Act Now to Keep Students Safe

Saturday, 26 April 2014 10:03 By Bill Lichtenstein, Truthout | Op-Ed


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A critical window of time is closing to protect America’s kids against restraint and seclusion in schools. According to data just released from the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 107,000 kids were subjected to physical restraint or were confined to seclusion rooms in schools during the years 2011 and 2012.

To protect kids nationally, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-California, have introduced the federal Keeping All Students Safe Act (Senate Bill 2036; House Resolution 1893), which would ban the use of restraints and seclusion in schools except in cases of a bona fide emergency. However, with Harkin and Miller, both passionate champions of this issue and legislation, set to retire from Congress at the end of this year, the fate of this bill protecting students against restraint and seclusion in school is uncertain if the bill is not passed during this session.

As a journalist who has covered child welfare issues over four decades, the story of the use of physical restraint and seclusion rooms in schools remains a deeply personal one for me. In 2006, I learned that my daughter Rose, who was 6 at the time, had been locked inside a broom closet in the basement stairwell of her school in Lexington, Massachusetts, over a three-month period, sometimes for up to several times in a day. She was found naked, standing in her own pee, after she removed her clothes so as not to soil herself. I would later write about her horrific treatment and expose the widespread use of restraints and seclusion rooms in schools across the country, setting off a firestorm in communities nationwide over these shocking practices.

Parents, journalists and lawmakers mobilized throughout the country and visited their local schools to find out if restraint and seclusion were being used with their kids. In many cases, they were shocked to find out that they were. Over the past 18 months, state and local legislation and rules limiting or banning the use of restraints and seclusion in schools were passed.

In Reno, Nevada, for example, 12 seclusion rooms that were found to have been in use had their doors removed, were repainted, and other uses were found for the spaces, with Frank Selvaggio, the student service director, saying, «The vast majority of our educators would never even think of trying to do something inappropriate like forcing a child to go into a room.»

In Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a 2013 law that prohibits use of restraints in schools.

And the issue cuts across the legislative aisle: In Arizona, conservative Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation into law in April 2013 that limits the use of seclusion rooms in schools.

However, currently only 19 states have laws on the books restricting the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms with students in schools. In Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Jersey and South Dakota there have been no laws limiting the use of restraints and seclusion in schools, not even ones mandating that parents be notified when their children are subjected to these practices. The wide range of rules nationwide has led Miller to compare the situation to «the Wild West.»

Meanwhile, the toll on kids is high. Of the 70,000 students who were subjected to physical restraint and 37,000 who were confined to seclusion rooms during 2011 and 2012, according to the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data, students with special needs or disabilities were disproportionately affected. While students with special needs represent only 12 percent of the national student population, they represent 58 percent of those who were placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement and 75 percent of those who were physically restrained at school. Students of color with disabilities represent 36 percent of those who were physically restrained at school, despite accounting for only 19 percent of all students nationally.

And the outcome for kids can be fatal. Sixteen year-old Corey Foster died while being restrained on a school basketball court in Yonkers, NY, and 13-year-old Jonathan King hanged himself in a Georgia school after being left alone in a seclusion room, leading to a statewide ban on the use of isolation rooms.

Don King discusses the death of his son, 13 year-old Jonathan, who hung himself after being left in a Georgia school seclusion room.

At the February 12 introduction of the Senate Keeping All Students Safe Act, Harkin compared the seclusion rooms he had seen in schools with cells for terrorists at the military prison that he visited in Guantanamo, Cuba, and Robert Ernst, a former student from Lexington, Massachusetts, described being dragged into and then locked in a seclusion room at his school.

«Hearing the stories of these students and parents – and the legal challenges they faced when seeking change – it became clear that strong action was necessary to help them and thousands of families like them. I introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act to ensure that we put an end to these practices, which have no place in the classroom,» Harkin said in a statement to the Huffington Post.

Both sponsors of the bill, Harkin and Miller, are retiring from Congress in 2014. In their absence, advocates are concerned that it will likely be difficult to get this legislation introduced and passed in future sessions.

«In order for the Keeping All Students Safe Act to become law this Congress, it needs to start moving through committee . . . in the spring or early summer in order to see it pass the full Congress this fall,» Julia Krahe, the spokeswoman for Miller’s Committee on Education and the Workforce, told the Huffington Post.

Staff members of both the Senate and House committees agree that it’s critical that concerned parents, advocates, educators and the public call Washington and let their federal senators and representative know how they feel about the use of restraints and seclusion in schools and the importance of the Keeping All Students Safe Act. Without that groundswell of support, they say, the bill may well die.

May 8 is Children’s Mental Health Day, and it has been targeted as a National Day of Calling to Keep Students Safe. It’s critical that you and others you know pick up the phone and call your senators and representative to let them know how you feel about physical restraints and seclusion rooms in school and about the Keeping All Students Safe Act.


Diane Ravitch: School privatization is a hoax, “reformers” aim to destroy public schools

Our public schools aren’t in decline. And «reformers» with wild promises don’t care about education — just profits

Diane Ravitch: School privatization is a hoax, "reformers" aim to destroy public schools (Credit: Lightspring via Shutterstock/Salon)

As long as anyone can remember, critics have been saying that the schools are in decline. They used to be the best in the world, they say, but no longer. They used to have real standards, but no longer. They used to have discipline, but no longer. What the critics seldom acknowledge is that our schools have changed as our society has changed. Some who look longingly to a golden age in the past remember a time when the schools educated only a small fraction of the population.

But the students in the college-bound track of fifty years ago did not get the high quality of education that is now typical in public schools with Advanced Placement courses or International Baccalaureate programs or even in the regular courses offered in our top city and suburban schools. There are more remedial classes today, but there are also more public school students with special needs, more students who don’t read English, more students from troubled families, and fewer students dropping out. As for discipline, it bears remembering a 1955 film called “Blackboard Jungle,” about an unruly, violent inner-city school where students bullied other students. The students in this school were all white. Today, public schools are often the safest places for children in tough neighborhoods.

