The Spark

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

Education “Reform”:
Grinding Up the Public Schools

Aug 3, 2009

On June 20, workers at the U.S. Department of Education pulled down signs picturing an old-time, one-room country schoolhouse, emblazoned with the phrase “No Child Left Behind” – the name Bush had coined to refer to his 2002 education “reform.” The new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, had already ordered the phrase be removed from all department stationery.

Representative George Miller of California, a main sponsor of the 2002 “reform,” had recently criticized it harshly, calling it “overly rigid, inherently unfair, and so poorly written that it actually encourages teachers not to focus their efforts on the lowest achieving students.” (Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2009)

It might have seemed that “No Child Left Behind” was about to be tossed on the trash heap along with all those signs.

Wrong! It was about to be given a new life. About a month after the signs were dumped, President Barack Obama, with Duncan at his side, announced a “Race to the Top” – a national competition between school systems, and between states. The Department would grant a total of 10 billion dollars to those states and districts that according to Obama are “driving school reform.”

Little of the 10 billion was additional money – it had already been included in various budgets – but it was going to be used as a lever to speed up implementation of what Bush had started. In pushing “Race to the Top,” Duncan noted: “States will have two chances to win. They have plenty of time to learn from the first-round winners, change laws where necessary, build partnerships with all key stakeholders, and advance bold and creative reforms.”

But if they don’t? Then federal funds are to be withheld from schools that refuse to attack teachers’ wages and to lower the credentials required for teaching, or which put a limit on privatizing public schools. Duncan made that threat explicit: “I want to be clear that the Race to the Top is also a reform competition, one where states can increase or decrease their odds of winning federal support. States, for example, that limit alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until they change their laws.”

“No Child Left Behind” has already managed to grind up thousands of schools in the craziness of a testing regimen that has no educational value, draining them of money, depriving them of the additional funds they would need to improve, guaranteeing that thousands more schools will fail, opening them up for takeovers by private interests. Obama’s announcement that 10 billion dollars will be given to the schools, but only to those ready to lower standards and become privatized, shows that he shares Bush’s intention to overturn the public schools for private benefit.

And this can only mean a further degradation of the education provided to the children of working people.

A Failing Education System

Baptized “No Child Left Behind” by George Bush, that 2002 “reform” had been hailed at the time as the needed answer to the country’s failing educational system.

At the turn of the 21st century, only 72% of the students who entered a U.S. high school eventually graduated – and this didn’t take into account all those who never made it to high school. Compared to other countries, U.S. education was far down the list, according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Countries such as Denmark, Japan, Poland, Germany and Finland all had rates exceeding 90%. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 27th in the world in “mathematical literacy,” far behind Finland, Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia and France.

The average figures obscured the much bigger horror: the large gap inside the United States between the numbers graduating from big city schools, which serve a very high percentage of poor students, and those in the more affluent suburbs surrounding those same cities. Cities like Baltimore and Cleveland, for example, graduated barely over 40% of their students, while surrounding suburbs graduated nearly 80%.

Even among the students who managed to graduate from these inferior schools, there were few who had gained the preparation needed to participate in an increasingly technological society – not to mention gaining broad areas of knowledge and culture, as well as the habit of scientific reasoning. In the whole state of Maryland, for example, 49% of high school graduates who go on to college have to take remedial math classes, making up for what they hadn’t learned in high school, before they can take college classes for credit. Abysmal, but the figures for Baltimore are worse. According to the Baltimore Sun, 98% of students who enrolled in Baltimore City Community College, after graduating from a Baltimore high school in 2007, had to take remedial classes.

