Wisconsin as a Frontier of School Privatization: Will Anyone Notice the Looting?

I never dreamed that a class I took in college, The Politics of Popular Education, which covered the nineteenth century in France and England, would prove to be germane in America. I didn’t have any particular interest in the topic; the reason for selecting the course was that the more serious students picked their classes based on the caliber of the instructor, and this professor, Kate Auspitz, got particularly high marks. The course framed both the policy fights and the broader debate over public education in terms of class, regional, and ideological interests.

The participants in these struggles were acutely aware that the struggle over schooling was to influence the future of society: what sort of citizens would these institutions help create?

As the post below on the march of school privatization in Wisconsin demonstrates, those concerns are remarkably absent from current debates. The training of children is simply another looting opportunity, like privatizing parking meters and roads. The objective is yet another transfer from some of the remaining members of the middle class, public school teachers, to the promoters. And this process also produces an important side benefit for socially unenlightened capitalists: that of slowly breaking one of the last influential unions.

And lest you had any doubt, despite the claim that charter schools help children, the evidence is that it doesn’t. Moreover, the pattern in capitalism American style is towards ever-greater crapification. So imagine what private schools, where the operators are on relatively good behavior because the project is still in its demonstration phase, look like in ten years.

Moreover, international comparisons show that higher teacher pay is strongly correlated with better educational outcomes, which should hardly seem surprising. Higher compensation, if nothing else, is a sign that society confers some stature to teachers, which helps in attracting capable people into that role. From a summary of a 2012 study:

Peter Dolton and Oscar Marcanero-Gutierrez, two economics professors at the University of London and University of Malga respectively, collected data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) annual Education at a Glance reports, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to determine the relationship between pay and student achievement. They concluded that – guess what? – better teacher pay leads to teacher quality and that leads to improved student performance.

In their analysis, Dolton and Gutierrez identify two key factors that determine how professional pay enhances teacher quality, particularly as it pertains to attracting new teachers. One, higher pay promotes competition and therefore more and better teaching applicants. Secondly, improving pay increases the “national status” of the profession, again making it more attractive to potential recruits.

Specifically, Dolton and Gutierrez used recent PISA and TIMMS results to draw a clear statistical correlation between higher pay and student performance across different countries (see chart below).


From this and other data, they conclude that a 10 percent increase in teachers’ pay would produce a 5-10 percent increase in student performance.

For a window on how school privatization is on the march, here’s an update from Wisconsin.

By Christopher Fons, a social studies teacher in the Milwaukee public school system

With the victory of Scott Walker and the Republican Party in Wisconsin this past election day – they increased their majorities in both the Assembly and Senate – the Milwaukee Public Schools have joined the “endangered species list” of public school districts in the United States.

Within the next few months the school privatization lobby and religious schools will draw up a plan that will for all intents and purposes end public education in one of the largest school districts in the United States. This will leave some of the poorest, and most incarcerated people (Wisconsin imprisons more black men than any other state) in the nation exposed to “market forces” when it comes to educating their children.

“Free choice” in the market will give Milwaukee students, the heirs to the Schlitz Brewing fortune as well as the children of the homeless, the choice to go to the best schools or to the most underfunded schools that primarily serve special education students, English language learners, chronically truant or behaviorally problematic students.

25 years ago the Bradley Foundation and a number of other right wing “free market” oriented think tanks convinced the Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, a majority of Republicans, “New Democrats” like Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist and a few Democratic Black Nationalist legislators like Polly Williams that it was time to help the poor of Milwaukee by allowing them to accept state money to attend private or charter schools instead of their neighborhood schools.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program initially allowed a few hundred low-income students to participate in the program. Today the program has expanded to over 28,000 students and the means test for getting a voucher is $78,000 if the student’s parents are married. The last Wisconsin budget also expanded the program state-wide and allows a tax deduction of $10,000 if your child goes to a private high school and a $4,000 deduction for an elementary school student.

An important fact to remember is that the private voucher and charter schools have shown no ability to improve student achievement. Even though this is the case year after year the plan has been expanded. This is because the program was never about giving students a better education. For the ideologues, it’s about destroying the public school “monopoly” and private players gaining access to the billions of dollars that is now captured by the public sector with its troublesome democratic school boards, organized workers and efficiencies of scale.

The incoming legislature is an extremely right wing group. They have already announced plans to expand the voucher program state-wide and pass an “accountability” bill that will convert “failing schools” into private schools or charters.

The accountability scheme was floated last year by a number of moderate Republicans in an effort to make more palatable the subsidy that religious and other fly by night charter schools are receiving on the tax payer dime. The idea is that if a school is doing poorly, as determined by standardized tests and a state-wide report card, then both private and public schools could be closed. The voucher lobby balked at this because they were concerned that a number of voucher schools would not be able to make the grade.

This year all bets are off as the Republican majority is emboldened by their perceived landslide nationally and by increased majorities in the Assembly and Senate.

The upshot then is that although the Milwaukee Parental Choice Plan has shown no improvement in student achievement, is more and more becoming a subsidy to the middle class and has created new levels of corruption as numerous schools have been proven to be criminal fronts, the neo-liberals in charge of our state are intent on destroying an institution, Milwaukee Public Schools, that is democratically controlled, creates thousands of family supporting jobs and serves the poorest, most disabled and newest immigrants to our country. All this in an effort to transfer billions to religious institutions that don’t pay taxes, educational consultants, dubious operators of fly-by-night charter schools, computer software and hardware companies and numerous other profit-seeking grifters that now will have little transparency and less accountability.

The question is: Will anyone notice?

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  1. Larry Van Goethem

    What’s to like about anything in Wisconsin, or the USA these days? The GOP mussed up Mary Burke pretty good, leaving a hash of rich white trash. But Scott Walker, Gov. Dead eyes, didn’t come out any better. He’s Dead Governor Walking because Burke put the mark of Cain on him and all of her campaign commercials voters ignored are going to come back to haunt him when he goes national. The damage Walker and his cronies have already done is bearing fruit already. Small school districts around the state are suffering from stunted budgets and a loss of state aid. Many districts have and are going to the voters in referendums to get more operating cash. And one small district, having just lost a referendum, is facing a harsh choice to slash teachers. Many teachers.
    The Grand Old Poopers have managed to make being Philistines respectable again. They’ve condemned Jesus Christ permanently to his cross with a six gun in one limp hand and the American flag in the other. They’ve banished the Sermon on the Mount from the Canon while its nation of mean white people are free to reside at will in a Petrified Forest of fossilized ideas, notions and pipe dreams worthy of opium dens. This is a nation dominated by voters who, like their counterparts in the Muslim world, can’t tolerate modernity.
    Critical thinking went out with 9/11, and don’t even get me started on the feckless Democrats! I hate this. I hate this. We are busy, busy, busy destroying what’s left of the American democracy. As for the economic justification for well funded public schools and teachers, it all rings true as Big Ben but don’t crack our famous Liberty Bell again trying to tell anybody about it.

    1. jrs

      Really the midwest has had pretty good school districts and they want to mess them up as badly as California’s. Bunch of morons.

  2. 6th-generation Texan

    My oldest daughter had to attend the public schools here in Austin. I managed to get her two younger sisters enrolled in a charter school that started up near our neighborhood, and I thank God every day that they got into that school. There were light years of difference in the quality of education between the public schools and the charter school, and the best part was that I never had to worry about the safety of my young daughters: there were no gangs, drugs, pedophile teachers, or any of the other problems that plague the public schools in the area.

    The school taxes here keep going up and up and up, while the worthless bureaucrats proliferate and the quality of education continues to go to hell (along with the high school graduation rates). I’m still angry that I have to pay to support such a rotten system while having to also pay for the charter school — give me vouchers and choice!!!

    Meanwhile, the teacher union shills in the legislature are already submitting bills for the next session to limit the number of charter schools in the state. Their fear of honest competition is clear proof of the failure of the current public school system; I say let it die! Charter schools work, as does home schooling. Free parents and children to support effective alternatives, rather than forcing them to be shackled to a bloated, decrepit system that wastes resources and young minds.

