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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Governator, Charter Schools, and the Market

Schwarzenegger's deep ties to the charter school movement haven't been a secret. He has taken at least $1 million in contributions from charter school advocates, stacked the State Board of Education with charter school educators, overseen since taking office in 2003 more than a doubling in the number of charter schools and steered hundreds of millions of construction bond money to charter schools.

"One can say that the charter school lobby has defined how the governor tries to craft school reform," said Bruce Fuller, director of the Policy Analysis for California Education at UC Berkeley. "Because he's got well-heeled donors that remain very supportive of charter schools, it's a no-brainer for the governor, given his affection for market remedies." [My bold]


Schwarzenegger's own plan, SBX5-1, shepherded through the Senate last month by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, seeks to streamline the authorizing or renewal of charter schools, bolster their ability to obtain state funding, and codify their own standards of auditing.

Supporters don't deny that Schwarzenegger has been an unapologetic ally of charter schools.

"It's fair to say that Gov. Schwarzenegger has been the most important champion California has ever had for charter schools," said Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. "He understands and is focused on making sure nothing comes forward that would compromise charter schools."

Under Schwarzenegger, the number of charter schools operating in California has more than doubled — from 382 in 2003-04 to the current total of 809. Though the state is nowhere near its maximum of 1,350 charter schools, he wants to lift the cap — a provision in both the Senate and Assembly bills.

Schwarzenegger has packed the nine-member State Board of Education with five leaders of the charter school movement, including board President Ted Mitchell, who is president and CEO of the NewSchools Venture fund, a national San Francisco-based firm that provides startup money for charter schools.

Other state board members with ties to the charter school movement are Yvonne Chan, a principal of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, which focuses on "conversion" charter schools; Jonathan Williams, founder and co-director of the Accelerated School; Jorge Lopez, executive director of the Oakland Charter Academy; and Rae Belisle, president and CEO of EdVoice, a school reform lobbying group with strong ties to the charter school movement. Belisle defended the constitutionality of charter schools while serving as chief counsel to the State Board of Education.

EdVoice board members have rewarded Schwarzenegger, contributing at least $1 million to his various campaign committees.

Eli Broad, a co-founder of EdVoice and billionaire Los Angeles developer who has run a Superintendent Academy, which trains CEOs how to run schools, has contributed $430,000 to Schwarzenegger.

Don Fisher, the late Gap founder and a co-founder of EdVoice, and his family have donated $245,000 to Schwarzenegger, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings, also a co-founder of EdVoice, gave $251,491 in stock to the Proposition 1A-1E campaign pushed by Schwarzenegger this year.

Many of the same donors are beginning to bring Romero, the Los Angeles senator who is pushing Schwarzenegger-backed Race to the Top legislation, into their orbit. Romero, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction, has received at least $72,000 from various members of the EdVoice board, including $13,000 from Broad's wife, Edyth, and $6,500 from Hastings.

The Fisher family, deeply involved in school reform causes, has contributed $45,500 to her campaign.

The Mercury article makes it pretty clear that the state of California is being reformed by a cadre of neoliberal reformers and market fundamentalists; public services slashed, schools privatized (or charterized), taxes kept to a minimum (particularly for corporate entities and wealthy elite), and market mechanisms increasingly relied upon to spur changes. It's not a promising package, but it's the favored reform agenda of neocons/neoliberals, and it's even quite attractive to the likes of Obama and Duncan.
Broad, Fisher, Hastings, NSVF CEO Ted Mitchell (also the President of the California State Board of Education), and their wealthy pals have helped the Governator and his personal hitwoman, Gloria Romero, ascend to positions of great power in the education world, with Romero likely to make a solid run for state superintendent of public education. Romero introduced massive choice bills, and clearly helped the Terminator usher in changes to public policy as a way to favor the pro-charter crowd, which is also helping the washed-up actor/bodybuilder keep his position as the top dog in CA (and helping Romero, too). Arnold makes it quite clear that he couldn't care less about public schools, which he considers a bastion of the world's greatest evil, collectivism, and he fully intends to use another round of "starve the beast" mentality to fully do away with the remaining public schools in CA (unless, of course, they're in the more affluent neighborhoods stacked with wealthy white folks, who the Governator and his pals in office can hit up for more campaign financing in the future).
We can thank, in part, one of the Godfathers of neoliberal economics, Milton Friedman, for influencing the Governator. In the video clip below, Arnold waxes on, and on, and on about the beauty of the free-market, not to mention becoming "friends" with Milton and his love of Ronald Reagan:
Public education is in grave danger because we've substituted "democracy" for "the market," which was articulated quite nicely by Deb Meier stated in this recent posting at Bridging Differences, her back-and-forth with former market fanatic, Diane Ravitch:

I keep feeling that I've missed something. Have the past decades convinced us that the marketplace is more accountable than public institutions of democracy? Have there been fewer scandals during these same years in charter schools than regular ones? And how would we know? What do they do better—other than attract the "in" crowd's money?

While K-12 education was made universal because it seemed important that every single potential citizen be well-educated if democracy was to flourish, we have substituted the idea of democracy with the idea of the "marketplace." The less regulated, the better—ditto for charters. "Good" charter states are those considered by their allies to be those that are least regulated. Does it sound familiar? (Actually, there is relatively little interest in charters outside of urban poor neighborhoods—by voters or hedge-funders.)

I'm reminded of part of the opening paragraph of Dewey's School and Society, a book that should be required reading for anyone interested in progressive education:

All that society has accomplished for itself is put, through the agency of the school, at the disposal of its future members. All its better thoughts of itself it hopes to realize through the new possibilities thus opened to its future self. Here individualism and socialism are at one. Only by being true to the full growth of all the individuals who make it up, can society by any chance be true to itself. And in the self-direction thus given, nothing counts as much as the school, for, as Horace Mann said, "Where anything is growing, one former is worth a thousand reformers."

The legions of edupreneurs and market-fundamentalists - the reformers - have orchestrated their hostile takeover of public education as effectively as they concoct their profit-making schemes on Wall Street and corporate board rooms. They rake in oodles of cash working their day jobs, then moonlight as ed de-formers. The formers Dewey refers to in the above paragraph - teachers and other educators - have lost this battle to the wealthy elite running both the economy and our political system. The only hope we have, now that Obama has turned his back on real public education, is to take the radical forms of action - occupations, civil disobedience, and even rioting - if we're to see a public education system built upon democratic principles rather than market-based mechanisms.

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