How could it be otherwise? The funding of the public schools is marked by enormous disparities everywhere. In 2001-2002, schools with the greatest number of students qualifying for the free lunch program – which roughly means the highest number of poor students – spent only $4,800 per pupil on facilities, including new construction, repairs and maintenance on older buildings. At the other end of the spectrum, schools with the fewest number of poor students spent $9,360 per pupil, just on facilities (according to a study funded by the Gates Foundation). Moreover, the money spent in the poor neighborhoods went mostly to basic repairs – roofs, boiler replacements and asbestos removal – while money in the wealthy areas went for things like upgrading science labs, adding a performing arts center or adding high tech facilities to schools that were already in good shape. And what was true about physical facilities was also true about teacher qualifications, class size, books and supplies. The major components required to provide education were divided very disproportionately between the wealthy and the poor.

No Lie Left Untold

“No Child Left Behind” was sold as the way to close all these gaps – those between the U.S. and other countries, and those within the U.S.

The law declared its aim was to pull up the children traditionally under-served by the public schools, with a special focus put on poor children, and on the various parts of the population – black, Hispanic and other minorities – who are least likely to attend good schools. “No Child Left Behind” mandated that every school getting Title I funding (money provided by the federal government to make up some of the funding gaps) must have every student proficient in at least mathematics, English, science and history by 2014. By 2005, every school was to have “highly qualified” teachers in every classroom for “core academic subjects”; and every elementary school had to purchase new materials for reading instruction that followed “scientifically based” principles. States were to set up plans so that parents of students attending schools designated as “unsafe” could transfer their children to “safe” schools. Finally schools getting Title I funding had to allow the military to set up recruitment centers in the schools and to give the military the names of every student. And that makes it as clear as could be what future the government had in mind for the students in these poor schools.

The liberal Democrats hopped on board Bush’s education express. Representative George Miller and Senator Ted Kennedy, both Democrats, were major authors of the bill, along with the Bush administration.

Issues raised by educators and teachers about the validity of the new testing, about distortions to the curriculum and about the lack of funding were mostly ignored or even denounced as self-serving. Bush’s Secretary of Education Rod Paige used the example of Houston’s public schools in a widely publicized campaign to support the new program. Most of the elements of “No Child Left Behind” had been instituted in Houston by Paige earlier, when he was superintendent of schools, and supported by Bush, who was then Texas governor. Houston had shown remarkable increases in reading and math, as well as impressive decreases in dropout rates. Paige pointed out that 79% of Houston’s Spanish-speaking students had tested “proficient” in English in 2000, compared to only 39% eight years earlier – a remarkable 40% jump. And, he claimed, Houston did all this while spending much less money per pupil than did many other big-city school systems.

Early reports seemed to show that Houston’s achievements were being duplicated elsewhere. Even if the increases were not as spectacular, children in poor schools seemed nonetheless to be making notable progress.

But, as it turned out, the miracle in Houston had been performed with smoke and mirrors.

In late 2002, Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School in Houston, began to question the way Houston had been reporting its drop-out numbers. Sharpstown reported that not a single student had dropped out during the 2001-2002 school year – a remarkable feat considering that, of the 1,000 or so students who had started as freshmen, only 300 were still in school in their senior year!

By 2003, Kimball’s protest made its way into the national press, leading eventually to an audit of Houston’s schools, which showed that drop-out rates for most of Houston’s schools put them toward the bottom of the country. And this little scandal then prompted a study of test results in Houston, which revealed very similar “discrepancies.” Rather than having average test results in the top 30%, Houston’s students averaged in the bottom 30%.

More complete national studies began to show that not only had the gaps not narrowed around the country; in many cases, they had increased. Most of the “improvement” was tied to what could only be described as a very “loose” way of evaluating students’ results – when it wasn’t downright fraudulent. Results on the state tests set up for “No Child Left Behind” in most cases were not duplicated on nationally recognized tests like the SAT, ACT or NAEP. And the school systems that had demonstrated the big increases had managed, like Houston, not only to ignore the drop-outs, but to push many of the worst performing students out of the schools before the tests were given.

