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Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

Vulture Philanthropists Overshadowed by Tech Philanthropists… and They Like it That Way

September 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Peter Greene, who writes the Curmuducation blog, recently wrote a post titled “Stop Calling it Philanthropy” that decried the so-called generosity of the technology moguls who are trying to “reform” education.

In theist he describes the recently widely publicized “reform” efforts of Mark Zuckerberg, Lorene Jobs, and Bill Gates, each of whom has donated substantial sums of money to persuade schools to invest in strategies that will arguably increase their corporation’s profits. But Peter Greene’s protest is more heartfelt. AS a public school teacher he resents seeing some technology titan imposing his or her will on his life’s work in a way that allows them to take credit without assuming any responsibility:

…(the philanthropists) get to feel like philosopher kings and queens without having to do any of the hard parts. And they get to avoid the part where someone of lower stature says, “Your ideas are bad and destructive and dangerous.” It lets them have control without responsibility or consequences for their bad choices.

But I think the situation is even worse than Peter Greene describes… because a lot of the “reform” money is coming from hedge fund philanthropists who made their $$$ as vulture capitalists. These “philanthropists” dodge federal, state and local taxes which starves public schools of the money they need to operate effectively. These same “philanthropists” then invest in “grassroots” tax-exempt organizations, some of whom promote the notion that market competition is the solution to all problems and others of whom promote the notion that standardized test scores are the ideal proxy for “success”. These “philanthropists then persuade the public that they have a “product” that can improve the “failing” schools. In some cases the “product” is a technology-based solution like ECOT, but in most cases the solution is the same blunt instrument they’ve used in the private sector: outsourcing the work to lower wage employees who can deliver the same product for a lower cost.

The hedge fund philanthropists view “failing” public school districts the same way they view “weak” corporations. Their plan is to take them over the same way they’ve taken over businesses in the private sector: by getting enough seats on the boards to dictate the “corporate policy”. They are using their vulture capitalism skills to take over the school boards… then replace experienced teachers with high legacy costs with low-wage charter school chains or CAI companies they operate. They can then pocket the “profit” and use it to start the cycle all over again. These vulture philanthropists look at the tax dollars currently going into public education as a pot of gold… and they are going after the big fish in the urban pond first knowing that eventually the smaller fish will follow.

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Will NASA Get Chico’s Bail Bonds to Support Them? Will Public Schools?

September 12, 2018 Leave a comment

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Bad News Bears when Walter Matthau’s beleaguered team of the same name takes the field with their sponsor’s name on the back of their jerseys. While other teams are sponsored by local grocers, hardware stores, and service clubs, the Bad News Bears are sponsored by “Chico’s Bail Bonds”. The unruly, unconventional, and anti-establishment Bears eventually turn into a winning team… but their sponsorship by a decidedly lowbrow business was just one of the subversive messages included in the movie which won a Writers Guild of America award for the best comedy screenwriting in 1976.

This scene was brought to mind when I read in a Washington Post article by Christian Davenport that NASA is considering the commercialization of it’s flights in an effort to raise revenue. Mr. Davenport opens his article with this:

The constant creep of corporate America into all aspects of everyday life — from the Allstate Sugar Bowl to Minute Maid Park — may soon conquer a new frontier.

The final frontier.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has directed the space agency to look at boosting its brand by selling naming rights to rockets and spacecraft and allowing its astronauts to appear in commercials and on cereal boxes, as if they were celebrity athletes.

Why is NASA considering this? For two reasons: they need the revenue and it HAS been done before in Russia!

Pizza Hut paid to paint its logo on a Russian rocket in 1999. In the mid-1990s, an Israeli milk company filmed a commercial on the space station Mir, and a pair of Russian cosmonauts even appeared on QVC to sell a pen able to write in a weightless environment.

“Is this a pen you would recommend to use in space?” the host asked.

“Yeah, they said they love this pen,” the translator said on the live broadcast…

When Mir de-orbited, Taco Bell put a huge floating tarp into the Pacific Ocean and claimed that if any piece of the space station hit it, the company would give everyone in the country a free taco.

There was a time not so long ago when we competed against Russia because it had a different economic model. Now we are competing against Russia because they have adopted our model and seem intent on using it to overtake us in the space race.

How does this relate to public education policy, you ask. As noted (and lamented) in previous posts, schools are already selling naming rights to stadia, already engaged in “public-private partnerships” to help underwrite construction projects, already using fee-for-service models to fund athletics, and already selling advertising on buses and rooftops to raise revenue.

