"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘School Privatization’

The Universal Pre-K Diversion: Why Isn’t Closing 129 Chicago Public Schools National News?

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Oldspeak:“President Obama waxed poetic at his state of the union speech; tours the country crowing about providing universal pre-k education and increasing access to college education, and receives thunderous applause. One has to wonder why then, he has been silent about the decimation of public school systems nationwide? Even though most of the school closings and privatizations are occurring in socioeconomically disadvantaged minority-majority communities where he presumably did his much ballyhooed community organizing. Why no discussion of the increasing corporatization and militarization of public schools that has no measurable benefits for students?  Probably because he appointed as his education secretary Arne Duncan, a non-educator & former CEO of Chicago Public Schools who was instrumental in implementing the CPS’s “Renaisance 2010” school privatization scheme. Yes, Mr. Duncan oversaw the conversion of  over 100 public schools to charter schools during his tenure in Chicago. What about others in the political class, red and blue? Why the silence on this? Bruce A. Dixon has an interesting take.

Related Stories:

Educators Push Back Against Obama’s “Business Model” for School Reforms

“Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools?”: Daniel Denvir on Plan for School Closings, Privatization

A Look at Arne Duncan’s VIP List of Requests at Chicago Schools and the Effects of his Expansion of Charter Schools in Chicago

Zombie Politics, Democracy, And The Threat of Authoritarianism

By Bruce A. Dixon @ Black Agenda Report:

It’s an obvious question, with an easy answer. Our nation’s bipartisan political elite have decided to privatize public education. They know the only way they can execute this deeply unpopular policy is to do it on the down-low, with a minimum of coverage, and no mention of the p-word, especially of growing civic resistance to it.

If you don’t live in Chicago you might not know that the CEO and the dozens of other six figure a year mayoral cronies who run the Chicago Public Schools want to close 129 public schools this year, more than a third of the city’s total. It’s not national news for the same reason that closing 40 public schools in Philadelphia last year wasn’t national news, and massive school closings in the poorer neighborhoods of cities across the country is not news either.

It’s not news because school closings and school privatization, the end game of the bipartisan policies the Obama administration, Wall Street, the US Chamber of Commerce, a host of right wing foundations and deep pockets and hordes of politicians in both parties from the president down are pushing down the throats of communities across the country, are deeply unpopular. The American people, and especially the parents, teachers, grandparents, and other residents of poorer neighborhoods where closings and privatization are happening emphatically don’t want these things.

Even the word describing their policy, “privatization” is so vastly unpopular that they’ve taken it out of circulation altogether. The best way, our leaders imagine, to contain and curtail resistance to their deeply unpopular policies is to avoid naming them for what they are, to keep them on the down low, to not report on their implementation, and certainly to not cover any civic resistance to them.

Local elites in each city and school district concoct real or imaginary “crises” to which the solution is always firing more experienced teachers, hiring more temps in their place, instituting more high-stakes testing, closing more public schools and substituting more unaccountable (and often profitable) charter schools, frequently in the same buildings that once housed public schools. In Chicago the “crisis” is precipitated every year when the CPS (that’s Chicago Public Schools – Chicago’s never had an elected school board, they’re all mayoral appointees) honchos announce the schools are in a billion dollar hole. The Chicago Teachers Union of course, took a look over the same books and revealed that despite the host of top $100,000 a year officials whose jobs never seem to be cut, the system was nine figures in the black, not ten in the red. Naturally, local and national media didn’t report that either.

Chicago’s teachers have done what those in New York, Houston, Dallas, L.A. and others have not, and spent their union dues funding outreach and collaboration with parents across the city, so neighborhood hearings on the school closings are packed to overflowing with outraged parents, indignant local business people, angry teachers and concerned students. If CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News gave the school closings and privatization story a fraction of the coverage they gave deceptive and dishonest pro-privatization movies like Waiting For Superman and Won’t Back Down, the outrage against the move to privatize education would be unstoppable. The most coverage the wave of school closings have received lately was a misleading segment on Melissa Harris-Perry’s weekly TV show on whether school closings were “racist” or not, with no examination of the how or why they happen or the growing resistance to them.

Oceans of ink and hot air have been expended claiming that “social media” would somehow take up the slack created by the disappearance of local news gathering organizations, and how these things can somehow fuel and sustain a wave of public outrage that can topple unjust authority and make the will of the people felt. But when it comes to the war of our elite waged to privatize public education, we haven’t seen it yet.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. A longtime Chicagoan, he now lives in exile near Marietta GA, where he is a state committee member of the Georgia Green party and a partner in a tech firm. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

How To Destroy Public Education While Making A Trillion Dollars

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Oldspeak:”The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering? But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such.” Robert Freeman, Public School Teacher.  When profit trumps quality free education, the future is very bleak indeed.  When the U.S. Secretary of Education oversaw the conversion of 100 public schools to charter schools while he was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools you can see the writing on the wall. It’s time to erase the blackboard and start with a clean slate. “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Stories

Philadelphia Blows Up Its School District, And No One In The Complicit National Media Even Cares

How Private For-Profit Online Learning Corporations, Wall Street & “Education Philanthropists” Bought America’s Pubic Schools

Public Teachers: America’s New “Welfare Queens”

The McEducation Of The Negro

Strong New Films Go After The Much Hyped “Waiting For Superman” And Its Simplistic Educational Analysis

When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, David Guggenheim, Public School Teachers And The Politics Of Humiliation

By Robert Freeman @ Common Dreams:

The Vietnam War produced more than its share of iconic idiocies. Perhaps the most revelatory was the psychotic assertion of an army major explaining the U.S. bombing of the provincial hamlet of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” If only such self-extinguishing claims for intelligence were confined to military war.

