The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools

Yves here. In college, one of the courses I took was “The Politics of Popular Education,” mainly because the professor had a stellar reputation as opposed to my having any interest in the topic. It seemed like an interesting lens into social issues that were now settled, like the acceptance of the idea that broad-based, good quality free public schools both a foundation of a democracy and a sound investment in training a workforce. Silly me to have been so lacking in imagination as to think what I regarded as bedrock principles could be upended.

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Training first-world children for a third-world life

It was the strike heard ‘round the country.

West Virginia’s public school teachers had endured years of low pay, inadequate insurance, giant class sizes, and increasingly unlivable conditions—including attempts to force them to record private details of their health daily on a wellness app. Their governor, billionaire coal baron Jim Justice, pledged to allow them no more than an annual 1% raise—effectively a pay cut considering inflation—in a state where teacher salaries ranked 48th lowest out of 50 states. In February 2018, they finally revolted: In a tense, four-day work stoppage, they managed to wrest a 5% pay increase from the state. Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky have now revoltedin similar protests.

It’s the latest battle in a contest between two countervailing forces: one bent on reengineering America for the benefit of the wealthy, the other struggling to preserve dignity and security for ordinary people.

If the story turns out the way the Jim Justices desire, the children of a first-world country will henceforth be groomed for a third-world life.

Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, and Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, help illuminate why this is happening, who is behind it, and what’s at stake as the educational system that once united Americans and prepared them for a life of social and economic mobility is wiped out of existence.

The Plan: Lower People’s Expectations

When Lafer began to study the tsunami of corporate-backed legislation that swept the country in early 2011 in the wake of Citizens United—the 2010 Supreme Court decision that gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence the political system—he wasn’t yet clear what was happening. In state after state, a pattern was emerging of highly coordinated campaigns to smash unions, shrink taxes for the wealthy, and cut public services. Headlines blamed globalization and technology for the squeeze on the majority of the population, but Lafer began to see something far more deliberate working behind the scenes: a hidden force that was well-funded, laser-focused, and astonishingly effective.

Lafer pored over the activities of business lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – funded by giant corporations including Walmart,, and Bank of America—that produces “model legislation” in areas its conservative members use to promote privatization. He studied the Koch network, a constellation of groups affiliated with billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. (Koch Industries is the country’s second-largest private company with business including crude oil supply and refining and chemical production). Again and again, he found that corporate-backed lobbyists were able to subvert the clear preferences of the public and their elected representatives in both parties. Of all the areas these lobbyists were able to influence, the policy campaign that netted the most laws passed, featured the most big players, and boasted the most effective organizations was public education. For these U.S. corporations, undermining the public school system was the Holy Grail.

After five years of research and the publication of The One Percent Solution, Lafer concluded that by lobbying to make changes like increasing class sizes, pushing for online instruction, lowering accreditation requirements for teachers, replacing public schools with privately-run charters, getting rid of publicly elected school boards and a host of other tactics, Big Business was aiming to dismantle public education.

The grand plan was even more ambitious. These titans of business wished to completely change the way Americans and their children viewed their life potential. Transforming education was the key.

The lobbyists and associations perfected cover stories to keep the public from knowing their real objectives.  Step one was to raise fears about an American educational crisisthat did not, in fact, exist. Lafer notes, for example, that the reading and math scores of American students have remained largely unchanged for forty years. Nonetheless, the corporate-backed alarmists worked to convince the public that the school system was in dire condition.

Step two was to claim that unproven reforms to fix the fictional crisis, like online learning, were sure to improve outcomes, despite the fact that such schemes go directly against hard evidence for what works in education and deny students the socialization that is crucial to a child’s progress. Sometimes the reformers said the changes were needed because of budget deficits; other times, they claimed altruistic aims to improve the quality schools.

In Lafer’s view, their strategy had little to do with either.

The Motivation: Keep the Masses Down as Inequality Rises

It’s one thing for big businesses to be anti-worker and anti-union, but also anti-student? Why would business lobbies deliberately strive to create what amounts to widespread education failure?

It’s not hard to see how certain sectors in the corporate world, like the producers of online learning platforms and content, could cash in. But it’s harder to fathom why corporate leaders who don’t stand to make money directly would devote so much time and attention to making sure, for example, that no public high school student in the state of Florida could take home a diploma without taking an online course. (Yes, that’s now lawin the Sunshine State).

It’s about more than short-term cash. While Lafer acknowledges that there are legitimate debates among people with different ideological positions or pedagogical views, he thinks big corporations are actually more worried about something far more pragmatic: how to protect themselves from the masses as they engineer rising economic inequality.

“One of the ways I think that they try to avoid a populist backlash is by lowering everybody’s expectations of what we have a right to demand as citizens,” says Lafer. “When you think about what Americans think we have a right to, just by living here, it’s really pretty little. Most people don’t think you have a right to healthcare or a house. You don’t necessarily have a right to food and water. But people think you have a right to have your kids get a decent education.”

Not for long, if Big Business has its way. In President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, they have dedicated partners in redirecting public resources to unregulated, privately owned and operated schools. Such privatization plans, many criticssay, will reinforce and amplify America’s economic inequality.

U.S. public schools, which became widespread in the 1800s, were promoted with the idea that putting students from families of different income levels together—though not black Americans and other racial minorities until the 1950s—would instill a common sense of citizenship and national identity. But today, large corporations are scoring huge successes in replacing this system with a two-tiered model and a whole new notion of identity.

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research showsthat the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits. In the wordsof Noam Chomsky, who recently spoke about educationto the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), “students will be controlled and disciplined.” Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.

The New Reality: Two Americas, Not One

Economist Peter Temin, former head of MIT’s economics department and INET grantee, has written a book, The Vanishing Middle Class, which explainshow conditions in America are becoming more like a third-world country for the bulk of its people. He agrees with Lafer that the corporate-driven war on public schools is not just about money, but also about a vision of society.

People like Betsy DeVos, he says, are following the thinking of earlier ideologues like James Buchanan, the Tennessee-born, Nobel Prize–winning economist who promoted current antigovernment politics in the 1970s. The “shut-the-government-down” obsession is really an extreme form of libertarianism, he says, if not anarchism.

Temin also agrees that shrinking the horizons of America’s kids makes sense to people who follow this philosophy. “They want to exploit the lower members of the economy, and reducing their expectations makes them easier to manipulate,” says Temin. “When they aren’t able to go to college and get decent jobs, they become more susceptible to things like racist ideology.”

In other words, dismantling the public schools is all about control.

Buchanan was an early proponent of school privatization, and while he echoed the fears and frustration many Americans felt concerning desegregation, he typically made a non-race-based case for preserving Jim Crow in a new form. He argued that the federal government should not be telling people what to do about schooling and suggested that citizens were being stripped of their freedom. But as Sam Tanenhaus points outin TheAtlantic, issues of race always lurked in the background of calls for educational freedom and “choice.” In a paper he co-authored, Buchanan stated, “every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing.” Segregationists knew what that meant.

Policies that end up reducing educational opportunities for those who lack resources creates inequality, and economic inequality reduces support for public schools among the wealthy. It’s vicious feedback loop.

In his book, Temin describes a process that happens in countries that divide into “dual economies,” a concept first outlined by West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. Lewis studied developing countries where the rural population tends to serve as a reservoir of cheap labor for people in cities — a situation the top tier works very hard to maintain. Temin noticed that the Lewis model now fits the pattern emerging in the richest country in the world.

America, according to Temin, is clearly breaking down into two sectors: Roughly 20% of the population are members of what he calls the “FTE sector” (i.e., the finance, technology, and electronics sectors). These lucky people get college educations, land good jobs, enjoy social networks that enhance their success, and generally have access to enough money to meet most of life’s challenges. The remaining 80%live in a world nothing like this; they live indifferent geographies and have different legal statuses, healthcare systems, and schools. This is the low-wage sector, where life is getting harder.

People in the low-wage sector carry debt. They worry about insecure jobs and unemployment. They get sick more often and die younger than previous generations had. If they are able go to college, they end up in debt. “While members of the first sector act,” Temin has said, “these people are acted upon.”

Temin traces the emergence of the U.S. dual economy to the 1970s and 80s, when civil rights advances were making a lot of Americans uneasy. People who had long been opposed to the New Deal began to find new ways to advance their agenda. The Nixon administration gave momentum to anti-government, free market fundamentalist ideologies, which gained even more support under Reagan. Gradually, as free-market programs became policy, the rich began to get richer and economic inequality began to rise. Economist Paul Krugman has called this phenomenon the “Great Divergence.”

But it was still possible to move from the lower sector to the affluent sector. The path was tough, and much harder for women and people of color. Yet it existed. Through education and a bit of luck, you could develop the skills and acquire the social capital that could propel you out of the circumstances you were born into.