Then, in 2004, the California Charter Academy, one of the largest charter school operators, set up supposedly to replace failing public schools throughout the state of California, collapsed suddenly, closing down 60 schools in California on the very eve of the new school year, leaving thousands of students without a school, and school boards across the state scrambling to squeeze them in. It was not the only such collapse by private operators who took public school funds. It was, however, the biggest – up until then.

At the end of 2004, Rod Paige was pushed out as Education Secretary. He had been made the scapegoat for scandals that had wracked the administration of “No Child Left Behind” – including the revelation that funds supposedly allocated by Congress for the public schools had instead been given as large payoffs to broadcasters on black and Hispanic radio stations to push the wonders of Bush’s miracle education reform. But Paige’s disgrace did not provoke any review of the program itself, which was barreling ahead with the approach of 2005, when the first sanctions were to be imposed on numerous schools. And Paige himself went on to work for one of the companies making big bucks off of “No Child Left Behind.”

Complaints from teachers grew louder – focusing especially on the fact that the law forced them to concentrate their time prepping students on how to pass the tests, pushing aside basic instruction the students needed. And school systems, already strapped for money, continued to cut out so-called “unnecessary” programs – like foreign languages, art, music, physical education, geology, vocational classes. More school libraries were shut or severely reduced.

The education of children was being chewed up in the mania for testing.

The five-year trial period granted by the original law to “No Child Left Behind” was up at the end of 2006. Despite calls for modifying this fraudulent “reform, ” Congress simply renewed it for another year, with little discussion, and then perfunctorily renewed it again.

The Best Schools Let Teachers Teach

Every teacher knows what is needed to improve the schools: small classes and a reduced schedule for teachers, which would allow them the time to follow the needs of each individual child, plus full access to modern buildings, equipment, facilities and textbooks. And teachers need to be able to improve their own competency: through mentoring by other teachers, through more exchange with parents and through additional education. Those are the very things that the best schools, usually the ones in wealthy areas, provide as a matter of course. But that requires time – time that teachers in the public schools serving the poorer layers of the population do not have. As the saying goes, time is money, and most public schools “leaving children behind” are starved for money.

With so much public school funding dependent on the local tax base, the schools in wealthy areas have money and resources far beyond what is available for the rest of the nation’s children. For example, elementary schools in Lake Forest Illinois, one of Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs, had $22,508 to spend on each pupil in 2005; schools in Ford Heights, the poorest suburb, had only $12,674 per pupil; Chicago Public Schools had even less, only $11,033.

Certainly, equal funding, in the midst of a class society based on the exploitation of the vast majority of the population by a tiny minority, cannot truly provide the same education to all children. Simply at the practical level, the poorer the population of a school, the more the school confronts needs that have to be met for education to be carried on: health and nutrition, safety, among others. But at least, one single adequate funding standard would eliminate many of the gross disparities we see today.

It will not be possible to equalize funding unless the states intervene to provide more money to the poorest schools. In fact, the federal government, which has access to many more resources, would have to be engaged in any such effort. But neither the federal government nor the state governments have ever attempted to provide equal access to the full range of facilities required for an adequate education.

Despite claims that “No Child Left Behind” would equalize results, those pompous reformers who wrote the law left the funding every bit as unequal as it had been.

Duncan and Obama went them one step worse. “Race to the Top” makes schools compete with each other for scarce resources and money – scarce because so much of the state budget goes to Big Business. It’s nothing but a justification for impoverishment of the schools.

Blaming the Teachers

The 2002 law actually drained money away from instruction, funneling it into administration of the various complicated aspects of a hopped-up testing regimen. The law required school districts to administer and pay for still another layer of tests on top of the tests they already pay for, costing as much as 5.6 billion dollars over five years, according to the Government Accounting Office. And it required elementary schools to buy new “scientifically designed” reading programs, whether or not they needed them – at a cost nationwide of one billion dollars a year, which went to six companies, all of them, coincidentally, headed by big contributors to Bush campaigns. As for their “scientific” principles – none of those six reading programs had ever been evaluated by educators or tried out. They were simply slapped together by Bush family friends as a profit-making vehicle. The law also required school systems to hire private companies to store the data, or to hire companies to set up data storage systems – again, whether or not the schools needed them. All these requirements were imposed with the threat that school systems unwilling to carry them out would be deprived of Title I money.

