Hucksterism In Education Exposed

I was serving on a panel at an evening event last week about the growth of privatization of education here in Ohio, when someone asked, “Why do parents grab at the chance to send their children to these schools?  Most of them don’t do nearly as well academically as public schools.”

People speculated about the lure of the freedom to choose and the conversation wandered a bit.  But finally came a comment that stopped many of us:  “Public schools can’t advertise, but all the voucher and charter schools advertise all the time, especially the cyber charters—Ohio Virtual Academy (K12) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.”

Hucksterism in education is the subject of a new piece by Ruth Conniff: The Sharks are Circling Our Public Schools.  Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive, a journal that champions the public good including a current project known as Public School ShakedownThe Progressive has recently merged with the Center for Media and Democracy which has persistently exposed the far right attack on the public good, including ALEC Exposed.

Conniff describes robocalls promoting Wisconsin vouchers.  A woman’s voice describes, “free tuition to send your child to a private or religious school.”  “We at School Choice Wisconsin are proud to pay for this call, because we want the very best for you and your child.” The calls, writes Conniff, are coming in the midst of the application process for Wisconsin’s new  statewide voucher program.

Conniff reports that School Choice Wisconsin is an arm of the American Education Reform Council (funded by John Walton) and the far right Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee.  This spring Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ PAC, has also been sponsoring pro-voucher events across Wisconsin.

Cyber charters are advertising across Wisconsin right now, too.  Conniff describes postcards (with gorgeous photos of adolescents at scho0l) being mailed during Wisconsin’s e-school open enrollment season.  She notes that cyber schools do not, as pictured, educate students with their peers in a brick and mortar building, and, “According to the state’s school report cards for the 2012-2013 academic year, half of the children in virtual schools were attending one that was not meeting performance expectations.”

Conniff concludes: “So as parents are sorting the mail and checking messages and hearing about all these great choices you can make—free tuition! flexible! individualized learning! laptop provided!—keep in mind that you are paying for these businesses with the money that used to sustain our public schools.  They are still performing better than all of these new, alternative options.”

Check out Public School Shakedown and ALEC Exposed and the other great investigative journalism at The Progressive. What is happening in public education in Wisconsin is very likely also relevant in your state.  Vouchers.  Charters.  The impact of the American Legislative Exchange Council on your legislature.  Public School Shakedown even has a new project: Teach for America Truth Squad.

“Public Schools Shakedown” Website Exposes Privatizers

The forces undermining public education don’t really take the trouble to publicize what they are doing.  It is all very quiet and very well funded. And if, in polite conversation, you mention the likes of ALEC—or Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education—or the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, people may look at you as though you are spouting conspiracy theories.

But we must summon the courage to mention what is going on, and we need to get ourselves informed enough to be confident about the facts.  The Progressive, a Madison, Wisconsin magazine, helps us with a new project this autumn,  Public Schools Shakedown. Take a look at the in-depth background resources on this website.

Written by Brendan Fischer, the general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC’s Schoolhouse Rock is one of the best pieces I know about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  This is the secretive organization that pairs corporate lobbyists and state legislators to develop “model” laws that can be introduced in any state legislature. Fischer reports: “at least 139 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC education bills have been introduced in forty-three states and the District of Columbia in just the first six months of 2013.”  According to Fischer, “ALEC might best be described as a ‘corporate bill mill’ that helps conservative state legislators become a vessel for advancing special interest legislation.”  Fischer covers the agenda promoted by ALEC’s bills: vouchers, tuition tax credits for private education, the authorization of charter schools by appointed—not democratically elected—state agencies, parent trigger laws that permit parents through a petition process to take over their school and exit from the public school district, expansion of on-line blended learning in classrooms with bigger classes per teacher, and alternative certification programs.

Check out, Funding “Education Reform”: The Big Three Foundations.  This in-depth article and info-graphic demonstrate how the Gates, Walton, and Broad Foundations have supported privatization across the states.  Jonathan Pelto, a Connecticut writer explains, “The foundations themselves explain their goals and funding strategies through innocuous rhetoric.  For example, the Gates Foundation opines that: ‘We invest in programs with a common aim to strengthen the connection between teacher and student. To that end, we work with educators, policymakers, parents, and communities to expand and accelerate successful programs and identify innovative new solutions that can help unlock students’ potential.’  But the actual agenda becomes much clearer when one examines their actual list of grantees, which includes most of the country’s charter school management organizations, education reform “think tanks,” and advocacy organizations.”

Barbara Minor’s excellent  The Voucher Boondoggle in Wisconsin may at first seem specific to that state.  However, other states including Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana have followed Wisconsin’s lead by robbing the state public education budget for allocations to support private school tuition.  Minor is the wonderful writer who recently published the authoritative history of Milwaukee’s schools: Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.  You will also find an excellent info-graphic, Meet the Bullies, that diagrams the influence of particular philanthropists who have been underwriting advocacy for vouchers and privatization.  Many of them are very likely active in your state.