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The business community smells profit margins as it continues to infiltrate the public education arena. (Photo: flickr / cc / Maryland GovPics)

Five Facts for the Dangerously Deluded Education Reformers

Paul Buchheit

Free-market capitalists view education in terms of products and profits. The products, to them, are our children. The profits go to savvy businesspeople who use a "freedom to choose" rallying cry to convince parents that they're somehow being cheated by an equal-opportunity public school system.

Education reformers focus on privatization, public program cutbacks, and plenty of revenue-producing testing. There are at least five truths about education reform that suggest ignorance or delusion among its adherents.

1. Privatized Education Steals from the Poor, Gives to the Rich

Eva Moskowitz makes $72 per student as CEO of the private Success Academy in New York City.

Carmen Farina makes 19 cents per student as Chancellor of New York City Public Schools.

More salary shock: The salaries of eight executives of the K12 chain, which gets over 86 percent of its profits from the taxpayers, went from $10 million to over $21 million in one year.

A McKinsey report estimates that education can be a $1.1 trillion business in the United States. Forbes notes: "The charter school movement [is] quickly becoming a backdoor for corporate profit." The big-money people are ready to pounce, like Rupert Murdoch, who called K-12 "a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed."

Meanwhile, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history. Arts funding overall is lower than ever, with a National Endowment for the Arts budget barely accounting for 2 percent of the National Science Foundation budget. Spending on K-12 public school students fell in 2011 for the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping records over three decades ago.

2. Testing Doesn't Work

In 2013 the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported that "K-12 schools across the United States will begin implementing Common Core State Standards, an education initiative that will drive schools to adopt technology in the classroom as never before...Apple, Google, Cisco and a swarm of startups are elbowing in to secure market share." The state of Texas cut over $5 billion from the public school fund while awarding testing giant Pearson a contract for almost $500 million. Los Angeles spent $1 billion for iPads to facilitate testing, using money from a 25-year bond for school construction.

But testing doesn't work. The National Research Council concluded that "The tests that are typically used to measure performance in education fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways." The test-based Common Core standards, as noted by Diane Ravitch, were developed by a Gates-funded organization with almost no public input. With regard to teacher evaluation, the American Statistical Association reported that Value-Added Assessment Models "are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes."

3. The Arts Make Better Scientists

While testable subjects like math and reading are of the utmost importance in a competitive global economy, inexperienced reformers fail to recognize that STEM proficiency requires an Arts foundation for the creativity that turns knowledge into ideas and implementations. A comprehensive study at Michigan State University found that "success in science is accompanied by developed ability in other fields such as the fine arts." According to a 2007 report in the Journal for Research in Music Education, students in high quality music programs scored 19% higher in English and 17% higher in mathematics than those without a music program. Both the College Entrance Examination Board and the National Association of Music Education found that music programs improved SAT scores later on.

Numerous studies also show that with pre-school, where learning derives from colors and sounds and shapes and textures, all children achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged students benefiting the most.

4. Privatization Means Unequal Opportunity for All

David F. Welch founded Students Matter "to defend children's fundamental right to have an equal opportunity to access quality public education." His NewSchools Venture Fund is heavily involved with charter schools and data collection in schools.

But with rare exception charter schools don't provide equal opportunity. Stanford's updated CREDO study found that fewer special education students and fewer English language learners are served in charters than in traditional public schools. The National Education Policy Center notes that "Charter schools...can shape their student enrollment in surprising ways," through practices that often exclude "students with special needs, those with low test scores, English learners, or students in poverty." According to a Center on Education Policy report, 98 percent of disabled students are educated in public schools, while only 1% are educated in private schools.

As might be expected, the "right to choose" a better school has racial and class overtones. A National Education Policy Center study found that charter schools, in comparison to nearby public schools, were substantially more segregated by race, wealth, disabling condition, and language. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that "segregated schools are systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities."

5. Reformers Are Primarily Businesspeople, Not Educators

Billionaires like Bill Gates and Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch and the Walton family, who have little educational experience among them, and who have little accountability to the public, are promoting education reform with lots of standardized testing. As already noted, the writers of the Common Core standards included no early childhood educators or experienced classroom teachers. More than 500 early childhood educators signed a joint statement rejecting the standards as inappropriate for children in the early grades.

Yet comically, Achieve Inc., the key drafter of Common Core, brags about its academic deficiencies, saying "Achieve remains the only education reform organization led by a Board of Directors of governors and business leaders."

So far-fetched are ideas based on testing that even the originators are backing off. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced their support for a two-year moratorium on teacher or student evaluations based on Common Core testing standards.

The Free-Market Delusion

The 1966 Coleman Report, widely considered the most important education study of the 20th century, concluded that academic achievement was primarily related to the student's family background and the social composition of the classroom.

But free-market reformers would rather believe in a solution that makes money.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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