The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

United States:
The Public Schools:
Free Enterprise’s Latest Target

Jan 14, 2000

In 1994, Congress passed the "Improving America’s Schools Act" an ironic name, given that the most significant thrust of the legislation was its provision encouraging states to establish so-called "charter schools," that is, schools which are publicly funded, but not strictly run by nor accountable to the board of education which funds them, nor to the state which authorizes them. The founders of such schools may be almost anyone, ranging from non-profit organizations, teachers’ groups, parents’ groups, community organizations to openly for-profit businesses not to mention church groups masquerading as any of the above.

Of course, schools organized by such interests have always existed. The difference was that not only were they run by private interests, they were funded privately.

But under this new form which has grown up somewhat quietly and behind the scenes, these new privately run schools can negotiate a "charter" with a state or local board, a contract which primarily covers financial matters, particularly the funding which a local school district or a state will provide them. Ordinarily, the founders of such a school must set out the goals they pledge to meet in their charter. In most states, very little means have been established for verifying that the goals have been met: most charter schools are exempted from all state regulation, except for safety and health codes, as well as non-discrimination laws. Finally, the administration, curriculum, staffing and even student admissions decisions are left up to the founders of the charter school.

In 1997, Congress followed up on the juridical encouragement it had given in the 1994 act by passing the "Charter School Expansion Act," which boosts funding for charter schools and even directs extra funds to those states which give their charter schools the greatest degree of autonomy.

In fact, the movement to set up "charter schools" had preceded the passing of these two federal bills, getting off the ground in 1991. But the legislation gave this movement the federal government’s seal of approval and money. By the beginning of the 1996-97 school year, 23 states had passed some form of charter school authorization. Almost 250 charter schools had been set up and were running as the school year started. Two years later, 29 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had authorized such schools. More than 700 schools had been set up. One year later, at the beginning of the current school year, the number of states had risen to 34, with over 1,000 charter schools running, attended by a quarter of a million children. Legislation to authorize charter schools was pending in several other states.

Of course, these numbers don’t yet mean much, when compared to the nearly 50 million public school students. But they reflect a steadily growing trend to chip away at what many critics of the system call "the monopoly" held by the public schools.

Take the Public Schools’ Money and Run... to Church

Following on the heels of the charter school movement came the demands either for a "voucher" system or for tax credits given to parents who pay for their children’s education at a private school.

The voucher idea is not a new one: it goes back at least as far as 1955, when then University of Chicago economist and later presidential adviser Milton Friedman proposed that the schools would be more efficient if they were subject to the laws of the capitalist market, having to compete like all other entities in that market in order to attract their clients in this case, students. To that end, he proposed a system of "vouchers," that is, statements of credit issued to the parents of a child, which could be turned in to whichever school the parent chose, including private and religious schools.

While the proposal has been out there for a number of years, it’s only in the last decade that it has attained much following and that more open demands for such a system have been raised. Between 1993 and 1997, a proposition to authorize vouchers was raised in 30 state legislatures, and put on the ballot in several other states. While only three states Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida currently have laws on the books authorizing vouchers, voucher proposals are still pending in most of the other states where they were raised, and is expected to be on the ballot in Michigan.

In 1998 alone, proposals that tax credits be given to parents who pay tuition for their children’s schooling were introduced in the legislatures of 23 states and passed in one of them, Illinois. "Tuition tax credits" have also been given a hearing in the Congress.

On the juridical level, things are currently unclear regarding both tax credits and vouchers. Some federal district courts have thrown out laws or local arrangements for issuing vouchers, including, in December of 1999, the Ohio law authorizing them, on the constitutional grounds that they violate the constitutional mandate separating church and state. (Almost all vouchers have been used in private schools, the vast majority of which are church-run.) On the other hand, at least one court, covering the Wisconsin district, upheld their constitutionality, including for students who used them to pay their tuition at church-run schools. Adding to the confusion, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Wisconsin case, without comment. Thus, while it did not overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision which had prohibited the reimbursement of New York parents for religious school tuition, and which has since been referred to as the precedent in cases involving state funding of religious schools, neither did it reiterate the 1973 ruling in the Wisconsin case. It would seem the Supreme Court is content to stand with one foot in and one foot out of the religious waters.

In any case, in no ruling so far has the Supreme Court even hinted that it objects to the move to turn public schools over to private interests who will run them in the search for profit.

