Friday, March 14, 2008

The Corporate Surge and A Tale of Two Cities

The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools
By Steven Miller and Jack Gerson
The Educator Roundtable

[Note: The Report discusses how privatizers have moved to take control of public education in the past year. It is 17 pages long and includes many voices on several important topics. A basic bibliography accompanies the text. Below is the Summary. Please email Steven Miller, for the whole report.]

The Summary

It’s more than a year since we wrote “Exterminating Public Education” (

about/issues/slate/126874.htm) in response to the “Tough Choices or Tough Times” report of the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace (

That report, funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and signed by a bipartisan collection of prominent politicians, businesspeople, and urban school superintendents, called for a series of measures including: (a) replacing public schools with what the report called “contract schools”, which would be charter schools writ large; (b) eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards - their role would be to write and sign the authorizing agreements for the “contract schools; (c) eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits; and (d) forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed (i.e., throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn

These measures, taken together, would effectively cripple public control of public education. They would dangerously weaken the power of teacher unions, thus facilitating still further attacks on the public sector. They would leave education policy in the hands of a network of entrepreneurial think tanks, corporate entrepreneurs, and armies of lobbyists whose priorities are profiting from the already huge education market while cutting back on public funding for schools and students.

Indeed, their measures would mean privatization of education, effectively terminating the right to a public education, as we have known it. Many of the most powerful forces in the country want the US, the first country to guarantee public education, to be the first country to end it.

For the last fifty years, public education was one of only two public mandates guaranteed by the government that was accessible to every person, regardless of income. Social Security is the other. Now both systems are threatened with privatization schemes. The government today openly defines its mission as protecting the rights of corporations above everything. Thus public education is a rare public space that is under attack.

The same scenario is being implemented with most of the services that governments used to provide for free or at little cost: electricity, national parks, health care and water. In every case, the methodology is the same: underfund public services, create an uproar and declare a crisis, claim that privatization can do the job better, deregulate or break public control, divert public money to corporations and then raise prices.

In the past year, it’s become evident that the corporate surge against public schools is only part of a much broader assault against the public sector, against unions, and indeed against the public’s rights and public control of public institutions.

This has been evident for some time now in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina’s devastation is used as an excuse for permanently privatizing the infrastructure of a major American city: razing public housing and turning land over to developers; replacing the city’s public school system with a combination of charter schools and state-run schools; letting the notorious Blackwater private army loose on the civilian population; and, in the end, forcing tens of thousands of families out of the city permanently. The citizens of New Orleans have had their civil rights forcibly expropriated.

Just as the shock of the hurricane was the excuse for the shock therapy applied to New Orleans, so the economic downturn triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis is now the excuse for a national assault on the public sector and the public’s rights.

In California, where we live, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has convened an emergency session of the legislature, demanding that the state’s $14.5 billion “budget deficit” be closed by slashing vital services including housing, health care, and education. He has proposed lopping $4.8 billion off next year’s K-14 education budget. That the deficit exists largely as a result of the Governors corporate friendly tax policies is not considered part of the debate.

In public education, the corporate surge has grown both qualitatively and quantitatively. Where two years ago the corporate education change agents were mainly operating in a relatively small number of large urban areas, they have now surfaced everywhere. The corporatization of public education is the leading edge of privatization. This has the effect of silencing the public voice on every aspect of the situation.

Across the US, public schools are not yet privatized, though private services are increasingly benefiting from this market. However, increasing corporate control of programs - a different mix in every locale - is having a chilling influence on the very things that people (though not corporations) want from teachers: the ability to relate to and teach each child, a nurturing approach that nudges every child to move ahead, human assessments that put people before performance on standardized tests.

Perhaps the single most dramatic development of the corporate approach was the launching of the $60 million Strong American Schools / Ed in ‘08 initiative, funded by billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad. This is a naked effort to purchase the nation’s education policy, no matter who is elected President, by buying their way into every electoral forum.

Ed in ‘08 has a three-point program: merit pay (basing teachers’ compensation on students’ scores on high stakes test); national education standards (enforcing conformity and rote learning); and longer school day and school year (still more time for rote learning, less time for kids to be kids). The chairman of Ed in `08/Strong American Schools program is Roy Romer: former governor of Colorado; former chair of the Democratic National Committee; most recently superintendent of schools in Los Angeles (he was persuaded to take that job by Eli Broad). Its executive director is Mark Lampkin, a Republican lobbyist and former deputy campaign manager for George Bush.

Other steering committee members include Eli Broad; Louis Gerstner (former CEO of IBM); Allan Golston (head of the Gates Foundation’s U.S. programs); and John Engler (president of the National Association of Manufacturers and former Governor of Michigan [where he gutted the state’s welfare program]). A truly stunning array of corporate wealth and bipartisan political power in the service of privatization.

