From the ABC’s of Privatizing Public Education: A Is for ALEC, I is for iPad…and P Is for Profits

SchoolClassroomSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

According to Cashing in on Kids: 139 ALEC Bills in 2013 Promote a Private, For-Profit Education Model, a special report published by the Center for Media and Democracy, in the first half of this year, “at least 139 bills or state budget provisions reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) education bills have been introduced in 43 states and the District of Columbia.” The report states that thirty-one of those bills and provisions have already become law.

In September 2012, In the Public Interest published a report titled Profiting from Public Dollars: How ALEC and Its Members Promote Privatization of Government Services and Assets which also addresses the subject of ALEC and its agenda that promotes the privatization of public services.

Excerpt from this report:

The American Legislative Exchange Council has been a major force in pushing for the privatization of public services and assets. This organization, which boasts of having more than 2,000 members, brings together state lawmakers, corporations, and conservative think tanks in an effort to push an agenda of “free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”1 As ALEC succinctly laid out in its 2011 publication, State Budget Reform Toolkit, “policymakers should embrace privatization and the competitive contracting of government services…”2

This agenda directly benefits many of its corporate members, who hope to increase their revenues and profits by dismantling public services and taking over the work through lucrative government contracts.

Last August I wrote a post titled Stateside Louisiana: School Vouchers and the Privatization of Public Education. In it, I quoted the Washington Post:

A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.

Rupert Murdoch, CEO of NewsCorp, has reportedly called public education “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Brendan Fischer, author of the Center for Media and Democracy’s special report, said that the transformation “of public education — from an institution that serves the public into one that serves private for-profit interests — has been in progress for decades, thanks in large part to ALEC.”

Fischer:

ALEC boasts on the “history” section of its website that it first started promoting “such ‘radical’ ideas as a [educational] voucher system” in 1983 — the same year as the Reagan administration’s “Nation At Risk” report — taking up ideas first articulated decades earlier by ALEC supporter Milton Friedman.

Fischer names a number of “ALEC corporations” that could “reap” financial rewards from ALEC’s privatization agenda. One of those corporations is Amplify, “the newly-created education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, parent company of Fox News. News Corp is on the ALEC Education Task Force. In 2010, News Corp hired former New York City chancellor Joel Klein to run its education division, which includes the for-profit education company formerly known as Wireless Generation. The firm has big plans for a specialized ‘Amplify Tablet’ that would provide lesson plans, textbooks and testing to cash-in on new ‘Common Core’ required state standards.”

David Folkenflik (NPR) said that Murdoch “views the digital tablet as part of a push to modernize the educational system.” He added that Murdoch has “another goal in mind as well.” That goal, according to Folkenflik, is the anticipated revenues from the educational arm of his corporation that could help “shore up the finances of his newspaper and publishing division as it is split off later this year from the conglomerate’s vast holdings in television and entertainment.”

In his ThinkProgress post titled In Schools Across The Country Are Considering Education Bills Crafted By Corporate Front Group, Alan Pyke said that—in addition to ALEC—for-profit companies are able to “exercise substantial political influence” via federal campaign contributions. On July 15th, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, had received nearly one quarter of his 2013’s second quarter substantial fundraising contributions from the for-profit education industry.

Yes, there’s corporate money to be made in the education business—even as school districts struggle to pay their bills and keep current staffing levels.

In a piece titled No, iPads do not make teachers obsolete! that David Sirota wrote for Salon earlier this month, the author asks the following question: “Why are cash-starved school districts sending public funds to Apple — while laying off teachers?” Why…indeed?! In his article, Sirota tells of school districts that are spending huge amounts of money in order to provide every student with an iPad.

Sirota:

Indeed, following smaller districts from across the country, the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest in the nation — just generated big headlines by becoming one of the 600 districts handing over public money to Apple in exchange for iPads.

How much money, you ask? In Los Angeles, many millions of dollars. If that sounds a bit vague, that’s because it is, thanks to the hard-to-estimate total costs of all the variables in technologizing schools. In L.A., for instance, school officials approved an initial $50 million in bonds (read: public debt) to finance the first stage of its iPad-for-every-student program. However, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, those officials quietly acknowledge that the plan will cost a whopping half-billion dollars when fully implemented.

One has to question why school districts are spending/planning to spend so much money in technology for their students when there is no proof that it will improve education…or that it is actually cost effective.