Worshiping at the Altar of Profit

In both Cleveland and Milwaukee, quick-witted entrepreneurs rushed in as soon as the voucher law was passed to set up private schools which could enroll the voucher students. It’s obvious that if vouchers were to catch hold more widely, they must pull new schools in their train. Currently enrolling less than 15% of all students, the existing private schools, which don’t have a lot of unused capacity, simply can’t take up the slack if vouchers were to take off. While some of the new schools would undoubtedly be set up by religions which heretofore had no means to run a school, the majority almost certainly will be set up by people with their eyes on the money to be made, no matter what they call themselves.

Openly for-profit corporations certainly rushed into the charter school market. About ten percent of the charter schools are already run by such businesses. The most well-known of these, Edison Schools, Inc., was set up by Chris Whittle, who had already discovered a gold-mine in the public schools when he set up Channel One in the 1980s, then subsequently sold that off to Primedia. Channel One today provides 20 minutes of TV every day to almost half of all middle school and high school classrooms in the country. Whittle’s idea was a simple one: Channel One lends a school the equipment needed; in exchange the school agrees that every student must watch Channel One, whose 20 minutes of broadcasting includes "news," features, sports, weather, natural disasters, promotion for Channel One and two minutes of commercial advertising. This captive audience, which many companies want to target, has allowed Channel One to charge $200,000 for a 30-second advertising slot. Lamar Alexander, not long before he became George Bush’s secretary of education, discovered how much money was to be made by a quick venture into educational waters. In 1988, he bought four shares of Whittle Communications for $10,000 and sold them back four months later for $330,000. Whether Whittle can make Edison Schools as quickly profitable as Channel One remains to be seen. In any case, as of the fall of 1999, Edison Schools was running 79 different schools for various public school systems.

A few public school systems didn’t bother with charter schools; they just turned the running of existing schools over to private businesses. Other school systems provide the money to large corporations which run schools in their own offices for children of employees. Among these corporations are Honeywell, American Bankers Insurance Company and Walt Disney Company.

Many of the first "education entrepreneurs" were nothing but small-time scam artists with no experience nor credentials in education. Four schools set up in Milwaukee for voucher students collapsed within the first six years of operation, dumping the children into the street. In Cleveland, five of the schools set up for the express purpose of enrolling voucher students, had no licence or charter from the state. One of them included a convicted murderer on the payroll to keep discipline, no doubt!

But behind the small guys are the big ones who have been pouring money into the campaign to turn public schools over to private interests. Among them are: Richard DeVos, whose money was derived from Amway; Richard Mellon Scaife, whose money makes up part of the Mellon family’s vast holdings; John Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune; J. Patrick Rooney of Golden Rule Insurance Company; David Kearns, former CEO of Xerox; Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft; the famous Michael Milken; former politicians like Lamar Alexander or former governor of Massachusetts, William Weld; as well as a number of Wall Street investment houses, most particularly Dillon Read & Co., Montgomery Securities, Merrill Lynch, and Lehman Brothers.

Wall Street Offers to "Reform" Education

In 1996, Lehman Brothers organized the first ever conference to discuss the untapped possibilities for investment lurking in the public school system. It had just issued a report in which it declared, "the education industry may replace health care in 1996 as THE focus industry."

Certainly, the sums of money expended on schools must have attracted the attention of Wall Street. Spending more than 700 billion dollars a year, the education sector accounts for one-tenth the GDP. The largest single chunk of education money, 320 billion, is spent by the public schools in the grades running from kindergarten through high school. (Currently existing private schools for the same grades, by contrast, account for only 28 billion dollars.) Wall Street even has a term for what it wants to set up in this enticing new field: EMO’s (Educational Management Organizations) echoing the HMO name which became so popular with Wall Street over the past two decades, proving very profitable for the financial industry.

In August of 1997, another conference was organized in Nashville, Tennessee, hosted by Alternative Public Schools (APS), one of the new companies attempting to break into the school management business. The conference, which billed itself "EDVentures’97," was attended by representatives of other school management companies, most notably the Edison Schools Inc. and SABIS; representatives of Wall St. brokerage firms; individuals and companies calling themselves "venture capitalists"; the Arizona state superintendent of instruction; as well as academics from both respected universities and right wing think-tanks who were there to provide a certain aura of educational expertise.

