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The One Percent’s Solution and the Betrayal of Public Education

Sep 1, 2013 by

Paul Horton – What we have called the American Dream is historically linked to the idea of public education. The Puritan dissenters who settled New England represented one of the most literate groups in the world in the early seventeenth century. Predominately of middle class origins, this group included many Cambridge educated clergy among its leaders who pushed literacy for all within Latin grammar schools.

After the Revolution, but before the ratification of the Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance set aside a portion of land sales in the Northwest territories, now the Midwest, to build and fund public schools, beginning a 325 year commitment to public education from the national government.

The Whig party in Antebellum American favored a multitude of reforms that included proposed changes to public schools to create better curricula and teacher training. The Whig program for educational reform culminated in the 1862 Morrill Act that created land grant universities.

Federal support for public education continued to evolve in the forms of Federal assistance for Freedman’s Bureau schools in the post Civil War South, the hotly debated Blair Education Bill that sought to find funding for underserved segregated Southern schools, the integration of Department of Defense schools, support for school desegregation during the Civil Rights era, funding for science and math Education in the wake of the Sputnik launch, and support for the Arts and Humanities in forms of the NEA and NEH.

This historic commitment to public Education has been now been abandoned by the George W. Bush and the Obama Administrations. Moreover this abandonment represents a tectonic shift that most of the public does not understand.

The earthquakes and trimmers occur in public opinion only when parents begin to understand the devastating effects of standardized testing that is being used as a political bludgeon on the children of America to justify the destruction of public education in the United States.

This abandonment of public education is the subject of Diane Ravitch’s brilliant new book: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.

Ms. Ravitch’s book should be read by every American parent, teacher, and school administrator because together these groups must join together to form a movement to resist the anti-democratic “reforms” that have been imposed on the American public education system with virtually no public hearings or due process.

A combination of private foundations, liberal and conservative think tanks, consultants from McKinsey, and Federal officials, according to Ravitch, have supported the private takeover of the public schools. If left unchallenged, says Ravitch, the public school system will soon reach a tipping point where quality public schools will no longer be able to compete with private schools. Public school funding is being gutted by privatization schemes.

Ms. Ravitch, who has been accused by her critics of not proposing solutions to our education challenges, proposes a plethora of solutions that begin with fully funding underserved schools, reducing class sizes, expanding prenatal support for pregnant women, and a teacher evaluation peer review program of the type that Montgomery County, Maryland has modeled very effectively.

She has already chronicled the construction of an accountability regime designed by Federal officials with support from the above groups in her previous book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

In Reign of Error, Ravitch continues this story. Far from charting a new course for education in the catastrophic wake of the failed and underfunded No Child Left Behind program, the Obama administration has doubled down on those policies and coerced states into buying into its Race to the Top program. This was achieved when states were required to commit to the Common Core Curriculum, standardized testing based on this curriculum, teacher assessments based on these standardized tests (even for those teachers who do not teach tested subjects), data collection on every student, including personal information, and openness to the funding of increasing the numbers of private charter schools. Although the President referred to these commitments by the states as voluntary in his last State of the Union address, nothing could be further from the truth, according to Ravitch.

When the states were starving for a portion of 5 billion dollars in Federal funds (2010) state officers and legislators had to deny the citizens of their states their constitutional rights of due process and public hearings to become eligible because Mr. Duncan offered such a short window for the application process. This was probably done intentionally to bypass public consideration of what was required for RTTT waivers offered by the Secretary of Education. Indeed, many of the state grant applications for RTTT funds were prewritten by employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and state officials just signed on. The states that received these grants were the states that the Gates Foundation were pushing for.

But the story gets more incestuous when we begin to examine the federal side of the equation more closely, opines Ravitch. The President and his top policy advisors have been associated with a group of Wall Street bundlers who founded and funded an organization called Democrats for Education Reform. This group pushed the President and Rahm Emanuel, chief Democratic Wall Street bundler, to choose Arne Duncan for Education Secretary over Linda Darling-Hammond. Arne’s Duncan’s path to the top was smoothed by his relationship to his former high school basketball teammate and a five-week course of Educational Administration from the non-accredited Broad Foundation Academy for administrators.

Once it became clear that a substantial chunk of stimulus money ($200 billion) would be invested in public education, Mr. Duncan gathered together a group of advisors who were hostile to public education. This group included representatives from McKinsey Consulting, the Broad Foundation (a couple of dozen Broad trained administrators to create the appearance of public school participation), and the Gates Foundation. This group produced a report that pointed to what became RTTT. The principal authors of RTTT, not surprisingly, had been top staffers at the Gates Foundation, James Shelton III and Joanne Weiss.

Needless to say, the story is long and has many plot twists. Jeb Bush has led a Republican effort to support these policies in Republican states and Pearson Education and McGraw Hill companies have been allowed to create an Education biopoly by the Anti-Trust Division of the DOJ in order to “scale up” education solutions.

This brings us back to the One Percent’s solutions part of our story. Everything just described is a product of people who have lots of money, the top one percent of the top one percent. They have bought this program, pushed it through the states, and they, with few exceptions control what gets into the Editorial pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The LA Times. News coverage of these issues has been skewed by the pressure of newspaper publishers, by the appalling lack of contextual knowledge of many education reporters who miss the forest because they are focused on the trees of schools closings and charter school corruption. Some papers simply do not report anything about schools except what foundations and district superintendents send them: reporting becomes stenography.

The abandonment of public education is the biggest scandal of our time. If the billionaire “reformers” are not stopped by a grassroots movement, says Ravitch, the promise of American of equal opportunity for all through equitable public school education that was supported by the writers of the Northwest Ordinance, Abraham Lincoln, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, Myles Horton, and tens of thousands of great Americans will be consigned to the “dustbin of history.” These transformers are betraying the promise of the American Dream by abandoning public school in our most underserved communities and having the gall to claim that they are leading a new “Civil Rights Movement.” This is nothing short of morally repugnant in Ms. Ravitch’s point of view.

Ms. Ravitch’s new book, The Reign of Error is the best way to educate yourself about the takeover of our educational system by billionaires who, even if they are well-intentioned, do not understand what they are doing. She encourages us not to wait until our children’s scores fall thirty to forty percent on standardized tests to read this book. Rather, we must educate ourselves and others so that we can understand why a test company that produces shoddy products is going to destroy the confidence of our children to advance the misguided policies of the Obama administration that have already failed. Ms. Ravitch’s book is a moral laser beam aimed at the conscience of the American public: there is nothing as morally perverse as educational leaders who applaud that fact that seventy present of the students in one state can fail a test so that they can call for the “death penalty” for more public schools so that Wall Street bundlers and other billionaires can make more money and pay fewer taxes.

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