    1. Carla

      Apparently you don’t know what a charter school IS. Here’s the definition, 6th Generation:

      charter school
      : a school that is established by a charter, is run by teachers, parents, etc., and uses tax money but does not have to be run according to the rules of a city or state
      Full Definition of CHARTER SCHOOL
      : a tax-supported school established by a charter between a granting body (as a school board) and an outside group (as of teachers and parents) which operates the school without most local and state educational regulations so as to achieve set goals

      Just so you don’t have to look it up without help, here’s the link: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/charter%20school

      If the charter you sent your daughters to didn’t receive tax dollars, it wasn’t a charter school at all, but a PRIVATE SCHOOL. Yes, people have to pay tuition to attend PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

      For publicly funded schools to have no accountability to the public is obscene, un-American, and utterly stupid. And right there, you’ve got a good description of the entire charter school concept.

    2. Bridget

      Texas teachers don’t really have unions, but they do have a powerful organization and lobby looking out for their interests. And while their demands are not necessarily aligned with the interests of students, their activities are not nearly so egregious as the more firmly entrenched teachers unions in some states. Some of which can justifiably be classified with the rest of the profit seeking grifters.

    3. weinerdog43

      “Charter schools work, as does home schooling.”

      I’ve always wondered how a stay at home Mom/Dad can adequately “teach” high school level math, not to mention rhetoric, Latin, calculus, etc…. But I’m not complaining, we’ll have an endless supply of janitors from Texas cleaning up after the rest of the country.

      1. Banger

        Any reasonably intelligent person can teach those subjects (at the high school level) you mentioned by, in fact, learning the subjects themselves as they teach them. A deep knowledge of subjects (btw, I don’t believe in “subjects” I believe all knowledge is connected) is not required as I’ve experienced many times. What is required is an ability to connect with another human being and not flog them with information they may or may not digest. Every student has a rhythm and a natural way they learn–that’s what makes a good teacher–to be able to truly “see” a student. Actually, we have the techniques, if we need them, to evaluate the learning style and type of intelligent any student has but we refuse to use these techniques in favor of forcing all students in a particular grade to lean a bunch of arbitrary stuff that makes little sense to them–go ahead ask students some time about what they’re “learning.”

        1. weinerdog43

          I disagree. In order to teach a class coherently, one must have a sufficient level of understanding of the subject. Given that children have the nasty habit of continuous growth, the parent has the unenviable task of re-learning (or learning for the 1st time) the subject matter of at least a half dozen core subjects with perhaps only a summer to get ready for the new school year. Otherwise, it is a race to keep up on a 12 year treadmill for the average parent. I don’t disagree with your premise that teh social element is important; it is. But I would lay serious odds that the vast majority of American parents are utterly incapable of adequately teaching these classes.

          1. Jim in SC

            I agree with Banger. At my college, every professor, or tutor, as we called them, was supposed to teach every course in the curriculum eventually. I remember a Phd in biology struggling teaching Attic Greek, only a few chapters ahead of the students. Nevertheless, the lesson that ‘Don’t be afraid of any subject. You can find out whatever you don’t know,’ was well learned by everyone.

            A Phd teaching out of his or her subject area has many advantages over the average homeschooling parent, but there are so many aids for learning math and languages online that I think it is possible for a parent to primarily supervise and still come up with good outcomes for the student.

            1. Bart Fargo

              Are you referring to St. John’s College? That is an unusual case because of the Great Books curriculum, because at any other college where students have flexibility to steer their own curriculum, I cannot imagine they would accept being taught by professors who were only marginally competent in the subject matter they taught. A professor with little experience and no expertise in a given field would also be limited in the extracurricular research and networking opportunities he/she could provide students, which are important not only for career purposes but also hands-on practical learning.

            2. optimader

              “At my college, every professor, or tutor, as we called them, was supposed to teach every course in the curriculum eventually”

              Ridiculous The French Lit Professor teaching Organic Chemistry? Whats the point?

      2. jgordon

        I’m not sure where you went to high school at, but here in Florida I didn’t get to experience any of the lauded Latin, rhetoric or calculus courses that you mention in my public high school. Wth are you talking about anyway? My most pervasive memory from high school involves having contempt for my various English teachers (a subject that was being “taught” in fact) aside from one, who I liked and respected, but was removed halfway through a term because… he didn’t have enough tenure and someone else needed the job. By the way, I hated the lady who was teaching and I spent the entire rest of the year I was in her class being pissed off about that. Later in college while studying Professional and Technical Writing I’d often run into English education majors whose work I had to critique and edit I genuinely felt sorry for the kids they’d be teaching in the future.

        Anyway, F them. Kids would be better off roaming the streets rather than be stuck in the (rather ineffective lately) brainwashing/conditioning seminars known as “public education”. No really–more than anything public education in America is primarily designed to create good, unquestioning conformist employees and pass on the diseased consumer culture and delusional implicit beliefs of the oligarchs to new generations of vulnerable young. Imparting rhetoric skills and critical thinking are the absolute last goals American public educators have in training young minds. Seriously–where/when was the last time you had experience with the public education system?

        1. weinerdog43

          I’m sorry you had a poor experience. Mine was substantially different. Needless to say, we DID have calc, Latin, and many others. Perhaps it is something in age and location. I was fortunate enough to have went to high school in the 1970s in the Midwest. Again, I’m not surprised if you had a less than stellar experience in the south. Nevertheless, it was not always so. For example, I found this amusing…
          I think it’s like anything else; it’s what we put into something. Your point still fails.

        2. jrs

          No in California Latin wasn’t available only Spanish and French nor was rhetoric. There was calculus,so yea the wunderfull publik skools! Just because one is skeptical of charter schools doesn’t mean one is a fan of the existing system. It’s just an “it could get worse” argument.

      3. reslez

        I was home schooled by my stay at home, non-college graduate mom. You would never in a million years be able to afford the quality education she gave me and my sibling. I skipped the last two years of high school and went to college at 16 with a perfect SAT score (and this was before they normalized scores to spare the feelings of today’s bratty parents). Individualized, customized instruction by a motivated teacher will beat any child mill hands down.

        I assure you, you are more likely to encounter subjects like Latin and rhetoric in a home schooler’s curriculum than in today’s typical high school. (Calculus I agree is generally available.) And yet I routinely see ignorant remarks disparaging these dedicated parents and their children, in this case as future janitorial staff. Somehow I think most janitors (who do an honest day’s work, extremely important work at that, for far too little pay) disproportionately attended traditional schools, and if they were failed by them I doubt it was a home schooler’s fault. Maybe you’re forgetting how dumbed down most of the high school curriculum is — tailored, as it is, for the lowest common denominator.

        1. Procopius

          I’m certainly glad for you that your experience with home schooling was so successful. How is it that you know this is common? In most states there is no data available about the outcomes of home schooling, because home schooling is, in fact, not regulated. There may be rules in the law book about hours per day or a requirement for standardized tests at the end, but these rules are never or rarely enforced. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence that the vast majority of home schooled students are functionally illiterate and unable to do arithmetic at the fourth grade level. Not very good evidence, but it fits in with my prejudices and preconceptions. I would appreciate it if you could post a link to some data that shows I’m wrong.

          1. optimader

            My reflection on the HS experience is that it was as much about learning how to interact and communicate with peers and Authority as anything else. Not too sure how that works out for homeschooling. My best friends ~40 years later were kids in HS I would never have met if we weren’t thrown together and interacting every day.

          2. bh2

            It isn’t incumbent on others to demonstrate your beliefs are wrong when you cannot show any concrete, verifiable evidence that they are right simply because they fit your prejudices. Especially when it is relatively easy to obtain information contrary toi your prejudices. Try Google, e.g.:


            Home-schooled children must pass the same state-administered academic achievement requirements as must all other public and private school students. They must also compete against public and private school graduates for college placement. As the cited 2012 US News article mentions:

            Students coming from a home school graduated college at a higher rate than their peers­—66.7 percent compared to 57.5 percent—and earned higher grade point averages along the way, according to a study that compared students at one doctoral university from 2004-2009.

            Parents who choose home schooling, charter schools, or private schools are often motivated by a desire to keep their children away from the thuggish “culture” of public schools which often differs only in degree from the violent guards-and-prisoners “culture” of the prison system.

            It is difficult to imagine that academic achievement is enhanced for children thrust under control of sometimes barely literate “teachers” and “administrators” who are, themselves, a product of the public education system — and in many political jurisdictions cannot be rid from the public payroll at any reasonable cost. Whether relative academic results marginally differ for home schooling or other alternatives to public schools is therefore moot. If not a red herring.