The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. The tear-it-down option is the civilian equivalent of Ben Tre, but on a vastly larger scale and with incomparably greater stakes: we must destroy public education in order to save it. It’s still early in the game, but right now the momentum is with the wreckers because that’s where the money is. Whether they succeed or not will be up to you.

Here’s a three-step recipe for how to destroy education. It maps perfectly to how to make a prodigious profit by privatizing it. It is the essential game plan of the big money boys.

First, lower the costs so you can jack up the profits. Since the overwhelming cost in education is the salaries of the teachers, this means firing the experienced teachers, for they are the most expensive. Replace them with “teachers” who are young, inexperienced, and inexpensive. Better yet, waive requirements that they have to have any training, that is to say, that they be credentialed. That way, you can get the absolute cheapest workers available. Roll them over frequently so they don’t develop any expectation that they’ll ever make a career out of it.

Second, make the curriculum as narrow, rote, and regimented as you can. This makes it possible for low-skilled “teachers” to “teach.” All they need do is maintain order while drilling students in mindless memorization and robotic repetition. By all means avoid messy things like context, nuance, values, complexity, reflection, depth, ambiguity—all the things that actually make for true intelligence. It’s too hard to teach those things and, besides, you need intelligent, experienced people to be able to do it. Stick with the model: Profitable equals simplistic and formulaic. Go with it.

Finally, rinse and repeat five thousand times. Proliferate franchised, chartered McSchools with each classroom in each McSchool teaching the same thing on the same day in exactly the same way. So, for the math lesson on the formula of a line, you only need develop it once. But you download it in Power Point on the assigned day so the room monitors, i.e., the “teachers,” know what bullets to read. Now repeat this for every lesson in every course in every school, every day. In biology, chemistry, geometry, history, English, Spanish, indeed, all of a K-12 curriculum. Develop the lesson literally once, but distribute and reuse it thousands of times with low-cost proctors doing the supervision. The cost is infinitesimal making the profit potential astronomical.

This is the essential charter school model and the money is all the rationale its promoters need. Think about it. There’s a trillion dollars a year spent on public education in the U.S. and enterprising investors want to get their meat hooks on it. Where else in the world can you find a $1 trillion opportunity that is essentially untouched? Not in automobiles. Not in health care. Not in weapons, computers, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, housing. Nowhere.

Oh, to be sure, you have to soften up the public with a decades-long PR campaign bashing teachers, vilifying their unions, trashing schools, and condemning public education in general, all the while promising the sun, moon, and stars for privatization, which is the ultimate charter goal. Voila! You’ve got your chance.

But to really make a killing, you need not just revenues, but profits. That’s why the low cost delivery and “build it once but resell it millions of times” model is so key. It was that very model that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. It is what earned Microsoft 13 TIMES the rate of profit of the average Fortune 500 company in the 1990s and persuaded the Justice Department to declare it a “felony monopolist”. Gates recognizes the model very well, which is why his foundation is pouring tens of millions of dollars into charters. And you thought it was his altruism.

Of course, anybody who actually knows education, indeed, anybody who is simply intelligent, knows that intelligence does not come from rote repetition or parroting Power Point slides at the regimented direction of a room monitor, no matter how perky or well intended. It comes from an agonizingly complex, intricate, sustained set of challenges to the mind that are exquisitely choreographed over the better part of two decades, all intimately tailored to the specific needs of an individual, inquisitive, aspiring student.

That is what real teachers do. And it is precisely what a cookie-cutter, low-content, low-cost, high-turnover, high-profit money mill cannot do. Because it’s not intended to do that. It’s intended to produce profits. Real education, real intelligence, real character are agonizingly slow, dazzlingly complex, maddeningly difficult things to create. You can’t make a profit off of it, unless you destroy it in the process. That is why not one of the nations of the world that surpass the U.S. in education performance operate charter-based or privatized educational systems.

If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering?

But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such. Why, look what we got from the deregulation of the banking system: the greatest economic collapse of the last 80 years and the greatest plunder of the public treasury in the history of the world.

This is the essential neo-liberal agenda which Obama enthusiastically supports: privatize and deregulate everything, especially public services, so that the money spent on them can be transferred to private hands. This is how Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, earned his bureaucratic bonafides: he converted more than 100 of Chicago’s public schools to charters while the city’s school superintendent. It’s unbelievable how credulous we are but obviously, propaganda works. That’s why the likes of the Gates Foundation keep pouring money into the cause.

