Sunday, May 17, 2009
Philanthrocapitalists Speak, Duncan Listens
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced his hope to see 5,000 schools turned around during the next five years. Increases in federal spending directly tied to school restructuring (firing entire staff; closing the school; turning the school over to charter operators; or new curriculum materials) will drive this intended reform. Duncan's plan for school turnarounds should not be a surprise given his tenure in Chicago, the current DOE's connections to various philanthrocapitalists, and the political climate in Washington.
Take, for example, this recent document put out by the Coalition for Student Achievement, a group funded by (among others): Business Roundtable, Center for American Progress, Democrats for Education Reform, NewSchools Venture Fund, Stupski Foundation, Gates Foundation, Business Coalition for Education Excellence, Commission on No Child Left Behind, Broad Foundation, Fordham Institute, and Center on Reinventing Public Education. The reform agenda pushed in "Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds in Student Success," was constructed during an early 2009 meeting in Washington, D.C (p. 2). Many notable education entrepreneurs, philanthropic foundations, think tanks representatives, and a number of the most noteworthy education reformers attended the meeting: TFA representatives, NewSchools Venture Fund CEO and California State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, NewSchools Venture Fund partner Jonathan Schorr, Green Dot CEO Steve Barr, and New Teacher Project CEO Timothy Daly; four Gates Foundation representatives, two Broad representatives (although Andrew J. Rotherham is not listed as representing the Broad Foundation even though he serves on their board); Thomas B. Fordham's Chester Finn, and Education Sector's Chad Alderman and Rotherham; Michelle Rhee, NYC Chancellor Joel Klein and the NYC COO, and the Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek. And don't forget to throw in two McKinsey & Co. representatives for a touch of global management flavor. Their cumulative thoughts were summarized in "Smart Options" and proposed as a blueprint for education reform.
The document notes that "nearly 5,000 schools (or about 5 percent of all U.S. public schools) are now in at least Program Improvement 5 status" (p. 26) But districts and states have avoided firing the entire staff of a school, closing the school, or turning the school over to charter management organizations. Speaking about national education, KIPP, Green Dot, Uncommon Schools, Yes Prep, and Aspire are specifically mentioned as "high-performing schools serving high-poverty students" before the document calls for governors and state officials to "Aggressively close poor-performing schools and replace them with new high-performing schools." [their bold](p. 27) Many other ideas - from teacher reform to national standards to data-driven instruction - are shared with Duncan's like-minded reformers. These may not be Duncan's words - but this outline could easily be confused with an official outline of the DOE's plans for education reform and the unprecedented $100 billion.
There is not an ounce of evidence to suggest these kind of reform efforts will work. But the Philanthropy Roundtable operates with its own set of rules - just check the guiding principles of the Philanthropy Roundtable, listed on page 139 of this recent document. The reform efforts are guaranteed to do one thing and one thing only: apply market mechanisms to public education. Markets are a great way to do some things - but not a way to provide equitable, high-quality public services to everyone.