Public Education: Who Are the Corporate Reformers?

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Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg
Former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, center, speaks during a news conference to announce the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's donation of $51.2 million dollars to the New York City school system at Morris High School in the Bronx, New York, Wednesday, September 17, 2003. He is flanked by Joel Klein, former chancellor of the city's Department of Education and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The following is an excerpt from Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error.

The education reform movement must be defined in terms of its ideology, its strategies and its leading members.

The “reformers” say they want excellent education for all; they want great teachers; they want to “close the achievement gap”; they want innovation and effectiveness; they want the best of everything for everyone. They pursue these universally admired goals by privatizing education, lowering the qualifications for future teachers, replacing teachers with technology, increasing class sizes, endorsing for- profit organizations to manage schools, using carrots and sticks to motivate teachers and elevating standardized test scores as the ultimate measure of education quality.

“Reform” is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The groups and individuals that constitute today’s reform movement have appropriated the word “reform” because it has such positive connotations in American political discourse and American history. But the roots of this so- called reform movement may be traced to a radical ideology with a fundamental distrust of public education and hostility to the public sector in general.

“Reform” is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy.

The “reform” movement is really a “corporate reform” movement, funded to a large degree by major foundations, Wall Street hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs and the US Department of Education. The movement is determined to cut costs and maximize competition among schools and among teachers. It seeks to eliminate the geographically based system of public education as we have known it for the past 150 years and replace it with a competitive market- based system of school choice — one that includes traditional public schools, privately managed charter schools, religious schools, voucher schools, for- profit schools, virtual schools and for- profit vendors of instruction. Lacking any geographic boundaries, these schools would compete for customers. The customers would choose to send their children and their public funding wherever they wish, based on personal preference or on information such as the schools’ test scores and a letter grade conferred by the state (based largely on test scores).

Public Schools for Sale?

Some in the reform movement, believing that American education is obsolete and failing, think they are promoting a necessary but painful redesign of the nation’s ailing schools. Some sincerely believe they are helping poor black and brown children escape from failing public schools. Some think they are on the side of modernization and innovation. But others see an opportunity to make money in a large, risk- free, government- funded sector or an opportunity for personal advancement and power. Some — a small but important number — believe they are acting rationally by treating the public education sector as an investment opportunity.

The corporate reform movement has its roots in an ideology that is antagonistic to public education. Partisans on the far right long ago turned against public schools, which they call “government schools.” As a matter of ideology, they do not believe that government can do anything right. From the time that the University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman introduced the idea of vouchers in 1955, his supporters embraced vouchers as the best school reform ever, because it would enable parents to take government money to a school of their choice, including private and religious schools. Voucher advocates have long argued that the money should follow the child to whatever institution the family chooses, be it public, private or religious. For years, they made the seductive pitch that parents should be “free to choose” (as Friedman put it) and that government should supply each family its share of the money and get out of the way. But for many years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, the idea of school choice was tainted because segregationists used it to evade desegregation in districts facing court- ordered desegregation.

The election results in state after state show that the public does not want to subsidize religious schools with its tax dollars. Voucher advocates do not accept that the public likes and supports its community public schools, free from any religious teachings, with doors open to all.

President Ronald Reagan, an admirer of Milton Friedman’s, supported vouchers but was never able to persuade Congress to go along. In state referenda, the public has consistently opposed vouchers. Every time vouchers were put to a public vote, they were defeated by large margins. As recently as 2012, voters in Florida decisively rejected a constitutional amendment to permit vouchers. Voucher proponents complain that the public doesn’t understand its own best interest and is misled by teachers’ unions, who are just protecting their jobs and power. The election results in state after state show that the public does not want to subsidize religious schools with its tax dollars. Voucher advocates do not accept that the public likes and supports its community public schools, free from any religious teachings, with doors open to all. So choice supporters continually parrot or manufacture a steady stream of bad news about public education to shake the public’s faith in public schools. However, even when polls show that people have a low opinion of American education, they nonetheless continue to have a high opinion of their own neighborhood schools.