Where two years ago charter schools were still viewed as experiments affecting a relatively small number of students, in 2007 the corporate privatizers - led by Broad and Gates - grossly expanded their funding to the point where they now loom as a major presence.

In March, the Gates Foundation announced a $100 million donation to KIPP charter schools, which would enable them to expand their Houston operation to 42 schools (from eight) - effectively, KIPP will be a full-fledged alternative school system in Houston. Also in the past year, Eli Broad and Gates have given in the neighborhood of $50 million to KIPP and Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles, with the aim of doubling the percentage of LA students enrolled in charter schools. Oakland, another Broad/Gates targets, now has more than 30 charter schools out of 92. And, as we shall see below, the same trend holds across the country.

NCLB in 2008 is still a major issue. It continues to have a corrosive effect on public schools. It is designed an unfunded mandate, which means that schools must meet ever rigid standards every year, though no more money is appropriated to support this effort. This means that schools must take ever-more money out of the class room to meet federal requirements when schools with low test scores are in “Program Improvement”. Once schools are in PI for 5 years they can be forced into privatization.

NCLB is a driving force that decimates the “publicness” in public schools. In California, more than 2000 schools are now in “Program-Improvement”. This means that they have to meet certain specific, and mostly impossible standards, or they must divert increasingly greater amounts of money out of the classroom and into private programs.

For example, schools in 3rd year PI must take money out of programs that helped schools with a high proportion of low achieving schools and make it available to private tutors. (East Bay Express. February 13-19,
2007. “Career Opportunities” (

The struggles of the Civil Rights Era made people realize that quality education was a right that everyone deserves. Education today, whether public or private, is a social policy. We make choices about how far it is extended, what the purpose is, what quality is offered, and to whom. Now that wealth is polarizing in this country, corporate forces are determined to create a social system that benefits the “Haves” while excluding the “Have-Nots”.

Privatizing public schools inevitable leads to massive increase in social inequality. Private corporations have never been required to recognize civil rights, because, by definition, these are public rights. If the corporate privatizers succeed in taking over our schools, there will be neither quality education nor civil rights.

The system of public education in the United States is deeply flawed. While suburban schools are among the best in the world, public education in cities has been deliberately underfunded and is in a shambles. The solution is not to fight backwards to maintain the old system. Rather it is to fight forward to a new system that will truly guarantee quality education as a civil right for everyone.

Central to this is to challenge the idea that everything in human society should be run by corporations, that only corporations and their political hacks have the right or the power to discuss what public policy should be. As Naomi Klein stated so well in The Shock Doctrine, privatization “will remain entrenched until the corporate supremacist ideology that underpins it is identified, isolated and challenged”. (p 14)

The real direction is to increase the role and power of the public in every way, not eliminate it. If we can spend $2.5 billion a week for war in Iraq, we can certainly build quality schools. It’s not a matter of money. The issue is who will benefit and who will control. Should schools be organized to benefit the super-rich, or should they be organized to benefit everyone?


The sections below examine only some of the major privatizing in public education in the last year.

* “A Tale of Two Cities” examines how corporate- dictated educational policies seriously eroded the quality of education in Oakland, Ca and New Orleans.

* “Creating and Education Market (The Plan)” looks at corporate objectives for education,

* “Philanthropreneurs (The Agents)” the people who are implementing their attack.

* “Further Inroads into Public Education (The Campaigns)” discuss other specific situations.

* “Public Education and Health Care” treats the many parallels in how corporations control these essential human rights in America today.

[Steven Miller and Jack Gerson, are executive board members of the Oakland (CA) Education Association]

A Tale of Two Cities

● The public schools in Oakland, California were seized by the state in 2003 because the district supposedly could not pay off a state loan. Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is a heavily minority majority school district in a city that lost much of its industry as manufacturing was automated. The take-over meant that the parents, students and teachers of the city lost their civil rights to make decisions about their schools. This loss is central to everything that followed.

The state came in with a pretense of fiscal responsibility, but quickly doubled the debt. The real purpose was to change a captive city’s public education into the corporate model. Randolph Ward, the first state-administrator, quickly shut down the high school newspapers, closed schools, opened charters, eliminated libraries, counselors, electives and support staff, especially in the poor Flatland schools. Schools became profit centers, based on high-stakes testing and scripted learning. This was a classic bait and switch scheme, similar to what is now happening in New Orleans, Washington DC and other cities.

For four years, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has been a captive laboratory for corporate-style education:

“It has been hailed as a national model of education reform, a school district where public-private partnerships combined with strong leadership and vision to completely transform a long struggling public education system.”