Sirota:

As respected education consultant Lee Wilson notes in a report breaking down school expenses, “It will cost a school 552% more to implement iPad textbooks than it does to deploy books.” He notes that while “Apple’s messaging is the idea that at $14.99 an iText is significantly less expensive than a $60 textbook,” the fact remains that “when a school buys a $60 textbook today they use it for an average of 5-7 years (while) an Apple iText it costs them $14.99 per student – per year.” As Lee notes, that translates into iBooks that are 34 percent more expensive than their paper counterparts — and that’s on top of the higher-than-the-retail-store price school districts are paying for iPads.

In Selling Out Schools (November 2011), Lee Fang wrote:

While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.

Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”

Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.

Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.

We, the common people, are left to wonder why so many school reformers and politicians who claim there is little or no money for more classroom teachers…for raises for educators…for school libraries…for art and music programs don’t even bat an eye when school districts propose spending mega-millions of tax payer dollars on technology…or charter schools…or online learning programs.

SOURCES

Schools Across The Country Are Considering Education Bills Crafted By Corporate Front Group (ThinkProgress)

Cashing in on Kids: 139 ALEC Bills in 2013 Promote a Private, For-Profit Education Model (The Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch)

Rep. Kline Turns Chairmanship into Profitable For-Profit Haul (Open Secrets)

For-profit Education (Open Secrets)

Privatizing Public Schools: Big Firms Eyeing Profits From U.S. K-12 Market (Huffington Post)

News Corp. Education Tablet: For The Love Of Learning? (NPR)

Stateside Louisiana: School Vouchers and the Privatization of Public Education (Jonathan Turley)

A Look at Some of the Driving Forces behind the School Reform Movement and the Effort to Privatize Public Education (Jonathan Turley)

Who Is Using Political Pressure to Drive Privatization of Public Education? (UCC)

Profiting from Public Dollars: How ALEC and Its Members Promote Privatization of Government Services and Assets (In the Public Interest)

No, iPads do not make teachers obsolete!: Why are cash-starved school districts sending public funds to Apple — while laying off teachers? Follow the money (Salon)

Selling Schools Out (The Investigative Fund)

48 thoughts on “From the ABC’s of Privatizing Public Education: A Is for ALEC, I is for iPad…and P Is for Profits”

  1. ALEC & Battle Over Public vs. Private Education
    by Bob Sloan
    6/13/12
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/13/1099650/-ALEC-Battle-Over-Public-vs-Private-Education

    Excerpt:
    Since the early 90’s there has been a relatively unknown network of foundations, think tanks, politicians and organizations (tax exempt) actively pursuing what can only be described as a take-over of public education. The purpose behind this endeavor is access to and control of over half a trillion dollars spent annually on education. In order for the public to endorse a switch from public to privately operated education it has been necessary to convince that public that there is a need for such a transfer. This private education “network” I describe has used political connections to reduce funding for public education in every state in the U.S. Subtly this changed the landscape of public education; by keeping it from evolving. Freezing salaries to teachers, larger classes, less personal or one-on-one tutoring of students, reductions in transportation upgrades, charter schools, vouchers and fewer books are some of the initiatives used to attack public education.

    The national spokes-organization for this attempt at privatization is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with funding from Charles and David Koch and their family foundations. Koch’s money is combined with funding from other foundations representing the interests and agenda pursued by conservatives – including privatization of public education; DeVos, Scaife, JM Olin, Bradley, Coors – and of late, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. ALEC’s members include companies who will profit off of the software they manufacture for “long distance learning.” A study by the liberal group ProgressVA, found that ALEC had been involved in writing bills that would:

    “Encourage school districts to contract with private virtual-education companies.”

    (One such company was the corporate co-chair of ALEC’s education committee.) The bill was signed into law (In Va. and elsewhere).

    ALEC has written several pro-corporate model legislative bills to advance the education privatization goal – including at the college and University level. They have pursued privatization of public school transportation services in Indiana, Michigan and elsewhere through lobbyists operating as “consultants” (Wendell Cox Consultancy) that wrote such model legislation for ALEC:

    “…Principal author of a research project comparing public and private school bus operations for the American Legislative Exchange Council (1990).”

    ALEC worked for over two decades to cut funding, encourage home schooling, charter schools, education vouchers, privatize school transportation and cafeteria services, lower teacher wages, eliminate collective bargaining and in support of “long distance learning”. Each of these efforts has been to increase access to, and extract profits from, public education funding. With each successful cut in state funding, school administrations have been forced to do more with less. As funding cuts have reached the tipping point in this great recession, ALEC steps forward with “solutions” to the various failing education problems – with more privatization, not increased funding.