Today’s reformers assert that “the money should follow the child” and they herald this as a bold new reform idea. But it is not new. It is the same idea that was behind vouchers more than half a century ago. Today, the same arguments are made by Governor Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, who wants the money to follow the child to any school (even schools that teach creationism as science), any online corporation, any for- profit vendor of educational services, regardless of experience, quality or qualifications. As public money is dispersed, so is public oversight and accountability for the spending of public money. Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, eager to dismantle public education, proposed a formula for education funding based on this principle: “Any time, any place, any way, any pace.” Conservative governors in other states make the same arguments. [1]  But there is nothing conservative about replacing a beloved and traditional community institution — the public school — with a marketplace of privately run schools and for- profit vendors. This is a radical project, not conservative at all.

The organizations that advocate for “reform” have names that are appealing and innocuous, like the American Federation for Children, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Better Education for Kids (B4K), Black Alliance for Educational Options, the education program at the Brookings Institution, the Center for Education Reform, Chiefs for Change, ConnCAN (and its spin- off, 50CAN, as well as state- specific groups like MinnCAN, NYCAN and RI- CAN), Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project, Education Reform Now, Educators 4 Excellence, EdVoice, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the National Council on Teacher Quality, New Leaders for New Schools, NewSchools Venture Fund, Parent Revolution, Stand for Children, Students for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, Teach for America, Teach Plus and a host of others. Many of these groups have overlapping membership on their boards and are funded by the same foundations. They exist in a giant echo chamber, listening and talking only to one another, dismissing the concerns of parents, teachers and communities.

The reformers are Republicans and Democrats. They include not only far- right Republican governors but some Democratic governors as well.

The reformers are Republicans and Democrats. They include not only far- right Republican governors but some Democratic governors as well. They include President Barack Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as Democratic mayors in such cities as Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles. Elected officials of both parties have signed on to an agenda that threatens the future of public education.

The aims of the corporate reform movement are supported by a broad array of think tanks, some purportedly liberal, some centrist, some on the right and some on the far right. These include the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for American Progress, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Education Sector, the Thomas B.

Fordham Institute, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution and Policy Innovators in Education Network, as well as a bevy of state- level public policy think tanks that support privatization. Many of these think tanks — both liberal and conservative — work closely together, co- sponsoring conferences and publications to advance their shared agenda. Major foundations handsomely fund the think tanks that promote the corporate reform ideology.

The corporate reform movement has co- opted progressive themes and language in the service of radical purposes. Advocating the privatization of public education is deeply reactionary. Disabling or eliminating teachers’ unions removes the strongest voice in each state to advocate for public education and to fight crippling budget cuts. In every state, classroom teachers are experts in education; they know what their students need and their collective voice should be part of any public decision about school improvement. Stripping teachers of their job protections limits academic freedom. Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students undermines professionalism and encourages teaching to the test. Claiming to be in the forefront of a civil rights movement while ignoring poverty and segregation is reactionary and duplicitous.

The leading funders of the reform movement are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports charter schools and test- based teacher evaluation; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools and trains urban superintendents in its managerial philosophy; and the Walton Family Foundation, which funds vouchers and charters.

The leading funders of the reform movement are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports charter schools and test- based teacher evaluation; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools and trains urban superintendents in its managerial philosophy; and the Walton Family Foundation, which funds vouchers and charters. These powerful and wealthy foundations have overlapping interests. They subsidize many organizations in common, such as Teach for America (which recruits young college graduates to teach for two years in low- income schools), the KIPP charter schools and Parent Revolution (the chief advocates of the “parent trigger” idea). They jointly funded the digital learning policy statement issued by Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia, which promotes the proliferation of low- quality virtual charter schools. Many other wealthy foundations support the corporate reform agenda, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Fisher Foundation and the Anschutz Foundation, as well as fabulously rich individuals, including the Bezos family (Amazon.com), Reed Hastings (Netflix) and Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation).

The Gates Foundation is by far the largest foundation in the United States and possibly the world. It awards hundreds of millions of dollars in education grants every year. In addition to underwriting the expansion of charter schools, it invests heavily in test- based evaluation of teachers and merit pay. It has made grants to the biggest teachers’ unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association and also made grants to start groups of young teachers to challenge the teachers’ unions. It is difficult to find education organizations that have not been funded by the Gates Foundation. It underwrites “advocacy,” by subsidizing almost every major think tank in Washington, D.C. It supported the creation, evaluation and promotion of the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in almost every state. In addition, the Gates Foundation has joined in a partnership with the British publisher Pearson to develop online curriculum for teaching the Common Core standards. And the Gates Foundation underwrote the creation of a large database project to collect confidential student data with Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation; critics fear that this information will be disclosed to vendors to market new products to schools and students.[2]

The corporate reform movement has a well- honed message: We are the reformers. We have solutions. The public schools are failing. The public schools are in decline. The public schools don’t work. The public schools are obsolete and broken.

