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

Monday, February 09, 2009

Stimulating Corporate Control of Education

From Ken Libby, who spent the weekend looking into the educational giveaways folded into the Senate version of the Stimulus:
Stimulating Corporate Education
Ken Libby

The current stimulus bill highlights the different approaches taken by the two major parties in their goal to eliminate public education and strengthen private control of one of the most essential institutions in a democratic society.

Republicans would prefer to drop emergency education funding entirely, favoring the market-based voucher system first envisioned by Milton Friedman and embraced by neoconservatives. The Democratic stimulus package passed by the House and currently debated by the Senate proposes a slower transition to private control of education.

The $79 billion for "State Fiscal Stabilization" would provide emergency funds for education and social services. However, in an effort to gain a few Republican votes, the Democratic leadership in the Senate appears willing to slice $40 billion from this fund. Congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration may fight the $40 billion cut.

However, the "State Fiscal Stabilization" fund proposed by Democrats includes language designed to shift control of education to corporate interests through the charter school movement. The stimulus package would allow Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, privatizer extraordinaire in the Chicago Public Schools prior to his work in the Obama administration, to direct nearly $14 billion for "State Incentive Grants" and a $650 million "Innovation Fund." Securing a few Republican votes may require cutting these programs in half if the "State Fiscal Stabilization" fund is slashed, a compromise representing the worst of both political ideologies.

Regardless, eligibility for Duncan's new $650,000,000 "Innovation Fund" giveaway under the Democratic stimulus package requires an organization to "demonstrate that they have established partnerships with the private sector, which may include philanthropic organizations, and that the private sector will provide matching funds in order to help bring the results to scale." Yet securing a grant also would "allow such eligible entities to work in partnership with the private sector and the philanthropic community" to expand "to scale based on demonstrated success." This is a significant injection of federal funding into the corporate model of educational reform envisioned by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Family Foundation, KIPP schools, Teach For America, Chris Whittle of Edison Schools, the Committee for Economic Development, and the Business Roundtable.

States willing to play by the data manipulation game mastered by corporate charter chains are eligible for billions more in "Incentive Grants." Section 1406(b) of the stimulus bill specifies "[t]he Secretary shall determine which States receive grants under this section, and the amount of those grants, on the basis of information provided in State applications under section 1405 and such other criteria as the Secretary determines appropriate."

States receiving these funds are also required to adhere to specific aspects of the America COMPETES Act, most notably to "align the requirements, standards, and assessments with the knowledge and skill necessary for success in academic credit-bearing coursework in postsecondary education, in the 21st Century workforce, and in the Armed Forces without the need for remediation," practically a summary of Duncan's position as CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Duncan spent the past seven years reforming CPS, which included the opening of 5 high school military academies filled by minority students, mandating curriculum optimal for teaching children the limited reading skills demanded by the minimum-wage employment in corporate America, expelling low-achieving students to boost test scores, spreading the corporate/militant model of education reserved for minority students in inner-city charter schools, and preserving the best public education for the wealthiest families. The Democratic stimulus package looks to expand Chicago's model nationwide. This also offers the first glimpse into how the Democratic Party will approach the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, particularly how conditional funding will force cash-strapped states to adopt national standards.

Education Industry Associates, representing many of the most powerful education interest groups, claims "[e]ducation is rapidly becoming a $1 trillion industry, representing 10% of America's GNP and second in size only to the health care industry." Elementary and secondary education represents nearly $600 billion annually, with high-poverty schools the target of for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) in the endless search for emerging markets. Neoliberal social entrepreneurs are salivating at the prospect of expanding their teach-to-the-test, militarized learning environments.

Under the education provisions in the current stimulus plan, Federal dollars will be diverted to for-profit corporations and non-profits and foundations representing corporate America, a continuation of the abysmal policies of the Department of Education during the previous eight years. Washington elites, and the Democratic party in particular, are presenting a false choice of eliminating supplemental state assistance or providing "State Fiscal Stabilization" with billions reserved for dismantling public education.

Under the current plan, any stimulus signed by the President will significantly weaken public education. Emergency public funding will either be slashed in an era of unprecedented bailouts for the same institutions responsible for the State and local budget shortages; or, public education funding will be diverted back to corporate America through the U. S. Department of Education.

The Washington elite couldn't care less about public education for the poor when their children have access to high-quality education free from testing regimens and militaristic learning environments, which they deem necessary for working class children to overcome the effects of the poverty that Washington continues to simply ignore. As for the general public, a far cheaper education system guided and controlled by corporate America becomes the only education system capable of legitimizing current power structures and economic systems that display a blatant disregard for our children and our collective future.


Last updated: 3:25 pm

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