  2. The Gates Foundation’s Education Philanthropy: Are Profit Seeking and Market Domination a Public Service?
    By Anthony Cody
    July 13, 2012
    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/07/the_gates_foundations_educatio.html

    Excerpt:
    Part Two of Two. See Part One here.

    The Gates Foundation favors a charitable model known as a public-private partnership, which appears at first to be an enlightened model for corporate engagement. For-profit ventures are “partnered” with the government for funding, to drive positive social change.

    The problem is that apparent charities are actually spending public funds, often without our knowledge or consent, and public private partnerships in education have shown themselves to be vulnerable to outright fraud as well as wasteful insider dealing. There’s no open or democratic mechanism to determine public benefit, or regulation to protect public education funding from financial pillage for services it doesn’t want or need.

    Some for-profit corporations directly set up their own non-profit intermediary to divert government funding. For example, the Pearson Education Foundation is a philanthropy which is under investigation for its work as an intermediary on behalf of its parent corporation, global giant Pearson Education, whose 2010 US sales totaled £2.6 billion (British pounds).

    In April 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a partnership with the Pearson Foundation to produce resources for its Common Core State Standards project, and Pearson simultaneously announced it was developing a complete digital curriculum to support the proposed standards. The alliance was described in this NY Times story, Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools.

    Microsoft also unveiled its own $15 million research and development effort for “Next Generation” products, aligned to the new standards. Possible return on that investment is staggering, and almost every feature of the Gates Foundation’s program will create a dramatically favorable business climate for the data industry…

    Political Leverage Cuts across All Four Sectors, to Divert Public Funds

    The Gates Foundation’s Education program expends 20% of its funds for advocacy, which turns out to include support for artificial grass-roots organizations that can be used to sway local policy, according to the New York Times and the Seattle Times. Local political leverage helps to prepare the ground in different cities for specific Gates Foundation projects that tie into its vision of national standards and data-based accountability driven by entrepreneurial technological innovation.

    For example, through its Next Generation Learning partnership, the Foundation is promoting technology to develop innovative learning models and personalized educational pathways.
    One typical $500,000 Next Generation political grant was awarded to non-profit intermediary CEE-Trust, to “develop opportunities for entrepreneurs to launch or incubate new next gen schools and programs in CEE-Trust member cities.”

    Opportunities for entrepreneurs have to include easy access to public funds, so the Gates Foundation contributed $4 million dollars to preserve friendly Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s control of New York City’s public schools. It also recognized the New York mayor’s successful reform efforts in its grants to US cities, and congratulated New York for its great progress under Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein’s boast that his “tough medicine” had raised scores in the New York public schools was exposed as data manipulation, but his data-friendly legacy of entrenched entrepreneurial for-profit rating services lives on.

  3. The Corporate Takeover of Public Education
    By Diann Woodard
    Posted: 06/06/2013
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diann-woodard/the-corporate-takeover_b_3397091.html

    Excerpt:

    Independent research in recent months has documented that the nation’s wealthiest philanthropic foundations are steering funding away from public school systems, attended by 90 percent of American students, and toward “challengers” to public education, especially charter schools.

    Education Week recently reported that at the start of the decade, less than a quarter of K-12 giving from top foundations was given to groups supporting charter schools and privatization, about $90 million in all.

    By 2010, $540 million — fully 64 percent of major foundation giving — was directed to these private groups, including KIPP, Teach for America, the NewSchools Venture Fund, the Charter School Growth Fund, and the D.C. Public Education Fund.

    The best-known alumni of groups now getting the lion’s share of funding from the nation’s eight largest foundations are Michelle Rhee, John White of Louisiana, and Kevin Huffman of Tennessee, all of whom support vouchers and charters.

    The extent to which these groups will go to supplant the public school system is deeply disturbing. In Louisiana, for example, the scheme to redirect public funds to private groups through a voucher system under emergency circumstances in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was especially egregious. As a result of legal action taken by our union, the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), Louisiana’s Supreme Court last month ruled 6-1 that the funding scheme violated the state’s constitution.

    The foundations reshaping America’s education landscape are less devious than Louisiana privateers, but no less troubling in their commitment to dictating policy without regard to demonstrable performance outcomes. As New York University Professor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch points out: “None of the main recipients of foundation funding are models for American education.”