The problem with charter schools is that they simply don’t work, at least not for delivering high quality education. Of course, given their formula, how could they? The most thorough research on charter schools, by Stanford University, shows that while charters do better than public schools in 17% of cases, they actually do worse in 37%, a more than 2-to-1 bad-to-good ratio!

If your doctor injured two patients for every one he cured, would you go to him? If your mechanic wrecked two cars for every one he fixed, would you go to him? Yet that is literally the proposition that charter school operators are peddling. And that 2-to-1 failure rate is after charters have skimmed off the better students and run what can only be called ethnically cleansed schools, counseling out poor performers, special needs cases, and “undesirable” minorities, leaving them for the public schools to deal with. For the data show they do that as well.

The irony of all this, indeed, the hypocrisy, is that America is at least nominally a capitalist county. You would think it would be ok to be honest about your intentions to make money by pillaging children’s futures while looting the public purse. God knows the weapons makers, the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and others aren’t bashful about it. But that doesn’t seem to be true here, in education.

Here, it’s all about “the children,” about “streamlining” education, boosting scores, uplifting minorities, making America competitive, and just about every other infantile fairy tale they can invoke to convince the country to hand over the loot. For that’s what it’s really about. The trillion dollars a year to be made by turning “the children” into intellectually impotent dullards but profit producing zombies? Well, that’s just a lavishly fortunate coincidence. Right?

Remember, you can’t save something by destroying it. Which isn’t to say that swashbuckling entrepreneurs aren’t willing to try. All they need is the liberating impetus of that essential American ethic: “I’m getting mine, screw you.” But the cost of this plunder will be incalculable, for it will ripple through the economy for decades. And the damage will be irreversible for, while public education is the most powerful democratizing institution in the world, it only works when the schools work. When they cease to work, it’s over.

So watch out. A destroyed educational system, a desiccated economy, and a debauched democracy are coming soon to a school district near you.

 

 

 

How Private For-Profit Online Learning Corporations, Wall Street & “Education Philanthropists” Bought America’s Pubic Schools

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Oldspeak:” The hostile take over of Public Education is full swing. Your kids education is the next “bubble”. Children’s education is being viewed as a cash cow to be milked dry by wall street investment bankers and computer magnates via their “Educational Philanthropies”.  America’s Public School system is being outsourced to private profit-driven “education” corporations, with the financial backing of wall street titans like Goldman Sachs & Merrill Lynch, and computer titans Microsoft & Dell. In a trend that is great for business and terrible for children, teachers are being replaced with computers.  And in this age of austerity, with dwindling educations budgets,  less money to pay high-quality and well-trained flesh and blood teachers, teacher  are being fired and ‘e-learning’ is being held up as a viable option for the existential task of  effectively educating our children. Nevermind the fact that the “education” provided by cyberschool companies is nowhere near as effective as that provided in traditional schools with people. And much like what was done during the sub-prime morgage lending bubble, poor people and communities are being exploited. Subsidies slated for free public education are being diverted to private, for-profit “education”. High-powered lobbyists are being employed to push “education reform” legislation that is in benfits everyone but children. Left unasked are other important questions – Where will children learn their social skills? Their respect for elders and authority figures? How to work and play well with others?  Social Atomization is being institutionalized. Divide and conquer has gone digital.. “Profit Is Paramount” “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

Why Is Public Education Being Outsourced to Online Charter Schools?

By Lee Fang @ The Nation:

If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

But as recently as last year, the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight. SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee. Charlie Crist, then the Republican governor, vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure. The move, seen as a political offering to the teachers unions, disheartened privatization reform advocates. At one point, the GOP’s budget proposal even suggested a cut for state aid going to virtual school programs.

Lamenting this series of defeats, Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

If Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.

But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”

Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation. Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.

In Florida, only fourteen months after Crist handed a major victory to teachers unions, a new governor, Rick Scott, signed a radical bill that could have the effect of replacing hundreds of teachers with computer avatars. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, appointed Levesque as one of his education advisers. His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation.

“I’ve never seen it like this in ten years,” remarked Ron Packard, CEO of virtual education powerhouse K12 Inc., on a conference call in February. “It’s almost like someone flipped a switch overnight and so many states now are considering either allowing us to open private virtual schools” or lifting the cap on the number of students who can use vouchers to attend K12 Inc.’s schools. Listening to a K12 Inc. investor call, one could mistake it for a presidential campaign strategy session, as excited analysts read down a list of states and predict future victories.

Good for Business; Kids Not So Much

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.

As Moe ticked through the various reasons education is the next big “undercapitalized” sector of the economy, like healthcare in the 1990s, he also read through a list of notable venture investment firms that recently completed deals relating to the education-technology sector, including Sequoia and Benchmark Capital. Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm and one of the first to back Amazon.com and Google, is now investing in education technology, Moe noted.