The corporate reform movement has a well- honed message: We are the reformers. We have solutions. The public schools are failing. The public schools are in decline. The public schools don’t work. The public schools are obsolete and broken. We want to innovate. We know how to fix schools. We know how to close the achievement gap. We are leading the civil rights movement of our era. We want a great teacher in every classroom. Class size doesn’t matter. Teachers should be paid more if their students get higher scores. They should be fi red if their students don’t get higher scores. Teachers should have their seniority and tenure stripped from them because those things protect bad teachers. Bad teachers cause the achievement gap. Great teachers close the achievement gap. Teachers’ unions are greedy and don’t care about children. People who draw attention to poverty are just making excuses for bad teachers and failing public schools. Those who don’t agree with our strategies are defenders of the status quo. They have no solutions. We have solutions. We know what works. Testing works. Accountability works. Privately managed charter schools work. Closing schools with low test scores works. Paying bonuses to teachers to get higher scores works. Online instruction works. Replacing teachers with online instruction not only works but cuts costs while providing profits to edu-entrepreneurs who will spur further innovation.

It is a seductive message because it offers hope that someone knows how to fix difficult problems. They claim they not only know how to do it but are doing it. They express their message with clarity and certainty. Their message resonates with the major media and with the most powerful people in our society: billionaires, corporate executives, the leaders of major foundations, the president of the United States, the US secretary of education, Wall Street hedge fund managers, pundits and think tank opinion makers.

The corporate reformers don’t like local school boards, because they sometimes defer to the views of teachers and they squabble too much; school boards, they say, slow down decision making with public hearings and sometimes they make the wrong decisions. That is always a risk in a democracy; deliberative bodies are slow and sometimes make mistakes.

Corporate reformers want education decisions in the hands of a powerful executive who is immune to public opinion. They like the idea of a governor who appoints a commission to override the decisions of local school boards that resist charter schools.

Corporate reformers want education decisions in the hands of a powerful executive who is immune to public opinion. They like the idea of a governor who appoints a commission to override the decisions of local school boards that resist charter schools. They like the idea of a superintendent at the state level who has unlimited power to impose his (their) policies, especially closing public schools and opening charter schools. In urban districts, their preferred mode of governance is a mayor or superintendent who controls the schools and answers to no one. At the school level, they want principals who can hire and fire at will, without due process. Corporate reformers don’t like checks and balances. They want executives who can ignore the protests of parents, students, teachers and community leaders, no matter how loudly they complain and no matter how many show up at public hearings or protest at rallies.

It pays to be on the reform team, certainly much more than it does to be a public school teacher. When Chicago’s teachers went on strike in September 2012, the national media thought it shocking that the average Chicago teacher was paid $75,000 a year; they ignored the fact that Chicago teachers are compelled by law to live in Chicago and that this is not an outrageous salary for an educated, experienced professional who lives in a major city. Yet the media are indifferent when charter executives receive salaries of $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, to oversee a single school or a chain of small schools. The reformers are flush with cash from foundations and corporations. The Walton Family Foundation alone made school- reform grants of $159 million in 2011. Reformers often complain about the power and influence of the teachers’ unions, but the unions cannot match the resources of the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, as well as the many other foundations that march in lockstep with them, plus individual billionaires and millionaires who support candidates for state and local school board races. (The Gates and Walton foundations alone spend more than $500 million annually on education projects, which is more than ten times what unions spend to support civil rights groups and other allies.) When you combine the wealth of the big foundations with the financial and political clout of the US Department of Education, they are a mighty force.[3] The “reformers” are the status quo.

For an ambitious person, being part of the corporate reform movement offers not only access to money but an accelerated route to professional success.

