OpEd News: The War on Public Education

(This is the first of two articles on the neoliberal school privatization movement and the serious threat it poses to public education.)

March 24, 2011- Given increasing school closures, teacher layoffs and attacks on teachers' bargaining rights, moves by Congress and state legislatures to cut education still further are extremely worrying. The crusade to privatize public education — by Wall Street, Congress and even the White House — means that schools that close as a result of budget cuts are unlikely to reopen as public schools. What's far more likely is federal arm twisting, as occurred in New Orleans following Katrina, to reopen them as privately run charter schools.

The Crusade to Privatize Education

We have to be clear here: Republicans and Tea Partiers aren't trying to ram through education cuts simply to balance the budget and provide tax cuts for their wealthy supporters. They have a far more ominous agenda — namely a 30 year campaign to privatize public education, just as prisons, water, warfare, welfare and other public services are being privatized. The school privatization movement (aka the charter school movement) is no longer a movement, but a Big Business. Predictably Obama, as in the case of the Wall Street bank bailouts and the corporate welfare to health insurance and drug companies under ObamaCare, has come down on the side of Big Business. At present teachers unions are Americans' last line of defense in the war against public education. Moreover with the concerted attack on public employees' unions, millions of American children are at great peril of losing public education as a basic democratic right.

The so-called education reform debate is centered, as always, around low performing, mainly minority students in inner city schools. Traditionally public education has been funded by local government through property taxes. It seems logical that children in wealthy districts who attend small classes with well-paid teachers would have higher achievement levels than students in poor school districts with understaffed schools and limited access to textbooks and other resources. Unsurprisingly more than fifty years of research bears this out. Nevertheless educators and political leaders who try increase funding to poor school districts are demonized for "throwing money" at the problem.

Ignoring the Research

Neoliberal Republicans and Tea Partiers (and now Barack Obama and Department of Education director Arne Duncan) give lip service to improving achievement levels for students in inner city schools. However instead of improving funding to these struggling schools, the one intervention supported by statistical research, they continue to aggressively shift education funding from public schools to private charter schools. The other research they ignore is a recent Stanford University studying showing that charter school programs don't improve achievement levels in minority students. In 2009 the Stanford University center for Research on Educational Outcomes released the exhaustive study Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States (see http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html). Here are some of the results of this investigation into 2,403 charter schools in 16 states:


•46% of students had math gains indistinguishable to public school students
•17% of students showed significant gains compared to public school students
•37% showed significantly lower gains than public school students
Overall math learning in charter schools lagged by .03 standard deviations behind math learning in public schools.


Overall reading gains in charter school students lagged .01 standard deviations behind public school students.

Black and Hispanic students (the ones specifically targeted by the charter school movement) did significantly worse in both reading and math compared to public school students.


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