    In 2009, Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, which tracks student performance in 25 states conducted a large-scale study showing that only 17 percent of charter schools provided a better education than traditional schools, and 37 percent actually offered children a worse education.

    Despite the growing number of studies showing that charter schools are generally no better — and are often worse — than their public school counterparts, “the state and local agencies and organizations that grant the charters,” The New York Times reports, “have been increasingly hesitant to shut down schools, even those that continue to perform abysmally for years on end.”

    This disconnect between the claims of “reformers” bent on privatization and demonstrable outcomes in student performance has been enabled, in large part, by the nation’s mainstream media, which has been sold a bill of goods about so-called “school reform.” As a result, the agenda of the nation’s public school system is at risk of being bought out by a relatively small number of corporate billionaires and their tax-sheltered foundations whose privatization models do more to raise profits than student performance.

    As media critic David Sirota noted, “The pervasive media mythology tells us that the fight over the schoolhouse is supposedly a battle between greedy self-interested teachers who don’t care about children and benevolent billionaire ‘reformers’ whose political activism is solely focused on the welfare of kids. Epitomizing the media narrative, The Wall Street Journal casts the latter in sanitized terms, re-imagining the billionaires as philanthropic altruists ‘pushing for big changes they say will improve public schools.'”

    The fact that the principals and administrators who actually run the schools are invisible within this mythology is no accident, as we are routinely ignored by federal and state policymakers, unless it is to be vilified and fired for failing to implement policies that we are called on to implement without ever having a voice in their voracity or viability.

    Also ignored by this mythology is the corporate self-interest of the billionaire “altruists” whose foundations turn their backs on public schools as they turn increasingly toward charter schools and vouchers. Recent developments reveal the extent of financing some of America’s leading technology gurus, in particular, are willing to provide, creating a virtual corporate takeover of public education.

    A recent Washington state ballot initiative expanding publicly subsidized, privately run charter schools was effectively underwritten by Amazon and Microsoft, part of a broader education “reform” push by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ massive foundation.

    Absent from media coverage of efforts by Gates and others to dominate the nation’s education agenda is any mention of the fact that firms such as Amazon and Microsoft are for-profit technology companies which stand to benefit from lucrative contracts if the policy agenda for education is dominated by a push for science and technology, often to the exclusion of other disciplines. Predictably, increased focus on science and technology leads to the expanded use of their products in the learning process.

  4. NPR’s Education Coverage Funded By Pro-Privatization Billionaires
    May 9, 2013
    http://shameproject.com/shame-blog/nprs-education-coverage-funded-proprivatization-billionaires/

    Remember Ally Bank’s conflicted funding of NPR financial news program Planet Money? Well, turns out NPR is much more compromised than we ever imagined. Even its coverage of education issues is rife with biased reporting and undisclosed conflicts of interest that tie NPR to some of the most powerful pro-school privatization interests in the country.

    Yasha Levine reports for NSFWCORP:

    Consider a new NPR local news project called State Impact, which NPR describes as a “local-national collaboration between NPR and station groups in eight states that reports on state government actions and their impact on citizens and communities.”

    In January, State Impact published an interview with Greg Harris, the Ohio director of Michelle Rhee’s pro-charter school astroturf group StudentsFirst to promote a “report card” that the group released rating Ohio’s state education policies. . . .

    …why would public radio be so willing to gush about groups like StudentsFirst and their pro-privatization agenda?

    Well… it might have something to do with the fact that both NPR’s State Impact and Rhee’s StudentsFirst are funded by the same pro-privatization groups. In this case, the Walton Family Foundation, which has been funneling over $100 million a year to various right-wing efforts to break teachers unions and privatize public education—and that includes both NPR and StudentsFirst.

    In 2012, the foundation gave Rhee’s StudentsFirst $2 million. That same year, it cut NPR a hefty check for $1.4 million. The foundation classified both handouts—one to a respected news organization; the other to a notorious astroturf outfit—as “K-12 Education Reform Grants” to “Shape Public Policy.” Among other grantees funded under this category include the the ultra-libertarian Institute for Justice and the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, both Koch-connected outfits involved in the nasty business of busting unions.