Whatever troubles the public schools may be undergoing, one thing is sure: those attending the conference were not interested in discussing how to fix them. The aim of the conference, according to its organizers, was to "brainstorm" ways to transform the American public education system into a major for-profit industry. Other than making a perfunctory bow to the idea that the markets are the corrective for everything, the attendees went right to the heart of the matter. The opening speaker, Denis Doyle, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, predicted that entrepreneurs will "bring down the Berlin Wall of monopoly" that is the public school system.

According to Mary Tanner, a managing director of Lehman Brothers, America’s public schools "are ripe for takeover by private management companies." She proclaimed: "Wall Street is interested in any big-spending industry. We’re also interested in an industry in change." Tanner, who had previously helped raise capital for Hospital Corporation of America, one of the new companies that invaded the medical field during the last two decades, explained that many of the same investors who reaped big profits from the hospital industry are now ready to put their money into school management companies. As for those investors if there are any who might have reservations about the propriety of making money off the schools, Tanner said she had run into similar reservations among some investors when she first was raising capital for investment in hospitals. "Many of them were not sure whether they should try to make money off the sick and the dying," she said. Obviously, they overcame their reservations.

For Joe Murphy, an education professor from Vanderbilt University, the issue of profiting from the schools is a non-issue. According to him, there already is profit being made on the public school system: "Teachers make a lot of money selling their services." (And Murphy, this "education professor" what does he make, selling his "services"?)

It’s true, profit is being made on the schools, but NOT by the teachers. Schools already purchase services and supplies in the marketplace, from which companies make large amounts of money, and fight over the right to do so. Twenty-five percent of all public school expenditures today go to private enterprise. Many squabbles over who will run a school system boil down to who will be responsible for doling out all this money. It’s not just a question of small companies which provide janitors or bus drivers, nor of big textbook publishers. There are also all the attempts to turn the schools themselves into a marketplace, as Channel One did. The recent war between Pepsi and Coke over which one would get the exclusive rights to set up their soda pop machines in a number of big city school systems is only one example among many of the big companies who look on the schools or the students with greedy eyes.

The main stumbling blocks to private enterprise beginning to run the schools, according to all the participants at this conference, are the teachers’ unions. But Murphy reassured the conference, "The political winds are shifting." He predicted that pressures from the domestic free market and the international economy will severely reduce benefits once won by the unions, and thus make the teachers more amenable.

There was some dispute among conference participants over whether vouchers could serve a useful purpose in privatizing the public schools. Lisa Graham Keegan, the Arizona superintendent and conference keynote speaker, declared that privatization will never be completed until vouchers are given to every parent to use at the school of their choice. The big investors, on the other hand, were worried about the political fall-out, since so far every poll shows that most parents oppose the use of vouchers, and each attempt to put them on the ballot for a popular vote has ended in failure. "We don’t use the v-word on Wall Street," cautioned Tanner.

But all the participants agreed on the means by which the education "industry" could be made into a profitable venture: reduce the number of teachers, that is, increase the class size; reduce teachers’ salaries by using more beginning and non-certified teachers; reduce or get rid of the organisms that today certify teachers, leaving the decision of their qualifications solely up to school managers (the word business prefers, rather than principal).

And if some of these "EDventures," aren’t profitable? Doyle answered, "Entrepreneurship is risk-taking. With risk comes failure, but the successes will survive and become multiplied." By success, of course, he did not mean the students: they will fail, as a condition of the "EDventure" capitalists’ success.

A Crisis in the Schools, Yes But for Whom?

Of course, when representatives of Wall Street talk about a "crisis" in the public schools, they are not exaggerating. But this "crisis," of course, strikes some students more harshly than others, while some students escape it completely. By all available measures, the public schools which serve the children of the wealthy are doing a very good job. While it’s certainly true that there are a small number of very good private schools serving the children of the bourgeoisie, a good many bourgeois families send their children to the public schools, along with the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie. The schools in bourgeois enclaves are very good schools, and they are filled with students. Just look at West Bloomfield or Grosse Pointe Shores near Detroit, or Beverly Hills surrounded by Los Angeles, but not part of its school system, for example.

The public schools which serve the poor and working class communities these are the schools failing to turn out students with skills adequate to function even in the society of the 19th century, much less that of the 20th or 21st.