But a former astronaut described the problem with these partnerships and the general commercialization and commodification of public enterprises:

Michael Lopez-Alegria, another former NASA astronaut, said that by endorsing products, NASA could end up competing against a growing commercial sector that is trying to open up space for the masses.

“It’s going to be really hard for NASA or any government agency to put itself in a position where it can become a de facto endorser of this product or that product,” he said. “To me, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. It’s just not right. ”

He said he was also concerned that if Congress sees NASA is getting funding from the private sector, it might say, “We’re not going to pay anymore. “

Hm-m-m-m…. sound familiar? If parents are willing to pay for athletics, why should taxpayers increase their funding for sports? If parents are willing to pay for buses why should taxpayers foot the bill? Where will it end?

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said that the government “should be focused entirely on what is most important for the public interest, not private gain. In fact, if a project is commercially viable, it shouldn’t have to depend on taxpayer funds or U.S. astronauts, who might be divided in their job responsibilities.”

If public schools ever become “commercially viable” maybe taxpayers won’t have to raise as much money… and school boards will become obsolete. Is THAT what we want? Is THAT where we are headed?

As Florence Bears Down on the Carolinas, Privatizers Rub Their Hands in Delight!

September 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday flagging David Sirota’s recent article in the Guardian that emphasized the complicity of neo-lliberals in the election of Donald Trump. The comment section included this gem from Retiredbutmissthekids:

Oh, & correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Carolinas in the path of the new Category 4 hurricane?

Perhaps Betsy DeLoss can have her own Arne/Katrina moment: “Florence was the best thing to ever have happened to North/South Carolina!”

I felt a chill when I read this comment, because it is VERY clear that given the opportunity the North Carolina legislature would LOVE to use any federal funds they receive to replace whatever public schools are destroyed when the storm surge hits their state. I could envision them not only doing what Louisiana did relative to a wholesale replacement of one school system with charter schools but replacing multiple county school systems with a single State agency to facilitate the “efficient allocation of Federal funds”. Worse, they could use this as an excuse to replace the free bridges that link the Outer Banks with the mainland with “public-private partnership” highways that rely on fees to pay off bonds and keep the roads well maintained.

Elected officials often see every crisis as an opportunity… Hurricane Florence may the opportunity of a lifetime for privatizers.

 

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Conservative Groups Who Oppose Immigration from Unsafe Central American Nations Advocate “Exit Path” From “Unsafe Schools”

September 11, 2018 Leave a comment

Here’s an excerpt from today’s Politico post on public education, which illustrates how choice charlatans will use fear to generate “customers” for their “product”:

CAN SCHOOL CHOICE PROMOTE SCHOOL SAFETY? Giving students in unsafe schools an “exit path” that includes the choice to attend a private school could better protect them and push public schools to become safer environments, a panel of school choice advocates convened by the conservative Heritage Foundation argued Monday.

The discussion comes on the heels of a June reportfrom the foundation that advocates for publicly funded scholarship programs. The programs would offer students who have been bullied or attend schools with high rates of violence the opportunity to transfer to a different school of their choice.It also urges policymakers to expand a federal program that currently allows such transfers for students who are victims of criminal offenses at school.

“Private schools must cater to the needs of their customers,” Corey DeAngelis, a policy analyst at the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, said during the event. “Parents aren’t going to send their kids to schools that are not very safe. On the other hand, public schools remain open whether they are safe or not.”

He said existing or proposed Education Savings Account programs could be expanded to include a “safety mechanism” that allows students who have experienced bullying to participate, without regard to family income.

The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, is floating a similar policy proposal. That plan would create state-level“Child Safety Account” programs “for parents who feel, for whatever reason, their child’s school is unsafe for their child. Tim Benson, a policy analyst for the institute, said Monday that “reasonable apprehension” by parents based on school safety statistics would be sufficient to tap into the program.

The hypocrisy of these conservative organizations who are at best silent about admitting immigrant children fleeing from narco-terrorists is appalling. And that hypocrisy is compounded by the notion that public school children who “suffer reasonable apprehension” would be allowed to change schools while we separate children from Central America who have had guns held to their heads from their parents at our border.

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Thanks to ESSA, Billionaire Reformers are “Going Local”, Making State and School Board Elections Crucial

September 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday, one of Diane Ravitch’s posts used Andrea Gabor’s recent Bloomberg op ed as a springboard to alert her readers to the change in tactics by the billionaire “reformers”. Here are the opening paragraphs of Ms. Gabor’s Bloomberg essay:

For two decades, the prevailing wisdom among education philanthropists and policymakers has been that the U.S. school system needs the guiding hand of centralized standard-setting to discipline ineffective teachers and bureaucrats. Much of that direction was guided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions since 2000 to influence both schools and education policy.