The press release for Moe’s education summit promised attendees a chance to meet a set of experts who have “cracked the code” in overcoming “systemic resistance to change.” Fenty, still recovering from his loss in the DC Democratic primary, urged attendees to stand up to the teachers union “bully.” Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, likened the conflict to war, according to a summary posted on the conference website. “There’s an air game,” said Hage, “but there’s also a ground game going on.” “Investors are going to have to support” candidates and “push back against the pushback.” Carlos Watson, a former cable news host now working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs specializing in for-profit education, guided a conversation dedicated simply to the politics of reform.

Sponsors of the event ranged from various education reform groups funded by hedge-fund managers, like the nonprofit Education Reform Now, to ABS Capital, a private equity firm with a stake in education-technology companies like Teachscape. At smaller breakout sessions, education enterprises made their pitches to potential investors.

Another sponsor, a group called School Choice Week, was launched last year as a public relations gimmick to take advantage of the opportunity for rapid education reforms. Although it is billed as a network of students and parents, School Choice Week is one of the many corporate-funded tactics to press virtual school reforms. The first School Choice Week campaign push earlier this year featured highly produced press packets, sample letters to the editor, a sign in Times Square and rallies for virtual and charter schools organized with help from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The blitz got positive press coverage, providing “grassroots” cover for newly elected politicians who made school privatization their first priority.

A combination of factors has made this year what Moe calls an “inflection point” in the march toward public school privatization. For one thing, recession-induced fiscal crises and austerity have pressured states to cut spending. In some cases, as in Florida, where educating students at the Florida Virtual School costs nearly $2,500 less than at traditional schools, such reform has been sold as a budget fix. At the same time, the privatization push has gone hand in hand with the ratcheting up of attacks on teachers unions by partisan groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity, seeking to weaken the union-backed Democrats in the 2012 election. All of this has set the stage for education industry lobbyists to achieve an unprecedented expansion in for-profit elementary through high school education.

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning—a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers.

* * *

Like many “education entrepreneurs,” Moe remains a player in the education reform movement, pushing policies that have the potential to benefit his clients. In addition to advising prominent politicians like Senator John McCain, Moe is a board member of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-privatization think tank that issues policy papers and ads to influence the debate. Earlier this year, the group dropped $70,000 on an ad campaign in Pennsylvania comparing those who oppose a new measure to expand vouchers to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, who blocked African-American children from entering white schools.

Moe isn’t the only member of the Center for Education Reform with a profound conflict of interest. CER president Jeanne Allen doubles as the head of TAC Public Affairs, a government relations firm that has represented several top education for-profits. Allen, whose clients have included Kaplan Education and Charter Schools USA, served as transition adviser to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on education reform.

Corbett, a Republican who rode the Tea Party election wave in 2010, supports a major voucher expansion that is working its way through the state legislature. The expansion would be a windfall for companies like K12 Inc., which currently operates one Pennsylvania school under the limited charter law on the books. According to disclosures reported in Business Week, Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School—K12 Inc.’s online school, which allows students to take all their courses at home using a computer—generated $31.6 million for K12 Inc. in the past academic year.

Thirteen other states have enacted laws to expand or initiate so-called school choice programs this year. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has pushed the hardest, enacting a law that removes the cap on the number of charter schools in his state, authorizes all universities to register charters and expands an existing voucher program in the state for students to attend private and charter schools (in some cases managed by for-profit companies). Critics note that Daniels’s law allows public money to flow to religious institutions as well. Twenty-seven other states, in addition to Pennsylvania, have voucher expansion laws pending. And states like Florida are embracing tech-friendly education reform to require that students take online courses to graduate. In Idaho this November, the state board of education approved a controversial plan to require at least two online courses for graduation.

“We think that’s so important because every student, regardless of what they do after high school, they’ll be learning online,” said Tom Vander Ark, a prominent online education advocate, on a recently distributed video urging the adoption of online course requirements. Vander Ark, a former executive director of education at the influential Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for the online course requirement. Like Moe, he keeps one foot in the philanthropic world and another in business. He sits on the board of advisors of Democrats for Education Reform and is partner to an education-tech venture capital company, Learn Capital. Learn Capital counts AdvancePath Academics, which offers online coursework for students at risk of dropping out, as part of its investment portfolio. When Vander Ark touts online course requirements, it is difficult to discern whether he is selling a product that could benefit his investments or genuinely believes in the virtue of the idea.

To be sure, some online programs have potential and are necessary in areas where traditional resources aren’t available. For instance, online AP classes serve rural communities without access to qualified teachers, and there are promising efforts to create programs that adapt to the needs of students with special learning requirements. But by and large, there is no evidence that these technological innovations merit the public resources flowing their way. Indeed, many such programs appear to be failing the students they serve.

A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.

“Why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?” asked Ed Fuller, an education researcher at Pennsylvania State University, on his blog.

The frenzy to privatize America’s K-12 education system, under the banner of high-tech progress and cost-saving efficiency, speaks to the stunning success of a public relations and lobbying campaign by industry, particularly tech companies. Because of their campaign spending, education-tech interests are major players in elections. In 2010, K12 Inc. spent lavishly in key races across the country, including a last-minute donation of $25,000 to Idahoans for Choice in Education, a political action committee supporting Tom Luna, a self-styled Tea Party school superintendent running for re-election. Since 2004, K12 Inc. alone has spent nearly $500,000 in state-level direct campaign contributions, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. David Brennan, Chairman of White Hat Management, became the second-biggest Ohio GOP donor, with more than $4.2 million in contributions in the past decade.