“School districts from coast to coast had seen pieces of what Oakland was experiencing, but rarely – if ever – had all the planets supporting meaningful reform aligned themselves together like they did in Oakland back then” (2005 –ed).

“Together these forces (a state-appointed administrator, philanthropists and key community organizations – ed) set out to turn the Oakland school system on its head by creating a marketplace of schooling options for families, shifting school budgets from the central office to the schools and forcing the entrenched bureaucracy to reinvent itself as a bona fide support organization for schools.”
(“Oakland – National Model or Temporary Opportunity?” by Joe Williams, September, 2007. Center for Education Reform (

Despite the alignment of the planets, after 4 years of state-appointed administrators, the district was further in debt than ever with little positive to show for it. In fact, the state take-over was virtually a hostile corporate take-over by billionaire Eli Broad, who hand-picked all important district personnel. Since the community had lost its voice, 42 of 98 schools have been closed, charterized or made into “small schools”. 62% of Oakland’s schools have been forced into PI under NCLB.

Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, it turns out that charter schools actually cost the district money. The district loses Average Daily Attendance (ADA) revenue from the state for every child that went to a charter school. Furthermore in California public property, often including buildings, supplies, computers and all manner of resources, is usually handed over to charters at no cost. However OUSD steadfastly keeps increasing the number of charters.

Under the state regime, every cut in the educational program lead to an attack on teachers and every attack on teachers guaranteed cuts to the educational program. Libraries, counselors, nurses and psychologists disappeared in schools in the poor parts of town. Kindergarten was extended to a full day schedule, without naps, so the children could take standardized tests. However, since younger students cannot be trusted to bubble in the forms correctly, teachers are forced to fill out hundreds of forms for them on their own time. As always, when corporate forces take control, the quality of education is dramatically reduced.

To support this effort, corporate forces came forward to raise more than $40 million for OUSD “to redesign the central office” and refused to allocate even a penny of this money to the classroom. However, administrators are leaving the schools at an alarming rate, the highest in the state, despite the money. Meanwhile, the debt is being paid for by the children, since a portion is deducted from the classroom, from the (ADA) that the city receives from the state. The children are forced to pay off the loan.

Until the last few years, and since World War II, Oakland has had an African-American population of over 40%. This is the highest concentration of African-Americans west of Houston. The city was also proud to have the highest number of families from New Orlean - until Katrina hit in 2005 and families were dispersed in all directions. Suddenly that Fall, State-Administrator, Randolph Ward, was missing from the city for several weeks. Ward, it turns out, was spending his time in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, touting charter schools.

● The publication of Naomi Klein’s important book, The Shock Doctrine, in 2007 tore the veil away from the vast efforts to privatize every aspect of government that has been a growing trend in the US since 2001. New Orleans, of course, has become the laboratory to develop these policies.

“The Bush administration immediately seized upon the fear generated by the attacks to not only launch the “War on Terror” but to insure that it is an almost completely for-profit venture, a booming new industry that has breathed life in to the faltering US economy. Best understood as a “disaster capitalism complex” it has much farther-reaching tentacles than the military-industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned against at the end of his presidency…

“To kick-start the disaster capitalism complex, the Bush administration outsourced, with no public debate, many of the most sensitive and core functions of government – from providing health care to soldiers, to interrogating prisoners, to gathering and ‘data mining’ information on all of us.” (Klein. The Shock Doctrine. P 12)

“Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that had been pioneered in Iraq…. As many remarked at the time, within days of the storm, it was as if Baghdad’s Green Zone had lifted off from its perch on the Tigris and landed on the bayou. To spearhead its Katrina operation, Shaw (a corporation - ed) hired the former head of the US Army’s reconstruction office. Fluor (another Iraq contractor - ed) sent its senior project manager from Iraq to the flood zone.”
(Klein. The Shock Doctrine, p 410-411)

Though in declining health, the guru of privatization, Milton Friedman wrote an article entitled “The Promise of Vouchers” in the December 5, 2005 Wall Street journal, where he demanded the privatization of every public school New Orleans city through vouchers. George Bush quickly appropriated $30 million. However, in 2006, the Florida’s Supreme Court found vouchers unconstitutional in Jeb Bush’s own state. So George Bush quickly switched gears and earmarked the money for charter schools for New Orleans.

The schools were summarily closed and reopened as charters. Every teacher was fired and then selectively re-hired. The control of the schools was given to Paul Vallas, the first “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools who pioneered the corporate approach. Vallas had been head of Philadelphia’s schools until a series of political and financial crises (including a deficit he said didn’t exist) lead him to consider new cities to plunder.

