If you live in a small city, a rural area, or even a suburb you may not be watching the privatization of K-12 education in your own community. But privatization is proliferating; just let us count the ways. Two articles in the press this week and one new academic report will help.
Privatization is happening mainly in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities, places where test scores reflect the poverty of the children enrolled and where, as a condition for awarding Title I Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants, the federal government is pressing school districts and states to close public schools and open charter schools. Privatization is also being driven by conservative politicians and political donors who allege that charter and voucher schools will serve children better and cost less.
Writing for PoliticoPro, reporter Stephanie Simon demonstrates that, Vouchers Don’t Do Much for Students. Vouchers and voucher-like tuition tax credit programs are now paying for 245,000 students in 16 states and the District of Columbia to attend private schools at public expense. “Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition—and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.” Tracking the oldest voucher programs in Wisconsin and Ohio, Simon demonstrates that students perform no better than their public school counterparts, and in Wisconsin, two-thirds of voucher students never attended the public schools but are receiving public vouchers to cover tuition at parochial or private schools. Simon quotes Wisconsin state legislator Sandy Pope: “The taxpayers are paying for a second, competing school system that doesn’t do as well as the one we already have.” Simon also notes the many voucher schools across the U.S. that openly violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by teaching biblical creationism in science classes.
In his regular Education Week blog column this week, Anthony Cody reports that while their proponents dub charter schools “public charter schools,” these same charter advocates contend that charter schools are private entities when a school’s operation is questioned as a regulatory case reaches the courts. Cody describes a California case where a trial court convicted a California couple “of multiple counts of fraud related to their practice of using their charter school bank account for personal expenses and thousands of dollars worth of meals.” As part of the legal appeals process, the California Charter Schools Association filed an amicus brief alleging that “charter schools are deemed to be private entities under the law of California,” and “employees of the nonrofit corporation operating a charter school are not public employees.” “So let’s end this hoax,” writes Cody. “Charter schools are happy to accept public dollars, but reject the oversight and accountability that comes with operation as a public school.”
Portfolio school reform is the model made famous in New Orleans in 2005, when the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina created what Naomi Klein in her important book, The Shock Doctrine, calls the “opportunity” for privatizers to swoop in with a plan to remake a public school district through a business model. Portfolio School Reform was developed and promoted at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, with the financial support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The model prescribes the rapid expansion of a charter school sector in the “portfolio school district” and the adoption of a theory of disruption or churn, with low-scoring schools closed and “successful” models opened in a continuing cycle. Although the assumption is that the teachers and the school itself are the variable that determines the test scores, not coincidentally, all 35 of the “portfolio districts” listed on the Center’s website today are among the nation’s largest city districts with so-called “failing” schools located in neighborhoods experiencing concentrated poverty. Among the “portfolio districts” on the list are New York City, Washington ,D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Hartford, New Haven, Baltimore, and Memphis/Shelby County.
The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado (NEPC) was established for the purpose of examining the research presented to justify particular school reforms. In this week’s analysis, NEPC examines two powerpoints from advocates in Memphis and New Orleans that were presented to the Milwaukee Association of Commerce as that organization prepared to decide whether to endorse portfolio school reform for Milwaukee. NEPC analysts conclude, “Although no rigorous research has yet examined the effectiveness of portfolio governance structures, the presentations are aimed at encouraging their adoption… Policymakers considering such reforms should not act without a comprehensive and nuanced discussion of relevant evidence…. They should acknowledge the thin evidence base on portfolio governance and consider possible alternative explanations for those asserted results. Specifically, the reported achievement gains are suspect and may be attributable to other unexamined factors such as the massive out-migration of New Orleans students.”