The claim that the public schools are in decline is not new. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Anti-intellectualism in American Life,” Richard Hofstadter characterized writing on education in the United States as “a literature of acid criticism and bitter complaint . . . The educational jeremiad is as much a feature of our literature as the jeremiad in the Puritan sermons.” From the 1820s to our own time, reformers have complained about low standards, ignorant teachers, and incompetent school boards. He noted that anyone longing for the “good old days” would have difficulty finding a time when critics were not bemoaning the quality of the public schools.

There is a tendency nowadays to hark back with nostalgia to the mythical good old days, usually imagined as about forty or fifty years ago. But few people seem to realize there never was a time when everyone succeeded in school. When present-day critics refer to what they assume was a better past, they look back to a time when a large proportion of American youths did not complete high school and only a small minority completed four years of college. In those supposedly halcyon days, the schools in many states were racially segregated, as were most colleges and universities. Children with disabilities did not have a right to a free public education until after the passage of federal legislation in 1975 and were often excluded from public schools. Nor did schools enroll significant numbers of non-English-speaking students in the 1940s and 1950s or even the 1960s. Immigration laws restricted the admission of foreigners to the United States from the early 1920s until the mid-1960s. After the laws were changed, the schools began to enroll students from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Africa, and other parts of the world that had previously arrived in small numbers.

Thus, those who now sharply criticize the public schools speak fondly of an era when most schools were racially segregated; when public schools were not required to accept children with physical, mental, and emotional handicaps; when there were relatively few students who did not speak or read English; and when few graduated from high school and went to college.

Indifferent to history, today’s corporate reformers insist that the public schools are in an unprecedented crisis. They tell us that children must be able to “escape” their “failing public schools.” They claim they are “for the children,” unlike their teachers, who are not for the children. They would have the public believe that children and their teachers are in warring camps. They put “children first” or “students first.” Their policies, they say, will make us competitive and give us “great teachers” and “great schools” in every community. They say they know how to “close the achievement gap,” and they claim to be leading “the civil rights issue of our time.” Their policies, they say, will make our children into “global competitors.” They will protect our national security. They will make America strong again. The corporate reformers play to our anxieties, even rekindling dormant Cold War fears that we may be in jeopardy as a nation if we don’t buy what they are selling.

The critics want the public to believe that our public schools are a clear and present danger to our society. Unless there is radical change, they say, our society will fall apart. Our economy will disappear. Our national security is in danger. The message is clear: public education threatens all that we hold dear.

Recognizing that most Americans have a strong attachment to their community schools, the corporate reformers have taken care to describe their aims in pseudo-populist terms. While trying to scare us with warnings of dire peril, they mask their agenda with rhetoric that is soothing and deceptive. Though they speak of “reform,” what they really mean is deregulation and privatization. When they speak of “accountability,” what they really mean is a rigid reliance on standardized testing as both the means and the end of education. When they speak of “effective teachers,” what they mean is teachers whose students produce higher scores on standardized tests every year, not teachers who inspire their students to love learning. When they speak of “innovation,” they mean replacing teachers with technology to cut staffing costs. When they speak of “no excuses,” they mean a boot-camp culture where students must obey orders and rules without question.

When they speak of “personalized instruction,” they mean putting children in front of computers with algorithms that supposedly adjust content and test questions to the ability level of the student but actually sacrifice human contact with a real teacher. When they speak of “achievement” or “performance,” they mean higher scores on standardized tests. When they speak of “data-driven instruction,” they mean that test scores and graduation rates should be the primary determinant of what is best for children and schools. When they speak of “competition,” they mean deregulated charters and deregulated private schools competing with highly regulated public schools. When they speak of “a successful school,” they refer only to its test scores, not to a school that is the center of its community, with a great orchestra, an enthusiastic chorus, a hardworking chess team, a thriving robotics program, or teachers who have dedicated their lives to helping the students with the highest needs (and often the lowest scores).

The reformers define the purpose of education as preparation for global competitiveness, higher education, or the workforce. They view students as “human capital” or “assets.” One seldom sees any reference in their literature or public declarations to the importance of developing full persons to assume the responsibilities of citizenship.

Of equal importance are the topics that corporate reformers don’t talk about. Seldom do they protest budget cuts, no matter how massive they may be. They do not complain when governors and legislatures cut billions from the public schools while claiming to be reformers. They do not protest rising rates of child poverty. They do not complain about racial segregation. They see no harm in devoting more time and resources to standardized testing. They are not heard from when districts cut the arts, libraries, and physical education while spending more on testing. They do not complain when federal or state or city officials announce plans to test children in kindergarten or even pre-kindergarten.

They do not complain about increased class size. They do not object to scripted curricula or teachers’ loss of professional autonomy.

They do not object when experienced teachers are replaced by recruits who have only a few weeks of training. They close their eyes to evidence that charters enroll disproportionately small numbers of children with disabilities, or those from troubled homes, or English-language learners (in fact, they typically deny any such disparities, even when documented by state and federal data). They do not complain when for-profit corporations run charter schools or when educational services are outsourced to for-profit businesses. Indeed, they welcome entrepreneurs into the reform community as investors and partners.

If the American public understood that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If parents understood that the reformers want to close down their community schools and require them to go shopping for schools, some far from home, that may or may not accept their children, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public understood that the very concept of education was being disfigured into a mechanism to apply standardized testing and sort their children into data points on a normal curve, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform.

If the American public understood that their children’s teachers will be judged by the same test scores that label their children as worthy or unworthy, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public knew how inaccurate and unreliable these methods are, both for children and for teachers, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. And that is why the reform message must be rebranded to make it palatable to the public.