  5. No Funds Left Behind
    Abby Rapoport
    March 12, 2012
    As states slash education budgets, private foundations have picked up the slack—and pushed some controversial reforms.
    http://prospect.org/article/no-funds-left-behind

    Excerpt:
    Last spring, as the Texas Legislature debated massive cuts to public schools—one of many desperate measures to close a $27 billion biennial budget deficit—10,000 protesters massed in Austin for a “Save Our Schools” rally. In the end, the damage to the state’s already-underfunded schools added up to $5.4 billion, forcing districts to lay off tens of thousands of teachers and staffers. In the city of Austin, public schools with rapidly growing enrollment found themselves facing a 5.5 percent cut in the 2011–2012 school year and 8.5 percent the next year. The quandary was far from extraordinary—37 states spent less on education in 2011 compared to 2010. Neither was one of the Austin schools’ solutions: seeking grant money from the world’s largest philanthropic organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    One of Gates’s latest education projects is called the District-Charter Collaboration Compact. When school districts sign a pledge to collaborate and share resources with local charter schools, Gates awards the districts—14 so far—$100,000. These districts also get a shot at another $40 million worth of grants. Last fall, the Austin school board signed such a pledge with local charters. The agreement, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said, would make Austin eligible for grants “from people and places that otherwise would not have given us the time of day.” A month later, the city again became a venue for protests—smaller, but equally vociferous—arguing against a new partnership. Austin already had 25 charter schools, but all operated independently of the district. Now the board wanted to take collaboration to the next level, letting a private charter-school operator take over an elementary school and a high school as “in–district charters.” While some argued that the charter schools could serve students whose needs weren’t being met in traditional schools, many parents and teachers (as well as three board members) worried that the charters would take good students out of traditional schools and questioned the track record of the charters. When the board debated the in-district charters in December, protesters chanted outside; inside the packed hearing room, arguments for the charter arrangement were hissed and booed. The board still voted yes (After this story was published in print, the Gates Foundation awarded Austin ISD $100,000 for its charter compact, which also makes the district eligible to compete for millions more in grant dollars).

    It’s a story being repeated across the country. With most states cutting school funding, Gates and other private foundations are wielding outsize influence over public education, using their much-sought-after millions to fund and shape a top-down reform agenda. Like the other major (but smaller) players, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, Gates uses its funds to encourage public schools to adopt a more corporate approach. The three foundations, which in 2009 gave around $560 million in education-related grants, support creating charters to foster competition between local schools, rewarding or punishing teachers for their students’ performance on standardized tests, and replacing local curricula with national standards.

    “The danger is that philanthropic investments will drive education policy to a greater degree than might be healthy or democratic,” says Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which recently commissioned a study on how philanthropies can be more effective in improving public schools.

    Gates and Walton have invested heavily in charter schools—and in advocacy groups that push state lawmakers to remove limits on the number of charters. “Before you can fund the charter school, you have to fund an advocacy organization that can create a climate for the charter school to exist,” says Debbie Robinson, a spokesperson for the Gates Foundation’s education efforts. The organizations also advocate for school choice—letting parents decide where their children go to school rather than letting zip codes dictate, as supporters of neighborhood schools prefer. They have pushed to make schools run more like businesses; Broad funds two programs that turn business executives into school administrators. And all three foundations encourage performance-based pay for teachers, arguing that this rewards the best.

    The foundations’ push to base teacher pay on students’ test results has put them at odds with teachers’ groups. “No other industry or profession is treated in this kind of disrespectful, simplistic way,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Nobody would do this to doctors and say ‘if all your patients don’t get well, we’re going to fire you.’” Weingarten has worked with Gates on creating different types of evaluation systems and says its emphasis on testing has softened slightly. But, she notes, more qualitative evaluation systems cost more money than a simple test—another problem in an era of austerity.

  6. Got Dough? Public School Reform in the Age of Venture Philanthropy
    06 January 2011
    By Joanne Barkan,
    Dissent Magazine | Op-Ed |
    http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/93758:got-dough-public-school-reform-in-the-age-of-venture-philanthropy

    Excerpt:
    The cost of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy—where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision—investing in education yields great bang for the buck.

    Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K–12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—working in sync, command the field. Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher. Other foundations—Ford, Hewlett, Annenberg, Milken, to name just a few—often join in funding one project or another, but the education reform movement’s success so far has depended on the size and clout of the Gates-Broad-Walton triumvirate.

    Every day, dozens of reporters and bloggers cover the Big Three’s reform campaign, but critical in-depth investigations have been scarce (for reasons I’ll explain further on). Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the reforms are not working. Stanford University’s 2009 study of charter schools—the most comprehensive ever done—concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. Gates and Broad helped to shape and fund two of the nation’s most extensive and aggressive school reform programs—in Chicago and New York City—but neither has produced credible improvement in student performance after years of experimentation.