The result is described by New Orleans Loyola University Law Professor, attorney Bill Quigley:

“There is a massive experiment being performed on thousands of primarily African American children in New Orleans. No one asked the permission of the children. No one asked permission of their parents. This experiment involves a fight for the education of children.

“This is the experiment.

“The First Half

“Half of the nearly 30,000 children expected to enroll in the fall of 2007 in New Orleans public schools have been enrolled in special public schools, most called charter schools. These schools have been given tens of millions of dollars by the federal government in extra money, over and above their regular state and local money, to set up and operate. These special public schools are not open to every child and do not allow every student who wants to attend to enroll. Some charter schools have special selective academic criteria which allow them to exclude children in need of special academic help. Other charter schools have special admission policies and student and parental requirements which effectively screen out many children. The children in this half of the experiment are taught by accredited teachers in manageable size classes. There are no overcrowded classes because these charter schools have enrollment caps allowing them to turn away students. These schools also educate far fewer students with academic or emotional disabilities. Children in charter schools are in better facilities than the other half of the children. These schools are getting special grants from Laura Bush to rebuild their libraries and grants from other foundations to help them educate. These schools do educate some white children along with African-American children. These are public schools, but they are not available to all public school students.

“The Other Half"

“The other half of public school students, over ten thousand children, have been assigned to a one-year-old experiment in public education run by the State of Louisiana called the "Recovery School District" (RSD) program. The education these children receive will be compared to the education received by the first half in the charter schools. These children are effectively what is called the "control group" of an experiment Ð those against whom the others will be evaluated.”

“The RSD schools have not been given millions of extra federal dollars to operate. The new RSD has inexperienced leadership. Many critical vacancies exist in their already-insufficient district-wide staff. Many of the teachers are uncertified. In fact, the RSD schools do not yet have enough teachers, even counting the uncertified, to start school in the fall of 2007. Some of the RSD school buildings scheduled to be used for the fall of 2007 have not yet been built.

“In the first year of this experiment, the RSD had one security guard for every 37 students. Students at John McDonough High said their RSD school, which employed more guards than teachers, had a "prison atmosphere." In some schools, children spent long stretches of their school days in the gymnasium waiting for teachers to show up to teach them.

“There is little academic or emotional counseling in the RSD schools. Children with special needs suffer from lack of qualified staff. College-prep math and science classes and language immersion are rarely offered. Classrooms keep filling up as new children return to New Orleans and are assigned to RSD schools.

“Many of the RSD schools do not have working kitchens or water fountains. Bathroom facilities are scandalous. Teachers at one school report there are two bathrooms for the entire school - one for all the male students, faculty and staff and another for all the females in the building.

“Hardly any white children attend this half of the school experiment. These are the public schools available to the rest of the public school students.’
(“New Orleans's Children Fighting for the Right to Learn” by Bill Quigley. T r u t h o u t | Report, Thursday 09 August 2007)

Quigley accurately describes how charter systems quickly evolve towards well-funded, niche schools for the Haves and schools of depravation for the Have-Nots. He also clearly exposes the lie that charter schools are “public schools”. Their management lacks the public accountability of public schools, do not have to report to the public and can pick and choose their students, something that public schools cannot do.

At the same time charter schools often receive vast private donations of funds that provide them with tremendously greater resources than public schools. Nevertheless, the do not show significant achievement. (“Blowback – The Myth of Charter School Success”, LA Times, February 12, 2008 -,0,938309.story)

How strange that public schools are increasingly tied to standards, regimented learning, and high stakes testing, while charter schools are urged to innovate and experiment! Certainly there exist both public and charter schools that are creative. People are also not always in the position when they can pick and choose. However in New Orleans and across the country, most charters are run by corporations and entrepreneurs, not visionary educators.

Both in Oakland and New Orleans, state power was used to usurp the public’s control of their schools and to force into place a corporate vision of schools without public discussion. In both cases, the loss of civil rights over public schools has meant a drastic worsening in the quality of educational delivery. This experience is a huge indicator for the direction of public education in other cities, where corporate power is beginning to make in roads.

Creating an Educational Market… (The Plan)

A year ago we wrote in “Exterminating Public Schools”:

“The significance of the report (“Tough Choices” –ed) is that the march towards the privatization of public schools came completely out of the closet in 2006. No longer is it a hidden agenda. Now the open campaigning will begin, the lobbying and bribery will ensue and laws will be debated to change public schools in the corporate direction”.

This report presents some of the most significant efforts towards privatization.