For an ambitious person, being part of the corporate reform movement offers not only access to money but an accelerated route to professional success. Graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy, an unaccredited program created by the Broad Foundation to teach Eli Broad’s management style of corporate reform, are on a fast track to become superintendents of urban districts — and the Broad Foundation may enhance their salaries. Some of the graduates of this short- term program are now state superintendents. Many are in charge of urban districts.

The young person who joins up with Teach for America or one of the big charter chains becomes part of a powerful network. These organizations provide an escalator to the top that no ordinary teaching career can match. Teachers without these connections may work for years in their classrooms before they are even considered for department chair or assistant principal. Those who rise in the corporate reform movement are soon managing their own charter schools or assuming leadership roles in large urban districts or state education departments, some before they reach the age of 30.

Wall Street hedge fund managers have their own organization, called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER raises money for candidates and elected officials whom it likes and it doesn’t like them unless they agree to the corporate reform agenda, especially the expansion of charter schools and the imposition of teacher evaluation systems based on test scores (though not for teachers in the charter schools it supports). At the inaugural meeting of DFER in 2005, the speaker for the event was a promising young senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. When Obama ran for president in 2008, his chief education spokesperson was Linda Darling- Hammond of Stanford University. But when Obama was elected, he chose Arne Duncan as secretary of education. Duncan not only was his friend but was recommended by DFER. [4]

In states with a Republican governor and a Republican supermajority in the legislature, the measures to privatize education advanced rapidly.

Arne Duncan is one of the recognized leaders of the corporate reform movement who implemented many of its ideas when he was superintendent of schools in Chicago. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, is another national leader. He created an organization called the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which actively promotes vouchers, charter schools, for- profit charter schools, virtual learning and for- profit online corporations, as well as testing and accountability tied to test scores. In states with a Republican governor and a Republican supermajority in the legislature, the measures to privatize education advanced rapidly. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder promoted legislation to allow emergency managers to take over fiscally troubled districts; in two small school districts, the emergency managers closed the public schools and gave the students to a for- profit charter school chain (the law was repealed in 2012 by Michigan voters, but Snyder left the emergency managers and their decisions in place). Governor Mitch Daniels and the Indiana legislature authorized vouchers, for- profit charter schools, for- profit cyber- charters and a test- based teacher accountability system. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana pushed through sweeping legislation in 2012 that offered vouchers to more than half the students in the state and authorized the opening of many new charter schools; in addition, students will be able to take their state money and spend it in almost any place that calls itself a vendor of educational services. The money to support the alternatives to public education was to be taken out of the budget for public schools, until state courts ruled it unconstitutional to do so. The Louisiana reform legislation ties teachers’ evaluations to the test scores of their students, but teachers in charter schools and voucher schools do not need to be certified or subject to the same requirements, as is the case in many other states and districts.

When the Louisiana legislation was hurriedly passed, it was hailed by a group of state superintendents called Chiefs for Change as “student- centered reforms” that “will completely transform Louisiana and its students.” [5] Chiefs for Change is affiliated with Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. It describes itself as a coalition of state leaders who share a “zeal for education reform.” Its members include the state superintendents in Rhode Island, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida, Maine, New Jersey and New Mexico.

Much of the legislation for the education reform movement in states with conservative governors or legislatures comes from a shadowy group called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council).

Much of the legislation for the education reform movement in states with conservative governors or legislatures comes from a shadowy group called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). ALEC stayed out of the public eye until 2012, when a shooting in Florida brought it unwanted national attention. A black teenager named Trayvon Martin was killed by a man who said he was defending himself in accordance with Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which was based on model legislation written by ALEC. ALEC was founded in 1973 to advance privatization and free- market principles. Its membership includes some 2,000 state legislators. Funded by scores of major corporations and philanthropists, ALEC writes model legislation, which its members bring to their state legislatures. Many states have adopted ALEC model laws, simply inserting the name of the state into the proposed legislative language. ALEC does not like public schools or unions. ALEC likes vouchers and charter schools. It wants to eliminate tenure and seniority and to encourage paths into teaching that don’t involve getting a license or pedagogical training. ALEC likes for- profit schools, especially cyber- charters. It promotes “parent trigger” laws to enable privatizers to convince parents to sign petitions that will turn their schools over to charter managers. [6]

The most unexpected supporter of corporate reform was President Barack Obama. Educators enthusiastically supported Obama, expecting that he would eliminate the noxious policies of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind. They assumed, given his history as a community organizer and his sympathy for society’s least fortunate, that his administration would adopt policies that responded to the needs of children, rather than concentrating on testing and accountability.