The leaders of the privatization movement call themselves reformers, but their premises are strikingly different from those of reformers in the past. In earlier eras, reformers wanted such things as a better curriculum, better-prepared teachers, better funding, more equitable funding, smaller classes, and desegregation, which they believed would lead to better public schools. By contrast, today’s reformers insist that public education is a failed enterprise and that all these strategies have been tried and failed.

They assert that the best way to save education is to hand it over to private management and let the market sort out the winners and the losers. They wish to substitute private choices for the public’s responsibility to provide good schools for all children. They lack any understanding of the crucial role of public schools in a democracy.

The central premise of this movement is that our public schools are in decline. But this is not true. The public schools are working very well for most students. Contrary to popular myth, the scores on the no-stakes federal tests— the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — are at an all-time high for students who are white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. Graduation rates are also at an all-time high.

More young people than ever are entering college. Even more would go to college if the costs were not so high.

Of course some schools and districts have very low test scores and low graduation rates, and this has always been true. Most of these schools and districts have two features in common: poverty and high concentrations of racial minorities. The combination of these two factors is associated with low test scores. Children whose parents are poor and have low educational attainment tend to have lower test scores.

Children who are poor receive less medical attention and less nutrition and experience more stress, disruption, and crises in their lives. These factors have an ongoing and profound effect on academic performance.

That is why poor children need even more stability, more support, smaller class sizes, and more attention from their teachers and others in their schools, but often receive far less, due to underfunding.

Unfortunately, many people are unwilling to address the root causes of poor school outcomes, because doing so is either too politically difficult or too costly.

They believe it is faster, simpler, and less expensive to privatize the public schools than do anything substantive to reduce poverty and racial isolation or to provide the nurturing environments and well-rounded education that children from prosperous families receive.

Instead, the privatization movement nonchalantly closes the schools attended by poor children and destabilizes their lives. The privatization agenda excites the interest of edu-entrepreneurs, who see it as a golden opportunity to make money. But it is bad for our society. It undermines the sense of collective responsibility for collective needs. It hurts public education not only by attacking its effectiveness and legitimacy but by laying claim to its revenues. The money allocated to privately managed charters and vouchers represents a transfer of critical public resources to the private sector, causing the public schools to suffer budget cuts and loss of staffing and services as the private sector grows, without providing better education or better outcomes for the students who transfer to the private-sector schools.

Reformers in every era have used the schools as punching bags. In one era, progressives complained that the schools were obsolete, backward, mindless, rigid, and out of step with the demands of the modern age. Then, in their turn, came anti-progressives or “essentialists” who complained that the schools had grown soft, standards and curriculum had collapsed, and students were not learning as much as they once did.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, reformers lambasted the schools, saying they were too academic and ignored the economy’s need for trained workers. In 1914, Congress passed the first federal legislation to encourage industrial and vocational education so that schools could prepare young people for jobs on the nation’s farms and factories. In the 1930s, with millions of people out of work, reformers blamed the schools for their inability to keep students enrolled and out of the ranks of the unemployed. Reformers called on the schools to be more attentive to the needs of adolescents so as to entice them to stay in school longer. The New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration to provide education and training for young people during the Depression.

In the 1940s, reformers complained that the schools were obsolete and were failing to give students the skills they needed for life and work; “life adjustment education” became the reformers’ battle cry. In the 1950s, reformers said that the schools had forgotten the basics and needed to raise academic standards and return to time-honored subject matter disciplines. In the 1960s, reformers said that the schools were too academic and that students were stifled by routine and dreary assignments; the reformers wanted more spontaneity, more freedom, and fewer requirements for students. At the same time, the civil rights movement achieved major gains, and the schools became the focus of national legislation and Supreme Court rulings that required desegregation.

In the late 1970s, a backlash against the reform ideas of the 1960s and early 1970s led to the rise of minimum competency testing and, once again, a return to the basics. Despite the pendulum swings, despite the critics and reform movements, the American public continued to be grateful for public education and to admire its community schools.

Then came the 1980s, with a stern warning in 1983 from the National Commission on Excellence in Education that we were “a nation at risk” because of the low standards and low expectations in our schools. Our national slippage was caused, said the commission, by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

This mediocre educational performance was nothing less than “an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” The alarmist rhetoric was excessive, but it was enough to generate media attention and caused many states to raise their graduation requirements. In response to the dire warnings in the 1983 report, standards, testing, and accountability became the national agenda for school reform.

Many policy makers agreed: set higher standards; test to see if students have mastered them; hold back students or prevent them from graduating if they don’t pass. There was no research to support these strategies, but they were widely accepted anyway, as were proposals to reward the schools that succeeded on state tests and penalize those that did not. The first Bush administration embraced these ideas, as did the Clinton administration. The second Bush administration made testing and accountability the federal agenda with passage of its No Child Left Behind legislation.

Somehow, in the midst of all this nonstop controversy and criticism, the public schools continued teaching generations of students. And somehow, despite the endless complaints and policy churn, the American economy continued to be the largest in the world. And somehow, American culture continued to be a creative and vibrant force, reshaping the cultures of other nations (for better or worse). Our democracy survived, and American technological innovations changed the way people live around the globe. Despite the alleged failures of the schools that educated the vast majority of them, American workers are among the most productive in the world.

After the publication of “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform” in 1983, public discourse about the nation’s educational system settled on the unfounded belief that America’s public schools were locked into an arc of decline. Report after report was issued by commissions, task forces, and study groups, purporting to document the “crisis” in American education, the “crisis” of student achievement, the “crisis” of high school dropouts, the “crisis” of bad teachers.

News magazines like Time and Newsweek published stories about the crisis, television networks ran specials about the crisis, editorialists opined about the causes of the crisis. The steady drumbeat of negative journalism had its effect: Public opinion about the quality of American public education dropped from 1973 to 2012. In 1973, 58 percent of Americans felt confident about the public schools, but by 2012 their approval rating had dropped to only 29 percent (which still was higher than public confidence in banks and big business, which stood at 21 percent, or Congress at 13 percent).