            Like begets like. Most parents get that. Many will therefore take available measures to assure their children are not invited down the path of “socialization” offered by public schools. The pity is that conscientious parents in inner cities often have the fewest practical alternatives.

        2. neo-realist

          Your mother sounds like a wonderful exception to the rule. But most mothers (parents period) have to work and are too tired to deal with the responsibility of home schooling.

      4. jrs

        Well if you think all public schools teach that – well your are perhaps too privileged to know how wrong you are?

    4. jrs

      Your falling into fallacy of composition I think. Just because charter schools work for some doesn’t mean they would work if everything was charter schools. I don’t of course blame any parent for getting the best education they can for their kids though.

    1. scott

      If it makes you feel better, I have no kids but have paid $90,000 to the Dallas ISD in the last 18 years.

      1. Torsten

        My point exactly! And you can blame it on the automoobile: When I was ten, I used to vote 18 times: my parents, my grandparents, and all my aunts and uncles voted in my interests and gladly paid local taxes to support my education. Now I live in Florida with two grandchildren in DC and nieces and nephews scattered across the country from Oregon to Massachusetts and Wisconsin to Texas. I have no young family members in Florida. Why should I pay taxes to support the Florida schools?

        Couple this way of thinking with the fact that most students didn’t like their teachers (only “A” students liked school) and you’ve got a perfect recipe for the crapification of the electorate.

        1. scott

          Yes, out of the $7K I now have to pay because an investor paid $100K over market value for the house next door. A thousand of that goes to Parkland Hospital to pay for illegal immigrant healthcare. And the house is valued at $280K. Not a mansion by any means.

          1. Flea Dope

            You pay property taxes for the same reason I do – you benefit from the general increase in home values in the area (driven by the fact that your neighbor paid “$100,000 over market value” for his home.

            Also, too, who do you think is going to take care of you when you are old and sick? a) third-world educated Doctors and Nurses who came to this country for a paycheck, or b) the neighborhood kid that you helped to get an education with your tax dollars?

            1. optimader

              “You pay property taxes for the same reason I do – you benefit from the general increase in home values in the area”

              That’s not why I pay property taxes.

      2. art guerrilla

        @ scott-
        1. and how many terrorists personally attacked you the previous 18 years ? and yet – apparently- you swallowed that camel without a hiccup… (or do you think *that* tiger-rock weally works ?)
        2. presumably you know as a matter of theory, but hate it in practice: WE are all SUPPOSED to be manning the oars of this galley slave ship TOGETHER, and thus while you PERSONALLY don’t see the value of a coxswain, it makes the crew row more efficiently and WE -as a whole- have determined it is an ‘expense’ of supporting a ‘useless’ coxswain for the overall benefit of society…
        i guess you want only toll roads to everywhere, ’cause you hate paying for all those other roads you ‘never use’ ? ? ? (of course, people who visit you, or firefighters, or deliver stuff, or need to use those ‘useless’ roads to perform service calls to your house, might think otherwise…)
        3. to the point: charter schools are MOSTLY a scam on numerous levels: they DO NOT ‘compete’ on the same level playing field, as other posters have mentioned:they DO NOT have the same onerous level of testing that burden public schools, they cherry-pick students, they dump anyone and everyone who is a ‘non-performer’ (one guess where they end up, and who HAS NO CHOICE in accepting EVERYONE, unlike privileged charter (and private) schools)… coincidentally enough, they take on a LOT of students they get credit/money for at the beginning of the school year, but then find they have to be dumped on the public schools RIGHT BEFORE the testing regime kicks in… huh, that’s odd…
        4. there are PLENTY of unremarked upon cheating scandals (at BOTH charter and public schools: WTF did they expect to happen ?), whcih are NOT investigated or publicized in any significant fashion… (see michelle rhee’s bullshit testing gains in washingtoon, for example: IT IS ALL LIES, CHEATING AND BULLSHIT…)
        5. there are certain tax incentives that make it EXTREMELY profitable for people to BUILD NEW CHARTER (not ‘regular’ public schools, though: another unfair advantage) schools, NOT re-purpose existing buildings which we have ZILLIONS of since the banksters crashed the economy… THEN, after they have skimmed off the gravy of that ‘incentive’, they move on, leaving the charter schools in the lurch for the continuing operating expenses, and likely closing within a few years…
        6. there is ONE and ONLY ONE metric which reliably coincides with future school performance: the income of the kid’s parents… ALL THE REST IS HORSESHIT…

        1. Procopius

          I think it’s worth remarking on that the proprietors or “charter” schools also rake in a lot of extra money being donated by philanthropic billionaires during this period of selling the snake oil. That gives them more to steal (oops! I mean compensate themselves with for providing such a superior product). I wonder how long the Walton Family Foundation is going to contribute to charter schools that serve only to destroy teachers’ unions after the last union has been dissolved.

  3. bmeisen

    Very disheartening. The consequences of privatized educational systems are well known: class rigidity, pernicious ignorance and authoritarianism. Giving tax breaks for private tuition is catastrophic. The ideal of education as a public good, as an essential element of functioning democracy must be nurtured, not demolished. Successful models of public education as in Switzerland, Germany, Finnland, Netherlands are based on diversified paths to professional qualification, on a shared effort to make a level of qualification possible for everyone, and a provision of financial security and a degree of social prestige to all qualified workers. Members of socially critical professions enjoy corresponding degrees of prestige and prospects for higher incomes. However, their trajectories to wealth are constrained by policies to defend the public good. Individual identities develop as members of professional groups, which in turn function collectively in the political process. The contrast with the USA is distinct: a system devolving to winner-take-all conditions offers those without vialble elite pretensions a choice between prison and the military. In a functioning system of public education they would be give a choice between trade or specialist qualifications. The individualism of American Dream ideology has become the highway to hell.

  4. ambrit

    The Charter School ‘movement’ bears all the hallmarks of a revolutionary ‘movement’; more accurately, a ‘counter revolution.’
    When a group ‘takes over’ a state the first institutions to be ‘taken over’ are the military, the media, and the schools. We have seen valiant attempts at the cooption of the first two by the Reactionary Right. Now it is the turn of the third leg of the infernal triad.
    I read that when Bismarck was creating the early Imperial German Welfare State, he and his advisors chose to leaven the lower pay available for public school teachers by encouraging the raising of the social status of their educators. (My German is almost non existent, but I do remember reading that the German languages’ penchant for formal titles was germane.) Even today, it appears from this vantage point that German educators receive a respect and social standing American teachers can barely imagine.
    In the spirit of full disclosure; we homeschooled all three of our children. (Our daughters both use public schools. One of them, to our certain knowledge, checked very carefully into the local school systems when choosing which house to purchase from the list of homes available at the time.)
    “Like sands through an hourglass…”

  5. David Lentini

    I’m always happy to see NC start picking up on what’s happening in education. Charter schools, which I’ve been fighting against here in Maine, are only the tip of the ice berg.

    The central problem with charters is the lack of accountability and corruption. The horror stories coming from the states are legion. Read Diane Ravitch’s and Mercedes Scheider’s ‘blogs (www.dianeravitch.net and deutsch29.wordpress.com) to get a good lesson on what’s happening. As usual, the public and legislatures were sold on the “just let the market handle it, and it’ll all work our” argument to deal with the many problems and disappointments of modern public education. And having been a parent, a school board member, and a participant in the effort to save public education, I can understand why there has been so much interest in this idea. But simply allowing anyone to take tax money without clear oversight and with special exemptions from the most onerous and expensive responsibilities of the public schools is simply insane. Fortunately, here in Maine there has been enough push back on the initial legislation to slow the process down and make it better than states like WI, OH, and FL (to name a few).

    But there is more here. Much of the push for charters came with Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s version of No Child Left Behind and a program that we now know from an extensive interview in the Washington Post was the product of a collusion between the Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. Once again, Obama and the billionaires are hard at work setting the profit profiteering motive lose on the public. And given the corporate ownership of the press and the general lack of critical thinking when it comes to Chicago-school economics, don’t expect this disaster to end soon or well.

  6. Northeaster

    Charter schools in Massachusetts are a mix of failure and success. Certain schools continue to beat public schools by way of our state testing, while others finish at the bottom, and a bunch in between. Because of school choice here, they are always full and have waiting lists/lottery’s. So let’s not lump all of them into looting and failure, it’s not the case, at least not here in Massachusetts – a state where we tend to be education snobs to begin with.