The dismantling of public education, as Temin sees it, will shut off that route for vastly more people. Like the privatization of prisons, which has increased incarceration rates and cut the mobility path off for more Americans, putting schools into private hands will land even more on the road to nowhere. Even those who were born into the middle class will increasingly get pushed back.

The Future: Mobilization or Bloodshed?

Temin relates that in human history, unitary economies are more the exception than the rule.

In the U.S., there was the Jim Crow era, the Gilded Age, and before that, slavery, which was an extreme form of dual economy. But from the end of WWII through the 1960s, the country began to develop a unitary economy. The idea that everybody should have opportunities became more and more widespread. But there was a backlash, and America still dealing with it.

In the Lewis model of the dual economy, there is still path to the upper sector, but Temin warns that America may be on the way to going one step further. “If you really prevent people from moving up, you get something that looks like Russia or Argentina,” he says. In these two-tiered societies, life is difficult for most people. Life expectancies for all but the affluent go down.

Unfortunately, once you’ve developed a dual economy, getting out of it isn’t pretty. Temin notes that it often happens through devastating wars. “Sometimes the kings who are all cousins turn on each other,” he says. “Other times, the leaders sleepwalk into the war as Trump could possibly do with North Korea.”

Such upheavals create instability that sometimes opens up the possibility of restructuring society for the benefit of more people. But it’s a painful, bloody process. Political mobilization can work, but it’s very hard to get various groups who are dissatisfied to join forces.

Lafer points out that we don’t yet know how this story is going to turn out. “Politics remains forever contingent, never settled,” he says. “The struggle between public interest and private power will continue to play out in cities and states across the country; even with the heightened influence of money in the era of Citizens United, the power of popular conviction should not be underestimated.”

The teachers in West Virginia and now other states across the country have turned the anger fueled by the corporate vision of the future in a positive direction. They are fighting back, peacefully, and winning something—not just money, but a sense of dignity suited to the job of preparing the country’s kids for life. It remains to be seen if the rights of the many can triumph over the selfishness of the few, and whether economic servitude will be the fate of the children of the wealthiest and most powerful country the world has ever seen.

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  1. Chris Tobe

    Laffer’s latest disciple is Kentucky Gov. Bevin, despite investment shenanigans covered by NK, there maybe something worse going on. It is my opinion that Bevin wants to steal Teacher pensions by pushing school districts into insolvency via Chpater 9 KY Teachers sense this and while not striking this morning, may Friday. Bevin has increased costs to school districts 50% by manipulating pension assumptions in the KRS-CERS plans for all non-teacher school employees. Like Rauner in IL he wants to push the Teacher pension liabilities off the states books onto school districts where they can be bankrupted. Bevin’s budget already has around 20 of the 176 KY School districts bordering on insolvency, he is using pension games to push them further.

  2. Michael Fiorillo

    I have to go teach my immigrant high school students shortly, so will only say the following for now:

    And the Democrats, Sanders and Warren included, are still spouting nonsense/propaganda about “public” charter schools…

  3. jackiebass

    Every time I read something like this is reminds me of Orwells 1984. We are now living in the late stages described in the book. Only revolt will change the direction and I see some signs of this happening. I hope I live long enough to witness the revolt. I’m 76 and was lucky to grow up in probably the best era our country experienced. You could live the American Dream. Now it no longer is possible for most of the population. It make me sad to see our once great country being destroyed for money.

      1. Fraibert

        Also of the same view.

        Think the modern elite would’ve learnt from history with all that fancy education…

    1. Masonboro

      I will also be 76 this Summer and had a decent life based on four pillars;
      1) A modest aptitude for math
      2) My Father helped organize railroad unions during the 30’s
      3) A wonderful public education (admittedly segregated)
      4) A heavily subsidized state university (NC State)

      The last three are all under attack or already badly damaged. I worry about the future of my neighbors children and contribute to their college funds although the oldest is five. Maybe that will help.

  4. Stillfeelinthebern

    In the middle of Wisconsin. Found out last week from a local school board member, our teachers have not has a pay increase in 8 yrs. This has never made the news. There is no voice for the teachers.

    1. Arthur Dent

      The irony is that it is the non-union “right to work” teachers that are striking. The laws around collective bargaining in most states that have unions are written so that it is very difficult to have a strike. However, in the non-union states, they could simply not negotiate with the disorganized teachers until it has reached this flash point where the “disorganized” teachers are informally organizing and striking, since there is no law against it and they have gotten to the point where the jobs are almost not worth having, so the personal risk to them is acceptable. My spouse teaches in an inner city school in NYS and financially the teachers are doing ok, but they have no administration support, large classes with no aides, and insane polices on testing, school discipline, and other matters which makes teaching an unpleasant experience. But the pensions are 90% funded and the pay is decent, much better than WV and OK.

      Historically in the US, high income/wealth inequality only lasts a decade or two because something eventually breaks, whether it is the financial markets or social disorder. In the recent Global Financial Crisis, I think the extraordinary Fed’s moves combined with complete inaction on the part of DoJ to prosecute financial miscreants postponed that day of reckoning. These moves prevented a 1929-32 level crash which crushed inequality (essentially almost everybody became relatively poor and even a number of the surviving wealthy realized something needed to be done). However, the lack of hearings and prosecutions meant that the same people who caused the GFT were left in charge in all areas which generally did not happen in previous crises.

      So it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years. With high valuations in the stock market again, even higher levels of debt everywhere, and extreme inequality it looks like the systems are potentially primed for another Minsky moment. Will they figure out how to postpone the wealth equalizing moment again? Personally, I am focused on eliminating our debt and saving lots of tax-deferred money in globally diversified balanced accounts, which is not what the grand pooh-bahs in Washington are looking for to spur the economy forward. But for our household, it is essential as we approach retirement in a few years.

  5. DanB

    The book I published last year covered how the East German academic and scientific systems were “abgewickelt” (unwound, dismantled, liquidated) when the two German states “united” in 1990. The book I’m working on now is about Detroit, my hometown, and one its major themes is the two economies phenomenon and how this is being manifested in the undermining of the city’s public school system through the promotion of charter schools by the usual mainstream expert suspects. Many citizens of Detroit, especially those who are “Historic Detroiters” –not newcomers- are battling the unwinding/dismantling of the public education systems –simultaneously along with other acts of building institutional power. Reading this essay by Lynn P. reinforces the suggestion that Detroit is a bellwether city. It’s not a failed metropolis, rather is a city struggling to extricate itself from the maw of a failing nation that defines its denizens -especially those of color- as grist for the neoliberal mill.

  6. Eureka Springs

    “One of the ways I think that they try to avoid a populist backlash is by lowering everybody’s expectations of what we have a right to demand as citizens,” says Lafer. “When you think about what Americans think we have a right to, just by living here, it’s really pretty little.

    It’s less than a little. Even less of an ability to peacefully change things. As lambert says about platforms, if your hope/belief rests upon a democratic process, rights such as free speech, right to peacefully assemble to express grievances, not to be spied upon without cause and warrant to name a few then you are playing on a platform which does not exist – in a fairy land while the rich buy armies of deplorables to wage fights upon each other… and another army of lobbyists and code writers for the win.

  7. KYrocky

    We are in a class war. We have been for a long time.

    In state after state, a pattern was emerging of highly coordinated campaigns to smash unions, shrink taxes for the wealthy, and cut public services.

    The actual list is much longer, and goes back much further.

    Neutering the GI Bill. Privatizing Student loans, prohibiting their refinancing or discharge in bankruptcy.
    War on drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing. Ending the fairness doctrine. Putting corporate allied stooges in charge of enforcement in oversight agencies, until the laws themselves could be eviscerated. Voter purges and the lie of voter fraud. Preventing increases to the minimum wage. Heath care access based on employer provided insurance.

    And on and on.

    In Reagan’s day, when it was pointed out that his policies were in fact a form of class warfare, he scoffed and stated that people making those charges were from ignorant, unhinged fringe elements of society who hated free enterprise and America’s freedoms.

    But it is class war.

    Education is just one battle. Unfortunately, until we have national leadership capable of calling it what it is, every battle will continue to be lost to our corporate and wealthy oligarchy. Until we stop denying this reality the trajectory we are on will not change.

    More than 20 years ago, my Senator Mitch McConnell famously declared money is speech. His unspoken corollary is that those without money to buy influence have no voice. Our elected officials are the people ultimately responsible to either prevent or engage a class war, and to date the vast majority of them have aligned themselves with those that have the money.

    To restore mobility, to shrink inequality, the only means is to reduce the influence the power the rich have over our government, and transform our governments from being focused on the richest few and onto the great many.

    1. Adams

      Precisely correct, but the War is over. We lost. Us interlectricals may continue to discuss quietly among ourselves the hopey-changey delusions. Change,i.e. the Great Reckoning, comes in the streets, from some outside force, or when we finally make the planet unlivable.