But as schools open this year, top-down national initiatives based on standardized testing and curricular uniformity are in retreat.

And what will take the place of “the guiding hand of centralized standard-setting”?

In the coming years, its K-12 philanthropy will concentrate on supporting what it calls “locally driven solutions” that originate among networks of 20 to 40 schools, according to Allan Golston, who leads the foundation’s U.S. operations, because they have “the power to improve outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students and drive social and economic mobility.”

The billionaire “reformers” did not become billionaires by accident. They are all strategic thinkers who look at national political trends and try to get in front of them in developing their profiteering instincts. Sometime in the 1980s it dawned on some of the market-driven vulture-capitalist-hedge-funders that there was a huge “market” to be accessed in the public sector. With a surplus of teachers, especially at the elementary level, it might be possible to operate private schools at a profit if the operators of those schools could receive the same amount of taxpayer-raised money as public schools. After all, public schools had legacy costs (i.e. retirees, bonds, highly compensated veteran staff members, negotiated agreements with benefits and guaranteed step increases) that were baked into the per pupil costs. If someone opened a brand new school they could operate it for far less money than a public school! When computer-aided instruction emerged as a viable (albeit ineffective) means of “educating” children, the potential profit margins got even larger. The problem was how to get the door opened.

The privatizers access to public schools became a real possibility with the passage of NCLB. That law mandated the takeover of “failing schools” by the states. But by 2001, most states had gutted their departments of education making a “State takeover” impossible. The solution? Privatization! And by the mid to late 2000s states had identified lots of failing schools, most of them serving low income students. This was an ideal outcome for the privatizers, for they could establish beachheads in each state without alienating the affluent suburban parents. By the time suburban schools started “failing” in some states the privatizers had their nose under the tent and were working to pass state legislation that would win over parents who opted out of public education without further alienating the parents in affluent suburbs and communities who were happily funding outstanding public schools.

But here’s an important note to anyone reading this: because the billionaire investors in privatized schools ARE going local it is important to make certain the state legislatures and governor’s mansions are flipped ASAP. The GOP now has 33 governors and the GOP controls 34 legislatures compared to a paltry 13 by the democrats. With ESSA, the states and local school board races are more important than ever. It is a daunting task to flip a state once a single party controls both the executive and legislative branches… but unless several states change course ESSA will have accomplished the goals of the privatizers and public education will be on the run.

Has Bill Gates Seen The Light on School Improvement? His “Squishy Idea” Might Be a Sign He HAS….

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading a post from Diane Ravitch that takes Bill Gates to task for his latest effort at reforming public education. Diane Ravitch and many of the bloggers she draws from and many of her commenters have a deep antipathy for Bill Gates, who they (perhaps rightfully) view as the paradigmatic “clueless reformer”. Mr. Gates, like his antecedents in the Gilded Age, sees himself as one who can cut through the complicated problems of the world. He holds this view because he believes he is necessarily wise because he has made a fortune for himself thanks to his acumen.

Here’s a quote from The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie I read recently:
“The man of wealth should consider himself the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, brining to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer”.

As anyone who’s read Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency realizes, the factory school model in place today is the result of the “superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer” Mr. Carnegie brought to public schools… a model Gates previously used as the basis for his “reforms”. The problem with THAT model is that it led to the conclusion that “fixing schools” was a COMPLICATED problem that could be achieved by applying engineering skills.

I am heartened that Mr. Gates is now advocating a “very squishy” means of improving schools… it might be an indication that he realizes “fixing schools” is a COMPLEX problem that will require the engagement of human beings and may elude the simplistic metrics that are the basis for the factory school model. Standardized tests are anything but squishy… but they are also anything but helpful in determining “success”. Caring teachers, nurturing parents, and a sense of well being on the part of all students are all “squishy”… but they are far more important than high test scores.

New Yorker’s Sheelah Kolhatkar Profile of Doomsday Investor Explains “Reform” Mindset

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

The August 27 edition of the New Yorker features a lengthy article by Sheelah Kolhatkar profiling Paul Singer, “…the founder of Elliott Management and one of the most powerful, and most unyielding, investors in the world.” Titled “The Doomsday Investor“, Ms. Kolhatkar uses a case study of Elliott Management’s take down of Athenahealth, a publicly owned company founded and led by Jonathan Bush, to describe how Mr. Singer operates. In reading the article I came to the conclusion that it is no surprise that the hedge funders are underwriting “school reform” and somewhat alarmed at the effectiveness of their approach to date.