But the worst impact on student education came from the testing regimen itself. Schools that could not bring up the number of students testing “proficient” eventually would have to be “reconstituted” or closed. This has already led to school closings and further disruption to education, especially in the big cities.

It didn’t take long before some school systems and states – including some of the most prominent advocates for “No Child Left Behind” – began to game the system. In George Bush’s Texas, high school students who didn’t do well on the “practice” tests were held back in the 9th grade another year, only to be promoted directly into the 11th grade – thus completely missing the high school tests, which were given in the 10th grade! They also missed all the instruction they would have had in the 10th grade. In Jeb Bush’s Florida, schools were allowed to transfer the worst-performing students just before the tests were administered, to be lost in the bureaucratic shuffle until after the tests were over. Other systems, by tossing out or suspending hundreds of poorly-performing students just before the tests were administered, pushed average scores up. Some states – such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Connecticut and Colorado – lowered the criteria for passing.

Those schools that didn’t meet goals for improvement – or didn’t fudge the results – were very quickly forced to pay out still bigger parts of their already low resources: to hire outside “advisers” or “experts” or “tutors” – often from private companies, ready to provide such services, for a profit, of course. And schools that didn’t meet standards were required to pay for students to have a “choice” – that is, to transfer to a supposedly better school. The problem was, where to go? In 2003, 15,000 parents in Washington D.C. were notified they could choose another school. There were 240 available spaces. “Choice” existed on paper, but not in reality.

Then came the 2008-2009 school year, when the most damaging aspect of the program began to be implemented wholesale. Nearly 10,000 schools faced “reconstitution.” Once a school is required to be “reconstituted,” it must either have all its teachers and staff replaced; or it must be turned into a charter school; or it must be handed over to an outside entity to run – or it must shut down.

Behind this formula lay the outrageous assumption that if students are not doing well in school, the fault lies with the teachers. This capitalist society condemns a sizeable part of the youth to grinding poverty, warehouses them in decrepit schools, packs them into classes much too large for real educational development, making it impossible to teach. Yet, the teachers are to blame! No, if young people get anything at all out of these substandard schools it’s because of the efforts made by many teachers, in the face of a system that regularly tosses young people aside.

Ultimately, by 2014, every public school getting Title I money will be required to have 100% of its students “proficient” – an obviously impossible standard if “proficiency” has any meaning.

“No Child Left Behind” was, in the words of Stan Karp, a teacher in Patterson, New Jersey, “a formula for chaos, not school improvement.”

It was also a formula for privatizing the public school system. To be more exact, it was a formula for destroying large numbers of public schools, only to hand them over to private interests to run, requiring the existing public school systems to fund these new schools.

In other words, the mandate to “reconstitute” schools that don’t meet the standard was nothing less than a means to open the purse of the public schools to private interests. It had nothing in common with improving the schools.

Squeezing Profit out of Education Dollars

Behind this move to privatize were ideological reasons springing from the right-wing base of the Republican Party, which was pushing for private schools that would teach “creationism” for example, not evolution; schools that would promote “abstinence,” and avoid discussing such dangerous topics as birth control.

Bush was also attempting to appease religious forces. Religious organizations could not run charter schools, but “religious organizations and their members may partner with and be involved with charter schools” – according to regulations issued under the cover of “No Child Left Behind.”

While “No Child Left Behind” does not lead immediately to the direct replacement of all public schools by private ones – which is the aim of reactionary organizations like “The Alliance for the Separation of School and State” – the whole push toward privately run schools was seen by the right wing as a way to undercut and eventually destroy the public school systems.