    1. David Lentini

      The better studies on charter performance nationwide show that on average charters perform a bit worse than public schools. Many high-performing charters have been found to engage in driving out poor performing students, students with disabilties, English language learners, and other who tend to pull the average down, while aggressively focusing their efforts on test performance.

      So while your point about luming all charters is well taken, it’s very important to understand where a particular chater’s success comes from. And as a matter of public policy, if the charters are performing at the top, bottom, and middle, as you say, then why is it a wise use of public money to create what is a for-profit second school system?

      1. McMike

        This ability to cherry pick will remain subsidized. Why should the charters compete on a level playing field?

        It will operate like the destruction of the Postal Service – the public schools will be forced to compete against charters while having one hand tied behind their back.

      2. bmeisen

        well-said. it isn’t wise. The charter movement is powerful evidence that public education in many areas of the country has failed. electorates are so dissatisfied that they are willing to fund a for-profit second school system that weakens the original system and appears destined to replace it. As you note resulting systems will lack public accountability and be more vulnerable to corruption than the previous public system.

        why are electorates dissatisfied? external factors are relevant. it has been attacked by ideologues who perceive bias, e.g. creationists who exploit democratic processes to leverage school boards, as well as by oligarchs who are threatened by functioning democracy.

        2 internal factors dominate: funding models and educational models. funding schools from property taxes is disasterous. the costs of public education must be distributed across all incomes and geographies to achieve sustainable results.

        American educational models have effectively de-skilled the labor force. de-skilling begins where education ends. the transition from high school to career is widely preceived in the US as a personal decision. this conforms to the individualism of American Dream ideology. the responsibility and interests of society in this transition are evident and in the US evidently ignored. if a parent does not guide a child into a functional career then the child is left to decide for itself what it should do. given this responsibility many children decide to hang out and listen to music. in other words the state does not actively influence this transition – until the child breaks the law and is given the choice of prison or the military. the state must take more of a constructive and at the same time disinterested role in the career choices of individuals. it can do that by creating and funding a wider variety of educational institutions that address diverse skills profiles and promoting the resulting qualifications.

        1. David Lentini

          I’m not sure what you mean by “failed”. We ask the public schools to do a lot—far more than they had to when I was in public schools in the ’70s. The teachers and principals I’ve spoken with all point out that the schools now have to take nearly every child with every sort of disability (phyiscal, emotional, and intellectual). Thirty years ago, that wasn’t true. You can make a strong argument that public schools are strained by the classic “80:20” problem, where a huge cost and burden is required to get the last quartile or quintile into the system.

          Also, our culture has changed towards education. Children have far more distractions, and parents are far more stressed and complacent, than they were when I was a kid. I’ve seen this in the attitudes of the kids my wife teachers.

          So, all this talk of “failure” is often based on faulty comparisons, especially when we factor in the phoney-baloney international tests like the PISA, which is heavily gamed by Asian countries and pits the US against countries with far more social support and far less social and economic heterogeneity than we have.

          It’s easy to present this as “failure”, when the real problem is that the US can’t really decide what it wants from our schools.

          1. Banger

            Indeed, the schools “fail” because we don’t know what we want. But they fail mainly because they aim very low and they don’t, David, use what we know about human development in the school setting. As I have said repeatedly–we still prepare students to live in a late 19th century world. We know exponentially more about what human beings need to prosper and learn but we don’t fucking use the information at our hands because the education profession like the medical profession exists for its own needs not society’s needs.

            1. David Lentini

              Hi, Banger!

              I’ve spent several years reading about and participating in educational policy, at least at the local level. And I’m the spouse of a teacher. From that experience (and I don’t intend to claim in any way some sort of expertise, but only exposure), I haven’t see any signs of a “breakthrough” that will fix our problems. Most educaitonal and “brain” research is either bullshit or too early to determine if it is bullshit. In fact, we really don’t know all that much about how we learn. (Just read the piece on AI from The Edge in yesterday’s Links.)

              Frankly, I think we do too much, in the sense that we now use school for many purposes that are far from intellectual devleopment. We ask way too much of our teachers and administrators, and give them too little in terms of resources. But I think we really shouldn’t be asking these sorts of tasks in the first place. because they intrude too much on family. We’d be better off supporting families and let the schools get back to focusing on what teachers do best.

              As for 19th Century schooling, I’m not sure what that means. The best private schools are far more traditional than many public schools. The intellectual skills that were critical in the 19th Century are still critical today—reading, writing, speaking, math, etc. What’s so different today? I’ve been a patent attorney for 25 years, and I don’t see anything that compellingly different that requires different skills than when I was a kid.

              Sorry to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but a whole edu-huckster industry has grown around the claims of “breakthrough” methods and technologies and 21st Century skills and agendas. I just haven’t seen them. I think we’d all be better off if we went back to the Report of the Committee of Ten from 1892 and rebuilt from there!

          2. Captain Spaulding

            Frustrating to read any/ all of these articles. Tons to say about it but to cut to chase..the 80:20 problem that Mr Lentini referred to is the biggest issue that people do not truly comprehend. What the ever expanding bureaucracy jams down to the teachers is down right criminal. I have family who are teachers. My kids went to public schools. We were lucky enough for them to track into the specialized selective HS in NYC so I know what good public looks like. It is delusional to claim that anyone really cares about the average student in the public system. No decisions are made on their behalf. Very sad.

  7. tongorad

    Education reform is so central to the neoliberal story. The story that tells us that we have unemployment and crappy, insecure jobs because we’re not skilled/smart/flexible enough. That we’ve been weighed in the balance by the Almighty (Markets) and found wanting.
    Well, we could have every kid in America scoring 100% on the standardized tests, and the jobs ain’t coming back.
    Nothing can or will change until workers stop blaming themselves.

  8. Banger

    I like the idea of charter schools as a counter to the public education system but, because our society is now in full devolution so you’re likely to see corruption everywhere–whether it’s the education system, the military, the medical system and so on.

    The tragedy is that “we” (people who use reason and science to evaluate public policy which are a shrinking minority) know what works. Certainly increased pay makes a difference but Americans prefer to spend their public money on administration rather than teachers. But, and here’s the rub, we know quite a lot about how people learn and how children develop and that knowledge is simply not being used in public schools. As someone who keep ups with research on cognitive issues I have been amazed at how stuck U.S. public schools are stuck in 19th century concepts. We could, today, design a program of real education that scuttles all the traditional subjects based on utterly obsolete ideas and rather uses techniques we know work tailored to each students—flash! children don’t develop cognitively at the same rate and the same time therefore putting children in “grades” is absurd and counter-productive. I can’t go on (and I can in detail) but will stop here and say that, if we look at the educational system rationally, it makes no sense if we are interested in the idea of education in the sense of drawing out our kids to be the best they can be–and clearly the schools have very little interest in that–they’re more interested in cramming useless information in their heads which the smartest of them soon discard. As Carlin said when referring to the bosses:

    They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits….

    This is the real goal and function of our public education system and I’ve seen it up close both from having multiple children and from in-depth discussions with educators, academics, other parents. Do teachers care about their students? Yes, they do often too much–but they are consistently stymied by the administration (that cancer destroying all our lives) and a lack of theoretical understanding of the science of human development.

    The Charter School movement is destructive and, in part, is intended to be destructive which is why Wisconsin voters voted for politicians that will, in one way or another, dismantle the public education system–and it is a system that should be dismantled because it sucks. Not that it is far worse than it was but because it does not meet our needs as a society. Take a look around you at a citizenry that is running away from reason, from knowledge into the world of mythology and fantasy (not that these things are wrong) who are unable to make intelligent decisions who are led by the nose by the now almost 100% propaganda that comes out of the MSM–this is what the educational system has produced and it simply does not meet the needs of society. We have to make some hard choices and our citizens are not equipped to make them and are not equipped to digest the stunning amount of information out there (hint-a big part of education should be about how to digest rather than be overwhelmed by information).