      1. Stratos

        Or perhaps not.

        Part of winning a war is psyching out your adversary so that they give up without a fight.

        The Oligarchs and their lackeys are powerful, but not invulnerable.

        1. Adams

          I would be very happy to be wrong, and try to act accordingly. The decline of public schools, and the wrongheaded efforts by both parties to find fixes in approaches that completely ignore the successes of other countries and cultures seems a good example of how we continue to operate. Likewise, healthcare. Prisons. Etc.

          As KYrocky points out, “Unfortunately, until we have national leadership capable of calling it what it is, every battle will continue to be lost to our corporate and wealthy oligarchy. Until we stop denying this reality the trajectory we are on will not change.” There is little reason to believe that leadership will emerge from either major political party.

          The hope on the horizon is teacher revolts in OK, WV, KY and other states. Note that when the WI teachers demonstrated, Obama left them twisting in the wind, despite his pledge to “wear out shoe leather” in support of unions. Meanwhile, Arne Duncan was stuffing his testing obsessed “reforms” down the throats of teachers. Neither main party will create the change we need in education or any other area. Again, in the streets, in their faces, or go sit on the porch.

    2. animalogic

      Imagine that, an Elite conspiracy against mass education…So yes, KY, you have accurately diagnosed the disease. Now we must advance the appropriate therapy.
      Few like to bite this bullet. Its nasty. Nasty but inevitable.
      If you want significant change in the US you will not get it through reform. In fact “reform” is so easily manipulated you will likely end up going backwards.
      There is only ONE answer & it is socialism (gasp, shock, B.S etc)
      Organise, build, learn, become militant & wait for the opportunity – it WILL come. The profoundly corrupt US elites will cause some kind of crisis & chaos. Be ready to exploit it. Get your boot on the elite’s throat & never, never take it off.(don’t like revolutions ? They never work ? No worries, because
      of course this is all fantasy (things aren’t that bad as the frog in the sauce pan said) & plain silly given US culture, so have fun with a tweak here, a Sanders there & really just enjoy the increasing desent into dystopia.

  8. Arizona Slim

    Red state alert! Whoop-whoop-whoop!

    Here in Arizona, the reddest of the red states in the Southwest, something strange is happening. The teachers are co-opting the red state concept! It’s called Red for Ed, and, gack, I can’t believe I’m gonna do this but, here goes. A link to their Faceborg group:

    There’s more:

    Yesterday’s Cyclovia Tucson featured a large teacher contingent. They were rocking the red tee shirts, posting red signs along the route, and generally getting a lot of love from the other riders.

    The revolution starts now!

  9. Carolinian

    I live in the most Republican section of my very Republican state and the school board proposed, and the voters approved, an expensive bond issue for new schools that are being built now. Meanwhile the town’s one and only charter school seems to be languishing and is rarely heard from. Which is to say that while public education may be under assault from some quarters of the right, that’s hardly proof of a broad based threat. The article also makes the rather dubious assertion that students in the public system aren’t being indoctrinated for a social role. That golden post WW2 era of public education was also when students began to stand up at the beginning of the day and pledge allegiance. Fred Wiseman’s High School, made at the height of the Vietnam era, was in part about how schools shaped students to become future cannon fodder in the war against communism.

    The problems in West Virginia and Oklahoma could be less about some grand scheme and more about states dominated by rich people who want to lower their taxes–public education being a major source of local taxation. To win this larger war of government versus business we may need a Democratic party that isn’t mostly in bed with the latter.

    1. YankeeFrank

      It may sound like a fake conspiracy to you, but believe me, its not. They hate and despise us, and have no use for democracy at all. They mouth its pieties (just like the current corrupt Dems mouth identity politics pieties while crushing the vast majority of women and minorities with their economic policies) while subverting actual democratic rule in every possible way. Indoctrinating people against commies during the cold war while also providing a decent and rounded general education is NOT the same as what is being done now where education is being literally hollowed out for the vast majority.

      These people are the enemies of democracy, freedom and the middle/lower classes. Until we figure that out and act accordingly they will continue to win.

      1. debitor serf

        You’re too stuck believing in an awful system that’s been a failure. It is undeniable that many schools are abject failure. The idea that common core could make them better was totally bonheaded and doubling down on the idea is criminally negligent.

        These groups are small outside forces trying to change the liberal indoctrination centers that schools have become. To run around saying “they hate democracy” is nonsense and you can’t even admit there is a glaring problem thats in front of your face.

        Chicago Public Schools are the same way. Its totally corrupt, middle class students and above FLEE as fast as they can. It’s broken, very very broken. My own grandmother left chicago in the 1960’s because CPS schools were terrible. I left Chicago for teh very same reason 50 years later.

        1. ChiGal in Carolina

          Dunno about now, but in the 80s and 90s my son got a solid education in the CPS. Ray Elementary & Kenwood Academy (both in Hyde Park). He was doing algebra in 6th grade that I did in 9th grade at New Trier in the 70s. He was a national merit finalist and counted a number of faculty (University of Chicago) kids among his friends. They went to schools like Oberlin, Reed, and Carleton.

          Liberal, yes. Not at all incompatible with being independent thinkers out the wazoo, much like the Parkland kids.

          Most definitely they could see through your hyperbolic tropes. Small outside groups indeed!

      2. animalogic

        Absolutely Yankee.
        And, given their Imperialism, war mongering & utter contempt for the environment they are the deadly enemies of Humanity.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Your quote plays out in the schools via the language used by so-called reformers.

      In a public system, you have rights, which cannot be abridged, or for which you have recourse if they are.

      You’ll notice, however, that so-called reformers, imposing “the business model of education,” rarely if ever talk about rights; no, they talk about “customers” and “consumer choice,” while carefully avoiding the fact that your “choices” are highly circumscribed by policies that can be changed by private operators at whim.

      In the schools, this plays out via the Bush/Obama/Trump canard about “choice,” where in reality it’s the private entities – charter and voucher schools – that have the choice of accepting or rejecting students, and citizens are denied the right to choose an adequately-funded local public school, open to all.

      1. debitor serf

        Schools have been awful for decades if not longer. The blame falls squarely on educators – both teachers and administration. To sit back and do nothing is negligent. The educators solution of ‘common core’ has been an abject failure by every standard. Educators insistence on doubling down on the failed common core is in my opinion criminally negligent.

        1. Synoia

          Please explain in detail how teachers and school administrators developed and pushed “common core.”

          Was it tied to funding?

          As I understand US education, The US Dept of Education and state governments are responsible for education policy combined with some funding from the Federal Government, the states responsible for the majority of funding and programs to implement policy. The Teachers and Local Administrators, the workers, are too busy teaching, and generally not invited, to set policy.

          You appear to blame the workers for policy decisions.

          Would you reconsider your comments?

          1. Michael Fiorillo

            Common Core is a product of the Gates Foundation. Actual classroom teachers had nothing to do with its development.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          Funny, in my state they passed a program called proficiency based learning and it was mandated by the state legislature after a lot of lobbying, and not by teachers.

          Decades ago, the state also mandated that the state would pay 50% of local education costs but somehow they never got around to appropriating the necessary funds.

          So please explain how this is all the teachers’ fault again.

        3. jrs

          they have often been awful for decades it is true (long before common core even, long before no child left behind on which common core was based). But there are degrees of awful … and the question is what direction things are moving in.

          As for the educators choosing common core, I believe you are just wrong.

    3. Ford Prefect

      I immigrated to the US from Canada in the 1980s. In the mid 90s, I attended a school event for one of my kids. I was sitting there waiting for the event to start and suddenly everybody leapt to their feet around me and started babbling. I was completely flabbergasted and baffled – I had never seen anything like it outside of Nazi propaganda films you would see in documentaries. My wife explained to me afterwards that it was the Pledge of Allegiance. There is no equivalent to that in Canada.

      Its not difficult to see why a few football players kneeling for the national anthem has caused such a furor. I don’t think Americans understand how important and unique the First Amendment is, and how it is far more important than a flag, song, or Pledge of Allegiance, People come to the US for what the Constitution and Bill of Rights offers, not because of the Pledge.

      1. Harrold

        Schools in Texas not only recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but also recite the Texas Pledge of Allegiance (“Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible”), followed by a minute of silence.

          1. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

            Re: The Lord’s Prayer: (Synoia)

            I would really like to sue the British Government for all the wasted time I spent at school suffering in the state-mandated daily religious ceremony, but what are the chances of getting anything in return?

            All that those school assemblies did was to teach me to hate organized religion – especially it its war-enabling forms*.

            I am definitely anti-antidisestablishmentarianism, but….

            I imagine that I am not alone in rejecting something that was forced down my throat. Maybe the US would be better off if every school had its daily Lord’s Prayer moment – perversely causing a retreat from religionism and sanctimoniousness.