But there was a much more powerful force behind the push to put the public schools into private hands: the ideologues of “the marketplace.” As far back as 1955, Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist known for his “monetarist” theories, had argued for letting the “creativity of the marketplace” into the public schools.

It was not until the early 1990s, however, that Wall Street investors, looking for new niches where they could place their money for a large return, began to take notice of education, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year by the public schools.

Public schools were already providing profits to business – to textbook publishers, to the makers of computers and other information technology, to suppliers, construction companies, etc. But to squeeze out still more profit required that the schools themselves be taken over.

In 1994, the Clinton administration gave official encouragement to investors, pushing through the first federal authorization allowing federal monies destined for the public schools to be spent on charter schools, that is, schools which could be controlled by private interests, including those who ran them for profit. Charter schools had already existed before in some states, but federal authorization opened the doors much wider.

Two years later, the now defunct Lehman Brothers organized a widely attended Wall Street conference to discuss investment possibilities in education. Mary Tanner, a managing director at Lehman, explained Lehman’s interest in the public schools this way: “Wall Street is interested in any big-spending industry. We’re also interested in any industry in change.” The public schools, said Tanner, “are ripe for takeover by private management companies.”

In 1997, the Clinton administration made those takeovers more inviting, by giving money for the purpose of expanding charter schools, and by changing regulations to lower costs of running schools. It defined a charter school as “a public school that is ... exempt from significant State or local rules that inhibit the flexible operation and management of public schools.” And, in a section on grants, the administration added the following provision: “a teacher in a charter school does not have to be licensed or certified by the State if the State’s charter law does not require such licensure or certification.”

If charter schools are to provide a profit for investors, the money spent on the schools and those who work in them has to be reduced. This golden rule of capitalism holds as true in the schools run for a profit or personal interest as it does in an auto factory or an airline.

But reduced money spent on teachers, reduced money spent on facilities can only mean a worse education for the children.

Bait and Switch

Over the past two decades, billions of dollars have flowed into think tanks that churn out reports and propaganda for the media, supporting the creation of charter schools and other versions of “school choice.” Much of that money has come from a relatively small handful of wealthy individuals and their foundations. In 2005 alone, more than four billion dollars was spent by just 20 foundations or individuals, pushing for charter schools or other versions of “school choice,” or in funding such schools and options. Among those were the Gates, Walton, Ford, Broad and DeVos Foundations, and wealthy individuals like Walter Annenburg.

The wealthy “patrons” and foundations that have been behind the push for charter schools tapped into parents’ frustrations in the attempt to “reconstitute” publicly funded education into a privately run enterprise. And they far outspent anyone who advocated improving the public schools, while leaving them public. In 2005, for example, the top supporters of charter schools or other school choice options spent over 20 times as much as those who supported the public schools.

Money has also flooded into a few select charter schools, turning them into poster-schools for privatization. But the money handed to a few particular charter schools does not carry over to charter schools in general. For the most part, they have little more money than the systems they spring from – and part of that money is drained out by those who run them.

The few schools that do get extra funds can soon find themselves under the thumb of “benefactors” who attach conditions having nothing to do with the education of the children in the school. In 2007, for example, Joseph and Carol Reich, who had founded and contributed heavy amounts of money to the Children Charter School in Brooklyn, dumped the parent and teacher representatives off the board of the school, then threatened to cut all funding for the school unless it put more emphasis on improving the English and math test results of the students, reducing or eliminating other parts of the curriculum. It would seem, according to a New York Times article, that the Reichs wanted the test scores at the Brooklyn school to serve as a recruiting tool for 50 more charter schools they wanted to see established.

This money flooding into a few select charter schools today is little more than a kind of elaborate bait-and-switch program.