    As for the underclass–can it actually get any worse? You want to maintain an educational system that currently perpetuates the underclass almost more effectively than any other institution? I don’t get that. We know what happens to kids who live in poverty, who deal with violence, who don’t get hugs and praise and are typed by people around them–we also know how to heal them. For them education as we understand has to be radically different–it must emphasize healing, better diet, reduction in the misery of their parents which our society is bent on always making more miserable. You feel bad? Our goal in society is to make you feel worse! People in pain take drugs and we just try to make it not only difficult for them to get those drugs but we do everything in our power to make them feel worse—to put them in prisons that are factories of dysfunction where healing is forbidden and only hardness, cruelty and violence are encouraged (there are rare exceptions). All our social institutions need to be destroyed and undermined starting with education.

    1. McMike

      I like the idea of charter schools as a counter to the public education system but, because our society is now in full devolution so you’re likely to see corruption everywhere–whether it’s the education system, the military, the medical system and so on.

      You hit it right there – this reform is not at all interested in reform, it is all about raiding and pillaging, wealth transfer, cronyism, and ideological scorched earth pogroms by the right. Regardless of your views on public education, what is happen now will not make it any better.

    2. Gaianne

      Well said, Banger!

      This whole subject makes me kind of sad. We all have our own experiences in the school system which color our thoughts. My own were generally positive, even life-saving, but they belong to a time that is gone forever.

      We are in another world.

      Much of what is said here has the flavor of a rearguard action–which is not per se a bad thing–there is much which in theory could be done to slow decline. But the problem goes back to my high school sociology unit where we looked at how education remains near the bottom of American priorities. (Did I mention my highschool was very, very good? I learned that later, after I had graduated.) That was the fact then and it is the fact now. So in practice very little will be done.

      As our economy continues its terminal decline, education is going away. That is the basic trend that has to be taken into account. What can be done in its stead? I don’t know, and that is why I am supportive of people who are serious about homeschooling and for the few (one or two in my area) charter schools that are actually good. Despite anything dedicated teachers can do (and they will try!) as administration balloons public schools are fated to deteriorate even further, and charter schools are of course mainly intended to facilitate a final round of looting.

      We should think about a society without schools. Not necessarily because that is the future–though in a general sense, it is–but because it might focus are thoughts on what skills and knowledge are worth saving and how they might be saved.

      These are questions that cannot be considered within the education system itself, whether public or privatized.


  9. Carolinian

    Interestingly where I live the potential competition from private and charter has led to a different effect: the upgrading of our public schools with irrelevant (in my opinion) bells and whistles such as an expensive new sports complex at the main high school and the issuing of Ipads and Macbooks to middle and high school students. The school board spent $400,000 just getting a local design company to design a logo and other visual enhancements for the school district. So it’s not just charter schools where private businesses have their hands in the taxpayers pocket. I suspect that for those districts that can afford it the “education as luxury goods” mentality is now affecting public schools as well.

    Of course as we’ve seen from Obamacare the wet dream of private business is to enlist the compulsory taxing power of the government as a means of providing them with a guaranteed revenue stream. Washingtonsblog had a piece not long ago talking about how, with other segments of the economy now moribund, investors are increasingly concentrating on medicine and education as government supported profit centers. I can’t seem to find the link for that post, but here’s another good piece from that site on the corporatization of education.


    1. McMike

      Government-mandated creation of compulsory captive private monopoly markets with guaranteed revenue streams and subsidized profits.

      What could go wrong with that?

    2. Jim in SC


      Are you anywhere near Rock Hill, SC? Rock Hill floated a $10 million bond issue to buy i-pads for all 4th through 8th grade students. The program has not exactly been a roaring success, according to the feedback I’ve gotten from residents, but the kids at least have another venue on which to play games.

  10. McMike

    Great, let’s turn our education system over to a cabal fronted by the guy who brought us the Microsoft operating system, operated by members of the Bush family, maintained by Halliburton, and backed by Goldman Sachs. What could go wrong with that?

    Let’s follow the same path of union-busting and race-to-the-bottom for manufacturing wages & benefits that ended up with our towns dying, our jobs evaporated, and our nation in debt.

    Name one thing that privatization has improved.

    Now name ten that were crapified – turned out to be more expensive, with worse service, and eventually needed to be rescued by the taxpayers after sucking the treasury dry, embroiling everyone involved in bribery and kickback scandals, and running the service into the ground

    1. ambrit

      Spot on. You have just given the basic definition of a Banana Republic.
      We used to joke that Louisiana was the “Northernmost Banana Republic.” Now we have serious competition nationwide.

  11. proximity1

    For some further reading on education in America, see also the current New York Review of Books


    by Jonathan Zimmerman

    “Why Is American Teaching So Bad?”


    Featured books reviewed:

    The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein

    Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) by Elizabeth Green

    Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher by Garret Keizer

    1. Banger

      Good article in NYRB, much too short for the subject but there are things to think about. However, the article and the intellectual class in the U.S. in general is not rethinking education. For example, why discrete subjects and discrete grades since we know students develop differently and that, in fact, subjects are connected and not as discrete as we once believed.

      What we need is to adapt the more recent findings in the sciences to education. The problem we have is that we are still teaching children as if they were going to live in the 19th century and we do this, ultimately, through the use of coercion. The great failure of our society after the sixties is that we saw the universe open up to possibilities, got scared, and retreated into denial, fantasy, and rigidity. Meanwhile the world has passed by not just our el-sec world but the world of the University as well which has turned into a training ground for professional courtiers not fully realized and empowered human beings.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        My kids’ very good and modestly integrated (class and ethnicity) elementary school had combined classes (grades 1-2 together, same teacher for two years, half the class turns over each year) and every year the new parents mostly ranted about this stupid “fad”. My kids’ very good and somewhat less integrated middle school has moved away from letter grades to something called competencies. Again, the parents are pissed about the lack of letter grades. It may have been a system designed a century ago to train factory workers but the meritocracy understands it, understands how it works (and how to game the system), and will not willingly abandon it.

      2. proximity1

        “For example, why discrete subjects and discrete grades since we know students develop differently and that, in fact, subjects are connected and not as discrete as we once believed.”

        Of course they’re connected–life itself connects them. But I grant your point that most education is done as if there is little real connection and, yes, that is a shame. On the other hand, it could only be differently done for many students if there were many teachers with something at least approximating the breadth and depth of a Bertrand Russell–who dabbled directly in highly unusual schooling techniques (Beacon Hill School 1927-32; continued by Dora Russell until 1943). But, as the articles cited above indicate, there aren’t many such teachers available now nor is contemporary education trying to deliberately help create and promote them. That leaves as the only practical alternatives people who know and try to teach one or a very few subjects well or people who know no single subject well and attempt despite that to teach others about it.

        In such circumstances, one might adopt the dictum, “First, do no (or the least possible) harm” and apply it to educating children from post-nursery school ages up to which time, if they’re healthy, their natural curiosity is all they need and the teacher should try mainly to help them exercise it while helping ensure that in doing so, they don’t injure themselves or others.

        Then, if we can’t supply able teachers, we might try simply to encourage students to remain as close as possible to their former child-like curiosity, encouraging them to continue to ask themselves and others questions and then seek ways to find answers in a combination of solitary and collaborative efforts and not to be too easily satisfied at the first indication of seems at first glance to be success. Topics should be fluid and, as they naturally are, interrelated, and failure should be siezed as learning’s primary resource. Rather than being taught to fear failure, rather than hoping to hide it from others as a source of shame, it should be taken as part of learning’s normal and natural course. At first, toddlers’ efforts are prolonged series of failures about which they feel not the slightest shame. An infant dropping his feeding bowl from the highchair seat is trying out one of the earliest and most common practical experiments in the effects of gravity and throwing the bowl is an experiment in ballistics.

        In addition to learning what others regard (and have long regarded) as great literature, students should be encouraged to develop their own inner sense of what makes some artwork especially fine, what makes something great–in themselves and in others—not least so that they’re not entirely dependant upon others to point this out to them. To return to the usefulness of failure, they should develop a distaste for and rejection of only needless, foolish and uselessly repetitive failure from which nothing is ever learned. In that case, they’d arrive prepared as adults to denounce and reject the sort of disgusting results we’ve seen in corrupt and incompetent government for generation after generation.

    2. Carolinian

      That is a good article. In our zeal to defend public education from the rightwing onslaught we should always bear in mind that public education is far from perfect. Too often public school teachers do seem like baby sitting bureaucrats who don’t have a very deep knowledge of their subjects….at least in my experience.