    To justify their campaign, ed reformers repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study—break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty. And as dozens of studies have shown, the gap in cognitive, physical, and social development between children in poverty and middle-class children is set by age three.

    Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education. The truly excellent charter schools depend on foundation money and their prerogative to send low-performing students back to traditional public schools. They cannot be replicated to serve millions of low-income children. Yet the reform movement, led by Gates, Broad, and Walton, has convinced most Americans who have an opinion about education (including most liberals) that their agenda deserves support.

  7. Bill and Melinda Gates’s Foundation Helps ALEC Undercut Public Education
    12/13/11
    http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/11222-bill-and-melinda-gatess-foundation-helps-alec-undercut-public-education

    Excerpt:
    Gates does have a legion of critics. In his new biography of the late Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson reported that Jobs told him that Gates is “basically unimaginative, has never invented anything … he just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”

    Last year, I wrote a piece about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s relationship to the chemical company Monsanto and the agribusiness giant Cargill (http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/11834). The gist of the story was that the Foundation had bought 500,000 Monsanto shares worth around $23 million in the second quarter of 2010. Critics pointed out that amongst other things, Monsanto has for years had a negative impact on small farmers, especially in Africa.

    And some critics are highly skeptical about some of the Gates Foundation’s choices, particularly as it relates to education in the United States. According to the Gates Foundation website, their education mission in the U.S. is pretty straightforward: “… to dramatically improve education so that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We seek to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career and prepared to complete a postsecondary degree or certificate with value in the workplace.”

    Would it surprise you to learn that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave more than $300,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a shadowy right-wing organization that has inordinate power in state legislatures across the country.

    In November, the foundation announced that it has awarded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (http://www.alec.org/) a grant of $376,635 earmarked for ALEC’s work on an assortment of education projects, over a 22-month period. The Gates Foundation’s official description of the grant reads: “to educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement.”

    Robin Rogers is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of “Why Philanthro-policymaking Matters” in The Politics of Philanthrocapitalism, Society 2011, The Welfare Experiments: Politics and Policy Evaluation (Stanford University Press, 2004). In a recent piece at The Education Optimists titled “Billionaire Education Policy,” Rogers pointed out that the Gates Foundation’s grant to ALEC was aimed at “influenc[ing] state budget making – where the rubber hits the road on education policy.” Rogers noted that after the grant’s announcement, “Twitter was buzzing with the news” and the debate revolved around “whether this constituted a Republican takeover of the state budget process, a Gates Foundation takeover of ALEC or both. No one suggested it was a victory for democracy.”

    Since its’ founding nearly 40 years ago, the raison d’etre of the American Legislative Exchange Council (http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/12551) has been to influence state legislatures on behalf of corporations and so-called family values advocates, but mostly corporations. As The Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” (http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed) project points out, the organization is “not a lobby” and “not a front group”: “It is much more powerful than that.”

    Primarily funded by corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations,” and populated mainly by Republican office holders, ALEC is a non-profit organization made up primarily of a “who’s who’ of the extreme right.”

    As I reported in late March of this year, “while the Washington, D.C.-based ALEC may not be responsible for all of the mayhem going on in such states as Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, and Michigan (with more states certain to follow), it has historically played an extraordinary role in shaping pro-corporate legislation in a number of states.”

    According to ALEC Exposed, ALEC-sponsored “bills would privatize public education, crush teacher’s unions, and push American universities to the right. Among other things, these bills make education a private commodity rather than a public good, and reverse America’s modern innovation of promoting learning and civic virtue through public schools staffed with professional teachers for children from all backgrounds.”

  8. Pulling the Parent Trigger: The Push to Privatize Public Schools
    10 May 2013
    By Yasha Levine, NSFWCORP
    http://truth-out.org/news/item/16300-pulling-the-trigger

    Excerpt:
    When NSFWCORP sent me to Victorville this January, I little expected that the neighboring town of Adelanto would become ground zero for a fight between billionaires on one side, and poor, vulnerable minority parents and children on the other.

    I first heard about the fight through the local right-wing paper, the Victorville Daily Press, which gleefully announced on its front page that a local school, Desert Trails Elementary, had just made history as the first school in the nation to be privatized under California’s new “parent trigger” law. The paper described the takeover as “promising a fresh start to the failing elementary school,” and claimed it had received widespread support from parents.