In May, the NY Sun published an example of the corporate attitude to public education, in this case, from Fortress Investment Corp:

“As investors, the group's leaders spend their days searching for hidden diamonds in the rough: businesses the market has left for dead, but a savvy investor could turn for a profit. A big inner-city school system, Mr. Tilson explained, is kind of like that — the General Motors of the education world. ‘I see very, very similar dynamics: very large bureaucratic organizations that have become increasingly disconnected from their customers; that are producing an inferior product and losing customers; that are heavily unionized,’ he said. A successful charter school, on the other hand, is like ‘Toyota 20 years ago.’”
(“How New Generation of Reformers Targets Democrats on Education”. Elizabeth Green. NY Sun, May 31, 2007)

Time Magazine’s glowing praise of privatization could not hide the cynicism of people who intend to profit from the misery of others:

“Paul Vallas, the man who took over the troubled school systems of Chicago and then Philadelphia and upended them, stood before a crowd of New Orleans parents in a French Quarter courtyard earlier this summer and offered a promise. ‘This will be the greatest opportunity for educational entrepreneurs, charter schools, competition and parental choice in America,’ he said.

Call it the silver lining: Hurricane Katrina washed away what was one of the nation's worst school systems and opened the path for energetic reformers who want to make New Orleans a laboratory of new ideas for urban schools. “ (Time, 9-6-07)

This is the corporate approach to what are left of the public schools. Apologists blithely call this “creating an education market”. How exactly do you take something that most Americans still consider a public entitlement and make a profit out of it? Bush’s educational law, No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) plays an essential role:

“There are steps that would make K-12 schooling more attractive to for-profit investment, triggering a significant infusion of money to support research, development and creative problem-solving. For one, imposing clear standards for judging educational effectiveness would reassure investors that ventures will be less subject to political brickbats and better positioned to succeed if demonstrably effective. A more performance-based environment enables investors to assess risk in a more informed, rational manner.
(Educational Entrepreneurship: Realities, Challenges, Possibilities, 2006, edited by Fredrick M Hess, p 252)

“In sum, NCLB represents an enormous challenge to the status quo in public education and has the potential to create a major opening for entrepreneurs inside and outside of the public system. Since NCLB passed, a large number of schools across the country have been identified as ‘in need of improvement’ for failing to meet AYP targets”.
(Educational Entrepreneurshjp. p 80)

Almost all the entrepreneurial proposals are aimed at central cities, where the corporate vision is touted as the historic solution to decades of discrimination in public education.

Suddenly, out of the blue in 2007, we hear about Educational Maintenance Organizations (EMOs). These private corporations, like HMOs, are proposing to dispense services that people used to expect from our governments. Corporations now realize that owning individual schools is not the major direction for profit. Rather they intend to provide services to schools in the aggregate, regardless of schools succeed or fail. Thus these corporations become targets for investment. Whether private corporations actually can provide public education will be examined in the last section below.

Congressmen quickly anointed themselves as experts in education and proclaimed that merit pay for teachers could be “measured” by considering their “value-added” – the amount that student test scores improved or declined! It is a tribute to central city teachers that they did not immediately move to the suburbs, so that their students could suddenly achieve so much better!

Interestingly enough, the corporate model for public schools is 100% untested. In fact, recent studies done by the government on scripted learning show that it does not work very well at all. In 2007, Peter Henry published an important, easily accessible, and well documented report, “The Case Against Standardized Testing” (

”But, putting all this aside, let’s return to the central premise: student effort will increase when there is ‘more’ riding on a test’s outcome. Astoundingly, there is no research data showing that such ‘high-stakes’ environments actually work to improve effort, achievement or scholarship. None.” (p 43)

“Let me say this again because it is terribly important: There are no large-scale, peer-reviewed academic studies that prove, or even suggest, that a high-stakes, standardized testing educational program improves learning, skill development or achievement for students.” (p 45)

Therefore, the entire justification for the corporate educational model is completely and absolutely unproven. The whole high-stakes scam is deconstructed in detail at The poor have always been forced to endure scripted learning and high stakes testing, simply because it is cheaper than providing the same enriching educational experiences that the wealthy receive.

Corporate corruption, however, inevitably blooms when public control is gutted. Reading First – a $4 billion scripted reading program favored by George Bush – was charged, in a scathing report, by the Inspector General’s Office with a variety of scams in 2006. (

Philanthropreneurs (The Agents)

This apparatus is directed by a group of billionaire “philanthropreneurs” who are dead-set on engineering the corporate take-over of US public schools. Including billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Milliken, the Dell family, the Waltons and Donald Fischer (The Gap), the group’s point billionaire is Eli Broad (as in “toad”) who has defined the current strategy. Using their vast private wealth and their base in private corporations, they have moved to take over the debate over how to improve America’s schools. That these “philanthropreneurs” often have more disposable cash than most cities is a result of changes in tax laws in recent years.

