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Posts Tagged ‘consolidation’

Disaster Capitalism Comes to Puerto Rico. Is ANYONE Surprised?

February 7, 2018 Comments off

When Hurricane Kartina hit New Orleans and forced the closure of all of the public schools in the city, then President Bush and his Secretary of Education seized on the disaster as an opportunity to “transform” the school district replacing the public school system overseen by an elected board with charter schools. Years later, despite evidence to the contrary, the GOP and the neoliberal “reformers” and researchers who supported then hailed this “revolutionary change” as unequivocally good, even though there was mounting evidence to the contrary.

Unsurprisingly, after Hurricane Maria devastated his island the Governor of Puerto Rico is now taking the same tack as the Bush administration took after Kartina, introducing a reform package that replaces the single school district that governs Puerto Rico’s schools with a voucher plan. As reported by Reuters writer Nick Brown,

Speaking in a televised address on Monday, Governor Ricardo Rossello also said every public school teacher in Puerto Rico would receive a $1,500 annual salary increase beginning next school year. It was unclear whether the pay bump would require legislation.

The governor’s remarks came 10 days after the island’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, said she planned to decentralize Puerto Rico’s education department and introduce “autonomous schools.”

The pay raise for teachers presumably will win their endorsement for this plan to introduce “autonomous schools”, but the AFT is not buying it:

The plan met with immediate scorn from the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 40,000 educators in Puerto Rico. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Reuters the plan “doesn’t add up,” saying salary bumps will do nothing without more investment in schools.

“There’s a lot of nice flowery language in here, but … you can’t actually do the things [Rossello] is talking about doing and still divert resources from public schools,” Weingarten said.

The voucher program, projected to begin during the 2019-2020 school year, would allow parents to choose public or private school alternatives, but may face legal hurdles.

Ms. Keleher has a daunting task given the fiscal issues facing Puerto Rico. She has generated considerable criticism before the Hurricane because she needed to close over 150 schools to help balance the budget and she had launched some decentralized BOCES-like service organizations across the state to help provide cost-effective support to the schools. But based on what I’ve read, her forte is applying spreadsheet analyses to the operation of schools in the name of efficiency… and efficiency is not necessarily a hallmark of democracy, though is seems to be an article of faith that it IS a hallmark of the marketplace…. and vouchers are the fastest way to impose market forces onto schools.

In the coming months it will be interesting to see if Puerto Rico moves ahead with it’s “revolutionary idea” or backs off because of the inevitable legal challenges it will face. Stay tuned.

This Just In: Privatizing Profiteers Benefit from and Exacerbate Racial and Economic Segregation

January 20, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s Washington Post blog post by Valerie Strauss consists of an interview of author Nowile Rooks whose latest book, Cutting School, is summarized in one telling quote that leads Ms. Strauss’ post:

“If we as a nation really took seriously dismantling underperforming school districts and replacing them with the same types of educational experiences we provide the wealthy, it would negatively impact the bottom lines of many companies.” — Noliwe M. Rooks

In Ms. Strauss’ interview, Ms. Rooks provides a narrative on how segregation began after the Civil War, how it flourished and was supported by law until the mid-1950s, and how it continues today. But Ms. Rooks asserts that the privatization of public education has made the situation even worse, and that any policy that seeks to end segregation by race (or, by implication of her analysis, income) would likely run afoul of the investor class whose campaign contributions to conservatives and neoliberals ensure the perpetuation of our current system:

Students educated in wealthy schools perform well as measured by standard educational benchmarks. Students educated in poor schools do not. Racial and economic integration is the one systemic solution that we know ensures the tide will lift all educational boats equally. However, instead of committing to educating poor children in the same way as we do the wealthy, or actually with the wealthy, we have offered separate educational content (such as a reoccurring focus on vocational education for the poor) and idiosyncratic forms of educational funding and delivery (such as virtual charter schools and cyber education) as substitutes for what we know consistently works. While not ensuring educational equality, such separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education have provided the opportunity for businesses to make a profit selling schooling. 