            *God is on our side.

      2. eg

        Unfortunately, that fascistic impulse has spread to some pockets in Canada.

        The children in our school board are forced to recite “the oath of citizenship” every morning.

        It is disgusting.

  10. debitor serf

    I read the links every day but rarely comment. I feel the need to comment on this:

    This is some seriously tin foil hat conspiracy theory. There is no overarching plan to dumb down American schools to create two classes of people in a class war. This doesn’t even make any sense.

    The fact of the matter is that many but not all public schools are atrocious. There are many reasons for this, including parents and students who don’t care, to schools being little more than liberal common core centers for indoctrination, to bloated bureaucracies taking money from teachers to taxpayer revolts against high taxes – the largest component by far of my property tax bill is the local school district.

    Schools these days teach everything except for independence. We try to teach our children to take care of themselves – except when they reach school age. then we teach them the government will take care of everything for them. They teach students that the government will give them free breakfast, and free lunch; and that they need to listen to the teacher at all times (the teacher who will likely be either moderately to extremely liberal). They are taught that white privilege is everywhere, that western civilization is evil, that the world is going to melt from global warming, and so on. I see the math they teach my children these days – it’s a joke, look up common more math on youtube to get an idea.

    School are performing terrible too. Outside of a handful of good school districts, usually with high income parents who push their children academically, the rest of schools are babysitting and crowd control and liberal indoctrination. So to sit back and say hey, let’s do nothing except give the schools more money (and seeing how more money rarely solves anything in life) and pay teachers more. How will that solve the awful curriculum of common core, which has literally made a generation of kids dumber? How will this solve a student population that quite frankly, doesn’t care about education? How will this solve the problem of administrators and their $100,000+ salaries with no accountability? How will this stop schools from ‘teaching the test’ rather than teaching actual math skills? How will this stop teachers from pushing political agendas like gun control (March for LIfe etc) rather than than teaching children simple things like keeping a budget?

    The school system is so broken and has been so wrecked by educators, that I quite frankly have no problem scratching the entire system and starting from scratch. new but good ideas are a good thing. Sometimes those ideas may be old, like the R’s. Because whatever educators have devised these days is an abject failure and no amount of blaming the Koch brothers will take responsibly away from them.

    1. YankeeFrank

      Its not educators that have done the damage. Actual teachers oppose common core and bloated administrations. Its large corporations and corporate-controlled governments that are ruining pubic ed, which the post explains is part of the project to weaken support among the public.

      The only way to save public education is to support teachers and communities that are fighting this project, and to re-fund our public schools.

      While you begin your comment by saying its a false conspiracy theory, the rest of your comment proves the opposite.

      1. Jeff

        One half of the Los Angeles city budget is set aside for the LAUSD. There is no money problem here, yet the district is abysmal.

        We ‘fired’ the city, moved to a neighboring suburb with a much smaller school district. The improvement has been staggering.

        What I observed in Los Angeles was stunning mismanagement combined with tone deaf and disinterested district leadership. I saw teachers completely overwhelmed.

      1. debitor serf

        The tropes are real and in front of your face. If you can’t see them it’s either because you agree with them, or, you’re not being honest with yourself. Many people have serious fundamental disagreements with schools that are performing poorly year after year, especially after common core.

        Look up common core test scores in IL, my state, even the liberal newspapers (chicago tribune) have admitted that its been a failure.

        1. Heraclitus

          I agree with you, Debitor Serf.

          In my state, we require that students pass a statistics course before we allow them to graduate from high school, yet there is no way that the average high school student knows any statistics when they graduate. Our school system is a Potemkin village.

          When I graduated from high school over thirty years ago, we required eighteen credits for graduation. Today they require twenty-four. Are the students any better prepared? If so, it is not obvious.

          1. jsn

            A predictable result of paying proportionally less to less qualified teachers.

            It’s the classic NeoLiberal twofer: cut taxes supporting a public service, complain about the deterioration in quality, propose to privatize, saddle individuals with the costs of the underfunded privatized system.

            Precisely what the article you are disagreeing with describes.

        2. pretzelattack

          common core is pushed by the very types the article criticises. you probably think arne duncan is a leftist, though. he’s not, he’s just another privatizer.

        3. jsn

          “Although the educational opportunity components of the plan bear promise, the micro-managing of economic development may prove distortionary and counter-productive. Oregon’s education policy ranks 44th in the country, according to the ALEC Report Card on American Education. A dearth of charter schools, lack of private school choice programs, and lackluster teacher quality are all factors. Unfortunately, “Future Ready Oregon” leaves these concerns largely untouched. Reforming Oregon’s tax and regulatory environment is a far better way to foster business development, job growth and economic prosperity. Oregon’s top personal and corporate income tax rates sit at third and fourth highest nationally – and are especially detrimental to the higher-paying jobs Governor Brown seeks to increase.”

          This is from ALEC, the Koch sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council. This entity is promoting an all state program to cut taxes and de-fund public education. In the place of public education it wants to supply “tax credits” to parents that will make parents responsible in future for under funding charter schools by making the tax credits systematically less valuable than the anticipated costs of a child’s education. Not tinfoil hat stuff, well funded public policy advocacy.

        4. Michael Fiorillo

          I don’t have to look up Common Core: my students, colleagues and I are chained to it.

          You, on the other hand, need to take a break from the right-wing/neo-liberal/Glibertarian talking points about “America’s failing public schools” and read some history, or current events for that matter, and recognize the sinister alliance that’s in place when it comes to attacking public education, and who benefits from it.

    2. perpetualWAR

      What entity do you think pushed “No child left behind” which instituted “teaching to the test”?

        1. jsn

          The G. W. Bush administration passed this law requiring states to implement some version of it in order to get matching Federal funds. Part of the deliberate effort to impose uniformity and dumb down education in the name of “science”, that is universally comparable test scores. The intent of the “science” was to impose “market discipline” on teachers and administrators, all while cutting funds.

    3. beth

      The Powers of the Weak, Elizabeth Janeway, tells how the turnaround can happen. Easy, no.

      I read this book when it came out. Probably the only book that I can remember the title and the author’s name immediately.

    4. Knifecatcher

      Have you… have you ever actually met a teacher?

      I have 4 kids in public schools, the oldest of which is a sophomore in high school. Almost without exception their “educators” have been phenomenal, caring people reaching deep into their own pockets to provide needed materials, due to neglect from anti-public education administrations and legislatures.

      Your comment that the school system has been wrecked by educators is appalling. The way to fix public schools is to ACTUALLY FIX PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Meaning, provide schools and teachers with the power and resources they need to educate our kids.

      1. Kurtismayfield

        There is another problem, one that rarely gets any press.. the students have to try to fail. At this point with all of the accommodations and second chances a student gets, it’s very hard for the average student to fail any class. Why is this true? Because the schools are scored on dropout rates. If you don’t allow them to fail, then they dropout. So the lower performing students are always given second, third chances.. and these are built into the system… and are expected by everyone. So much so that if the teacher doesn’t bend over backwards to accommodate the student it’s their fault the student failed.

        1. Michael Fiorillo

          It’s so-called reform that’s driving that, not teachers. Read education blogs, and you’ll see that soon enough.

          1. animalogic

            In Australia, keeping kids back a year is usually an agreement between school & parents. Kids never want to kept back. Parents frequently give into kids. Come year 10/11 you always have a hand full of kids who can’t read/ write etc beyond a primary school level.
            Regardless of parents the school inclination is to always push kids up….

            1. Michael Fiorillo

              There’s a reason for that, which people outside the schools rarely understand.

              Leaving back elementary school students usually doesn’t work, either for the individual student, or the class of younger students in whose grade they remain.

              By the time students are of high school age, it’s even more of an issue, since having a skills-lacking sixteen year-old in a ninth grade algebra class is a disaster for everyone. It’s a major reason why alternative high schools were established, decades ago.

              In NYC, Rudoplph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg made a big deal about holding back students, and then quietly let it go when reality asserted itself. Currently, with graduation rates used as a marker for a school’s continued existence, everybody passes, with all kinds of bogus “credit recovery” programs put into place to lubricate the pipeline.

              None of this was an issue before teachers and students were subjected to the forced march of “Everybody Goes to College.” It was understood that young people have a wide range of work/career trajectories, and there were different diplomas which acknowledged that: a vocational diploma for students going into the trades, a “local diploma” which recognized completion of high school requirements, and a Regents Diploma, which signified readiness for college, and which was taken by a minority of students. Now, however, “Everybody Goes To College,” and must get a Regents Diploma, even if the grading standards (that’s how they get around the increased “rigor” of the tests) have been so grossly diluted that two thirds of entering freshmen/women at the City University require remedial classes.