    The national press gushed in similarly glowing terms. The LA Weekly described the Adelanto privatization as an “historic moment for the education-reform movement picking up steam across the nation.” The New York Times dutifully compared the takeover of Desert Trails to “Won’t Back Down.” An “issues” movie starring Face of Indie Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Won’t Back Down” promotes the parent-trigger law as a panacea for America’s public-education problems, one that “empowers” parents to fight back against self-interested public school teachers and their union.

    All in all, everyone agreed that this takeover of Desert Trails Elementary represented a triumphant moment for parents and their children, a victory for the people over rapacious elementary school teachers and their unions.

    But something didn’t seem right about this story — it was too pat, too much like a triumph-of-the-spirit Disney tale, too much like Maggie’s movie. So I made some calls and started spending some time in Adelanto, to find out what really went on there.

    * *

    Motorists entering the City of Adelanto are greeted with a big blue sign that reads: “The City With Unlimited Possibilities.” It’s not clear who came up with this slogan, or when. But, these days, the sign is a cruel joke.

    Founded in 1915 by the guy who invented the modern electric iron, Adelanto never amounted to much. Mostly it served as pit stop and junkyard to a nearby George Air Force Base. The base closed more than a decade ago, and home values have collapsed since the last real-estate bubble popped. Entire neighborhoods emptied out, and building companies went belly up, leaving behind half-finished “master planned communities” that still stand there, desiccating in the dry heat. Signs advertise brand-new three-bedroom McTractHomes for zero down and $800 a month.

    Today, Adelanto is the end of the line. A poor, desert town, the city serves as a dumping ground for low-income minority families who have been squeezed out of the Greater Los Angeles-Orange County region and pushed out over the San Bernardino Mountains into the bleak expanse of the Mojave Desert, where housing is dirt cheap and jobs almost non-existent.

    The numbers tell the story: Of the 32,000 people who call Adelanto home, one out of three are below the poverty line. Per-capita income is just under $12,000 — nearly three times lower than the California average, and about as much as the average person earns in Mexico. There are almost no jobs here, and Starbucks ranks among the city’s top-ten employers.

    Nearly two-thirds of the population are Latinos, many of them undocumented. Another one in five are African-American. Then there are the 5 percent of the population that the census bureau classifies as “institutionalized,” which is nothing but a wishy-washy bureaucratic way of saying that 1 out of 20 Adelanto residents is currently rotting in jail — a rate five times higher than the national average. Adelanto does not have its own high school, but dropout rates in the neighboring suburb of Victorville, also hard-hit by the subprime bubble, are among the worst in the state — hovering somewhere around 50%.

    If you stand at the city’s welcome sign, you can just make out its three major prison facilities: a giant federal prison complex to the north, a brand-new state prison to the west, and just north of that, California’s largest private immigrant deportation facility. The last was built recently by Geo Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison contractor.

    * *

    I would spend several weeks talking to the parents of children enrolled in Desert Trails Elementary, meeting with them in local taco joints and strip mall diners and talking about what happened. As I had suspected, their version of events turned out not to match the Disney version in national papers.

    The parents told me that a Los Angeles-based group calling itself Parent Revolution organized a local campaign to harass and trick them into signing petitions that they thought were meant for simple school improvements. In fact those petitions turned out to be part of a sophisticated campaign to convert their children’s public school into a privately-run charter — something a majority of parents opposed. At times, locals say, the Parent Revolution volunteers’ tactics were so heavy-handed in gathering signatures that they crossed the line into harassment and intimidation. Many parents were misled about what the petition they signed actually meant. Some told me that the intimidation with some of the undocumented Latino residents included bribery and extortion.

    They first noticed something was up in the summer of 2011, when small groups of parents decked out in Parent Revolution T-shirts started appearing around town, going door to door to speak to parents of Desert Trails Elementary kids, spreading the word that they were organizing a “parent union” to try to improve the quality of their children’s education.

    At that, local parents who’d been involved in school affairs started to grow suspicious. According to several I spoke to, two of the leading members of this new “parent union” had previously served in the school’s Parent Teacher Association, and had resigned amid accusations of improprieties.

    Why would they suddenly start a new parent organization? Spite? Revenge? And what exactly was Parent Revolution?

    Parents didn’t get much of a chance to ponder these questions. As soon as summer vacation ended, the parent union began to reveal its true function. Adelanto was to become the first victim of a giant corporate push to privatize public schools.

    * *

    Put simply, a parent trigger law allows a group of parents to hand over their kids’ public schools to private contractors, and then allows these new private contractors to tear up teacher union contracts and fire or hire as they see fit — all while receiving taxpayer money to fund their private-charter school business.