In striking contrast, Americans whose children attended public schools continued to have a very high opinion of their own schools. In another Gallup poll in 2012, only 19 percent of the public gave an A or a B to the nation’s public schools, but 77 percent of parents awarded high marks to their own public school, the one they knew best. Two-thirds of respondents said they read mostly “bad stories” in the media about public schools. So, the parents who had the most direct experience with the schools thought well of them, but the relentless negative coverage by the media very likely drove down the general public’s estimation of American public education.

More recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation dedicated its considerable energies to persuading the public and policy makers that the nation’s public schools are failing. In 2005, Bill Gates told the nation’s governors that the nation’s high schools were “obsolete” and “broken.” At that time, he wanted to redesign the American high school by making schools smaller, with the goal that every student would be prepared to enter college. Three years later, his foundation abandoned its small-school initiative, having spent $2 billion to persuade districts to replace their comprehensive high schools with schools too small to offer a balanced curriculum. Despite this setback, Gates remained certain that the public school system was obsolete and broken. The solution, his foundation now believed, was to develop new evaluation systems that could identify ineffective teachers so that there would be an effective teacher in every classroom.

In 2012, Melinda Gates was interviewed on the PBS “NewsHour.” When the interviewer asked her what was “working and what can scale up,” she responded:

If you look back a decade ago, when we started into this work, there wasn’t even a conversation across the nation about the fact that our schools were broken, fundamentally broken. And I think that dialogue has changed. I think the American public has woken up to the fact now that schools are broken. We’re not serving our kids well.

They’re not being educated for the — for technology society.

The Gates Foundation and others financed a lavish, well-coordinated media campaign to spread the word about our broken public schools; its leading edge was a documentary film called “Waiting for Superman.” The film, which included interviews with Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, and the economist Eric Hanushek, among others, made the central points that public education was failing, that resources don’t matter, and that the best ways to fix the national crisis of low test scores were to expand the number of privately managed charters, fire ineffective teachers, and weaken the unions that protected them. It was released in September 2010 with an unprecedented publicity campaign, funded in large part by the Gates Foundation, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. The film was also the centerpiece of a week of programming on NBC, which the network called “Education Nation,” as well as the subject of two programs on Oprah Winfrey’s popular television show.

The film told the story of five children who were desperate to enroll in privately managed charter schools and whose hopes depended on winning the lottery to gain admission. Each child was adorable, and the viewers’ emotions became engaged with their plights and their dreams of escaping from awful public schools (and in one case a Catholic school). The film painted public schools as failures whose teachers were self-centered, uncaring, and incompetent. The statistics in the film about poor educational performance were misleading and erroneous, as was its idyllic portrait of charter schools. Yet the producers and promoters of the film made sure it was viewed as widely as possible, giving free screenings throughout the country to parent groups, state legislatures, even to the national conference of the PTA.

“Waiting for Superman” provided the charter school movement with a degree of public visibility it had never had. It also gave the movement a populist patina, making it seem that if you were concerned about the plight of poor inner-city children, you would certainly support the creation of many more charter schools. The film burnished the claim by charter advocates that they were involved in “the civil rights issue of our time,” because they were leading the battle to provide more choice to poor and disadvantaged children trapped in low-performing public schools.

The film’s narrative, as well as the larger public discussion, was directed away from the controversial issue of privatization to the ideologically appealing concept of choice. Reformers don’t like to mention the word “privatization,” although this is indeed the driving ideological force behind the movement. “Choice” remains the preferred word, since it suggests that parents should be seen as consumers with the ability to exercise their freedom to leave one school and select another. The new movement for privatization has enabled school choice to transcend its tarnished history as an escape route for southern whites who sought to avoid court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

To advance the privatization agenda, it was necessary never to mention the P word and to keep repeating the C word. After all, the public had no reason to be enthusiastic about the takeover of one of its essential public institutions by private financiers and entrepreneurs. Privatization of libraries, hospitals, prisons, and other basic services had long been hailed by those on the political right, but how could one persuade entire communities to hand over their children and their public schools to private sector corporations, some of which hoped to turn a profit off their children, in order to reward their shareholders? The only way to accomplish this sleight of hand was to pursue a skillful public relations campaign that drummed in the message, over and over, that our public schools are failures, that these failures harm our children and threaten our nation’s future prosperity. Repeat it often enough, and people would come to believe that any alternative would be better than the current system.

Once that message sank in, Americans would be ready for the antidote: eliminating the public schools they had long known and cherished as the centers of their communities.

The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations issued a report in 2012 intended to provoke fears that the public schools not only were failing but endangered the future survival of our nation. Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state in the administration of President George W. Bush, were co-chairs of the task force that produced the report. The report warned that the nation’s public schools were a very grave threat to national security. It recited doleful statistics showing that students in the United States were not leading the world on international assessments but scoring only in the middle (but not mentioning that this was the same complaint that had been expressed in “A Nation at Risk” thirty years earlier). It asserted that employers could not find qualified workers and that the schools were not preparing people to serve in the military, the intelligence service, or other jobs critical to national defense.

On and on went the bill of indictment against the public schools. The task force offered three recommendations. One was that the states should adopt the Common Core standards in mathematics and reading, already endorsed by forty-six states. Since the Common Core standards have never been field-tested, no one knows whether they will raise test scores or cause the achievement gap among different racial, ethnic, and income groups to narrow or to widen. One study, by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, predicted that the standards would have little or no effect on academic achievement; he noted that “from 2003 to 2009, states with terrific standards raised their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by roughly the same margin as states with awful ones.” Loveless reported that there was as much variation within states, even those with excellent standards, as between states.

The task force’s second recommendation was that the schools of the nation should have a “national security readiness audit” to see if they were doing their job in preparing students to meet the nation’s economic and military needs. This seemed like a hollow attempt to revive Cold War fears, given that there was no military adversary comparable to the Soviet Union. The report did not suggest what agency should conduct this audit, what it would cost, and what would happen to those schools that failed it.