The Alliance for School Choice, a national education reform group, set up PACs in several states to elect state lawmakers. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, American Federation for Children spent $500,000 in media in the lead-up to Wisconsin’s recall elections. AFC shares leaders, donors, and a street address with ASC. Bill Oberndorf, one of the main donors to the group, had been associated with Voyager Learning, an online education company, for years. A few months ago, Cambium Learning, the parent company of Voyager, paid Oberndorf’s investment firm $4.9 million to buy back Oberndorf’s stock. Cambium currently offers a fleet of supplemental education tools for school districts. With the recent acquisition of Class.com, a smaller online learning business, the company announced its entry into the virtual charter school and online course market.

Allies of the Right

Lobbyists for virtual school companies have also embedded themselves in the conservative infrastructure. The International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL), the trade association for EdisonLearning, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., American Virtual Academy, Apex Learning and other leading virtual education companies, is a case in point. A former Bush appointee at the Education Department, iNACOL president Susan Patrick traverses right-leaning think tanks spreading the gospel of virtual schools. In the past year, she has addressed the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group dedicated to setting up laissez-faire nonprofits all over the world, as well as the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Two pivotal conservative organizations have helped Patrick in her campaigns for virtual schools: the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network. SPN nurtures and establishes state-based policy and communication nonprofits with a right-wing bent. ALEC, the thirty-eight-year-old conservative nonprofit, similarly coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. Special task forces composed of corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers write “template” legislation [see John Nichols, “ALEC Exposed,” August 1/8]. Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. Mickey Revenaugh, an executive at virtual-school powerhouse Connections Learning, co-chairs the education policy–writing department of ALEC.

At SPN’s annual conference in Cleveland last year, held two months before the midterm elections, the think tank network adopted a new push for education reform, specifically embracing online technology and expanding vouchers. Patrick opened the event and led a session about virtual schools with Anthony Kim, president of the virtual-school business Education Elements.

SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories. But SPN’s conference had less to do with policy than with tactics. Kyle Olson, a Republican operative infamous in Michigan and other states for his confrontational attacks on unionized teachers, gave a presentation on labor reform in K-12 education. Stanford Swim, heir to a Utah-based investment fortune and head of a traditional-values foundation, ran a workshop at the conference on creating viral videos to advance the cause. He said policy papers wouldn’t work. Tell your scholars, “Sorry, this isn’t a white paper,” Swim advised. “You gotta go there,” he continued, “and it’s because that’s where the audience is.” “If it’s vulgar, so what?” he added.

Since the conference, SPN’s state affiliates have taken a lead role in pushing virtual schools. Several of its state-based affiliates, like the Buckeye Institute in Ohio, set up websites claiming that unions—the only real opposition to ending collective bargaining and the expansion of charter school reforms—led to overpaid teachers and budget deficits. In Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute’s “news crew” laid the groundwork for Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining by creating news reports denouncing protesters and promoting the governor. In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.

State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish. As the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based liberal watchdog, notes, the bill closely resembles legislative templates put forward by ALEC.

Although SPN’s unique contribution to the debate has been clever web videos and online smear sites, the group’s affiliates have also continued the traditional approach of policy papers. In Washington State, the Freedom Foundation published “Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Public Education in Washington”; Nebraska’s Platte Institute released “The Vital Need for Virtual Schools in Nebraska”; and the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based SPN affiliate, equipped lawmakers with a guide called “Thinking Outside the Building: Online Education.” SPN think tanks in Maine, Maryland and other states have pressed virtual school reforms. Patrick visited SPN state groups and gave pep talks about how to sell the issue to lawmakers.

Meanwhile, ALEC has continued to slip laws written by education-tech lobbyists onto the books. In Tennessee, Republican State Representative Harry Brooks didn’t even bother changing the name of ALEC’s Virtual Public Schools Act before introducing it as his own legislation. Asked by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey where he got the idea for the bill, Brooks readily admitted that a K12 Inc. lobbyist helped him draft it. Governor Bill Haslam signed Brooks’s bill into law in May. The statute allows parents to apply nearly every dollar the state typically spends per pupil, almost $6,000 in most areas, to virtual charter schools, as long as they are authorized by the state.

SPN’s fall 2010 conference featured the man perhaps happiest with the explosion in virtual education: Jeb Bush. “I have a confession to make,” he said with grin. “I am a real policy geek, and this is like the epicenter of geekdom.” Bush shared his experiences initiating some of the nation’s first for-profit and virtual charter school reforms as the governor of Florida, acknowledging his policy ideas came from some in the room. (The local SPN affiliate in Tallahassee is the James Madison Institute.)