Ms. Rooks coined a term for this phenomenon: “segrenomics”. And this paragraph on how it works could have been lifted from “Reinventing Government” or any treatise coming from libertarian think tanks:

I am calling this specific form of economic profit “segrenomics.” Children who live in segregated communities and are Native American, black or Latino are more likely to have severely limited educational options. In the last 30 years, government, philanthropy, business and financial sectors have heavily invested in efforts to privatize certain segments of public education; stock schools with inexperienced, less highly paid teachers whose hiring often provides companies with a “finder’s fee”; outsource the running of schools to management organizations; and propose virtual schools as a literal replacement for — not just a supplement to — the brick and mortar educational experience.

The attraction, of course, is the large pot of education dollars that’s been increasingly available to private corporate financial interests. The public education budget funded by taxpayers is roughly $500 billion to $600 billion per year. Each successful effort that shifts those funds from public to private hands — and there has been a growing number of such efforts since the 1980s — escalates corporate earnings.

In short, these privatized for-profit schools are designed to benefit shareholders first and foremost and if children learn as a result it is a collateral benefit.  Is there any way out of this trend given the money being spent by philanthropists and profiteers, the relentless message that privatized for-profit market driven schools are better than “government schools”, and the desire to keep taxes low at all costs? Ms. Rooks’ interview concludes with this:

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos?” I often reflect on his questions when thinking about where the contemporary paths we are traveling in relation to public education are leading. I think community or chaos are two potential destinations. We have to stop and reflect on where both our educational preferences and policies are leading us. We can either continue to encourage chaos by allowing our tax dollars to be used to educationally experiment on working class and poor children, and disrupt poor communities by closing schools, or we can embrace community by requiring that poor children are educated in the same ways as the wealthy.

The choices we make are will tell future generations much of what they will need to know about what our democracy means to us here in the 21st century.

I have been consulting in rural Vermont communities who are trying to answer a variation of this question. The legislature in Vermont passed a bill that encouraged town school districts to voluntarily merge into multi-town union districts where their local schools would be represented by regional boards instead of locally. This bill rightly assumes that a single merged K-12 district will provide greater efficiency and, thus, greater savings. But many town bridle at the changes that come with regionalization: they fear that their towns might ultimately lose their public schools, which serve as community anchors. The overarching question is one of efficiency versus community: do we want to save every dollar we can in the name of reducing costs, even if it means eliminating our community? It is clear that some Vermont towns do not want the state imposing a new definition of “community” on them in the name of efficiency. It is also clear that some suburban and exurban towns and urban neighborhoods do not want the state government or city government imposing a definition of “community” on them in the name of segregation. In both cases the hearts and minds of individuals need to be changed. I believe we need to expand our definition of “Community” to be as inclusive as possible without abandoning the traditions that make our local “community” unique. It CAN be accomplished if we lower our voices, soften our positions, and open our hearts and minds.

 

Contingent Employment Redux: Bigger May NOT be Better and Efficiency May NOT be Good

July 15, 2015 Comments off

The NYTimes article on contingent employment I referenced in a post a couple of days ago was recently referenced in Naked Capitalist with a quote from the article followed by this commentary:

“In retrospect, the Uberization of the economy began innocently enough back in the late 1970s….. [I]nvestors and management gurus began insisting that companies pare down and focus on what came to be known as their “core competencies,” like developing new goods and services and marketing them” [New York Times]. Interesting idea. Then we had outsourcing. Then we outsourced everything.

These comments on the “Uberization of the economy” resonated with me. As a school superintendent from the early 1980s onward I faced the need to weigh the value of outsourcing “non-core” functions like transportation, food service, maintenance, payroll, etc, vs. having the school district oversee those functions. Little did I suspect at the time that ultimately the management of the school district itself would be outsourced… and if vouchers take root the entire enterprise of public education will be outsourced. But I am still persuaded that public schools ought to work collaboratively with other public agencies to provide food, transportation, health services, technology support and business services…. maybe including administrative services. But my observation after leading in school districts in ME, NH, NY, VT and MD and consulting since my retirement in New England is that many school districts prefer to operate these services themselves despite the potential for savings. Indeed, the small rural districts are the least likely to consider any outsourcing because the people who are likely to lose jobs as a result of that decision are sitting in the audiences at town meeting. Small town democracy might be the best antidote to the wholesale privatization of public schools. In the final analysis this is yet another instance where bigger may not be better for the well-being of the community and efficiency may be the enemy.