    The law works like this: If enough parents sign a trigger petition (representing more than 50% of the number of students in the school), they can fire its principal, lay off unionized teachers or hand it over to a private charter school company.

    According to a recent investigation by FryingPanNews, Parent Revolution has received $14.8 million since its founding in 2009. Almost half of that — $6.3 million — came from the Walton Family Foundation, which has long bankrolled the war on unions and public education. The rest of Parent Revolution’s cash came from more liberal sources, including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Broad Foundation, each of which has given about $1.5 million to the group.

    As reported in Dissent, these three foundations — Gates, Walton and Broad — spend roughly $4 billion a year to hand public K-12 education to the private sector, giving them increasing leverage over a sector that’s worth $500 billion per year.

  9. Overheard at an ALEC policy conference held behind closed, locked doors:

    Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Mankind. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words: “mank” and “ind”. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.”

    (SNL).

  10. The bad news is they do not want doctors,geniuses, philosphers,teachers,lawyers or anything else along those lines coming from public schools since they have those rolls plugged for their kids. and descendants. i truly dont understand why humanity is refusing to accept that the war is on and the war is about them vs us aka rich vs poor. its been put out in the open finally there is nothing written that they dont want us to know in the main stream. if you truly want the truth then research alternative news,information sites. and you will get the truth otherwise the only thing you’re getting is distracted from the real issue

  11. Blouise,

    I hope you do decide to run for school board.

    *****

    Darren,

    Wouldn’t that be nice? I left the classroom before I had originally planned because school reform in my state was beginning to take all the joy out of teaching. These days, teachers are pressured into spending valuable class time prepping their students for high stakes testing.

  12. One of these days the students’ needs will be the first priority.

  13. Elaine,

    There are many sources to read in your article which I plan to do as I am seriously considering a run for our School Board.

  14. Excellent…. Now, if they could just deny ALEC what ALEC wants syndrome to be accountable to the general public and allow them to sit at the round tables like they do congress folks and other elected officials then they would not get away with as much…. Hey, take the nonprofit status away….

  15. Gene,

    The sad thing is that there are liberals and Democrats who also support many of the school reform initiatives like charter schools, vouchers, high stakes testing, etc.

    *****
    Another excerpt from Lee Fang’s SELLING SCHOOLS OUT:

    The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of “facilitating growth” of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.

    Like other digital reform advocates, the Bush nonprofit is also supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s foundation. The fact that a nonprofit that receives funding from both the Gates Foundation and Microsoft pressures states to adopt for-profit education reforms may raise red flags with some in the philanthropy community, as Microsoft, too, has moved into the education field. The company has tapped into the K-12 privatization expansion by supplying a range of products, from traditional Windows programs to servers and online coursework platforms. It also contracts with Florida Virtual School to provide cloud computer solutions. Similarly, Dell is seeking new opportunities in the K-12 market for its range of desktop products, while the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the charitable nonprofit founded by Dell’s CEO, promotes neoliberal education reforms.

    http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/investigations/corporateaccountability/1580/?page=entire

  16. Elaine,

    You are a one woman army in the war against ALEC’s “educate American’s into ignorant slave consumers” campaign, but we’ve got your back. The best thing about the fascist Koch brothers is that they are old and will hopefully die soon. (Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not a nice thing to say and it’s inviting bad karma, but screw those evil toads.) The bad thing is that as soon as they do, some other venal amoral fascist swine will step right into their boots. I agree with Jefferson that there is no greater safeguard against tyranny and no greater bulwark for protecting democracy than an educated public. We have the national resources to have the very best public education systems not just in the world, but in the history of the world. Too bad we waste those monies on corporate welfare and international misadventure.

    What I fine particularly ironic about this story is it shows the total amorality of corporations. Apple, particularly under the hand of Jobs leadership, too pride in being a company with ethics that looked to more than the bottom line. They wanted to “change the world”. Now? They are just like every other corporation of scale.

    How the worm turns . . .

    Keep fighting the good fight, Elaine.

  17. Well done Elaine. I do not understand how these for-profit pushers can sleep at night knowing that they will not improve the education for students, but they will improve theirs and their companies bottom lines. I have to give kudos to ALEC for its success in pushing these privatization schemes forward. Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago is just one example of a devotee of privatization and vouchers. Sad. How about a progressive program modeled after ALEC, you can pick out the catchy name and acronym for it!

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