              There’s layer upon layer of dishonesty, and education has long been afflicted by fads and fake panaceas, but the difference now is that there is an extremely wealthy and powerful lobby that doesn’t believe in public education at all, except as a means of union busting/professional crapification, social control (nothing especially new there, but more attuned to the current mandate for digital herding) and wealth extraction.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          I mentioned the proficiency based learning system that the state legislature has mandated in my state above. The idea is that the kids must show ‘proficiency’, which is rather ill defined, before they can move on to the next level.

          A friend who was a public school teacher for 30+ years told me that if I wanted to find out if this new program was worth a damn, ask the superintendent if any kid any where would ever be held back for not being proficient at something.

          I did and at first she tried to evade the question, and then finally admitted that they would not hold anyone back.

          So the reality is that the kids who are proficient at a certain subject sit around while the ones who aren’t try to catch up so they can all manage to pass the ever increasing standardized tests used to measure this inchoate notion of ‘proficiency’.

          From what I’ve gathered from the teachers I’ve spoken to who have had this program foisted on them, they don’t like it one bit.

          You want to reform education here are two big steps that I bet would have immediate beneficial results.

          1) Stop tying school funding to property taxes.
          2) Stop determining grade level by a kid’s age.

      2. Liberal Mole

        That’s right. My kids recently graduated from a public school that is 70% URM (under represented minority —- mostly Hispanic.). The district could be an example of what every minority or struggling school should have; plenty of money. Sure it’s overall test scores won’t look like a rich white school district, but it every year it sends a handful of kids to the top colleges. In fact most graduates go on to college. All the things money can buy — new, clean, well kept facilities, helpful, well paid, respected teachers, great extracurriculars and after school programs makes a huge difference to kids who might be failing or ignored elsewhere. We refused to let a charter school into our city. If a so called school gets to pick and choose their students, they should be a private school, of which our city has several already. The American school system is not broken, but like so much else, is being broken by a refusal to fund and treat public education as a common good.

      3. jrs

        Most of us know about bad educators at one point or other because we had them. Yes it’s the kids of privilege who go to good school districts for the most part.

        1. Jeff

          Define kids of privilege. Rich kids? Middle class kids whose parents can leave terrible districts? Lower middle class kids who live in bad districts, can’t move, but whose parents drive them to better districts?

      4. gepay

        My wife was a teacher. Teachers are a mixed lot with the usual bell curve of competence. I know I wouldn’t have been a good teacher. It’s a hard job. My wife often complained of the administration and the waste of money most work day -when the students weren’t there – dumb events like “I can” were. Given that, she did say you needed a system. as it’s easy for things to get out of hand. Most every middle class person I know with a modicum of intelligence agrees the yearly standardized tests are a waste (most teachers hate them) but the state educational bureaucracy doesn’t seem to notice. Nobody is trying to fix this.
        I have read that some foreign corporations looking to set up in North America chose Canada because their workers were better educated and easier to train. . This is a result of globaliztion – the elites in the US don’t care anymore about the US being a good place to live – as long as where they live is ok. There’s bound to be someplace in the world where they can afford to go for vacation that’s ok.
        Funny how these mad shooters never end up at Yale or Harvard or Stanford or MIT. or any school where the really rich might have their children attending.

    5. Arthur Dent

      Little bits of what you write are correct, but you miss the big picture. My spouse teaches in an inner city school. About half the kids are native-born Americans who generally have very broken home lives, a main source of which is the dystopian drug laws that result in huge swathes of our poorer populations being imprisoned. Most of these kids are being raised by single parents or relatives (sometimes both parents are in prison). These are the kids who often have high absenteeism, behavior issues etc. Some of them have documented lead poisoning caused by living in crappy housing. Many are hungry and their breakfast and lunch may be the only good food they will get all day. Some of them, but not all, are successful in breaking out of this poverty cycle.

      The other half are immigrants. Most speak no English when they arrive (she teaches in elementary school), so they flunk the mandatory testing badly in the first years after they arrive. But they are well-behaved, work hard, and become the high school valedictorians, and go on to college.

      So the schools are not designed to solve all of society’s failings. They are there to teach children. The ones that are in a position to be receptive to education do very well in public schools.

    6. FluffytheObeseCat

      My daughter went through the public school system in Nevada, attended a public magnet high school that requires the Accuplacer entrance test, and she is quite reasonably well educated. Her writing skills are far better than mine were at a similar age. She met teachers who tried to shove identity politics down her throat, and soundly rejected the indoctrination. She also met (at her zoned high school) both character-deficient stoners from the ‘wrong’ part of town, and the spoiled children of the local property-owning/construction elite who are unthinkingly right wing, incurious, and indolent. Most of her current friends are amazing. They are our future, and they are great.

      The whiny propaganda screed above bears no relationship to their experiences, or their qualities. “Left” wing facile identity politics exists as a force and a problem in public education. However, the damage wrought by its dim and petty adherents is nothing compared to the damage being done by snarling right wingers, funded by the billionaire class. Claiming otherwise is glibertarian baloney.

      1. D

        Was thinking that any left/right identity is just wrong. period. While parents will always have bigger impact than any one else until they are sophomores, in high school, since by then they know it all

        At which time they will make up their minds

        1. Synoia

          At which time they will make up their minds

          The guidance changes, but it is still Guidance. My kids call me now, when they are mature adults, to discuss options.

      2. SB in StL

        Left v. Right is how the Top divides the Bottom and keeps us fighting amongst ourselves while they loot the commons.

    7. Harold

      Outsourcing educational policy to business-minded, for-profit test and textbook publishers and entrepreneurs is the cause of many of our educational woes and has been ever since the start of the Cold War.

    8. flora

      Schools these days teach everything except for independence. We try to teach our children to take care of themselves – except when they reach school age. then we teach them the government will take care of everything for them.

      Straight outta the anti-tax talking points. Decent schools cost money. Tax money. The anti-taxers want independence from taxes above all else it seems. (Then they want independence from regulations. That’s worked out well.)

      School are performing terrible too.

      Another set play. Starve them of money , declare them a failure, privatize. This play is currently being run in Puerto Rico. Naomi Klein called it Disaster Capitalism.

    9. JIm Thomson

      Your facts just show that the project is much farther along in many places than the author of the article might realize. It takes many forms. Siphoning the limited funding up to administrators and consultants is one of many ways to achieve the end goals.
      Local funding based on property taxes is another way to make sure that funding does not keep up with real costs.

    10. bob

      Are you now, or have you ever been in the employ of a charter school, or charter school related LLC?

      Trolling comments or Fishin’ For Schools?

      “Consider Charter Schools USA’s recent fishin’ trips for the financing needed for the company’s aggressive expansion plans; since 2010 Hage et al have hauled in more than $200 million in financing. And as the excellent Florida blogger Bob Sikes documents on his Scathing Purple Musings, all that bank has enabled the company and its captain to do things like run TV advertisements for one of their charters, while conveniently forgetting to mention its *F* grade. And don’t forget all the love that Hage has laid on GOP politicians.”

      This is a good start for the re-eduction of charter school PR victims-

    11. Fred Grosso

      Your tin foil hat conspiracy theory is that educators are the bad guys. You’ve swallowed the propaganda.

    12. jrs

      Did you take care of yourself as a kid or did mommy and dad provide the food?

      You are talking about “taking care of yourself” for CHILDREN. Do you realize how completely ridiculous you sound?

    13. E Williams

      Debitorserf’s use of the oxymoron “liberal indoctrination” rubs me the wrong way. I have an idealistic view of education. For me, real education is liberating, and the people who provide it are liberals. Indoctrination is the opposite of education, and it’s wrong to blame liberals for indoctrination.

      Because schools are contested territory, not everything that happens in a school is education. Sometimes it’s liberation. Sometimes its enslavement.

      I don’t think it is accurate to say that schools are performing terribly. It’s more accurate to say that schools are battlefields. There are winners and losers.

      The education wars have been going on forever. Slaveowners made it illegal to educate slaves. Admirals made it illegal to teach navigation to seamen. Men made it illegal to educate girls. The same old dynamic is at work today in the schools. Because knowledge is power. And ignorance is power, too — for a different set of folks. Every kid fights for knowledge against those who profit by keeping her ignorant.

      Here is a passage from the Wikipedia entry on Paul Goodman, who wrote on this 70 years ago:

      Paul Goodman was an outspoken critic of contemporary educational systems as can be seen in his books “Growing Up Absurd” and “Compulsory Mis-education”. Goodman believed that in contemporary societies, “It is in the schools and from the mass media, rather than at home or from their friends, that the mass of our citizens in all classes learn that life is inevitably routine, depersonalized, venally graded; that it is best to toe the mark and shut up; that there is no place for spontaneity, open sexuality and free spirit. Trained in the schools they go on to the same quality of jobs, culture and politics. This is education, miseducation socializing to the national norms and regimenting to the nation’s ‘needs.”