A Failing Report Card

The number of children enrolled today in charter schools is still only a small percentage of those in the public schools, about 3 to 5%, although in some big cities the percentage is much higher. In Washington D.C., with its vast number of poor children, one-third of the students have been pushed into charter schools. In any case, the number of charter schools has been rapidly increasing, going from 1,000 in the year 2000, to 2,200 in 2004, to 4,600 in 2008.

The increase in charter schools has certainly not led to an improvement in education. Despite all the publicity given to this or that charter school, it turned out that the quasi-private charter schools produced results that were no better than the schools the children had come from, and in some cases much worse. Bush’s own Department of Education had shown, in a 2007 study, that the schools it was touting were worse, despite all the money drained out of the system to set them up. The department dealt with this embarrassment by burying the results of the study for over a year, until someone finally leaked them.

It should come as no surprise that the education provided by charter schools was worse. How could it be otherwise? Ease the requirements – what would you expect? For example, the average charter school demands more hours of teaching every week from teachers, and more weeks of work a year – it’s a guarantee that students will get less individual attention from their teachers, and that teachers will be less able to improve their skills.

A study carried out on Chicago schools for the College of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago found that in 2008, only 75% of charter teachers were state-certified, compared to 90% plus in the public schools. Only 43% of charter teachers had master’s degrees, compared to 55% in the public schools. And charter teachers had less than half as much experience (five years, compared to 12). In other words, students in charter schools have even less exposure to highly qualified teachers. That can only have negative consequences.

But for those running the charter schools, it’s a great big monetary plus, since they can pay less. On average, a charter school teacher in Chicago with five years experience and a bachelor’s degree made $7,400 less a year than a public school teacher with the same experience. And public school teachers to keep their certification are required to have more education than just a bachelor’s degree.

What is true of money spent on teachers is also true of money spent on the physical surroundings. A study done by the Charter Friends National Network found that the average charter school, with less than 300 students, has only 103 square feet per student, significantly under the requirements for small public schools in most states. Not only have few charter schools been set up in new buildings; many continue in the same old decrepit buildings, if they aren’t bundled into storefronts, warehouses, deserted factory buildings, churches, private homes, and even into the basement of the New York City Board of Education building, for example.

“No Child Left Behind” – Regurgitated

After seven and a half years, “No Child Left Behind” is so widely discredited that even the name has become the target for comedians (No Boss Left Behind, or even, No Child’s Behind Left).

There has certainly been resistance to this march to “reconstitute” schools. It comes from the teachers, including teachers at some charters who themselves have begun to unionize. Parents, like those in Detroit who discovered how deceived they had been by charter schools and were angry when neighborhood schools were closed, demonstrated at school board meetings.

So Barack Obama is now offering a “change” – a name change! The signs saying “No Child Left Behind” will be replaced by those proclaiming, “Race to the Top.”

What a scam!

When Obama and Duncan announced “Race to the Top,” Obama held up Duncan’s Chicago as a marvel to emulate – just as Bush had done seven years earlier with Houston. According to Obama: “In just seven years, he’s boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago going from 38% of students meeting the standards to 67%. The dropout rate has gone down every year he’s been in charge.”

Barack Obama should have been ashamed to tell that lie. If more students “met the standards,” it was in great measure because the state of Illinois reduced the standards significantly in 2005, right in the middle of Duncan’s seven-year reign. Yes, more students were labeled “proficient,” but it was little more than a statistical sleight-of-hand.

As for “drop-outs,” the whole Chicago system still had almost 50% of students drop out, by Duncan’s own statistics. And that average hides more than it reveals. Chicago – by contrast to cities with worse drop-out rates, like Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland or Baltimore – has some very good magnet schools and schools serving wealthy neighborhoods, schools whose exceedingly low dropout rates bring up the average.

One of Duncan’s notable accomplishments in the Chicago schools was to close down neighborhood schools and set up “military academies” in their place. Those students unwilling to accept the prison-like discipline were tossed out. Duncan also established so-called “zero tolerance” policies.