According to a report printed by the journal, Education Week, more than half of all fourth graders who live in a city cannot read and understand a simple children’s book; more than half of all urban eighth graders cannot use arithmetic to solve a simple problem. These conclusions were based on results from the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing. The NAEP is a battery of tests established by the U.S. Department of Education to measure proficiency in certain basic educational skills, most importantly reading and math. A number of states or localities don’t use this test, but among the states which did, over half of all urban students in the fourth and in the eighth grade failed to reach the minimum "basic" standards in reading, math and science. Of course, this average, including as it does students from very wealthy districts, masks the extent of the problem. In "high poverty" urban schools, the results were much worse: only 23% of fourth graders met the "basic" standard for reading; 33% met it in math; and 31%, in science. In some cases, the situation is still worse: in Maryland, for example, only 9% of all urban eighth graders test at a "basic" level or higher in math. This lack of formation in the lower grades obviously determines what a student can do in high school and beyond. Unless a student takes a basic algebra or comparable class in the eighth grade, for example, he or she is blocked from going on in math and most science in high school, and thus to college; yet, nationwide, almost three quarters of eighth grade students are not enrolled in algebra. And even among those who do enroll, over one-third can’t meet the basic standard, much less a "proficient" one.

Even those students who do manage to graduate from high school do so with inadequate preparation for most jobs or for further education. Less than one-quarter of all students in urban schools who graduate have the academic preparation courses needed to go on to college. Here, again, the averages mask the much harsher reality of the biggest cities. Jonathan Kozol, in his book Savage Inequalities, provided figures for the whole city of Detroit in 1991: of the 20,000 students who had entered the ninth grade, only 7,000 were graduated from high school and only 500 had the minimal preparation needed to go on to any kind of college, including two-year community colleges.

The majority of high school graduates in big cities who do go on to higher education qualify only for community colleges, and most of those students quit before they finish a two-year program. In the early 1990s, the Chicago community college system issued a report showing that 97% of students who entered one of its colleges quit before receiving a two-year degree or entrance into a four-year college.

At the other end of the scale are those who don’t make it through school. It is estimated that nearly 10% of all students in urban school systems never enter high school. Of those who do enter an urban high school, slightly over half fail to graduate in four years. In many schools, the drop-out rate is much worse. Kozol cited figures for some of the most impoverished Chicago schools indicating that only about 15 to 20% who started first grade in the early 1990s could expect to graduate from high school. And long before students drop out, they just stop coming to school. In 1996-97, the average Chicago tenth-grader missed six weeks of instruction time during the year. The future for children at this end of the educational spectrum lies not in university training or a highly skilled job; it is prison which beckons them.

Recipe for Good Schools: Good Teachers and a Lot of Them

It’s no secret what is required for a good education: first of all, good teachers; second of all, enough teachers, so each student gets the attention he or she needs; third, enough up-to-date books and other supplies, so science projects may be pursued, and the student exposed to culture. That’s what the best schools provide, and it is what is notably absent from the worst schools.

The biggest single item in short supply in the schools is the teacher. For the last 40 years there has been a chronic shortage of teachers trained in the field they are teaching. Many teachers are today teaching a subject in which they had no formal preparation whatsoever. Almost 20% of math teachers and 15% of English language teachers did not have even a college minor in the field they are now teaching. One-third of all American high schools offer no physics class because they have no one able to teach physics.

In a significant number of cases, teachers aren’t certified at all. Today, according to a study done by the National Center for Education Statistics, 12% of teachers with less than 4 years of teaching experience have no certificate, or only a so-called "emergency" certificate. These are overall figures for the country as a whole: they are much worse in the school districts or schools which serve the poorest children. Coming into September of the 1997-98 school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District hired 2966 teachers to fill vacancies. Roughly 60% of these new teachers had only "emergency certificates," meaning they didn’t even meet standards to be certified.

Even when teachers are certified and have preparation in the fields they teach they are burdened down with classes so large, they can’t begin to give attention to the children they are teaching. Starting in 1985, the state of Tennessee decided to study the effect of class size on student achievement. This is so obvious it shouldn’t require a study, yet state legislatures when they are expending funds and critics of the schools, backed recently by such journals as The Economist or Fortune, debate the point. The Tennessee study involved class size in the early elementary years, kindergarten through grade three. Elementary schools from 42 of the state’s public school systems were involved. Each participating school had to divide its students in each grade into three types of classes: small (from 13 to 17 students) or "regular" (22 to 26 students) or regular with a full-time teacher aide. Both teachers and students were assigned randomly to the classes. What the study showed was that at every grade level, up through graduation, students in the smaller classes did significantly better on standardized tests than those in the larger classes, whether or not the larger class had an aide. Small classes in inner city schools made the biggest jump in achievement. Not only did students do better during the years they were in the smaller classes, but during the rest of their school years up through graduation.