  11. The Rev Kev

    Even before Trump was elected, John Michael Greer in his writings would talk about the hatred that the well-off would have for the rest of their fellow Americans in conversations that he took part in.He said that it was visceral and I had the impression that it would have been along the same lines of how the KKK would have talked about blacks a century ago. I would not have believed that this hatred would extend to the children as well. That is really low that.
    I wonder how the American forces are going to do their recruiting in future years here? Modern soldiers are not like McNamara’s Moron anymore. The soldiers have to be intelligent enough to operate the equipment that they are assigned to use and I would be willing to bet that most soldiers in any other field would be regarded as master craftsmen. I can’t see the elite wanting their children to be enlisted as soldiers so recruiting may be a problem.
    A related problem is that you are recruiting the people from a much smaller pool to run the country with, over time this inevitably becomes the shallow end of the gene pool. People may be familiar with the economist Mark Blyth who was born in Scotland and now teaches in America at Brown University. In one of his videos, he makes no bones about the fact that he was able to accomplish all that he did because he was provided with a virtually free education from state support. He made the point that if he was born years after, that probably by now he would be still hanging around the streets of Dundee with not much prospects for himself. How many other Mark Blyths are out there whose voices we will never here because all that educational support was halted?

    1. debitor serf

      No one is halting the educational system. That’s called a straw man argument.

      In many areas, the system is awful. You may disagree with the policy decisions made by others to fix the system. But your argument is akin to the NRA’s false argument that says any gun control is TAKING AWAY ALL GUNS!

      1. The Rev Kev

        Ummm. I have literally no idea what you are talking about. OK, try this on for size. Take three college graduates in the US. The first graduates in 1970, the second graduates in 1995 and the third graduates in 2015.
        Now think about what it took for each of those three students to be able to go to college and then work out how much each would be able to contribute to the American economy in the decades after they each graduate. Hopefully you will be able to see where I am going with this.

        1. Norb

          I am 58, and see myself as the last generation of “middle class” Americans that can send their children to college without being thrust into debt servitude. Two income family, living modestly, focusing mostly on providing opportunity for their children. All of our disposable income has been directed at making sure this was possible, and it was just enough. Loans had to be taken out, but they can be paid back- to the detriment of any other spending.

          So the Educational Industrial Complex grows and future generations will only be able to participate if accepting debt servitude that accompanies the deal. Just like the Military Industrial Complex that offers opportunities to poor Americans to join the services- bodies for the meat grinder of Empire and protection racket.

          Maybe this is a good thing, in that this is a system that needs to die. The law of diminishing returns in the end sets the rules. The amount of time, energy, and resources expended by my family alone in order to produce one nurse and a security professional is staggering and unsustainable.

          The Educational system has turned into a racket to transfer funds to administrators and their henchmen. Adding salt to the wound, is the fact that many participants in the system cluelessly participate in the whole charade by falling for the marketing ploys and propaganda.

          Healthcare and Education are the tipping points though and hopefully we are finally reaching one. The danger being that education will be converted from a citizens right to a granted privilege by some elite class.

          It will be a society where only the exceptional and talented will be granted access, while the “unworthy” are discarded to their own devices. You can’t uses marketing tools and advertising to obfuscate that stark reality.

          The American Dream is in reality just another tool to ensure servitude of the masses. Instead of breaking free from bondage, the chains are pulled ever more tightly. Is it more insidious to overtly cast one into bondage, or to subtly manipulate someone into self bondage?

          The public school system is another example of mostly good people being overtaken by unscrupulous opportunists. The people who actually do the work being abused by a predator class that has been allowed to contaminate the overall system.

          Fighting back, or taking back is the only way. Going along will only lead to ever increasing hardship.

          Its always about how much pain will people accept.

          The American system is a system of pain.

      2. flora

        “No one is halting the educational system.”

        That’s a strawman argument right there.
        The post says it’s being changed in ways detrimental to most students and their families. We’ll always have an educational system; what kind and for whose benefit is the question. In ancient Greece and Rome even the slave got health care and an education – appropriate to their social position… as slaves. (Often slaves were educated for what we today would call high-level jobs – medicine, law, engineering. But they were owned, not free.)

      3. Kurtismayfield

        Show us in the paragraph where he said that anyone was advocating for taking away the public education system.

        And you are correct there are many problems, one being that you can only do so much much to overcome economics. When students have to worry about their own stability, they don’t perform well.

        1. Synoia

          In my daughter’s school district there is a subsidized lunch and free lunch program. In the schools to the East of the City, 100% of the children are enrolled in the free lunch program, while their parents work 3 jobs.

          Part of the problem is that families should enjoy earning enough from one parent to raise the family. The whole meme of “welfare mom” was BS propaganda for people who ENJOYED and were PRIVILEGED by having a mother at home full time.

          Of one thing I’m positive. All our representatives, even those hatched by the sun, had mothers. Even crocodiles care for their offspring.

          1. Andrew Dodds

            Not sure about the US, but in the UK a lot of the ‘elite’ go to boarding school from quite a young age. This does indeed take away the mother figure, often leading to quite deep seated psychological problems; people who have been through this have severe empathy problems, and regard themselves as ‘a class apart’.

  12. tongorad

    This week my freshmen and sophomore public school students must endure their first standardized test of the year.
    A 4-hour English test. 4 hours! That’s a long time for 14-15 year old kids to sit a test.
    Part of the corporate reformers gameplan is to make a dreary place for both adults and children.
    Long time teachers are being driven out by overwork (aka data collection), and students are giving up.
    I feel sorry for what my students must endure.

    1. Synoia

      4-hour English test.

      Oh my! The child abuse!!! /s.

      In the UK ALL of our exams from 9 years old were 3 hour exams.

      If one has to write an essay, which I’d expect in an English exam, then it would take hours.
      A comprehension test would also take hours.

      1. bob

        That’s the price you have to pay for The Queen’s English. At least you get the accent.

        These tests are not for grades. The tests are supposedly to measure the students as a whole, in order to measure the effectiveness of the teachers.

        Pearson, who as a Proper Englishman you may be familiar with, is a big beneficiary of these testing policies.

        Testing is not teaching. It doesn’t even pretend to be. It’s a great revenue stream from the colony.

      2. tongorad

        Thanks for your sarcasm and condescension.
        Oh, the child advocacy! /s.

        13 Ways High Stakes Testing Hurts Students

        There is particular concern about the disproportionate impact high-stakes-testing may be having on our poorest students, most struggling students, English Language Learners, and students of color.

      3. joe Corcoran

        Synoia your experiences I do not doubt, they must have been an exception, my experience in the (UK) public system was that 3 hour duration exams corresponded to UK secondary school year 5 (age 16 yrs) national examinations (i.e UK GCSEs, ). Prior to this important academic year typically end of year examinations would be of 2 to 2.5 hours duration.

        I still have copies of the (GCSE) national exam papers with timings!

        1. Synoia

          It was a long time ago. I remember 3 hours, 5 question out of 8, except for Mathematics, From age 9 to 21.

          Includes university.

      4. Arthur Dent

        The tests are to grade the teachers and the school. The kids taking the test are just the tools to do that. The tests have no impact on whether or not the kids advance or need remedial teaching (for which there is no budget).

        There is a reading test this week for my wife’s classroom. The parents can opt out of the test and there is a high absenteeism rate to begin with. In my wife’s school, the teachers have been informed that if less than 90% of the kids take the test, then the school is automatically put on probation and the teachers will have to go through many more hoops, paperwork, and observations next year. So the teachers will be punished if parents opt to have their kids not take the state mandated test or if their kids don’t show up to school that day (one of the kids in her class has already missed more than half the school days so far this academic year).

        1. Synoia

          The English system used to almost eliminates the favoritism that the US system embodies. The serious exams I took, Entrance, 11+, CE, O, A and S Level are marked (graded) anonymously.

          As were the University exams. I exam, 5 question of 8, was you total grade for the year. If you were sick, too bad. No do-vers. Failure of more than one subject ment you would not return and would have to find a job

          I never met anyone at UK university who switched majors. The only one I recall changing streams made a change in 45 form, or O-Level year, from science to the arts.

          3-5% of UK people went to University. Companies had extensive subsidized training schemes for new school leavers.

          To get an advanced degree you have to get a 1st or Upper 2nd Batchelor’s degree. In my graduating class there were 3 Upper 2nds and no 1sts.

          It was an up or out system. Out means “get a job.”

          1. JBird

            That type of system enforces a class system and conformity does it not?

            Dyslexia, mental illness, cancer should require no accommodations? Or that students, and their families, often have to pay for their education and living expenses, often by working, while going to school? Or that an eighteen year old often has no clue about their abilities or inclinations?

