last area's for these corporate raiders to earn an income is to go after public money whether it's schools, water, electricity, the telephone companies. These companies take over public resources and hold local communities hostage to get back what they use to get for free. There's been a lot of talk about government corruption but you don't start talking about real dollars until you have a marriage between government and business, and you reward the revolving door between the too. I'm sure Mr. Peyser played his role and it's time to get his pay back.

    P.S. I'm from Mass. too. The state testing scores just came out. The Media parrot whatever is put in front of them - Math up, English down - but they don't have real Math how much it cost those communities to get those answers and could the money have been spent more wisely.

  2. Anonymous1:26 PM

    This is just organized STEALING on the part of Korporate-Big Business.

    Same old same old.

    When will this crap ever end?