Bush: Man Behind the Virtual Curtain

Jeb Bush campaigned vigorously in 2010 to expand such reforms, with tremendous success. About a month after the election, he unveiled his road map for implementing a far-reaching ten-point agenda for virtual schools and online coursework. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, a Democrat, has barnstormed the country to encourage lawmakers to adopt Bush’s plan, which calls for the permanent financing of education-technology reforms, among other changes. In one promotional video, Wise says it is “not only about the content” of the online courses but the “process” of students becoming acquainted with learning on the Internet.

The key pillar of Bush’s plan is to make sure virtual education isn’t just a new option for taxpayer money but a requirement. And several states, like Florida, have already adopted online course requirements. As Idaho Republicans faced a public referendum on their online course requirement rule last summer, Bush arrived in the state to show his support. “Implemented right, you’re going to see rising student achievement,” said Bush, praising Idaho Governor Butch Otter and school superintendent Tom Luna, who was elected with campaign donations from the online-education industry. Bush also claimed that making high school students take online classes would “put Idaho on the map” as a “digital revolution takes hold.” Bush was in Michigan in June to testify for Governor Rick Snyder’s suite of education reform ideas, which include uncapped expansion of virtual schools, and he was back in the state in July to continue to press for reforms.

In August, at ALEC’s annual conference in New Orleans, the education task force officially adopted Bush’s ten elements agenda. Mickey Revenaugh, the virtual school executive overseeing the committee, presided over the vote endorsing the measure. But when does Bush’s advocacy, typically reported in the press as the work of a former governor with education experience advising the new crop of Republicans, cross the threshold into corporate lobbying?

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.

Through Bush, education-technology companies have found a shortcut to encourage states to adopt e-learning reforms. Take his yearly National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At the most recent summit, held in San Francisco in mid-October, a group of more than 200 state legislators and state education department officials huddled in a ballroom over education-technology strategy. Rich Crandall, a state senator from Arizona, said to hearty applause that he had developed a local think tank to support the virtual school reforms he helped usher into law. Toward the end of the discussion, Vander Ark, acting as an emcee, walked around the room acknowledging lawmakers who had recently passed pro–education tech laws this year. He handed the microphone to Kelli Stargel, a state representative from Florida, who stood up and boasted of creating “virtual charter schools, so we can have innovation in our state.”

Throughout the day, lawmakers mingled with education-technology lobbyists from leading firms, like Apex Learning and K12 Inc. Some of the distance learning reforms were taught in breakout sessions, like one called “Don’t Let a Financial Crisis Go to Waste,” an hourlong event that encouraged lawmakers to use virtual schools as a budget-cutting measure. Mandy Clark, a staffer with Bush’s foundation, walked around handing out business cards, offering to e-mail sample legislation to legislators.

The lobbying was evident to anyone there. But for some of those present, Bush didn’t go far enough. David Byer, a senior manager with Apple in charge of developing education business for the company, groaned and leaned over to another attendee sitting at the edge of the room after a lunch session. “You have this many people together, why can’t you say, ‘Here are the ten elements, here are some sample bills’?” said Byer to David Stevenson, who nodded in agreement. Stevenson is a vice president of News Corporation’s education subsidiary, Wireless Generation, an education-technology firm that specializes in assessment tools. It was just a year ago that News Corp. announced its intention to enter the for-profit K-12 education industry, which Rupert Murdoch called “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

As attendees stood up to leave the hall, the phalanx of lobbyists surrounding the room converged, buttonholing legislators and school officials. On a floor above the main hall, an expo center had been set up, with companies like McGraw-Hill, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., proud sponsors of the event, providing information on how to work with politicians to make education technology a reality.

Patricia Levesque, a Bush staffer speaking at the summit and the former governor’s right hand when it comes to education reform, does not draw a direct salary from Bush’s nonprofit despite the fact that she is listed as its executive director, and tax disclosures show that she spends about fifty hours a week at the organization. Instead, her lobbying firm, Meridian Strategies, supplies her income. The Foundation for Florida’s Future, another Bush nonprofit, contracts with Meridian, as do online technology companies like IQ-ity Innovation, which paid her up to $20,000 for lobbying services at the beginning of this year. The unorthodox arrangement allows donors to Bush’s group to avoid registering actual lobbyists while using operatives like Levesque to influence legislators and governors on education technology.

Levesque’s contract with IQ-ity raises questions about Bush’s foundation work. As Mother Jones recently reported, the founder of IQ-ity, William Lager, also founded an education company with a poor track record. Lager’s other education firm, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is the largest provider of virtual schools in Ohio. ECOT schools have consistently underperformed; though the company serves more than 10,000 children, its graduation rate has never broken 40 percent. The company was fined for billing the state to serve more than 2,000 students in one month, when only seven children logged on during the same time period. Nevertheless, after Levesque spent at least two years as a registered lobbyist for Lager’s firm, Bush traveled to Ohio to give the commencement speech for ECOT. “ECOT proves a glimpse into what’s possible,” Bush said with pride, “by harnessing the power of technology.”