  12. blucollarAl

    Let’s not forget that the charter school movement’s emphasis on standardized testing success and development of job skills. Whether or not they are as successful as their claims (many have called this into question, Diane Ravitch being one of the more articulate), it almost misses the greater point: the dumbing down of education into a form of training under the exigencies of the capitalist marketplace. When the ideology of the Market becomes the organizing principle of the entire social-political dimension of human life, then the skills demanded by Market efficiencies and standards of “achievement” will prevail. The liberal arts (literature, poetry, philosophy, critical history, the fine arts) and with them the habits of critical thinking and reasoning, and perhaps most importantly, the development of the “expansive imagination” (Kant) that enables someone to look at an issue from several different points of view (that is, the habits of thinking required for free democratic citizenry), are soon replaced (not simply supplemented) by strictly defined training in those “practical” skills required by corporate employers, including the habits of obsequiousness and deference to authority.

    Of course the schools of the financial elite, the private academies and rich suburban enclave public schools, will continue as before, safely outside the reach of the corporate charter school engineers. And the hierarchical stratification of society will only be further strengthened.

    1. Banger

      But Mr. BlueAl, this is true of most public schools as well and they most certainly do not and cannot teach in any way other than to create robotic idiots–that’s what everyone wants including parents. Charter schools at least offer up a possibility that one in ten or one in a hundred may actually use our knowledge of human development in the field of education rather than systematically ignoring the science of the past century.

  13. McMike

    The good news is that now that most everything has been crapified except the last few remnants of “liberal” communitarian society/economy and a few shreds of the New Deal. It will be easy to watch as they are torn down (to be replaced by something more corrupt, less effective, and more expensive) and the taxpayers will be left holding the bag of garbage no one wanted.

    – Water/sewer systems.
    – Postal service
    – Social Security
    – Medicare
    – Roads
    – Transit
    – Education
    – Civil service

    The only mystery remaining is this: once the corporate right has destroyed everything with a whiff of liberal to it, once the corporate right has taken over and crapified every thing they wanted to take over, who are they going to blame for our woes?

    I suppose there will be a large(r), miserable(r) underclass to blame. That will do nicely I suppose.

    But what happens when 99% of us are (literally) outside the wall?

  14. Stephanie

    Writing from St. Paul, MN, here, where you can’t spit without hitting a charter school. Interesting reading the comments here, especially those emphasizing the role of charter schools on standardized testing. My experience with two step children in charter schools was that charter schools in MN were mostly about experimentation with alternate teaching methods and the promotion of values based learning. Anecdotal experience ahead: The charter elementary the steps attended, sponsored by Concordia University, was focused on what we used to call “open school”, which in their case meant mixing classes by aptitude rather than strict grade level. There was also, as I recall, enthusiasm for portfolio based assessment, which I believe has since fallen by the wayside (this was a good 15 years ago). Most of the parents involved in the school board seemed concerned about wanting to create a small, “local” school environment, although the building itself was located in an industrial park and I believe a number of the students were bused in from the Frogtown and Rice Street neighborhoods My main issue with this school was the high amount of teacher turnover. The boys were enrolled in the first few years of it’s charter and they seemed to pull staff mostly from New graduates who either went to grad school or got hired into the public system after a few years.

    Older step son elected to attend the neighborhood public middle school, because he thought it would be more academically rigorous (Ramsey Middle, located on Grand across from Macalaster College; we could afford the neighborhood because we rented). Younger step son preferred to move to another charter, Community of Peace Academy, on the East Side. CPA is sponsored by the University of St Thomas and my impression was that it seemed to have drawn a lot of it’s staff from the local parish school after that was shut down by the archdiocese. They did not seem to have the turnover problem CCLA did. It’s emphasis was on promoting non violence and school involvement within the community; teachers of the elementary school students were required to make at least two in home visits per school year for each student. Huge draw from the south east Asian community on the East Side; again, my impression was the vast majority of students were second generation immigrants. However, it was still quite small, which was why the younger step son preferred it; most St. Paul public schools seem to go in for economy-of-scale style buildings, especially at the high school level. Neither school had a lottery (the only charter in St. Paul that I am aware of that does is Twin Cities Academy, although there may be others I don’t know of), and in fact charters in general seem to advertise pretty heavily for students.

    I don’t know how my experience compares to others in MN, and certainly with the change in the law to emphasize student outcomes over experimentation, charters may take a very different turn in the state.

    1. Banger

      This is the virtue of charter schools–trying and experimenting with new approaches to education. Much depends on the nature of the communities involved. If we stick to normal education we are going to get crap–with charter schools we may get worse crap but at least there will be the possibility of gems where in normal public education quality is structurally impossible.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        I’m no fan of traditional public schooling, starting with the fact that the vast majority of kids must be sleep deprived and are ill-fed most of the time. But I think you underestimate the resilience and ingenuity of lots of kids, who thrive in part by learning at an early age how to navigate idiotic bureaucracy. Teachers, too, for that matter. At my kids’ high school, where probably a quarter of the kids are very poorly served and maybe half just go through the motions, I bet there are 50-100 gems in each class.

    2. McMike

      There are a few flavors of charter schools

      – Pure fly by night corporate rent extraction plays
      – Places to experiment with alternative education approaches
      – Places to provide service in under-served areas (i.e. rural, urban)
      – Ways for upper middle class parents to get private eduction segregation at public education prices (subsidized “white flight”)
      – Trojan horses to destroy public education through distraction, diversion, disruption, etc.

      The second to last one plays right into the hands of the privatization model – siphoning off the educated parents with resources and wherewithal to advocate for themselves – the people who do PTA, go to parent teacher conferences with an agenda, hold bake sales, volunteer to help in class, chaperone, and attend school board meetings. Leaving public education to fend for itself without the support of this important group- as the hyenas circle.

      Divide and conquer. Privatization 101.

      Don’t be fooled, they’ll come back to crapify these charters later.

      1. Banger

        So the entire argument against charters consists of leaving public schools with the underclass. That’s a weak argument. The fact is public schools are structured in such a way that they cannot deliver good quality of education to the underclass and have not delivered it so why stick with something that is so bad? It may get better by getting worse so people will finally think about what education really means and what is required to make it happen. Right now they don’t care about that. Most public schools are set up to not care about education–just paperwork.

        1. McMike

          You seem to be arguing that manufacturing unions should be abolished because they got infiltrated by the mob. (Not to mention the likely replacement is neo-liberal neo-fuedalism).

          The problems with education rest largely in three place:
          – Deliberate destruction by the right/corporatists
          – Sinking under the weight of managerial technocrats administration
          – Schizophrenia and magical thinking of the taxpayers and communities
          – Stagnating revenues coupled with increasing imposed costs, unfunded mandates, imposed complexity, and higher demands.
          – Teachers unions dying pretty much exactly as the other unions died
          – The collapse of parenting

          Teachers don’t even appear on the list.

          Yes, education is broken, significantly on purpose, but replacing it with corporate charters and neoliberal dogma is NOT the answer.

          1. Banger

            Knowing what I write about here how could you think I favor the corporate takeover of education? This is the opportunity to seize the day not let the corporate elite turn us into robots. We need to create alternatives to corporate feudalism and sticking up for failed institutions whether it is the federal bureaucracies or the public schools is a losing project. People I know whether on the right or left have lost faith in our public institutions so we had better create some alternatives. The Charter School movement at least offers a chance for things to change whereas staying with what we have is just no good–just look at the quality of the citizenry! We have to do better.

            1. McMike

              That’s not what I am saying.

              I am saying your argument veers closely to the cliff of baby/bathwater. As well as frying pan/fire.

            2. weinerdog43

              You’re doing a pretty piss poor job of convincing otherwise. If I’m reading you correctly, your ultimate argument boils down to let’s let the rich go to the private schools (charter), eliminate public schools and if you can’t afford the charter, oh well, you can always drop out of the public school.

              Seriously, no one here thinks that public schools can’t stand a lot of improvement. But this whiff, (dare I say stench) of elitism is pretty damn neoliberal.

              1. jrs

                The main thing that’s wrong is society is in no position to create alternatives at this point. Ok, a few fairly well off enclaves might be, I don’t have to deny that. But I don’t see it overall breaking for the good.

