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Diane Ravitch’s Insider View of a Corporate Reform Lie

December 28, 2011

I recommend everyone go to this linked PDF and read Diane’s entire speech from which I have quoted below.

If you ever want to know how charter schools got started, and how they were marketed to the public and to democratic liberals, Diane Ravitch has your answer (bold below).

When I was active a decade ago with the Manhattan Institute, which is led by conservative business leaders, it was decided that the best way to market charter schools was to present them as a way to save minority children. This strategy, it was believed, would win liberal support for a very conservative idea. They were right. Liberals could not resist this narrative.

How very true, and maddening.  As I have been saying on these pages for quite some time now, charter schools are a Trojan horse for the business community to gain a foothold into public education which it views as a major source of money.

So today we see Wall Street hedge funders and billionaires saying that they are leading the civil rights movement of our time. I have trouble imagining Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., walking arm in arm with billionaires in a crusade to privatize control of public education. Dr. King understood that social movements need a mass base, and that they are not based in Wall Street.

Wall Street is all encompassing today.  We know this by the marked LACK of criminal prosecutions with regard to fraud and financial malfeasance tied to the mortgage lending collapse.

He knew that the civil rights movement depended on its moral authority as well as its ability to mobilize poor and working people in coalition with labor unions. He had no desire to privatize. He wanted to make private interests bow to the demands of the public interest. As I watch rightwing politicians doing their best to destroy the public sector unions, I recall that Dr. King was assassinated at the very time that he was fighting to organize the sanitation workers of Memphis. How dare they invoke his legacy to attack public education and public sector workers!

They dare to invoke his legacy because: (a). They have no shame, and (b.) They are interested in one thing and one thing only, and that is to make as much money as possible.  It is capitalism run amok.

We know—or we should know—that poor and minority children should not have to depend on the good will and beneficence of the private sector to get a good education. The free market works very well in producing goods and services, but it works through competition. In competition, the weakest fall behind. The market does not produce equity. In the free market, there are a few winners and a lot of losers. Some corporate reformers today advocate that schools should be run like a stock portfolio: Keep the winners and sell the losers. Close schools where the students have low scores and open new ones. But this doesn’t help the students who are struggling.

Diane is, of course, correct in this last bold section.  But, these people don’t care, they really don’t about kids whose schools get closed.  The entire model is a business model and public schools wind up getting the students who the charters don’t want.  Obviously, over the long term, this will have a disastrous affect on public schools.


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  1. BruceD permalink

    As a former board member of a small charter middle school I have only that perspective.

    The school was founded as an alternative for those who were floundering in the public schools. The parents were frustrated with the public schools. The school had a uniform code. The new student was tested and placed in the class that was appropriate to their level but challenging. My grandson was the beneficiary of this school which the reason I got involved. His math scores were below his grade level. They put him in that grade level class. He was shocked. He then determined that there was no way he was going to stay in that math class and be a year behind. They gave him the opportunity to test his way up. He started studying and went up a level.

    Now for the corporate greed. We did pay a corporate sponsor a fee. I feel that it was far less than a school district charges for the district personnel. Don’t forget that the public schools have overhead. One wonders as to if that is also greed with the salaries that don’t go down not counting benefits.

    I will tell you that in our case, when our enrollment took a hit one year, the teachers agreed to a reduction to help balance the budget. Oh, and two of the teachers were voting members of the board.

    I personally feel that Charter schools serve a purpose in education as an alternative. I will not even go into liberal or conservative slants in either.

    • Hi Bruce, thanks for your input. I think you are missing the larger point that Diane is making. She is recounting how and why charters got started…in order to undermine public education and the unions that service public school teachers. That was the motivator. Did your small charter work out? Sure, and I am happy that it did, but we are talking apples and oranges here. Diane is referring to the sneaky nature of how charters started and hope to spread, that is what this article is about.

  2. Is Diane referring to public charter schools or private? there is a difference. Public charters, when authorized as instrumentalities of the district are still serving the same students (by lottery) and still carefully monitored by the district. I would not say it is easy to be an instrumentality school, far less autonomy, but does allow a different curriculum and instruction method.

    • I worked in an area with both public and charter schools in San Diego. I can say that the charters were not monitored nearly as closely as we were and we would often get the special education students that the charters didn’t want.

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