The key recommendation of the task force, whose members included leading figures in the corporate reform movement, was that more school choice was needed, specifically the expansion of privately managed charter schools and vouchers.

If it were true that the nation faced a very grave security threat, this was not much of a call to arms to combat it, since most states had already adopted the Common Core standards and were increasing school choice in response to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program.

Perhaps the most curious development over the three decades from “A Nation at Risk” to the 2012 report of the Council on Foreign Relations was this: what was originally seen in 1983 as the agenda of the most libertarian Republicans — school choice — had now become the agenda of the establishment, both Republicans and Democrats. Though there was no new evidence to support this agenda and a growing body of evidence against it, the realignment of political forces on the right and the left presented the most serious challenge to the legitimacy and future of public education in our nation’s history.

Excerpted from “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” 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.


Obama Administration Plans New Rules to Grade Teacher Training Programs By MOTOKO RICHAPRIL 25, 2014

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at New York University this month. Mr. Duncan said teacher preparation should become more like medical training. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times
 The Obama administration announced on Friday that it was developing ratings of teacher preparation programs to make them more accountable for their graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Teacher training programs have frequently come under attack as ill-conceived or mediocre, and teachers themselves have often complained that such programs do not adequately prepare them to handle children with varying needs and abilities.

“We have about 1,400 schools of education and hundreds and hundreds of alternative certification paths, and nobody in this country can tell anybody which one is more effective than the other,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said at a town-hall meeting at Dunbar High School in Washington on Friday. Συνέχεια

300,000 education jobs lost, White House urges investment

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) – Budget cuts are forcing districts to scale back on teachers and staff, resulting in larger class sizes and fewer school days, according to a White House report released Saturday.

More than 300,000 education jobs have been lost since the end of the recession in June 2009, said the report, which was prepared by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council.

«Think about what that means for our country. At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America, these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year. That’s the opposite of what we should be doing as a country,» the report quotes President Barack Obama from an address in June.

As a result of the cuts, the national student-teacher ratio increased from 2008 to 2010, from 15.3 to 16, the report said, reversing nearly a decade of gains. Typical class sizes are larger than the ratio because it includes teachers for students with disabilities and other special cases.

Some schools are also shaving the number of days students spend behind their desks by shortening the school week, school year and trimming programs like preschool and kindergarten, the report said.

The White House report, «Investing in our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom,» highlighted the potential consequences of such cuts: lower graduation rates and overall achievement levels. Obama also discussed teacher hiring his weekly address.

The report, which comes in an election year for Obama, also stressed the need to invest in education and praised Obama’s plan to provide $25 billion to prevent layoffs and strengthen public education, while slamming Republicans in U.S. House of Representatives for passing a budget that would cut non-defense discretionary spending by almost 20%.

Republican Mitt Romney’s education plan emphasizes school choice over efforts to reduce class sizes, a stance he said was backed by some studies, and his experiences as governor of Massachusetts. Earlier this year, he said he frequently heard teachers seek smaller class sizes, but some of the worst-performing schools in the state had small classes.

«Just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key,» he said.

The White House report echoed some campaign rhetoric, urging action to keep students from falling behind and touting Obama’s American Jobs Act. The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association released statements Saturday in support of Obama’s plan, warning of «poverty spiking and student enrollment increasing,» and calling class size «a critical piece of the school improvement puzzle.»

«The difference between the President’s education budget proposals and those of Congressional Republicans highlights a choice between two fundamentally different visions for our country,» the report said. «Nowhere is this contrast more clear than with regard to the choice about investments in teachers and educators as we enter the upcoming school year.»



School Privatization and the Charter School Scam: Corporate America’s Neo-Feudal Assault on Education

“The new feudalism reverses the trend of the past thousand years toward the assumption by the government of basic public amenities like policing, public roads and transport networks, and public schools. In the United States—to a degree unmatched in any other industrial democracy—these things are once again becoming private luxuries, accessible only to the affluent few.”Michael Lind 

“The privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable industry.”—Milton Friedman

American schools are in crisis. This is especially palpable in the inner cities. Although stemming from larger social and societal problems—coupled with a federal policy that facilitates school disruption—the cause of the crisis has been leveled solely on teachers. On a largely bipartisan basis, the solution has been to fire teachers en masse, coupling this with a massive wave of school closings. Subsequently, these public schools are massively privatized, mostly in the form of charter schools. This chain of events, far from unconnected phenomena, are part of the overall project for privatizing public schools. It is an attempt, inter alia, at windfall profits and to overturn the centuries-long commitment of the state to free compulsory education. In other words, neo-feudalism.
Originally focusing on the advocacy of private school vouchers, the architects of school privatization have redirected their energies to the adoption of private charter schools. Since this crucial pivot, the movement has evolved into a much larger coalition, bringing together the forces of right-wing corporatism and Wall Street Democrats, the ostensible allies of labor. It is this convergence that existentially threatens the very notion of public education in America.
Couched in terms of genuine concern for children and through demagogic sloganeering such as “school choice” or even in terms as innocuous as “school reform,” proponents of privatization have presented themselves as the saviors of children. [1] Facing largely failing schools—again, due to larger societal factors and lack of school funding in many cases, sometimes deliberately withheld—many parents look favorably at the prospect of sending their children to private voucher or charter schools in the hopes it will provide a more viable alternative. But as the Black Agenda Report observes, “The charter school racket is the perfect Trojan Horse for corporate domination of the classroom, at public expense, opening up a new, wholly subsidized educational ‘market’ valued at hundreds of billions of dollars a year, in which the public pays and private parties profit.” Under the guise of empowering parents and communities, it transfers public assets into private hands.