            A very good quality of American higher education is its flexibility as it is supposed to take in large numbers of all kinds of people, and not only educate them for a certain job, but also how to think using all the ideas that they were exposed too. Becoming a good citizen and adult is the goal even, or perhaps especially, if you become a ditch digger, not be a good little subservient drone of the (American) Empire.

    2. Harold

      Put teachers not corporations in charge of education. Then, if we want to improve education, we need to focus on reducing societal inequality as Finland did.

    3. curlydan

      wow, my third- and fifth-graders are taking at least their third standardized exams of the year this week. You’re obviously in a high deficient school district ;)

  13. tc

    Perhaps consider what the major “costs” are of public education and where they stem from – salaries,pensions, health care plans that regular folks don’t dream about. Its all about the kids, lol, its all about school employees sucking the system dry and raising taxes.

    Private school teachers are paid less, and get much better results.

    In a town I lived, an unknown teacher recently passed away. She worked for the school for 23 years, collected a pension for 50. Another retired at 45, is now 57, her pension is bigger than her final salary now. Nice

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      You need some help knocking that big chip off your shoulder. Unless you are in Suffolk County, Long Island, you are unlikely to be someplace where teachers have excessively generous pensions. The weird circumstances that prevail in a few Clintonite redoubts like southern New York State have no bearing on how most of us have to manage across this country.

      Most teachers in most U.S. state are paid way too little, and have pitifully small pensions, and no social security because of them. It takes a whole lot of public whining to hide this very large fact.

    2. flora

      that regular folks don’t dream about.

      But regular folks used to dream about those, and not all that long ago. That was before the neoliberal “freedom to choose” bs to enrich the rich came to town with Reagan and Thatcher (and later Clinton and Blair).

    3. flora

      She worked for the school for 23 years, collected a pension for 50. So, figure she started teaching at 20 or 22, she lived till she was almost 100. Not the average pensioner.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Private schools get better results (which they don’t, for the most part) because they can pick and choose among those students whose families can afford the tuition. Public schools accept everybody.

        Try again, and try a little harder, because your argument is transparently false.

        1. flora

          What’s wrong with my argument? Are the ages 93 and 95 not close enough to 100 and so disqualify my statement that “she lived til she was almost 100” ?

          (Hoping your comment was for tc and not me. ;) )

          And yes, private schools can cherry-pick students, In a rollback of Brown vs Board of education, effectively. All these libertarian and neoliberal “reforms” are really roll-backs to the
          pre-reform era.

        2. D

          And considering the cost of private education, parents are more likely to be highly involved. Some of those schools cost as much as some public colleges, if not the private ones.

          And there usually arent any grants or scholarships either

    4. Huey Long

      salaries,pensions, health care plans that regular folks don’t dream about

      Therein lies the the problem! Do yourself a favor and join a union:

      The wobblies will take you and your fellow “regular folks” in as members even if the rest of the workers at your job are union-loathing scabs. Dream big my friend!

    5. Arthur Dent

      The bloat is happening in the administrations (classic Parkinson’s Law: ).

      NYS has well paid teachers compared to most states. They typically start in the $40k range and go up into the $70k range with many year’s experience. Teachers with advanced degrees in STEM etc. can do better than that. That sounds decidedly middle-class to me.

      For pensions, they got rid of the really rich ones decades ago for new hires. Teachers hired in NYS in the past 20 years or so will basically get a pension of about 2% per year if they work more than 20 years, so 40% of their salary at 20 years and 70% at 35 years. The salary number they use is the average of their three highest years in a row but they can’t be more than 10% higher than the previous 2 years, so it is really the average of their five highest years. Only student contact time pay is counted, so participating on a committee etc. would not increase your pension. This avoids the problem plaguing many fire, police, and DPW pensions where they can stuff lots of overtime into one year that they then use as the basis for calculating their pension which is where some of the really big public pension numbers come from. The teachers have to contribute to their pensions for the first 10 years of working.

      So basically, most teachers who work for a long time can replace their annual income through their pension and social security combined. This is better than many private sector workers but there is also no room for advancement other than through the union scale which makes it similar to a factory blue collar job. There are also few opportunities for overtime pay at time-and-half or double-time.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        I teach in NYC and the pension caps out at 60% after thirty years, but that’s only for those hired before 2009. Everyone hired since then has had their pension benefits reduced by taking longer to vest, and having to work longer for a smaller payout.

        In NYC, almost half the people who teach are gone within five years – the job’s just not for everyone, even under the best conditions – and will never receive a pension for the work. With the structural and administrative abuse that is now part of the job, it’s doubtful that more than ten percent of the new teachers here will survive to get a full pension.

        However, that’s still too many for the so-called reformers and their Overclass patrons, who are constantly agitating to eliminate defined-benefit pensions for teachers and put them into 401Ks.

        Let’s also remember that a pension is, by law and custom, understood to be deferred compensation, with longevity rewarded on the assumption that as a teacher you are providing a necessary and useful service to the public, and that your experience is valuable (that model is out the window, with senior teachers in NYC often having targets on their backs).

        Once defined-benefit pensions are eliminated – something that teachers in Kentucky are the guinea pigs for, with their pension plan having been underfunded and stripped – teachers can look forward to the customary low initial pay they’ve always had, along with a cat-food retirement, just like almost everyone else. At that point, one box on the so-called reform to-do list (which includes removing certification requirements, privatizing the schools and real estate, monetizing student data from the testing regime, eliminating publicly-elected school boards, etc.) can be checked off.

    6. Lord Koos

      My sis-in-law teaches kindergarten at a tony private school in the Minneapolis area, and I can assure you that she makes a whole lot more money than public school teachers do.

  14. flora

    To quote Ambrit (from another post):

    “They shudder to think of you thinking.”

    Thanks for this post.

  15. JEHR

    We should remember that the Nobel Prize for economics was not chosen by Noble himself. He selected only five areas where the prize was to be given, but the prize for economics was the suggestion of the Swedish National Bank given “in memory of Alfred Nobel.” So when you see a Nobel prize winner in economics as in the article above, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Friedrick Hayek said:

    “If I had been consulted whether to establish a Nobel Prize in economics, I should have decidedly advised against it… The Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess.”

    From the article linked:
    “Of the 74 laureates so far, 28 are affiliated with the University of Chicago, home of neoliberalism.”

  16. JEHR

    In Canada, the anti-education politicians are starting to work their magic by getting rid of elected school boards which are often comprised of the parents of the children attending their schools. In Nova Scotia, the school boards are to be replaced with “one provincial advisory council made up of people appointed by the minister of education.” New Brunswick also has done away with elected school boards and replaced them with (unpaid) District Education Councils. Not a good move for the health of our education system.

  17. Jamie

    Education is one of the easiest programs to criticize. Part of the reason for that is because there are so many different ideas of what the purpose of education ought to be. So any time any progress is made toward fulfilling one of those ideals, all the holders of all the competing ideals pile on in criticism.

    Descriptions of the failing schools and calls for reform have been ubiquitous since John Dewey tried to apply insights from 1920s psychology to education. Reformers from both the right and the left have tried to pull the school system one way or another to fulfill their various visions of what school ought to be. Here’s a partial list of some of these competing ideas:

    a socializing environment where children learn to get along

    a place where children can be indoctrinated with a particular ideology (or religion)

    a place where children can be introduced to the collected knowledge of humanity

    a place where children can develop technical skills applicable to their day (from mechanics and food processing to typing and programing, from woodworking or drafting to spelling grammar and composition)

    a place where wild children can be tamed, where obedience and respect for elders is instilled

    a place where hoodlums can be sequestered to keep the streets and the serious adult world free from annoying young people

    a place that teaches reading, writing and arithmetic to a basic level of competence in a value free and completely apolitical manner

    a place where the particular excellence of each individual child can be recognized and encouraged

    a place where children are taught to be wary of false arguments and learn to critically evaluate the potential of proposed actions

    This is not an exhaustive list, nor are these ideas all necessarily mutually exclusive. But many of them directly contradict one another. The educational system is vulnerable to manipulation by moneyed interests because we have no cohesive social understanding or agreement on what purpose or purposes we want our schools to fulfill. ALEC and the Koch brothers did not create these schisms. They are just taking advantage of them.

    Reformers of various stripes like to propose their fixes without any acknowledgement or discussion of these underlying divisions of thought. This current bunch of privatizers in particular are not at all interested in discussing these things. They have a single over riding appeal to parents… school ought to be a place where your child can be set on a path that will deliver “a good life” by winning the competition for such a life against other children. How different this discussion would be if we simply decided that all children were going to receive a good life, and that no part of schooling ought to be turning children against one another?

    1. curlydan

      Thank you for bringing such valuable points up! It’s always weird to me how everyone criticizes schools and the school system, turning so many perceived deficiencies in children into “the schools suck!” or “the schools are failing our kids”.

      Problem kids have many problems…with most of those problems starting outside of school.