* * *

Levesque is no ordinary lobbyist. She is credited with encouraging the type of bare-knuckle politics now common in the wider education-reform movement. In an audio file obtained by The Nation, she and infamous anti-union consultant Richard Berman outlined a strategy in October 2010 for sweeping the nation with education reforms. The two spoke at the Philanthropy Roundtable, a get-together of major right-wing foundations. Lori Fey, a representative of the Michael Dell Foundation, moderated the panel discussion.

Rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level?” Berman asked. “Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts.” He then answered his own question: “We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.” Berman’s glossy ads, which have run in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, portray teachers unions as schoolyard bullies. One spot even seems to compare teachers to child abusers. Although Berman does not reveal his donors, he made clear in his talk that the foundations in the room were supporting his campaign.

Levesque ended the strategy discussion with a larger strategic question. She pointed to the example of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donating $100 million to Newark schools. She then asked the crowd to imagine instead raising $100 million for political races where we “could sway a couple of seats to have more education reform.” “Just shifting a little bit of your focus,” she added, noting that new politicians could have a greater impact.

Levesque’s ask has become reality. According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.

A day before he opened his education reform conference to the media recently, Bush hosted another education meeting. This event, a private affair in the Palace Hotel, was a reconvening of investors and strategists to plan the next leg of the privatization campaign. Michael Moe, Susan Patrick, Tom Vander Ark and other major players were invited. I waited outside the event, trying to get what information I could. I asked Mayor Fenty how I could get in. “Just crash in, come on in,” he laughed, adding, “so what company are you with?” When he learned that I was a reporter, he shook his head. “Oh, nah, you’re not welcome, then.”

An invitation had billed the exclusive gathering as a chance for “philanthropists and venture capitalists” to figure out how to “leverage each other’s strengths”—a concise way to describe how for-profit virtual school companies are using philanthropy as a Trojan horse.

High Stakes Testing In Public Schools: Who’s Cheating Whom?

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Oldspeak:”Corporate school privatizers feign disgust with teachers that cheat standardized tests. But Big Business theft of  public education is by far the greater sin. High stakes testing was designed as a Trojan Horse for a corporate educational takeover, but packaged as a public good. This is the substance of education “reform” in the Age of Obama. The real cheats are those that pushed high stakes testing under the false pretexts of reform, when the actual goal was union busting and privatization” –Glen Ford. Rather than deal with the entrenched, institutionalized, centuries old social and structural problems which are driving many of the problems we see today with public education (poverty, inequality, racism, “banking system of eduction“), many “reformers” would rather privatize the system, automate it via ‘standardized testing’ and turn it into a perpetual revenue stream, with little regard for actual effective learning. Churning out widgets to plug into private corporations who in turn “sponsor” education “reform” and further increase their profits. A self perpetuating meat-grinder, with children being the meat.  A less educated, less competent, less critically thinking society of all-consuming “happiness machines” with no love of learning. Who see education as a means to an end (more education = more money = more consumption = more prescribed ‘happiness’) not as means of personal growth and development.  Sucesssive generations will be less and less equipped to critiscize and question the system which is failing them. Alas yet again, in then end, ‘We the People’ loseand the corporatocracy wins. “Freedom Is Slavery”

By Glen Ford @ Black Agenda Report:

The school privatizers now headquartered in the Obama administration are all pitching a morality fit over teachers that cheat by altering answers on standardized tests. Corporate privatizers, of course, have no real sense of morality beyond profit and loss: their own profit, and to hell with those that lose. But, when attacking institutions so historically revered as public education and the teaching profession, one must play dirty. You’ve got to get them on a morals charge.

The assault on public schools began with the blanket assertion that teachers – or, more precisely, teachers unions – are out for themselves; that they are sinfully selfish. Strange words, from the lips of corporate executives and free marketeers who preach that the highest virtues are revealed in the cutthroat corridors of commerce. Then again, pots and kettles are always calling everybody else black.

So, they slimed the teachers as the root of all that ails public education, teachers whose moral deficits could be corrected by rigorous competition regulated by standardized testing of students. If the students failed the tests, then the teachers would fail and be discharged, and the schools they worked in would also fail, and be replaced by privatized charters. High stakes testing was designed as a Trojan Horse for a corporate educational takeover, but packaged as a public good. Bad teachers and bad schools would come to a well-deserved bad end.

This morality play was always based on a lie. The standardized tests were bombs, designed to explode the public schools and the teaching profession. Everyone involved knew that inner city kids would fail the tests in huge numbers, setting the infernal machine in motion for the closing of schools and the wholesale firing of teachers. In their place would be recruited a new workforce that would either view teaching as a temporary job or cut every other teacher’s throat in order to stay – neither of which redounds to the benefit of students or anyone else but the bosses. This is the substance of education “reform” in the Age of Obama.

Faced with extinction of their jobs and their very profession, and with a teacher’s learned certainty that many of their students would be pushed into marginality by the testing juggernaut, teachers turned to cheating the test. They have been caught and shamed and may face prosecution in Atlanta and Philadelphia and elsewhere, but cheating the test surely occurs in virtually every inner city. I don’t think it’s cheating, in a moral sense, at all. The cheats are those that pushed high stakes testing under the false pretexts of reform, when the actual goal was union busting and privatization. Teachers are fighting for their lives, and all of us would cheat death, if we could.