The first big surprise for educators occurred when President Obama abandoned Linda Darling-Hammond and selected Arne Duncan, who had run the low- performing schools of Chicago, as secretary of education. The second big surprise — shock, actually — happened when the Obama administration released the details of Race to the Top, its major initiative, which was designed in Secretary Duncan’s office with the help of consultants from the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and other advocates of high- stakes testing and charter schools.

The most unexpected supporter of corporate reform was President Barack Obama. Educators enthusiastically supported Obama, expecting that he would eliminate the noxious policies of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind.

There was very little difference between Race to the Top and NCLB. The Obama program preserved testing, accountability and choice at the center of the federal agenda. Race to the Top was even more punitive than NCLB. It insisted that states evaluate teachers in relation to the test scores of their students, which made standardized testing even more important than it was under NCLB. It encouraged states to authorize more privately managed charter schools, an initiative that President George W. Bush would never have been able to get through a Democratic- controlled Congress. It endorsed competition and choice, which were traditional themes of the Republican Party. The very concept of a “race to the top” repudiates the traditional Democratic Party commitment to equity; it suggests that the winner will “race to the top,” leaving the losers far behind. But a commitment to equity means that federal resources should be allocated based on need, not on a competition between the swift and the slow.

Because Race to the Top was handsomely funded, states eagerly competed for a share of its $5 billion. President Obama spoke out of both sides of his mouth about this signature program. He said in his State of the Union address in 2011 that Race to the Top was not a topdown mandate (after all, states had volunteered to accept its mandates) but “the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities” (which was not true in any sense).

Even though Race to the Top made standardized testing more important than ever, President Obama spoke out against testing. In 2011, he said he was strongly opposed to teaching to the test. He said,

One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

His critics agreed with him. The California teacher and blogger Anthony Cody wondered if the president knew that Race to the Top required states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, that Secretary Duncan wanted to evaluate teacher preparation programs by the test scores of the students of the teachers they produced and that Obama’s Department of Education “is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the ‘value’ each teacher adds to their students.” At the same time that the president was lamenting “teaching to the test,” his own policies made it necessary to teach to the test or be fired. [7]

In his 2012 State of the Union, the president’s message was even more inconsistent. He said that he wanted schools to encourage teachers to “teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test,” but at the same time he wanted schools to “reward the best ones” and “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.” He didn’t acknowledge that the rewards and the punishments he approved would be tied, at his administration’s insistence, to test scores.

In response to Race to the Top, the number of charter schools grew rapidly. For-profit charter schools expanded, as did virtual charter schools. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Duncan expressed any concern about the risks of deregulating public money to private corporations, nor did they oppose the entry of for-profit entrepreneurs into the charter school market. By advocating for school choice rather than public schools, Race to the Top implicitly encouraged not only charters but the other form of school choice: vouchers.

The 2010 elections brought a new crop of far-right governors into office and these governors warmly embraced charter schools and advocated for vouchers. The Obama administration was silent; after a brief attempt to defund the Washington, DC, voucher program, the administration gave in to Republican protests and permitted it to continue.

The 2010 elections brought a new crop of far-right governors into office and these governors warmly embraced charter schools and advocated for vouchers. The Obama administration was silent; after a brief attempt to defund the Washington, DC, voucher program, the administration gave in to Republican protests and permitted it to continue. As state after state adopted vouchers, the Obama administration raised no protest against the advance of privatization. Nor did Obama strongly object when the governors of Republican states attacked the collective bargaining rights of public- sector unions. In the spring of 2011, Wisconsin’s right- wing governor, Scott Walker, proposed to strip away the collective bargaining rights of most public sector workers, including teachers and they organized massive protests in Madison. They surrounded the state capitol and mounted daily protests. President Obama said he sided with the workers but didn’t show up in Madison to demonstrate his support. Instead, he and Secretary Duncan flew to Miami in the middle of the Wisconsin protests to praise the former Florida governor Jeb Bush as “a champion of education reform” and to celebrate the successful “turnaround” of Miami Central High School. The national media recognized that President Obama was bestowing important support on Jeb Bush’s policies of testing, accountability and grading of schools. The national media did not pay attention, however, when the Florida Department of Education announced plans to shutter Miami Central because of its low performance only four months after the meeting between President Obama and Governor Bush. The state granted the school a waiver to avoid closure. Despite some gains, it was still one of the state’s lowest-performing high schools.[8]