Behind the scenes of the movement for the replacement of public schools with for-profit charter schools, we find legions of billionaire hedge-fund hyenas, Wall Street—the same rapacious forces that brought us the world economic depression—and cynically opportunistic political operatives working at the behest of corporate and conservative foundations. These are flanked by neoliberal Wall Street Democrats and Republicans, the strongest allies of corporate America. Wall Street wants charter schools. It wants privatization because corporate America sees a potential bonanza in profits, a multibillion dollar opportunity to loot American schools at public expense. Indeed, as Glen Ford notes, “Anyone who believes that the Lords of Capital would finance anything that puts real power in the hands of poor parents, is in need of remedial education.”

In addition to profits, it also affords a further opportunity to smash the remnants of labor unions in America. In a country where labor unions have been in a continual rout for the past four decades—under both Republican and Democratic administrations—teachers unions have become one of the last bastions of militant trade unionism. Privatizing or charterizing public schools continues the attenuation of labor because their proliferation eliminates teachers unions. In fact, the original project to privatize schools, as we shall see, held as paramount the goal of breaking the historic relationship between Black America—the most consistently progressive constituency in America—and labor unions, where blacks were represented disproportionately with respect to their percentage of the overall American population.

Right-Wing Corporate Agenda to Co-Opt Black America

The project for national school privatization largely began as a parochial right-wing initiative focusing primarily on vouchers for private schools. This was a project that, if adopted, would have exacerbated American class separation in addition to reversing the historic commitment to public education. Elite private schools could have—unlike public schools—raised tuition to price out all but the wealthiest students. This would work to cement already increasingly oligarchic tendencies in America.

Moving away from this narrow right-wing initiative, the project for school privatization undertook a dramatic shift beginning in the late 1990s. For years Republicans had tried unsuccessfully to gain legitimacy within the Black community. Republicans had manifold methods for attempting to penetrate the Black community—from running token Black Republicans to bankrolling faux Black intellectuals—all of which were ultimately unsuccessful. Hitherto, not one Black Republican had been elected to a black district since 1939. Eventually, the Right had an epiphany. It realized the cynical use of education was a method by which it could penetrate into the Black community. American Blacks, descendants of enslaved people—who in their plight faced its criminalization—consider education indispensable for social mobility.
Rather than directly attempt to co-opt Blacks through the Republican Party, it would make inroads by working through the Democratic Party itself, where Black America resides politically. School privatization could also potentially drive a wedge between labor and blacks. Towards this end, it would foster and bankroll Black political operatives and opportunists in favor of school privatization. To bring this to fruition the right-wing corporate forces created a synthetic movement for school privatization within the Black community, where hitherto such a demand never existed. This was because, in a paradoxical irony, the progenitors of privatization, by way of school vouchers, were white racists who opposed the integration of schools by the federal government. They wanted segregation academies. Because of this, Blacks, with good reason, associated vouchers with white racists. To make privatization palatable to the Black community would be an arduous task indeed. But the right-wing operatives were awash with money and a newfangled strategy to inveigle the Black community.

This newfangled right-wing strategy was best elucidated by Glen Ford in the pages of the Black Commentator in his exposé of then Newark mayoral candidate Cory Booker, who was an integral part of these efforts. In retrospect, the advent of Booker on the national scene is a historic watershed in American politics. It was an ominous harbinger of what was to come for Black American politics; henceforth Black politicians would come increasingly into the orbit of the corporate embrace. Ford’s article “Fruit of the Poisoned Tree: The Hard Right’s Plan to Capture Newark, NJ” thoroughly documents Booker as the willing front man of the Hard Right’s twofold plan to infiltrate Black Democratic politics and to implement school privatization via vouchers. The incisive article also tells a larger story. It traces the new strategy’s very origins.

Those origins ideologically and financially lie in the Bradley Foundation, a wellspring of ultra-conservative political causes, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bradley is the ultra-conservative foundation par excellence—an organization that Republican President George W. Bush described as his “favorite” foundation. Bradley had between 1985 and 1999, according to one count, distributed $365 million to a myriad of right-wing organizations. School privatization was among the causes that it championed. For example, around 2002 it pledged $20 million for private schools in Milwaukee for the next decade, while giving a paltry $60,000 to the public school system in 2000.

The brainchild of the new strategy for co-opting Blacks via an education gambit at Bradley was Michael Joyce, its then president. Far from being interested in genuinely empowering Blacks, Joyce was a man who could care less about the plight of Blacks ill-served by the public education system. In fact, Joyce lauded Charles Murray, author of the infamous American Enterprise Institute (AEI) supported “Bell Curve” theory which posits the dubious notion that Blacks have inferior intelligence. Joyce once asserted “Charles Murray, in my opinion, is one of the foremost social thinkers in this country.” AEI, a favorite think tank of Bradley, was a recipient of $825,000 of Bradley money in 2000.
Bradley Foundation Creates Its Vessel: Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO)

For Michael Joyce, his efforts might have not succeeded were it not for his partner in privatization Dr. Howard Fuller, a Milwaukee based self-styled Black nationalist. [2] During the late 1960s and early 1970s Fuller had been part of an effort to create “Malcolm X Liberation University” in Greensboro, North Carolina. For financial reasons this effort proved abortive, with the institution lasting a mere four years. This lesson was not lost on Fuller though; to turn his quixotic Black nationalist desires into a viable movement, he would need money. Being from Milwaukee, he knew where that money resided. What resulted was a paradoxical alliance in which two forces who should be diametrically opposed to each other, worked in tandem. Without qualms, Fuller turned to the Bradley Foundation of Michael Joyce. In Milwaukee, his connections afforded him the opportunity to become superintendent of Milwaukee public schools. In close association with Bradley, he worked to establish seven of the first inner-city voucher private schools. His efforts were frustrated when he faced the Milwaukee school board, where four out of five candidates backed by teachers unions were elected.