The school privatizers are determined, not just to bust the teachers unions, but to remake teachers as corporate citizens. A schools superintendent in New Jersey said part of the difficulty for teachers under the new order is that they “are more concerned about relationships than about achieving more than one another.” When he gives teachers awards, he says, they won’t display them because “they don’t want to outshine one another.” His teachers would rather collaborate and cooperate to achieve a common goal. And that’s why they’ve got to change, or go.

© 2011 Black Agenda Report

Glen Ford

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

The “Shock Doctrine” Comes To Your Neighborhood Classroom

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Oldspeak:“”Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.” – Tom Watkins, consultant, summarizes the corporate education reform movement’s current strategy. For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake. Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.” –David Sirota

By David Sirota @ Common Dreams:

The Shock Doctrine, as articulated by journalist Naomi Klein, describes the process by which corporate interests use catastrophes as instruments to maximize their profit. Sometimes the events they use are natural (earthquakes), sometimes they are human-created (the 9/11 attacks) and sometimes they are a bit of both (hurricanes made stronger by human-intensified global climate change). Regardless of the particular cataclysm, though, the Shock Doctrine suggests that in the aftermath of a calamity, there is always corporate method in the smoldering madness – a method based in Disaster Capitalism.

Though Klein’s book provides much evidence of the Shock Doctrine, the Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform.”

Some background: The Times piece follows a recent Education Week report showing that as U.S. school systems are laying off teachers, letting schoolhouses crumble, and increasing class sizes, high-tech firms are hitting the public-subsidy jackpot thanks to corporate “reformers'” successful push for more “data-driven” standardized tests (more on that in a second) and more technology in the classrooms. Essentially, as the overall spending pie for public schools is shrinking, the piece of the pie for high-tech companies — who make big campaign contributions to education policymakers — is getting much bigger, while the piece of the pie for traditional education (teachers, school infrastructure, text books, etc.) is getting smaller.

The Times on Sunday added some key — and somehow, largely overlooked — context to this reportage: namely, that the spending shift isn’t producing better achievement results on the very standardized tests the high-tech industry celebrates and makes money off of. “In a nutshell,” reports the Times, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

The paper adds that the successful “pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots” going back more than a decade, which raises the fundamental question: Why? Why would this push be so successful in changing education policy if there is little hard evidence that it is the right move to improve student achievement?

The answer goes back — as it so often does — to corporate power and the Shock Doctrine.

Tech companies give the politicians who set education policy lots of campaign contributions, and in exchange, those politicians have returned the favor by citing tough economic times over the last decade as a rationale to wage an aggressive attack on traditional public education. That attack has included everything from demonizing teachers; to siphoning public money to privately administered schools; to funneling more of the money still left in public schools to private high-tech companies.

This trend is no accidental convergence of economic disaster and high-minded  policy. On the contrary, it is a deliberate strategy by corporate executives and their political puppets, a strategy that uses the disaster of recession-era budget cuts as a means of justifying radical policies, knowing that the disaster will have shellshocked observers asking far fewer questions about data and actual results. As the Times  sums it up, the recession’s “resource squeeze presents an opportunity” for corporate interests.

Or as Watkins explains, social pain is an opportunity: “Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.”

For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake.”

However, the real news here is that a Disaster Capitalist has spoken the unspoken and clearly articulated the Shock Doctrine in all its hideous glory. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.

The Times article does a good job of raising questions, forcing the corporate “reform” movement to resort to a revealing kind of hypocrisy. Check out the response from the Obama administration — which has been one of the leaders of the corporate “reform” movement — when confronted with data showing that its push for technology isn’t raising student achievement:

Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.

“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.” (emphasis added)

Cator, of course, is making the argument that supporters of traditional public education have been making against corporate “reformers” for years — namely, that standardized tests cannot be the primary tool to measure overall educational achievement, because they do not measure other equally important skills. And the fact that she is selectively making it in defense of her former technology industry tells us a lot about how public policy is really made in America.

Recall that this statement against standardized testing comes from the same Obama administration that has been pushing for more standardized testing — the same Obama administration that wants to use standardized testing as a key metric for withholding federal aid from “failing” schools and for firing teachers. That’s right, somehow, according to the Obama administration, standardized tests are the perfect tool to judge and punish struggling schools and the teachers who work with low-income kids, but they can’t be used to similarly judge technology products that are making Obama’s high-tech donors lots of cash.

In this oxymoron, we see who the corporate “reformers” in government really believe they work for, and whom they shape public policy on behalf of. It’s not the average parent or student or voter. It’s the Disaster Capitalists, who now have their sights set on your local schoolhouse.

Note: Steven Brill, the author of the new book “Class Warfare,” and Dana Goldstein, the Nation magazine’s education reporter, will be debating these and other education issues on my KKZN-AM760 radio show at 9 a.m. ET on Sept. 7. Stream it live or podcast it at sirota.am760.net.

© 2011 David Sirota