Basically, a vulture capitalist firm like Elliott Management makes a relatively small but significant investment in a corporation they identify as “underperforming” and, in doing so, gain a platform to present their findings on the deficiencies of the organization to the board of directors. In the case study in the New Yorker, Elliott Management bought just 9.2% of the shares. Elliott then calls the CEO of the corporation they have targeted and offers to “work with them” to increase profits, which can be readily accomplished by slashing the workforce, selling off portions of the business that are siphoning funds from the bottom line, outsourcing relatively unprofitable functions in the organization, and/or reducing wages and benefits. Should the CEO be reluctant, as was the case with Jonathan Brush at Athenahealth, Elliott Management will do everything possible to undercut the leadership by either sharing examples of mismanagement with Board members or, as was the case at Athenahealth, undertaking ad hominem attacks on the CEO.

In the article, Ms. Kolhatkar notes that Mr. Singer not only invests in the private sector, he also invests in politics and making his voice heard in the public forum. The following is a synthesis of his efforts in these arenas:

Singer has been deploying his riches in Republican politics, where he is one of the G.O.P.’s top donors and a powerful influence on the Party and its President… Along with Charles and David Koch and Robert Mercer, Singer is one of the largest financial donors to Republican political causes. During the 2016 election cycle, he contributed twenty-four million dollars. He is described as a “donor activist,” a reference to his deep involvement with candidates and campaigns…

Like many financiers who have achieved his level of success, Singer sees himself as more than a skillful player in the markets; he conducts himself like a public intellectual whose ideas on policy—on everything from taxation to regulation, education, and foreign affairs—should be heeded by politicians and other decision-makers on both a national and a local level…

Singer supports numerous media outlets and research institutes that disseminate his ideas. He is the chairman of the think tank Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which encourages free-market policies as a means of addressing domestic-policy issues. It hosts dozens of fellows, who write op-eds, give speeches, and publish books. Singer sits on the board of the magazine Commentary and is also a major financial backer of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news publication edited by Matthew Continetti, the former opinion editor at The Weekly Standard.

Toward the conclusion of the article, Ms. Kolhatkar details Mr. Singer’s increasingly “sophisticated” investments in forming public policy since the two thousands, investing in GOP presidential and gubernatorial candidates and causes. She writes:

After President Obama was reëlected, Singer and like-minded donors from the financial industry, many of whom had poured millions into Romney’s losing campaign, pledged to be more strategic in the future. Singer formed a donor network, called the American Opportunity Alliance, which includes wealthy Wall Street executives and hedge-fund moguls who coördinate political spending. “I think it’s important for informed citizens to try to give assistance,” Singer said, in April, of his political involvement. “We have less parochial interests in the things we talk to policymakers about than most folks.”

This echoes Andrew Carnegie’s belief that “the ‘man of wealth’ should view himself as “the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer“, and also mirrors the notions of “reformers” who are convinced that they alone know how to oversee public schools. Indeed, the “reformers” underwritten by hedge funders like Paul Singer want to dissemble public schools in the same manner Elliott Management dissembles corporations, and they have used their political influence to enact legislation that helps  promote the privatization of public schools. NCLB, with its test-driven means of identifying “failing schools” that would be closed and re-opened under new leadership opened the door for privatization… and once that door was opened low-cost high-profit organizations ran in. And networks of conservative funders with high-minded names like the the “Manhattan Institute for Policy Research” or the “American Opportunity Alliance” helped promote the meme of “failing government schools” and the notion that “choice” was the best solution.

It is alarming to see how successful the “reformers” have been over the past several years, particularly in their effort to equate “quality” with “high test scores”. As noted in yesterday’s post, it is relatively easy to convince voters that “high test scores” are indicative of “success” because that is what students have been told for decades… and all of those former students who equate “high test scores” with “success” are now the voters who are being asked to underwrite FAILING schools with LOW test schools! The idea that norm-referenced standardized tests necessarily result in a bell curve where 50% of the schools will score below average is lost on the average voter who doesn’t realize that the tests teachers use to grade students are criterion referenced.  Statistical niceties like that are unimportant to those who want to make a profit at the taxpayers expense… and after reading The Doomsday Investor you will see that civility and niceties are unimportant to investors. The only important metric is profit.