The bourgeoisie and better off layers of the petty-bourgeoisie don’t doubt that smaller classes and better prepared teachers make a difference. The classes in their schools, whether public or private, have many fewer students than the "normal" class. Their teachers have much more academic preparation, including in the field they are teaching. And the teachers have access to modern equipment and all the textbooks they need.

What would it take for every school to have the same thing? In a word, money.

20,000 Different Systems, 20,000 Different Levels of Funding

In general, the students who do the worst on any standardized tests come from the poorest families, and they grow up in the poorest neighborhoods. In this society based on class, this can only mean that before they ever arrive at school, they already carry many burdens: a lack of decent medical care; poor nutrition; little access to culture; no adults who regularly expose them to reading; in fact, often no adults around at all. If this country were to provide equality of opportunity, as it so regularly proclaims, it obviously would provide the fullest educational facilities for the poorest children, to overcome the obstacles they already face. That means money would be disbursed according to need. Not only is that not done, the money for the schools is not even disbursed equally.

Today, there are 20,000 different public school systems in the country, organized by locality, usually by city, town, township or consolidated rural district but sometimes by county, and in other cases, by a smaller part of a larger district. These 20,000 different school systems bear a great deal of the responsibility for funding their own schools. That contrasts with the development of publicly funded schools in some other bourgeois nations where the central state took responsibility for the school system and for its funding. Today, local school districts in the U.S. raise somewhat less than half of the money needed to fund their schools. The primary vehicle for raising money by a local school board is the property tax levied on both personal real estate and commercial property. Of course, the more that businesses have been exempted from taxes supposedly as a means to encourage them to stay in a given locality the less they contribute, and the harder it is for localities to raise money for schools.

Added to local funds are state and federal contributions. On average, states contribute a little more than do local school districts, although some states contribute much less than others. While some states give additional money to districts which are strapped for money, most states give money proportionate to the amount of money raised by the local district, which simply widens the gap between the poor districts and the wealthy ones.

We hear a lot about Title I, the federal program which is supposed to give supplementary money for students coming from impoverished areas or parts of cities. Those who want to dump the public schools tell us that this federal program has just been pouring billions of dollars down an empty sewer. In fact, the amount given this last year, somewhat less than eight billion dollars, is only a drop in the bucket, and doesn’t begin to make up the difference in the unequal funding of the schools. The federal government, which has the greatest sources of revenue contributes very little to public school education in this country: in total, just under 6% of all school budgets.

The range of money expended per pupil in different states varies widely, as it does within the same state. Utah, for example, spent on average $3,632 per pupil in the 1998-99 school year, Mississippi spent $4,291, while New Jersey spent $9,577. Within states, the range is equally as bad. Within New Jersey, for example, the range of money spent per pupil ran from a low of $5,900 a year in Camden, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the whole country, up to $11,950 in Princeton. In the 1996-97 school year, schools in Chicago spent $4,563 per pupil; those in nearby Cook County suburbs spent $6,957, while the state of Illinois’s most affluent district spent $15,368 per pupil.

Today, we have 20,000 fiefdoms running the various public schools around the country. This has not guaranteed "local control," as is sometimes claimed. Without adequate money, there can be no control. What this system does provide is an excuse for why some schools don’t have enough money, while others have more than they need. The poor districts don’t care enough to educate their children or so we hear. In fact, what is characteristic of the current situation is that the school districts serving the poorest parts of the population vote to tax themselves at a significantly higher rate than do the wealthy ones. But in a society where the top one percent of the population today owns as much wealth as the bottom 95% of the population, this doesn’t begin to give the poor districts the means to catch up.

It’s obvious that in a class society, the ruling layers will reserve the best schools for their own children. Even today, within a single system some schools are notably better than others, with better supplies, newer books, more qualified teachers and fewer pupils per teacher. Even within a single school, there can be a noticeable difference between two different classes in the same grade, with one getting the more qualified teacher, more supplies, better books, etc. It’s called "tracking," and it closely parallels the class background of the students.