In the past six years, The Broad Foundation has invested more than $56 million to support the growth of charter schools in a small number of cities including Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland and Philadelphia. Last November, The Broad Foundation announced a $10.5 million grant to Green Dot Public Schools to open 21 new small high schools in Los Angeles over the next four years. The Alliance grant brings The Broad Foundation’s support of charter schools in Los Angeles to $36 million. Broad also provides significant funding to Teach for America.

Broad is quite open about billionaires’ ability to do end runs around local governments, “What smart, entrepreneurial philanthropists and their foundations do is get greater value for how they invest their money than if the government were doing it.” (“Age of Riches - Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity”. Stephanie Strom. September 6, 2007)

The Broad Institute trains school superintendents, school boards and even union leaders in what they consider “appropriate corporate approaches”. A central problem for corporate privatizers is the issue of governance, ie who has legal authority over the schools. Broad favors state take-overs (New Orleans, Washington DC, Oakland, Ca, St. Louis) or mayoral takeovers (Chicago, Pittsburg, attempted last year by Villaregosa in LA) to eliminate messy interference from the public.

The “Tough Choices” report mentioned above is quite clear about eliminating the public’s right to control their schools:

“First, the role of school boards would change. Schools would no longer be owned by local school districts. Instead, schools would be operated by independent contractors, many of them limited-liability corporations owned and run by teachers. The primary role of school district central offices would be to write performance contracts with the operators of these schools, monitor their operations, cancel or decide not to renew the contracts of those providers that did not perform well, and find others that could do better. … The contract schools would be public schools, subject to all of the safety, curriculum, testing and other accountability of public schools”.
(“Tough Choices” - “Executive Summary”, p 16, emphasis added)

The “Tough Choices” study was quickly followed by a report from Stanford University called “Getting Down to Facts”( The report claims that California’s school system “is broken” even though it acknowledges that the state’s schools have been underfunded by over $1 trillion in the last 30 years. It called for restoring this money after issues of governance were resolved.” Most of these are designed to implement the Broad agenda of breaking teacher unions, differential pay, longer school days, and fewer union rights.

This is a classic example of how corporations usurp public debate with glitzy reports from private research groups, entrepreneurial donations and influencing government decisions behind the scenes.

By April 2007, Gates and Broad announced that they were tired of the incremental approach to school change. They donated $60 million to build a multi-media campaign to influence the 2008 election by forcing the corporate vision of education into elections across the country. Instead of addressing historically neglected populations, segregation and issues of equal, quality education, the campaign, Strong American Schools, will focus on three issues. Supposedly a standardized national curriculum, merit pay and lengthening the school year will solve all problems.

The Ed in ‘08/Strong American Schools program is an unheard-of, private effort to completely change public policy on schools essentially by buying their way into every electoral forum.
Gates and Broad intend to use this effort to completely change the debate about public education in the corporate direction.

Further Inroads into Public Education (The Campaigns)

● In Washington DC, Adrian Fenty, was elected as the “education mayor”. After getting schooled by Broad, he proposed that Congress take over the DC schools. Next he proposed a law similar to one in California, that charter schools have automatic access to “vacant public school property”. In California, this has meant the transfer of millions of dollars of school property into charter hands at no cost whatsoever.

Corporate nepotism grew even more incestuous in August, when Oakland’s second state-administrator, Kim Statham (a Broad trainee), quit and was immediately hired to be the chief academic officer of Washington DC schools by Broad graduate and past Oakland city Manager, Robert Bobb.

Bobb is on record supporting Broad's many educational initiatives, among them the 10-month leadership academy he attended in 2005. The academy, Bobb said, taught him a lot about the use of data and getting access to experts and other resources. "He is putting his money where his mouth is," Bobb said.

Money is definitely an issue alright. Brenda Belton, former charter oversight chief for the DC Board of Education plead guilty in 2007 to massive theft from the low-performing school system. She admitted to arranging about $649,000 in illegal school payments and sweetheart contracts to herself and her friends.

Not to be outdone, in California, the CEO of one of the state’s largest charter school networks, C. Steven Cox, was indicted on 113 felony counts of misappropriating public funds, grand theft and tax evasion (SF Chronicle, 9-5-07). Meanwhile, in Oakland, the principal of Urban Prepatory Charter Academy, Isaac Haqq, resigned after it was proven that he changed many failing student grades to A’s and B’s. Of course, the students do not get their school year back (SF Chronicle, July 23, 07).