After resigning from his position in consternation, Fuller redoubles his Bradley-backed privatization efforts. Fuller was promptly set up at Marquette University—a favorite campus of Bradley and its sister organization the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of retail juggernaut Wal-Mart. Operating his own “non-profit” on a $900, 000 annual salary, training and indoctrinating cadre to promote what they sophistically call “school choice” in the Black community.


The Bradley-Walton-Fuller effort to promote voucher and later charter schools crested with the establishment of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). This group, according to one estimate, received $1.7 million from June 2001 to early 2002, while the Walton Foundation provided $900,000 for seed money. Such a gilded entrance on the political scene belies any notion of being a grassroots organization. As Glen Ford concludes: “The Black Alliance for Educational Options has no life independent of Bradley and its wicked sister, the Walton Foundation… In a December 2001, report, the liberal People for the American Way (PFAW) asked, rhetorically, is the BAEO a ‘Community Voice or Captive of the Right?’ Transparency in Media, which keeps track of right-wing foundations, describes the BAEO as ‘a project’ of the Bradley Foundation.”


As a testament to the true ideological underpinnings of Cory Booker, Fuller, and their ilk, a BAEO symposium attended by Cory Booker, received $30,000 from Milton Friedman—the intellectual patron saint of privatization and favored economist of Ronald Reagan, the hero of conservatives. Friedman had his own foundation follow up with $230,000 for ads promoting school vouchers. The subsequent media blitz which included TV, radio, and print ads was valued at $3 million, according to one estimate. Plainly, this was no grass roots phenomena of Black folks seeking “school choice”; it was a full-fledged ultra-conservative-backed bacchanalia. Indeed, once the BAEO was well-established, it would achieve a quasi-governmental status under the Republican regime of George W. Bush, becoming a recipient of millions in federal grant money during his tenure as part of Bush’s pro-voucher outreach to the Black community.

Cory Booker: The Corporate Right’s Great Black Hope

Cory Booker, the focus of Glen Ford’s exposé, represented the hopes and aspirations of the new right-wing strategy. The prospect of Booker in a solidly Democratic mayoralty would settle the question of whether or not the Hard Right’s newfangled strategy was a viable option to penetrate the Black political scene. As Ford framed it at the time:

The billionaires who fund the American Hard Right are salivating over the prospect of seizing control of City Hall in Newark, New Jersey, May 14.

They have found their champion: Cory Booker, Black mayoral candidate from the city’s Central Ward, a cynical pretender who attempts to position himself as the common people’s defender while locked in the deep embrace of institutes and foundations that bankroll virtually every assault on social and economic justice in America…

Booker owes his growing national prominence to this crowd, whose influence has provided the 32 year-old with a campaign war chest rivaling that of four-term incumbent Sharp James. Never has a Newark election been more closely watched by the super-rich and their political network. Booker is their Black Hope for electoral legitimacy. Although only a first-term councilman from a medium-sized city, the former Rhodes Scholar is already at the top of the Right’s list of New Black Leaders.

Booker’s anointment as a prince in the Hard Right’s pantheon is based on his support of public vouchers for private schools. This “movement,” the creation of right-wing paymasters like the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, and the Walton Family Foundation, Bentonville, Arkansas, hopes to drive a wedge between urban Blacks and the teachers unions. Without amicable relations between these two Democratic pillars, the Party, as we know it, is finished….


Booker is the Right’s eager ally. He is adored in the corridors of the Heritage, Hoover, Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, think tanks that handle publicity and publication for the Bradley and Walton moneybags.

Normally, that Booker was allied with the fringes of Hard Right in support of school private vouchers might be received with alarm in the Black community. But Booker, much like Obama, ran on vague terms, with no mention of vouchers in his candidacy announcement speech. Instead, he portrayed his opponent, the incumbent mayor Sharpe James, as a tool of downtown business interests; Booker promised a “renaissance for the rest of us.”

If his true intentions were not sufficient to raise red flags, his tight partnerships with some of the most reactionary Republicans should have. Booker found good company with former Jersey City Mayor and failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler, another champion of private school vouchers. Along with wealthy Republican businessman Peter Denton, Booker and Schundler founded the non-profit Excellent Education for Everyone. Schundler had earlier received a $500,000 grant from the Walton Foundation for his “Scholarships for Jersey City Children” non-profit, a large part of which he merely used for his election campaign. Booker and Schundler were also notably present at the creation of the BAEO, making a pilgrimage to Milwaukee for a Bradley funded symposium. Booker would soon join the board of BAEO—along with a catalogue of other right-wing operatives and opportunists such as former congressman Floyd Flake of Queens, the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to openly endorse private school vouchers at the time. [3]

Most importantly for the fortunes of the young opportunist Booker as a servant of right-wing circles, his standing was his solidified when he delivered a speech to the Manhattan institute—a sort of New York media affiliate of Bradley for which it gave $250,000 in 2000. Here Booker obsequiously delivered on many of the ultra-right’s litany of key demands, inveighing against what he called the “old paradigm,” which Booker opined was about “race-based machines” securing “big entitlements.” A chorus of right-wing voices—spearheaded by noted conservative columnist George F. Will, champion of privatization—soon proceeded to trumpet the cause of Booker. A column by Will about what he called Booker’s ”renaissance” for Newark explained that Booker’s plans are “drawn from thinkers at the Democratic Leadership Council and Manhattan Institute think tank, and from the experiences of others such as Stephan Goldsmith, former Republican mayor of Indianapolis, a pioneer of privatization and faith-based delivery of some government services, and John Norquist, current Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, which has one of the nation’s most successful school-choice programs.”


What Will’s somewhat disingenuous column omitted was the role of Bradley in Milwaukee’s dubiously termed “successful” “school-choice” programs, and that the Democratic Leadership Council was the southern based conservative arm of the Democratic Party. Through Booker’s access to the right-wing moneybags, he was able to raise $3 million in contrast to the $2.5 million of incumbent Sharpe James. Will noted that Booker had raised his millions mostly via “reform-minded” (read exponents of privatization) “supporters in New York financial circles.” In truth, these are the same forces that fund corporate right-wing think tanks such as AEI, the Manhattan Institute.