But this convoluted system which today exists in the United States exacerbates the problem many times over.

Education: Do We Have to Invent the Wheel All Over Again?

There is another problem raised by this exceedingly decentralized system: there are no consistent standards that apply from state to state, or even within a single state. This raises certain practical problems. Some states, for example, require pupils to pass a standardized exam in order to graduate from high school. Some do not. Within the same state, some school boards require an exam, some do not. There is no standard way of certifying teachers, outside of a recent small attempt made by some teachers’ unions.

But there is a more basic problem here. While most states specify certain basic courses to be completed for graduation, a few do not, and they certainly do not set a standard curriculum, with standard textbooks. What is shocking about the recent intervention of the Kansas legislature is not simply that it leaves open the possibility that students in science classes may never hear anything about evolution or plate tectonics or what we understand about the origin of stars and the rest of this universe we know today; more shocking is that the question of whether any or all of these explanations of the universe, the globe and life on it are left up to each individual school board to decide. In such a case, the most reactionary attitudes and backward ideas cannot help but come to the fore, in public schools as well as in religious schools.

Human knowledge is an acquisition of humanity, assimilated and developed over the centuries. It is not a cafeteria, from which you take only the discoveries, the ideas, the culture which appeals to you. Does evolution, plate tectonics and the early formation of the universe disturb the religious views of a backward-looking school board? In Kansas, and many other states, you don’t have to teach them. That’s not education: it’s nothing but a proposal to take students back to the knowledge of the Middle Ages.

Today, the "educational reformers" are not proposing to meet head-on the problems of this fragmented school system which leads, and can only lead, to such obvious inequalities and questioning of knowledge. No, the "educational reformers" residing in Wall Street are pushing proposals which can only fragment the system even further. Fragmentation lets them get their foot not only in the school door, but, more importantly, in its cashbox.

It’s obvious that the proposals which are floating around today whether for vouchers or for charter schools are completely crazy, even in what they would concretely set up: people running from one school system to another, from the public school to a private school, with vouchers in hand plus their other hand in their own pocket to come up with the difference; new schools being set up, reserving admission to which group of students the new schools prefer. The old schools founder, deprived of money.

Crazy, yes, but it’s also a proposal to take education backward several centuries.

Public Schools: A Gain Won by Movements of the Laboring People

The development of the public school system that is, freed from religious influence, paid for by the state, open to all, and obligatory for all was the work of the popular classes in American society, starting in its earliest years.

There were schools in the North American colonies before the revolution, almost all run by religious orders. But shortly after the first bourgeois revolution, that of 1775-78, a movement began to establish secular schools.

People like Jefferson and Franklin, the more far-sighted political representatives of the American bourgeoisie, were among those who led the drive. These schools, secular though they were, were not yet a system of public education, even though the Democratic Societies through which Jefferson gave himself a platform, and eventually a party popularized the demands for schools open to everyone, paid for by the state. But for such schools to come into being required a movement of the laboring classes in fact, several different movements. The first quarter of the 19th century saw the gradual establishment of "common schools" for young children, but in many cases, the children of laboring people could attend only if the family took a "pauper’s oath."

The first publicly funded high school, open to the sons of "the mercantile and mechanic classes," was started in Boston in 1821. In 1827, the state of Massachusetts ordered every town with a certain minimum number of families to provide basic education, the number and variety of courses depending on the size of the town. By 1825, the first high school outside of New England was opened in New York City, and soon thereafter, in Cincinnati Ohio. But these high schools were not yet open to all, nor obligatory for all children.

What changed that was the development of workingmen’s parties in a number of towns where mechanics and other workingmen had become important. The first such party was established in Philadelphia in 1828. Other parties quickly sprang up, first in other Pennsylvania towns, then westward to Ohio, as well as southward to Delaware and northward to New York City, Boston and other New England towns. Within six years, such parties were organized in more than 60 cities, and "mechanics societies" in many more. These parties raised the demand for publicly funded education open to all. It was, in fact, the one demand which every single one of these workingmen’s parties raised. Along with this demand, most of these parties called for mandatory school attendance up to a certain age and, along with it, an end to child labor, as well as other demands such as the abolition of debtor’s prison, of unequal taxation and of convict labor. While the parties which raised these demands did not have a long life, their activity was what brought public schools as we understand them today into being, among other things.