● In New York, Joel Klein, school superintendent and signatory of “Tough Choices”, carried off the 2007 $1 million Broad education prize. Klein called for making every single school into a charter school. Teachers union leaders meanwhile signed on to implementing differential pay for teachers. Then Klein began an experiment to evaluate teachers based on how their test scores increase. Some 2000 teachers are involved - without their knowledge – although cooperating principals do know.

Corporate education policies and privatizations spread in 2007 from a few large urban school districts to cities across the country, including Oklahoma City, Pittsburg, Houston, Los Angeles and St Louis to name a few.

● The June Supreme Court decision cut the legs out from the 1954 Brown v Board of Ed decision, which held that segregation was inherently unequal, further advanced the corporate agenda. By recognizing de facto segregation, the decision is a statement of things to come.

It is well known that schools in America are more segregated that they were in 1954. So why did the Supreme Court do this now? Why not just maintain the fig leaf that integration has succeeded? The essence of the decision is that school districts may not use race, in individual cases, but still may consider it in the aggregate (whatever that means). Since the big trend is privatization, this decision clears the ground for a district that institutes charter schools across the board.

How can anyone now use the courts to block schools that discriminate based on individual cases? As corporate charter schools come in – and they regularly either reject low-achieving children or drive them out (the accountability issues multiply with each new charter) – how can we legally fight for equality or equal education?

There is another side to Brown. Before Brown the issue of the quality of education never before appeared in law. No one had a problem if African-American kids in Mississippi received text books that were 10 years out of date, soggy and mildewed, with their covers missing.

By saying that separate education was inherently unequal, Brown set the floor for the quality of public education. This was the first time that the quality of public education gained an legal standing. The current decision definitely guts this. In their future, the quality of education will be what corporations demand.

 In another decision – the “Honk for Peace” case from Indiana - the courts stepped up like good team players to facilitate the corporate agenda. They examined a case, where a teacher was fired for telling her elementary school class that she would honk for peace.

As a federal appeals court in Chicago put it in January, a teacher's freedom of speech is "the commodity she sells to an employer in exchange for her salary." The Bloomington, Ind., school district had just as much right to fire Mayer, the court said, as it would have if she were a creationist who refused to teach evolution. They indicated that it was legal for teachers to agree with the government, but they had no right to disagree with government policy, from the war in Iraq to, presumably, efforts to privatize school.

 At the beginning of 2007, the renewal of NCLB seemed inevitable. Petitions to end it began on the Educatorroundtable website and others around the country. Opposition grew rapidly and public pressure on politicians greatly increased. By the end of the year, the issue was postponed, unresolved, into 2008. Law suits were filed to attack one of the most destructive elements of NCLB, that it is unfunded. This fact alone, of all the inequities built into the law, reveals the bankruptcy of the corporate model in all of its ramifications. Those that have are imposing educational standards for those that don’t, ostensibly to raise them up, but really to keep the down.

Public Education and Health Care

There is an unspoken assumption about privatizing public schools that corporations and EMOs really don’t want to discuss. The question is this: will privatizing the schools actually lead to better public education? Let’s examine this more closely.

Public education is quite similar to health care, a human need that is already highly privatized in the United States. For health care, the rise of HMOs was a result of the corporatization of health care. This development meant that the government gave up any responsibility to provide a service of quality. Now that responsibility is shifted to corporations, the government’s role is to collect taxes, which are sent to HMOs in various ways to “cover health care costs” and maintain their profit. The corporations determine the quality they provide. It’s no longer part of the public debate. If you want better service, you pay for it.

HMOs make their money dispensing medications and treatments, not by providing the quality of care. Both hospitals and nurse salaries are usually considered a necessary loss to corporate profit. Consequently they both are being curtailed across the country. The entire health industry is now configured by Wall Street as a bundle of investment opportunities. This completely undermines the quality of service. This too is the “entrepreneurial” direction for public schools.

Both health care and education heavily rely on human labor to provide services. Both require nurturing and direct personal care to get results. Everyone remembers the teachers that made a real difference to them, the people who took their time and worked with them until they finally got it right. Therein lies the problem for corporations.

The value of any commodity is the amount of human labor-time involved in its production. This law however clashes directly with profit-making for both health care and education. Nurses must put more time into clinically assisting terminally ill patients. Teachers put less time into a straight A student than they so into a Special Education student. In each case, this means that, for corporations, too much labor is being put in the wrong direction. Hence, charter schools have the right to pick their students. Quite consistently, they refuse to accept students with Special Ed needs or students they perceive to be low-achievers.

The direction of health care is to seek profitability with niche hospitals that cater to the needs of the wealthy, just as Exeter educates the scions of the rich. As we already see in New Orleans, charter systems inevitably polarize into quality schools for the few and collapsing schools for most people.