Booker, in a later revelatory Freudian slip, again demonstrated where his true allegiances lie. During the 2012 presidential election season, Booker defended the “good” works done by GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, a predatory firm that had engaged in all manner of asset stripping and jobs destruction. Booker was “nauseated” by “unfair” attacks leveled at Romney and Wall Street. That same year, Booker, still the abject servant of the right-wing elements, delivered a speech on education “reform” (right-speak for privatization) in Jersey City. This big luncheon was paid for by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) a political arm of the much-dreaded billionaire Koch brothers who fostered the obstructionist Tea Party. Booker was pari passu with Republican Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey (a close ally of Booker with whom he agrees with on many issues) and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana at the ultra-conservative luncheon. Booker’s rousing speech was laden with anti-union and anti-public school rhetoric, with some accounts stating it was even more ultra-conservative than those given by Jindal or Christie. To be sure, Booker was well in his right-wing element. Booker’s actions demonstrated that not only could a Democrat—albeit a nominal one—attack the institution of public schools and unions, but he could also partake in right-wing circles and defend Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, one of the most predatory moneyed interests in America.


 Obama Regime: A New Emphasis on Private Charter Schools

The school privatization effort has today reached its apex under the Obama regime. Since developing their early privatization agenda focusing on private school vouchers, the corporate and moneyed interests—the milieu which brought Cory Booker to power—changed their emphasis to “charter schools.” From their perspective it is a more viable proposition. Working inside the public school system, these are private institutions for which the public fits the bill. Thus, financially, it is a no lose proposition for their proponents. Charter schools are the faster route to wrest control of public schooling to privatizers than vouchers. The pace at which private voucher schools can be created—which is a one by one basis—is slower than the speed that charter schools can enter the public school system. The term ‘charter school,’ in truth, a misnomer, also avoids using the word “privatization” which is widely unpopular. Additionally, in terms of targeting the Black community, it obviates the stigma associated with vouchers. Lastly, but certainly not least among considerations, the ranks of the pro-privatization crowd have been bolstered after Wall Street and the Internet rich joined their ranks. As we shall see, Obama, a Democratic president heavily tied to Wall Street banking interests, has served as the front man for privatization via charter schools on the national level, making more strides toward this end than Bush could ever have dreamed of.

The only discernable difference between the Bush II regime and that of Obama vis-à-vis education is in their emphasis. With Bush, Republicans were committed to creating private school vouchers. Their second choice was the charter school, which is now the favored initiative of the Obama regime. Obama has facilitated the firings of teachers en masse in numbers beyond what Bush could have done. By virtue of him being a Democratic president, any potential backlash—that doubtless would have befallen a Republican regime—against his anti-teacher, anti-union and mass school closing polices is muffled. The national level teachers unions ill-served by his policies continue to provide support to him. To add insult to injury, his Teach for America Program uses what are, in effect, “scabs” to replace experienced unionized teachers. These professionalized teachers are replaced by less-paid young, mostly white, teachers, who graduate from a 5 week teacher program with a higher turnover rate than the teachers they replace.

The primary tool of the Obama regime to enact privatization is the “Race to the Top” initiative, its signature education policy. Taking Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program as his starting point, Obama’s “Race to the Top” program at its core is an instrument of coercion for privatization. It relies on the acquiescence of the states for privatization via charters. The “Race to the Top” awards federal education dollars based on the testing regime, how many teachers are fired, how many schools are closed. This incentivizing of school closings has resulted in an unmitigated wave of school closings involving perhaps hundreds—from Philadelphia to Chicago—in the inner cities. In order to make room for charter schools, there needs to be a rubble for them to replace. Towards this end, the charter school scam continues unabated.

 Chris Macavel is an independent political analyst based in Harlem, NY. He writes for the blog “The Nation-State” at He seeks to enlighten about the growing dangers of NATO imperialist ambitions and Wall Street domination in American political life. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Imperialism in the ‘Arab Spring’: How The West Guided the MENA Uprisings” 



[1] One propagandist film Waiting For Superman plays on this very notion.[2] Fuller also appears in the propagandist film Waiting For Superman to promote the privatization movement he helped to create. His ties and backing from ultra-conservatives is omitted completely from the narrative.[3] Floyd Flake would later create the Edison Schools private school network. Ford also profiles the catalogue of BAEO members in his exposé.

“Arne Duncan at ED: Year One
“Cory Booker: Sellout or Dumbbell?” 
“Conflicts of Interests and the Race to the Top”
“Fruit of the Poisoned Tree: The Hard Right’s Plan to Capture Newark, NJ”
Newark: The First Domino? The Hard Right Tests Its National Black Strategy” 
“Glen Ford: Corporate Assault on Public Education”


GUY: Don’t run education like a business

John Guy / Special to IBJ

March 15, 2014

Disagreements about education reform result from conflicting models: the business model and the social model. Governors such as Daniels and Pence, reflecting their backgrounds and support structures, tend toward the business model. Superintendent Ritz, with almost 35 years as a teacher/communications coordinator in elementary schools, is more aligned with the social model. Συνέχεια

A tale of two movements: Why standards and choice need each other

The modern education-reform movement is essentially made up of two distinct but complementary strands: one focuses primarily on raising K–12 academic expectations, particularly for poor and minority students, who have long been held to lower standards than their middle-class and affluent peers. The second is aimed at expanding education choice through various mechanisms, chiefly charter schools and vouchers.

Unfortunately, these reforms have often been pursued in isolation, with advocates pushing for one or the other but not both together. Some even claim that the two strategies are competitors, if not antagonists. But the reality is that, in order to see real progress and avoid the most vexing unintended consequences of either reform pursued alone, each needs the other in order to deliver on its promise. And therein lies a challenge. Συνέχεια