      Good jobs, good daycare, good incomes, good parentS, and good universal health care could go a long way to helping our kids as much or more than “fixing” the schools.

  18. Kevin

    How about not “serving” (hate the use of the word here because it’s not voluntary by any stretch) corporations or the State?

  19. archnj

    I am reminded of the episode of This American Life on Betsy DeVos from last year, which talked about her (limited) experience in Michigan public schools. The episode focused on a girl who was essentially taken on as a project by Betsy. The DeVos family gave her mother a job, gifted them with a car, and steered the girl into a (surprise surprise) private highschool. The girl, in summers, and the mother, all the time, were domestic DeVos employees, cleaning house and mending clothes.

    Two points the TAL people (typicaly) either missed or left unspoken – one, DeVos clearly had no faith in the public system and steered her “favored” child into private education at the first opportunity. Two, the entire family became dependent on the Devoses for livelihoods, education, transportation – all of it. How ready do you think they would be to take up a position the Devoses disagreed with? If this was not the reinvention of the manor system I don’t know what is…

    1. Arizona Slim

      Holy smokes! Do you mean to tell me that the DeVos family didn’t have to clean up after themselves? And that, if something was ripped or torn, they had no ability to repair it?


      If being oh-so-rich means that you don’t learn how to do useful things, that’s a shame. Because knowing how to take care of yourself builds (Uh-oh, I’m going to say it, here goes!) …

      … self esteem.

      1. archnj

        My point is not that a rich family has hired help – of course they do – nor is it pearl clutching about rich people not cleaning their own bathrooms, which I couldn’t care less about.

        The point is that, from the hired mother’s perspective, displeasing the DeVos family doesn’t just mean getting fired. It also puts her daughter’s education and other necessities in immediate and direct risk. Also, if Betsy DeVos were really serious about providing educational benefits to the daughter, why is that girl spending her summers cleaning when there are so many summer programs, or other sorts of jobs, that could give her a serious boost into college? I agree that work well-performed leads to self-confidence, and I don’t mean to devalue domestic labor. But the fact that these people’s lives became wholly dependent on one wealthy family is disturbing and, I believe, supports the OP.

        1. Arizona Slim

          And, arch, I agree with you. Methinks that the DeVos family shouldn’t be cherrypicking the people they want to help.

      2. newcatty

        Archnj: “reinvention of the manner system I don’t know what is…”. Indeed! I would just add my contention that it is not a reinvention, but a continuation of feudalism in its current manifestation in America. The public schools are both a reflection of the economic elite control of government and a powerful way to control the citizens from their early development to young adulthood. Children are captive audiences. How better to create future serfs than to “mold impressionable minds” to accept whatever dogma and sense of self that is on “your” agenda? The outcry and standing up for educators and their profession, and for their students is truly inspirational and, in many cases, brave. Its an outcry for waking up to the fact that we need to stand up for all our right to live lives of dignity, social and economic justice and basic needs met, and, yes, care for our home planet. Its either love or fear. The aristocracy hope we continue to be locked in fear. Its not choosing fear…Its programmed and instilled.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      That’s already underway, and in their typically Orwellian fashion, the so-called reformers and tech shills call it “personalized learning.”

  20. JBird

    Like said on the last post on opioids, when I think I am too cynical, I discover that I am not cynical enough.

    One of my professors pointed out that we already tried libertarian free market capitalism in Victorian England. One only needs to read some Dickens or some light history to see how that was like. One of the great fears of the ruling class was revolution because of the conditions.

    The ruling class might be creating the current system for their benefit, but, Jesus Christ, have they done any reading of history? Or do they believe that they will ride out and crush it?

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      If the ruling class members fail history, maybe it proves that expensive private school teachers are not that good.

      Those teachers are to blame…along with the rich students. Or maybe just the latter.

    2. bob

      The evidence of this past libertarianism is visible in most northeastern cities and towns.

      Armories. Giant, defensive castles still visible today.

      The were built near the mills that employed the labor. They weren’t defending against anything but the plebs getting uppity.

  21. dbk

    Thanks for this piece, it was a good introduction to what’s been going on in school districts/states at various speeds and with various levels of success across the U.S. for a good long while now.

    The comments are useful in providing a representative sampling of Americans’ attitudes towards public education and corporate-funded “reform” efforts over the past twenty+ years, as well as in offering the usual spectrum of blame assignment for national (US Dept of Ed) “reform” efforts – NCLB, RttT, ESSA most recently, none of which involved teachers or administrators.

    This is yet another issue where neither party’s hands are clean; thus, Americans who believe in public education really have no consistent support at any governmental level right now, from local to national. (Of course, there remain states resistant to charters/vouchers, as well as individual districts within states – usually, wealthy ones, where public schools continue to do well thanks to a high property tax base.)

    For commenters wishing to learn something more, I’d recommend Noliwe Rooks’ “Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education” (2017). Education blogs worth following on an ongoing basis include those of Diane Ravitch, Peter Greene (Curmudgucation), Jan Resseger, and Mercedes Schneider (deutsch29). Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider produce bi-weekly, wide-ranging and insightful podcasts on HaveYouHeard.

  22. Paul P

    Probably silly to comment at this late date, but I will anyway. The article is about the death of the American Dream and the transformation of education so people will quietly accept their new role. None of the comments deal with fighting back against the ideological attack. Even where the teacher’s strikes are mentioned, the strikes are about higher pay, not transforming society. We need express an alternative vision and work out a detailed political program to bring it about. A lot of groups are attempting that right now. This blog is doing its part by letting people know about the right wing encirclement taking place. Everyone must be made aware of what’s happening if the 99% or, as expressed in the article, the 80%, are to fight back.

    1. marym

      Thank you for this comment. The problems we face now are systemic and inter-related . We need a vision and a strategy as you suggest, and to build solidarity among the people and groups who, of necessity, focus on the issues most relevant to their needs.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Higher pay, benefits and conditions for working people are precisely what transforms society, and are the foundation of a just one; without them, you got nothing. The New Deal and Great Society, for all their many shortcomings, were proof of that, and it’s no coincidence that the breaking of the US working class occurred simultaneously with the advent of increasingly right-wing politics, even/especially among liberals.

      The Overclass is perfectly happy to have you Lean In, Be Mindful, Seek Wellness and Celebrate Diversity; it’s when you ask for a dollar-an-hour raise that the fangs and claws come out.

  23. Kevin

    I’m a member of the “FTE Sector” as defined in this article. My experience is that while I had a college education and I have what many would consider a decent job, my wife and I both struggle intensely to maintain our health and our home. The constraints of my job are increasingly Orwellian in the sense of the intrusiveness of Management, the controls it applies over employees while invading privacy and what formerly were considered rights of freedom. I don’t work for a large Tech company, though, but for a moderate sized hospital. Perhaps assignment of technology workers to the category “FTE Sector” refers more to companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and the like? I’ve worked for Microsoft and other software giants in the past, and these places host an entirely different atmosphere that’s more like a college-slash-fraternity-slash-velvet-sweat-shop than most other tech related jobs. But, the description offered in this article to define the lifestyles of those in the “FTE Sector” certainly, in my experience, does not apply to tech workers in run-of-the-mill companies, which indeed are more and more like those of the dreaded Industrial Revolution of England which took the disenfranchised masses of the countryside and bestowed upon them the beneficent reward of labor peonage. In my job, I feel as if I’m on a hamster wheel rolling towards a cliff because of the absence of compassionate and rational behavior on the part of “those in charge.” They have cast off such attitudes in favor of excessive and intrusive control and instead imposed diminishment of reasonable freedoms. I’m the one who is moving the wheel towards the abyss, but it’s made necessary by the nature of my employment and the costs of living. Of course, management claims increasing costs as the reason why they must withdraw their largess. Doubtless, this is true too, to a degree the exact nature of which I cannot determine by my limited access. But the factuality of that doesn’t change the effects upon employees as i’m describing them here.

    It’s interesting how those former freedoms are being removed. it’s not overt. Dependencies that were long ago created are gradually altered so that the beneficiary must sacrifice more and more to enjoy the benefits derived from those dependencies. Originally offered as conveniences, they quickly become dependencies, which becomes the conduit for increasing control while the means that once existed as alternatives disappear by obsolescence and disuse. Benefits are one of the chief means by which limits to freedom exist here, and in other companies. Benefits are increasingly meaningless, demand ever more time and resources from the employee, pretend to offer something meaningful, but offer less and less that is actually of value. And yet, one cannot function without them — there are no alternatives for most. The lives of workers are made less viable by what we’re calling “benefits,” for they possess the aura of civility while serving as one channel (along with other devices, including education) for the imposition of a modern feudalism — it’s hard to improve yourself or challenge authority when you’re health is poor and so much of your time and resources are spent to perpetuate some modest sense of homeostasis.

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