The privatization of public education will be driven by the profit motive in the same direction. As we have seen above, investment possibilities and corporate profits are increasingly usurping the discussion. Even a decade ago, America still debated how to guarantee education as a civil right. This discussion has been drowned by privatizers and their political agents. To all intents and purposes it is now off the table.

The result for education will be identical to health care. Privatization means the withdrawal to the right of quality education. Government will no longer accept responsibility for the quality of public education. This will be taken over by private corporations who, as they already do in most charter schools today, refuse to be held accountable.

The big difference between public education and health care is that a national system of public schools was constructed during the last century, while health care has always been private. Public schools have taught six generations of Americans social values that corporate privatizers would prefer to ignore: “play fair”, “share, “If you break it, clean it up, “ and “everybody gets to play”. If you ever attended a private school, including universities, you know that these values do not exactly lead the discussion.

Privatizing public education will destroy that system, just as privatizing the rain forest leads to carving it up for sale. Public schools and public values do not have to become a thing of the past. While this process is well underway, it does not have to come to pass. We can fight forward to a cooperative system where real public control will build schools that can truly open up our human potential. Qualilty public education is a civil right!

Steven Miller –
Jack Gerson - (

Background & Resources
(These are just a few resources that detail the corporate assault on public education.)

Eli Broad et al

“Eli's Experiment”. Robert Gammon, East Bay Express, October 10, 2007

“The Broad Connection”. Berkeley Daily Planet, July 24, 2007,

“Filling the Civic Gap – Meet Donald Fisher”. Matt Smith. SF Weekly 6-21-06.

“Age of Riches” - Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity. Stephanie Strom.
September 6, 2007

“Foundation money may aid city high school makeover”. By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Monday, January 15, 2007

Los Angeles City Beat 2007-10-21

“District's Ex-Charter Schools Chief Admits Fraud”. Carol D. Leonnig. Washington Post. Friday, August 10, 2007

“TFA Teams With Districts to Groom Aspiring Principals”. By Lynn Olson. Education Week
Published in Print: October 3, 2007

“Out-of-state consultants critique city school district”. Jeff Raymond.
The Oklahoman. ( Tue July 24, 2007.

A Crisis in Education?

“Just Another Big Con: The Crisis in Mathematics and Science Education”. Dennis W. Redovich. Center for the Study of Jobs & Education in Wisconsin And United States.
November 2007

“High-stakes Flim Flam”. Bob Herbert. October 9, 2007

“Five Myths About U.S. Kids Outclassed by the Rest of the World”. Paul Farhi
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Getting Down to Facts: School Finance and Governance in California.
Susanna Loeb, Anthony Bryk, and Eric Hanushek
Stanford University, March 2007

“Getting Down to Facts” is an independent research project commissioned by The
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,
The James Irvine Foundation, and The Stuart Foundation.

“Schools, teachers agree on merit pay”.,0,4066984.story. October 17, 2000

New Orleans

“NOLA's Failed Education Experiment - Privatization runs amok in the post-Katrina New Orleans school System”. Ralph Adamo.The American Prospect
August 15, 2007 (web only)

June 2007 New Orleans Teachers Report available at: presscenter/releases/downloads/NoExper Report_07.pdf

Substance. September 2007.

“The Charter School Flood” The Nation, September 10, 2007

Charter Schools

“Exploding the Charter School Myth”. August 27, 2006

Hill, Angel, Christensen. Charter School Studies. -

Jim Vail. “Charter School Hypes and Hoaxes”. Substance, January 2008

Public vs Private

“The Corporations vs. Public Education”. Peoples Tribune - September, 2007.

Steven Miller. “Should the Future Be Privatized?”, “Strategic Grant Making”

Alfie Kohn. “Case Against ‘Tougher Standards’ - One-Size-Fits-All Doesn't Make the Grade”

Peter Henry. “The Case Against Standardized Testing”

“Open Court”.

Fred Smith. “Up The Down School Tests”.

“Career Opportunities - No Child Left Behind set off a gold rush for tutoring companies, but California isn't keeping up”. East Bay Express

Gerald Bracey. “Growing an Achievement Gap”. The Huffington Pose
Posted July 15, 2007

Gerald Bracey. What You Should Know About the War Against America’s Public Schools. 2003

Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian. Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools. 2004

Kenneth Saltman. Capitalizing on Disaster. Taking and Breaking Public Schools. 2007

Kenneth Saltman. Schooling and the Politics of Disaster. 2007

Supreme Court Decision

Joint Statement of 9 University-Based Civil Rights Centers Supreme Court Rulings

Web Sites

DC schools:

Marion Brady -

Susan O’Hannion -

Gerald Bracey -

Alfie Kohn -

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