In his support for charter schools, high- stakes testing, merit pay and evaluating teachers by test scores, President Obama forged a bipartisan consensus. But he had strange bedfellows, at least for a Democrat. When I blogged about ALEC and its right- wing agenda for privatization and lowering standards for entry into teaching, the organization’s research director responded that President Obama shared credit with ALEC for promoting charter schools and “teaching- profession reforms.” During the 2012 election campaign, the only difference between Obama and Mitt Romney in relation to their K– 12 policy was that Romney supported vouchers (which he called “opportunity scholarships”) and Obama did not.[9]

During the 2012 election campaign, the only difference between Obama and Mitt Romney in relation to their K–12 policy was that Romney supported vouchers (which he called “opportunity scholarships”) and Obama did not.

Neither candidate in the 2012 election supported public education. Both agreed that it was in crisis and that it needed radical change. In their debates, the subject of poverty never came up. Indeed, the subject of education was barely mentioned aside from the candidates’ agreement that Race to the Top was a great success.

The public is only dimly aware of the reform movement’s privatization agenda. The deceptive rhetoric of the privatization movement masks its underlying goal to replace public education with a system in which public funds are withdrawn from public oversight to subsidize privately managed charter schools, voucher schools, online academies, for- profit schools, and other private vendors.

No matter how many Hollywood movies the corporate reformers produce, no matter how many television specials sing the glories of privatization, no matter how often the reformers belittle the public schools and their teachers, the public is not yet ready to relinquish its public schools to speculators, entrepreneurs, ideologues, snake- oil salesmen, profit- making businesses and Wall Street hedge fund managers.

 

1. Rick Snyder, “A Special Message from Rick Snyder: Education Reform” (memorandum), April 27, 2011. 

2. Sam Dillon, “Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates,” The New York Times, May 21, 2011; Sam Dillon, “Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools,” The New York Times, April 27, 2011; Stephanie Simon, “K– 12 Student Database Jazzes Tech Startups, Spooks Parents,” Reuters, March 3, 2013.

3. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers together gave a total of $330 million to political campaigns and civil rights groups over a six- year period from 2005 to 2011. Alicia Mundy, “Teachers Unions Give Broadly,” The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2012. During the same period of time, the major foundations supporting test — based accountability and choice spent many times that amount. Gates spends $300 — $400 million each year on education. Ken Libby, “A Look at the Education Programs of the Gates Foundation,” Shanker Blog, March 2, 2012. In 2011, the Walton Family Foundation spent $159 million on education grants. These figures do not include political contributions made by either Gates or the Walton family. 

4. Steven Brill, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 131– 32, 224– 25. 

5.“Chiefs for Change Statement on Louisiana’s Bold Education Reforms,” Foundation for Excellence in Education website, April 18, 2012. 

6. Andrew Ujifusa, “Policy Shop Casts Long K– 12 Shadow,” Education Week, April 25, 2012.

7. Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead, “A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education,” Education Week, February 29, 2012.

8. Anthony Cody, “Obama Blasts His Own Education Policies,” Living in Dialogue (blog), Education Week, March 29, 2011; Sunlen Miller, “Obama on Wisconsin Budget Protests: ‘An Assault on Unions,’ ”ABC News, February 17, 2011; Nia- Malika Henderson and Peter Wallsten, “Obama Praises Jeb Bush on Education Reform,” The Washington Post, March 4, 2011; “Struggling Florida Schools Get More Time,” WCTV, July 19, 2011. 

9. Adam Peshek, “ALEC Responds to Ravitch Blog Post,” Education Week, May 15, 2012. 

Excerpted from Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch Copyright © 2013 by Diane Ravitch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a research professor of education at New York University and a historian of education. She was the assistant secretary of education in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Ravitch has authored several books on education, including her latest Reign of Error. She blogs about education issues at dianeravitch.net. You can follow her on Twitter @dianeravitch.
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