                Where are the parents that even have the time after surviving to be invested in their school systems? But what they DON’T have the time to do the exploiters, those running scams for cash will (and they get paid for it). Good deeds are often done for almost nothing, but evil always has boatloads of cash. And meanwhile survival drains most time and money. It’s a serious disadvantage.

            3. Jim

              Banger stated:

              “We need to create alternatives to corporate feudalism and sticking up for failed institutions whether it is the federal bureaucracies or the public schools is a losing project.”

              Couldn’t agree more Banger.

          2. jrs

            You don’t mention that education is broken because society (very much including the economy) is broken but ultimately it is. The collapse of society and the economy NOT JUST parenting.

            Education has failed, has failed to produce people who could stop this collapse, but it’s a viscous circle, society collapses more, education collapses more, society collapses more etc.

        2. TedWa

          And having charter schools steal classrooms and taxpayer funds will help public schools deliver a quality education how? If charter schools had to be as large as public schools they’d probably be worse and more corrupt. I believe that’s the goal.

          1. Banger

            No there is no goal–and that’s the problem. We have a lot of forces at work in education and few of them, particularly in the public school system, are all that interested in the public. Charter schools offer an opportunity for change for actually using techniques that work–most probably will not do that but some will and that could utterly change the way we all approach education. Again, no one has denied that the fundamental basis for education today bears almost no relationship to what we know about human development because the way we structure our schools from grades to schedules to testing is irrational and arbitrary and anti-human. Whether they are charters, private schools or public schools their educational philosophies are a century out of date.

            1. Augustine

              Banger: I’ve enjoyed reading your comments on NC, but I think you’re really off the mark where education is concerned. The contemporary education-reform movement is financed almost entirely by the worst of the worst on Wall Street (e.g., Lloyd Blankfein [whose wife is on the board of Eve Moskowitz’s Success charter school chain in NYC], the execrable Paul Singer, and Stanley Druckenmiller [a big backer of Geoffrey Canada], their allies in Silicon Valley and the foundation world (Waltons, Gates, Heritage, Brookings), and lots of politicians who dance to their tune (Christie, Cuomo, the Bushes, Obama, et al.). Are we really supposed to believe that handing public education over to this pack of crooks and liars, via vouchers and charter schools, is going to improve academic achievement? Do you know that Moskowitz pulls in nearly $500,000 annually, as did Canada? Are you aware of the mounting number of scandals involving massive corruption among charter schools? What a sick, cynical joke on the American people this is.

              Can public education be improved? Of course it can. But much of the propaganda about “failed” schools is exactly that: propaganda that has little basis in reality and is being promulgated to justify moving hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the coffers of Wall Street entities, political donors, and others parasites. Beyond the looting, privatizing public education is tantamount to saying that the citizenry is incapable of running its own institutions. You may want to investigate this issue further before coming to hard-and-fast conclusions.

            2. jrs

              But if most don’t’ do it, and all those children’s educations are even worse than under the current public schools, what happens to those people? And is it worth those people getting a much worse education to have in your argument a smaller percentage of people that get a much better education out of it?

  15. Blunt

    it almost misses the greater point: the dumbing down of education into a form of training under the exigencies of the capitalist marketplace. When the ideology of the Market becomes the organizing principle of the entire social-political dimension of human life, then the skills demanded by Market efficiencies and standards of “achievement” will prevail. The liberal arts (literature, poetry, philosophy, critical history, the fine arts) and with them the habits of critical thinking and reasoning, and perhaps most importantly, the development of the “expansive imagination” (Kant) that enables someone to look at an issue from several different points of view (that is, the habits of thinking required for free democratic citizenry), are soon replaced (not simply supplemented) by strictly defined training in those “practical” skills required by corporate employers, including the habits of obsequiousness and deference to authority.

    This. It’s what you will not find in the main supplies of media information, nor will it be factored into the machinations of the Gates Foundation. For it IS the point of “educational reform.” Alter the form of teaching so that some never attend schools at all, but can be sluiced into crap jobs by the time they are five or six. The rest train to be silent, hard-working automatons and the wealthiest train to be aesthetes and “hard-headed realists and sociopaths.

    The problems are going to come when the drugs wear off, the imperial sway has swooned and the hungry mobs don’t care that the police are armed with tanks and machine guns.

  16. ep3

    But this is not only about breaking the union, and wealth extraction. This is about another -ification; stratification. This is about separating the classless from the classy. Rich ppl don’t want their kids going to the same school as a bunch of trailer park ppl. Charter schools are just a mask for the purpose of obtaining public funding for private schools. Then these private schools can compete with each other for their funding sources (wealthy parents paying for their children’s education). Yet they won’t compete through providing a better product. They will compete by letting Tom Cruise’s children goto the school for free while increasing tuition on other students so that the parents can brag that their children goto the same school as Tom Cruise’s. They will only compete on the money recruiting; they won’t compete by providing a better education. They will compete by providing parents with connections to the next financial pillage, college.
    With public schools, we were guaranteeing that everyone in our society had some minimum of reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. But now with this move (as we have discussed with health insurance) to “managing life by the pocketbook” (the idea that if a person knows the financial impact, they will make smarter consumption decisions), ‘they’ are trying to apply this to education as well. If you do not have the financial resources to be successful, you will sink lower on the economic totem pole. What we will have is all these charter schools marketing themselves as being successful at educating our children while we have a gaping hole of uneducated persons who cannot compete in this new future world that is built upon reading, writing, arithmetic skills and connections. And who will know whether these charter schools are accomplishing what they are supposed to accomplish (educate society). All we will know is that “Basketball Charter School” recruited a top 10 basketball player. Or that “Engineering Charter School” has a 97% success rate at college acceptance. On the surface, this is great. But then we dig and find that the college acceptance department at ECS has connections to the Big Ten and receives “incentives” for every student that they place at a Big Ten school and that parents that had “donated” large sums of money to ECS also were most likely to receive higher placement with scholarship at certain college programs. How does this “rising tide lift all boats”? What if a parent has invested everything they have just to send one kid to ECS and they can’t afford to “donate” to the school? Do we all actually think that the school will feel sorry for that kid and help him get accepted over a big donor? Even if his grades exceed the rich kid, we are all delusional to think that fairness and the “right thing” will trump greed, graft and corruption in our money dominated society. This is what public schools are supposed to be about; everyone gets put on an equal playing field (or brought up to being equal with others) and by doing this, the poor and disadvantaged get the help they need to break the cycle.

    1. jrs

      But an honest discussion admits this is already the case many places. Yes AND That it can get worse. But ALSO that’s it’s already really really really bad with public schools. Good school districts (if you can afford the house prices – n’est pas?) provide good education and bad school districts don’t and it is near 100% income segregated.

      It’s like pretending Obama is not a right wing authoritarian corporatist just because the Republican might be worse. But he is. And just because charter schools might be worse doesn’t mean education in this country isn’t already SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL.

  17. NoBrick

    First off, I’m not an advocate of charter schools nor an advocate of the institutional convention pitched under
    the patina of intellectual legitimacy. The basis for the “patina” of those “who know”, in the purpose-driven
    science, AKA public education is well defined in Noel Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of
    “So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

    The purpose-driven science (Public “Education”) was established by power, and functions exactly as it was
    supposed to. Confused people are governed more effectively than illuminated people. The power of marketing or propaganda rest on the ratio of confusion to illumination.
    IF Public Education was established to reveal the “lay of the land” the “ways of the world” , to guide reactions
    based on understanding (consciousness) compared to misunderstanding, are we there yet? Public Education
    professes to be the foundational cornerstone of democracy and links it’s survival to the survival of democracy. I ask, “Who is served, by naming the management style preferred by power, as a “democracy”?

    1. Banger

      Good comment–and remember the grades you get have very little to do with ability since there are multiple types of intelligence and the schools measure only a couple. The whole system is irrational and is the way society establishes hierarchies. Since this system consciously excludes the scientific findings (as well as the great wisdom traditions) on the nature of the human being and the best ways their happiness and abilities can be enhanced it is therefore illegitimate and and arbitrary exercise of power. It doesn’t matter whether this is applied in charter schools or other public or private schools.

      1. Katniss Everdeen

        Wow, Banger, this subject has really tripped your trigger. More logorrhea than usual.

        Are you certain you know what a charter school is?

