The Two Opposite Approaches to School-Reform: One Works, The Other Fails; Why Does Obama Push the Failed Approach?

A brilliant scientist and blogger, “Mike the Mad Biologist,” headlined on April 4th, “Once Again: For Real Education Reform, You Can Just Visit Massachusetts,” and he documented that due to Democrat-passed education-reforms that had preceded Mitt Romney (and some of which Gov. Romney unsuccessfully tried to reverse), the state of Massachusetts scores so well in international rankings on Reading, Math, and Science, that it ranks, across-the-board, after only Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Finland. It’s #8 if it were a nation, even though it has a larger percentage of poor people, and more ethnic minorities, than any of those nations. The U.S. as a whole scores #36 on the Math, #28 on Science, and #24 on Reading; so, across-the-board we’re about #29 — near the bottom for industrialized nations.

Mike explains what those reforms of the educational system in Massachusetts consisted of. Privatization wasn’t part of it. Teacher-bashing wasn’t part of it. Attacks against teachers’ unions weren’t part of it. Charter schools and other forms of privatization of public schools had nothing to do with it. Those elements of the Bush-Obama program for K-12 education had nothing at all to do with it. Give Bush and Obama a “D” at best, as Presidents on education.

Just two days before Mike’s piece, on April 2nd, came a report on the reason why this country is moving to privatize public education. The former conservative, Diane Ravitch, commented upon the K-12 approach that’s widely pushed by America’s aristocracy and especially by America’s wealthiest family, Walmart’s Waltons. Her “Diane Ravitch’s Blog” bannered “Walton Family Foundation Puts $164 Million into Privatization Movement,” and she wrote:

“The Walton Family Foundation released its list of grantees in the education world, and once again, the foundation put its huge resources into privatizing American public education. …

“Read the list and see who favors the privatization of public schools. Aside from a few dollars tossed to the Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, it is a rogues’ gallery of privatization and teacher-bashing. …

“The Walton Family Foundation helped to underwrite the attack ads against New York City’s progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, because he dared to turn down three charter school proposals. Two of the three schools did not exist, so no child was evicted. The third rejection was meant to stop the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s charter school inside PS 149 in Harlem, which required the eviction of severely disabled students to make room for her desired new middle school. Apparently the theory of the billionaires is that students with high test scores deserve public space more than profoundly disabled students, who have lesser rights.

“As a result of pressure by the billionaires, the legislature passed a budget that gutted mayoral control by saying that the mayor was not allowed to reject any charter approved by Bloomberg’s school board. …

“This was a shameful law, purchased by people of vast wealth.”

Mayoral control of schools had been instituted under Republican Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, and increased under Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but failed to improve K-12 education in NYC. Now that a Democrat was in office, Mayoral control was ended by the aristocracy.

The biggest 5 recipients of this new $164M round of Walton largesse were:

California Charter Schools Assn.: $5M

Charter Fund: $14.5M

Children’s Scholarship Fund: $8.6M. (They provide “Gifts to send thousands of US public school students to private school.”)

KIPP Fdtn.: $8.8M. (They’re a chain of charter schools.)

Teach For America: $15M. (They recruit recent college-graduates to help bust teachers’ unions in low-income areas.)

Almost all of this effort to bust teachers’ unions and to privatize public schools is being funded by nonprofits, aristocratically-controlled firms that enable aristocrats to avoid taxes while they funnel the taxes that you and I and all the rest of the public pay, into their private corporations and “nonprofits” that then receive government money to provide what was once provided by an educational system that was controlled by the public; that is, by officials who were accountable to the public via elections by the public — not by the aristocracy’s chosen appointees (the executives of their companies).

It has often been noted that charter schools do not succeed at improving test scores or anything else, and that the most comprehensive study showed “that, on average, charter schools perform about the same or worse than their traditional public school virtual twins.” However, I looked up the updated 2013 version of that 2009 study, and it reported that the older charter schools had improved their performance since 2009, but that “Results for charter students in new schools mirror the original 2009 findings [of lower performance than traditional public schools]. Students at new schools have learning gains in reading and math that are significantly lower than their TPS [Traditional Public School] peers to the same degree. Because the continuing schools group is many times larger than the new schools group, their results dominate the 2013 findings.” And, since the older charter schools had improved considerably during the 4-year interim, “The analysis of the pooled 27 states shows that charter schools now advance the learning gains of their students more than traditional public schools in reading. Improvement is seen in the academic growth of charter students in math since 2009, to the extent that learning gains are now similar to those of students in traditional public schools.” In other words: nationwide (at least in those 27 states) it’s nip-and-tuck between the traditional schools and the charter schools. But, since nationwide the U.S. scores low on international test-results, that’s faint praise. Even if charter schools will ultimately catch up with traditional public schools, this country will still remain behind the rest of the industrialized world in education. We’ve got to do better than that.

The only real model of educational success in the U.S. is Massachusetts. It should be more thoroughly studied, but, in the meantime, all states should be trying to copy that model, and the Obama Administration should change and try to adopt it nationwide.

Barack Obama was active in the movement to privatize public schools when he was merely an Illinois political figure, and it’s probably too late for him to learn the errors of his ways, even if he were to try, which he doesn’t. Perhaps that’s because those ways are not “errors” in his system of values, which places the aristocracy’s interests ahead of the public’s. The aristocracy are thriving under his Presidency. He mouths “equality” but maintains policies that have produced near-record-high inequality.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.


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