This is what a 2005 study done by the Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law concluded: “Chicago Public Schools has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.” Remove those who are likely to do poorly on the tests, and the average score goes up – another miracle of statistical manipulation!

Another of Duncan’s notable accomplishments was to help push out the poor from areas where the wealthy were moving in. A study done for the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois-Chicago in 2007-08 plotted school closures on a census map according to rapidly appreciating home values. It is notable that the majority of schools closed that year were those schools serving poor children in areas where the wealthy are moving in. Duncan was helping to push out the poor, for the benefit of the wealthy and the developers.

In 2008, civil rights leaders filed a lawsuit against the state of Illinois, supported by a school boycott in many of the poor neighborhoods, particularly among black students. They were demanding an end to the unequal funding that damns so many of Chicago’s schools serving poor neighborhoods. Duncan opposed the suit, with this contrived explanation: “By definition, lawsuits pit side against side. We should all be on the same side when the issue is properly funding the education of 2 million children throughout the state.” In reality, a lawsuit demanding more money from the state for poor schools could pit all the schools against the big corporations and the wealthy who consider the state budget as their own.

It’s not an accident that Duncan’s title was “chief executive officer” of the Chicago schools, rather than superintendent. He looked at the schools as part of a wider business enterprise. Speaking about “stakeholders” in the schools, or about his intention to “turn around” failing schools, he might as well have been Fritz Henderson, speaking to GM’s “stakeholders” about “turning around” GM. In fact, Duncan was never an educator; he never taught. His sole professional educational experience, before becoming the head of the Chicago public school system, came in 1996 when he directed an “education initiative” set up by Ariel Capital Management, a private equity fund. The school that came out of this initiative, the Ariel Community Academy, an elementary school, bragged on its website that it devoted one-tenth of its whole teaching budget to educate children about investment portfolios.

Education for Profit – or for the Children?

For business, the move to privatize schools and lower their standards promises a big return. Those businesses that will be directly involved in supplying the schools or running them expect to make a big profit holding down “costs.” Banks and other investors who loan to these schools expect to get an attractive rate of return in backing these new ventures – as did a bank in Washington D.C. that loaned to a charter school company directed by one of the bank’s executives. In fact, much like private capital deals, which allow private equity investors to buy up a company on borrowed money, then take their equity back out, these loans to charter schools allow the charter school owners to take out money in advance, leaving the interest payments and loan balance to be paid in later years by the school board. What is the benefit to the children in all of this?

The whole bourgeoisie wants to spend less of the public monies on the public schools, reserving more of that money for itself. Big Business wants an education system that produces the workers it needs in the most “cost-effective” way – that is, spending only what’s needed to educate the work force business want. In a work world that increasingly needs only a minimum of very skilled, technically accomplished, highly educated workers, Big Business sees no advantage in providing more than a minimal level of skill and education to the rest. It does not want to see state monies “wasted” on education.

Public schools were not given to the children of the laboring people. Public school education, paid for by the state, has been an acquisition that working people fought for, paying dearly for it. The expansion of education to ever larger layers of the population came out of the struggles of working people: from the early 1800s, when mechanics in New England demanded six years of education for their children; through the Reconstruction period in the South, when the establishment of public schools was one of the main demands of the ex-slaves and poor whites who joined forces; up through the fights to form the unions, which often had as one of their goals the fight against child labor, the fight to have a seat in school for every child, paid for by the state.

Today, the bourgeoisie is trying to take back what earlier generations gained through struggles, including the right to a fully funded public-school education. Working people do not have to accept only the few crumbs the bourgeoisie is ready to throw them, nor the low level of education it is ready to let its state provide. Our children should be entitled to education, full-ranging, wide-searching education.

Certainly, the wealthy classes have always tried to use education against the working class, trying to indoctrinate the laboring people with the ideology of their oppressors. But the workers have every reason to fight to gain the widest education possible and not leave the fields of knowledge only in the hands of their oppressors.