        And what, pray tell, are these “great wisdom traditions” of which you speak? (“Traditions” sounds a little “19th century” doncha’ think?)

        It took awhile, but I think you finally got to the heart of the matter with: “…and remember the grades you get have very little to do with ability since there are multiple types of intelligence and the schools measure only a couple.”

        Those would be PUBLIC schools, I assume.

        1. Banger

          Well, it’s a pet peeve of mine since I’ve dealt with education on many levels including being a parent of four children and close to other children and parents who struggle with the school system. Obviously I’m not happy with the system because of its studied ignorance and bureaucratic mentality.

          I don’t believe that a cabal of oligarchs have deliberately constructed a system to make us stupid but they may as well have. I feel for the poor children stuck in lifeless classrooms when I happen to know how excited children can get when they are really engaged in something. We don’t realize it but their delightful energy that could help uplift all of us is expertly suppressed by a system that worships ignorance–not education.

          As for “wisdom traditions” I mean the deeper philosophical and spiritual traditions that I am familiar with and have helped shape me that you might call “mystical” or whatever that I just call “wise.”

  18. Fons


    The state legislature is about to act and the ball is in motion. There are a core of union and social justice organizations that are opposed but how (we have some ideas) can we win this fight?

    I would be interested in suggestions.

    1. Fons


      I suggest you submit a strike plan to the teachers’ union and other community organizations in Milwaukee and across the state.

      Let’s see a real plan of action.

      Are you an organizer? If so contact the author and we can put you to work.

      1. RanDomino

        As a matter of fact, I was at the meeting of the Madison IWW in February 2011 when we approved submitting a proposal to SCFL (the South-Central Wisconsin Federation of Labor) for a general strike of public sector workers on the event of Act 10 being approved. Despite the main chant of the crowds that stormed the Capitol on the evening of the bill’s passage reportedly being “Gen-er-al Strike! Gen-er-al Strike!” the next day the mis-leadership of the teachers’ unions sabotaged a strike vote. Paralyzed, the workers and people in Wisconsin fell into the same old trap of electoral politics.
        There has been talk of preparations for strikes or other direct action on the event of a ‘right-to-work’ bill, which may be more of a possibility now with the utter and complete defeat of the Wisconsin Democratic Party (Mike Tate: Still employed for some reason!).

  19. Left in Wisconsin

    1. I attended a very highly regarded suburban school district in upstate NY (virtually no minorities, some rural poor because it was a large district) in the 1970s. Lots of us grew up to hate the man. (Lots didn’t.) The schools my kids attend here in Madison are 1000 times better. There is still plenty not to like but the notion that kids attending good public schools inevitably become unthinking drones is foolish because a) lots of people figure out early on this is the objective and consciously undermine it and b) there are A LOT of teachers who aspire to more and have figured out various ways to achieve more.

    2. The charter movement is not intended to destroy (all) public schools. For example, the vast majority of the right-wingers in Waukesha County send their kids to public schools that they are quite proud of. It is intended to privatize as much school “delivery” as can be profitably privatized, which is probably a lot. (There are also bones to be throne to religious conservatives, to maintain them as part of the coalition.) The big city school districts are the ones first/most at risk because they offer the greatest opportunity and they have the fewest defenders.

    3. As on virtually everything else, the left is hung on education because many people’s livelihoods depend on maintaining the old system to the best of our ability as it decays around us, while those not dependent on the old system are happy to help destroy it in the (usually naive) hopes of building something better.

    1. Fons

      In Madison white flight has already begun. School choice plans have left lots of schools with concentrations of minority and lower income students as the middle and upper middle class leave to schools that are more desirable.

      You are right that Waukesha (western suburb of Milwaukee) and Whitefish Bay (northern affluent suburb of Milwaukee) will keep their school boards and public schools in the medium turn because they work for them (white people). But this does not mean that the goal of the privatization crowd is not to ultimately to seek rents there also.

      Milwaukee was de-industrialized in the 70’s and 80’s and quickly became an urban area over run by violence and crime. The Bradley foundation and other “free market” outfits saw the area as low hanging fruit for their privatization scheme as the city was basically tearing itself apart from within.

      Then the plan was only for a few hundred poor kids in Milwaukee. Now there are a thousand vouchers across the state with 26,000 students (about 40% of the students in the city) taking vouchers in the city.

      The new bill will expand the scheme even more.

      What more evidence do you need that they want to go all the way with this?

    2. weinerdog43

      Thanks for capturing a lot of what I see as well. I agree with your 1st point completely. As to the 2nd & 3rd, not quite as much. I’m not convinced that charter is anything other than a camel nose under the tent. If I’m a taxpayer without children in the public school, it is a lot more palatable to pay taxes for public schools than a charter. Why in the world would I have any interest in subsidizing a for profit entity? Either public or private, but not a little of each. Finally, what’s wrong with trying to save a good idea? A baseline of knowledge that the community needs to function seems like a pretty good idea. Based on what I’ve seen, charterization seems to be just another chance to strip mine public funding to line someone’s pockets. If the students get an education, meh.

  20. Jim

    Reforming education:

    Is it necessary to overturn capitalism before anything can be done about education?

    Was a significant degree of the cultural disintegration which has apparently taken place in the US, logically prior to the manipulation of human consciousness by the market/capitalism?

    Were there prior cultural and political processes in the US which precipitated the social disintegration necessary for the successful functioning of the market/capitalism?

    Did the historical project of American nation-building gradually subvert our historically more original communitarian goals of attempting to create a genuine federalism rather than a nation?

    Has the traditional left in the US mistakenly opted for a more Marxist/nationalist path rather than the anarchist, populist or federalist alternatives prefigured not only in the work of such people as Proudhon, but also in the original 18th century American project of a federation concerned primarily with safeguarding the autonomy of particular communities and not simply abstract individualism?

    In terms of education (from pre school throught graduate school) is it any longer desirable to inculcate a national consciousness (one of the main original objectives of the deployment of a system of universal education)?

    1. jrs

      It is necessary to change the American economic system before anything can be done about education almost certainly.

      Overturn capitalism? Good idea but for other reasons (like worker exploitation – replace it with worker ownership). But the above is what’s at minimum necessary to improve education because parents can’t even be parents in a world where they are working 2 or 3 jobs to survive etc. Not to mention their children growing up in dire poverty etc. What is education in such a world?

  21. Roquentin

    They’re coming for everything that isn’t nailed down. It’s kind of like in the movies when they ran out of coal to burn in order to keep the train moving, they just started tossing in whatever they can find. That’s what your term “crapification” (which is good, by the way) is really about. It’s sad that the Religious Right is too deluded and terrified of modernity to realize the people they support are giving them the business twice as hard. I guess they’ll get theirs soon enough.

  22. swendr

    Starting with weirdo liberal vaccination-haters and proceeding to waiting-for-superman liberal school privatizers, let it be henceforth known that many educated free-thinking liberals are not immune to the great American tradition of hucksterism. Think about that next time you want to laugh at the suckers who buy lotto tickets, herbal male enhancement, or believe that the secret to Amway success is PERSONAL USE!

  23. H. Alexander Ivey

    Well, lots of heat but not much light here. My two bits is most of the postings show that the posters are well versed at being a student, but most don’t know teaching, especially from the teacher’s POV (or the school admin staff POV either). Not to say you don’t have opinions about teachers and teaching, but mostly those opinions are based on one or two unhappy episodes over a 12+ year education process and not on much thought about what is teaching, what is learning. Many don’t know what makes teaching a successful activity, most don’t even know what it takes to make learning a success – have y’all given much thought about how a student learns, about how YOU learned your subjects over those 12+ years? (and saying you crammed the night before the test is not a detailed enough answer to show real understanding).
    So what’s the answer to American education (if you think it is broken)? Well, if your answer doesn’t consider ALL of the following, your answer is incomplete and probably wrong:
    …WHOs: teacher, student, school admin staff, gov’t standards boards, parents and other concerned citizens
    …WHAT: the process of teaching and learning, of someone going from “not-knowing” to “knowing” with the help of some other person (teacher and fellow classmates, mostly)
    …WHEN: a time when teacher and student(s) can be face to face (traditional classroom) or when one of the two is prepared to be part of the T&L process (on-line education)
    …WHERE: a place of control and safety, where all involved can take part in the T&L process
    …WHY: y’all can fill that in, the answers are infinite and usually political

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