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Governance Changes in Public Education Undercut Democracy

November 5, 2018

Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris co-authored a post advocating the retention of school boards that appeared last week in Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post Answer Sheet. In their essay, Mss. Burris and Ravitch cite multiple sources to support their assertion that the end game for charter operators is to undercut the authority of elected school boards and turn it over to entrepreneurs who are free to operate de-regulated schools funded by taxpayers who, ideally, acquire their education through the use of vouchers.

Burris and Ravitch seem convinced that the primary end for the billionaires who are spending millions on various charter projects is to make even more money. But based on the thinking described in Anand Giridharadas book, Winners Take All, it might well be based on misguided idealism. In one of the opening chapters of the book Mr. Giridharadas describes how the new class of “philanthro-capitalists” view everything through the lens of markets. And these philanthro-capitalists see themselves as the only ones who can solve complex social problems because they alone were capable of developing complex algorithms that underlie the monetization of technology that was formerly a tool for communication. Mr. Giridharadas quotes from a book titled Philanthocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World written by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in 2008:

Today’s philanthrocapitalists see a world full of big problems that they, and perhaps only they, must put right. Surely, they say, we can save the lives of millions of children who die each year in poor countries from poverty or diseases that have been eradicated in the rich world. And back home in the United States or Europe, it is we who must make our education systems work for every child. 

A couple of paragraphs later, Mr. Giridharadas offers Mr. Bishop and Mr. Green’s description of philanthrocapitalists as wealthy individuals who view themselves as:

“hyperagents” who have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else.They do not face elections every few years or suffer the tyranny of shareholder demands… like CEOs…Nor do they have to devote vast amounts of time and resources to raising money like most heads of NGOs. That frees them up to think long term, to go against conventional wisdom, to take up ideas too risky for government, to deploy substantial resources quickly when the situation demands it. 

Given this way of thinking, it may be that the billionaires are acting out of the misguided belief that they alone have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else and that they are spending their money to make our education systems work for every child. That is, they may believe they are making the world a better place by imposing their enlightened views on those elected officials who presumably do NOT have the ability to do some essential things far better than anyone else… and if that is the case, hubris, not greed, is the motivating force for the billionaires who want to undercut democracy in the name of “reform”.

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