The campaign to require localities and states to pay for schooling spread out in many directions during the first half of the nineteenth century, taking different forms in some cases, against the "pauper’s oath"; in some cases against religious orders which still dominated some schools; often to make it not just open to all, but mandatory for all. By 1837, a state board of education had been established in Massachusetts; and a state-funded and state-administered system of education, directed by the state university, established in Michigan.

In none of this did the federal government play any role. As for the states themselves, they often followed the lead of the cities where the workers’ movement had pushed the public school into existence. As the frontier moved westward, many schools were established in small localities, before the states had even been organized.

The South, obviously, had a different development. For all practical purposes, there was no system of education, other than for the very privileged sons of the slaveholders, until after the Civil War. It was legally prohibited to teach a slave to read, and while there was no law against teaching the poor whites, there were also no schools where they could have been taught. But the Civil War, that second bourgeois revolution, and the social changes wrought by Reconstruction coming on its heels, brought a system of public education into being in the South. One of the first actions taken by almost all the Reconstruction governments set up by the ex-slaves and, in some states, the poor whites, was to establish public schools open to all, funded directly by the state governments, with aid from the federal government at least during the Reconstruction years.

For the development of the bourgeoisie, public education of broad layers of the population was a necessity, and not just for its own children, or for the children of the layers of society closest to it, but for broad layers of the population. For modern industry and the technology required for it to develop, there must be workers with at least the rudiments of an education: the ability to read, to write, to carry out basic mathematical functions, etc.

Nonetheless, it was not the bourgeoisie which established the system of public schools that we know secular, publicly funded, open to everyone and mandatory for everyone. Nor was it even the bourgeois state which initiated the development of public schools. On the other hand, that state, confronted by the push of the laboring classes for education for their own children, acting in the general interests of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois development, did bring it into existence. The bourgeoisie in its ascendancy, at least its state apparatus which often has to act in the general interests of the bourgeoisie because its individual members, focused on their own enrichment, cannot was able to develop the schools which the laboring classes demanded.

The Irreversible Loss of a Generation

The exceedingly decentralized situation of the schools which we see today clearly came out of the vastly disparate movements which had brought the public schools into being, as well as the fact that schools were being developed locally as the frontier moved westward. But what may have been the consequence of historic development in a frontier society is not at all necessary and is even a drawback in a modern society, with all the means of communication and advanced technology in its hands.

But the bourgeoisie is not able today to reform this public school system to get rid of the holdovers from the past which hold the system back. Rather it looks on the schools today only as a new target of opportunity in its chase after profit. The profit which this bourgeoisie intends to make off the backs of the children of the popular classes can only contribute to the further degeneration of education, and with it to the further degeneration of bourgeois society itself.

Will the American bourgeoisie let "EDventure" capitalism really take over the public schools, letting this development follow its logic up to its very end? The bourgeois state may be compelled to pull back because, long before the public school system is completely destroyed, the effects of this takeover would become an enormous hindrance to the functioning of the bourgeoisie’s own system.

Nonetheless, for increasing parts of the population, the possibilities of attaining a real education are disappearing. More and more, the United States begins to resemble an underdeveloped country today in its inability to provide even basic social necessities for the mass of its population, in the grasping nature of its "entrepreneurs," in the criminality both big and small which are produced by such a situation. This development does not come from a lack of money, but from money being used for purposes which do not serve all the members of society.

Each year, a smaller share of American society’s wealth is being put in the service of the population. Today, capitalism’s avaricious thirst for profit is extending into the schools thus depriving the schools of the means to provide an education to ever wider layers of this generation, and the next. Already a significant part of this generation of young people is not getting an education as did not their parents. To steal more money from the schools can only mean that more young people will arrive at adulthood without even the most basic educational attainments. To deprive a significant part of a whole generation of education creates an irreversible situation. It condemns this generation, and with it society as a whole. It could not be more criminal!

We live in a society today wherein exist not only the technical means but also the wealth so that every child could be truly educated: that is, not only gaining a basic foundation in math, reading, writing and a scientific approach, but absorbing the collective knowledge that humanity has developed up until now. The knowledge that humanity in its different cultures has collectively gathered is there, available to be passed down to all the members of society. What stands in the way of this, which is a prerequisite for the full flowering of all of humanity including even of its most privileged layers today who are held back because part of society is held back is this retrograde capitalism, which views everything even life and death, as the woman from Lehman Brothers reminds us as a source of profit.