“Education-Corporate Reform 101”: What Parents Need to Know

the corporatizing of public education?

Dear Parent Friends,

For a while now you’ve been hearing me rant about the negative effects of high stakes testing in education. Most of you have offered polite nods of understanding-being kind because of our friendship. Perhaps you even agree with me, but feel that either you don’t have enough understanding of the issues, or because you quietly concede that while such testing practices are in fact harmful, there’s little you can do to change things. I write this letter to you to explain as best I can exactly how high stakes testing plays into what is called a “corporate-reform” model of education, how a corporate reform model works, and how it’s fucking our kids. And lastly, I’d like to suggest that in fact there is something we can do about it.

I think we can all agree on the simple basic facts about high stakes testing: It dumbs down the curriculum, it creates a narrow and often inaccurate portrayal of how our children are doing in school, it takes away time from genuine and more creative learning experiences, and just makes the kids stressed out.  Race to the Top (RtTT) requires schools use the Common Core Curriculum (in spite of its many flaws), increase testing, and adopt new teacher evaluations that attach teacher’s jobs to their test scores. Legislation is being pushed across many states to increase school vouchers.  But what does this have to with corporations?  How exactly does that work?

Over the last 30 years, corporations (by which I mean the multinational giants) have developed a stranglehold on policy/legislation across many sectors including agriculture, energy, and health care. Their billions of dollars go into lobbying and “research” that force into law changes in regulations that serve their own interests. Having sucked the life’s blood out of the banking and housing industries in 2008, these same corporations have set their sights on education as the next way to make their profits at the expense of the public’s well-being.

I wondered at first why companies like State Farm, Walmart (via their “Walton Foundation”), Bill Gates, UBS AG, Eli Broad, GE, News Corp and RAND had any interest in throwing money at education. Of course there’s always the motive of the tax write-off for philanthropic giving. But wait. There’s more!

These are the same multinational corporations who spend billions of dollars in lobbying efforts and use their “non-profit” affiliations to sway legislators to write laws to their own benefit. The policy advisers (think-tanks and non-profits) driving education reform have direct and close ties to corporations and politicians who will benefit financially and in other ways from these education reforms. Nearly every single policy adviser, body of “research” and piece of legislation have the same agenda: Uniform standards of measurement and curriculum, increased funding to charter schools, teacher and school evaluations based on high stakes tests, dissolving teachers unions, and eliminating senior level teachers (replaced with younger teachers usually from Teach for America). These corporations are often members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), a secretive organization led by right wing CEO’s and politicians to sway government policy toward free market practices that benefit the top wealthiest 10% and erode legislation aimed at protecting our environment, the food we eat, the air we breath, and our rights to a secure job and health care. Exxon and Phillip Morris for example, are leaders in ALEC. However, the efforts to privatize public education are not categorically led by “right wingers”-they are led by corporatists. While corporatists are frequently of the right wing persuasion, many Independents and Tea Party activists are opposed to the corporate domination of our public sector as well.

But why are corporations interested in education? Because there is money to be made in education reform. Data is used to track teachers and children. Data is also used to close public schools and reopen them as charter (choice) schools. The city of Philadelphia is attempting to turn the entire Phillie public school system into a charter/private model. Bobby Jindal, (former consultant for the billionaire consulting firm McKinsey and honored by ALEC) and now Governor of Louisiana, is pushing to privatize public schools for the entire state of Louisiana. But even if your school isn’t in danger of being “foreclosed” on, there is still big money to be made from the testing and curriculum forced on public schools by this “model legislation.” Pearson makes billions of dollars off the new testing and curriculum reforms while most schools eliminate teaching positions and quality programs due to insufficient funds. Where did the money go? Ask Pearson.  The testing also serves as a form of surveillance as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and the Department of Defense are all now acting as the keepers of your child’s private information and test scores from kindergarten through high school.

And who invests in these new charter schools? Hedge fund managers and free market venture corporations do. Billions of public tax dollars are funneled to subsidize school vouchers (which go to the corporations who opened these schools), to pay Pearson for providing the new rounds of tests, curriculum, and evaluation, and for per pupil funding that follows the kids to their new charter school replacements. In order to turn schools into private stocks for profit they need what McKinsey and Company (one of the world’s most powerful consulting companies and biggest backers of school reform) call “big data.” “Big data” can easily be provided by using a national Common Core Curriculum and standardized tests. “Think tank” consulting firms like McKinsey fund the lobbying to craft the legislation. Pearson, who has acquired partnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, MSA, SAT testing, GED testing, ACT testing, and the delivery of the National Common Core, receives state-wide contracts and receives billions of education dollars for their services. Then, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates get paid to manage the data as a private third party once it’s collected.  The same billionaires who lobbied against telling the public about the ill effects of smoking in the 1970’s and who now pay “experts” to tell us that climate change is a “hoax,” have their sights on massive PR and lobbying campaigns to harness public education to their own selfish ends. Don’t be fooled. No matter what you read or hear, absolutely none of these reforms have anything to do with providing your child with a quality education. In fact the opposite is true. They are destroying any chance for a quality education your child might have in the name of making billions of dollars for themselves. And those tests our children take, which by 2014-2015 will double, and begin in kindergarten in all subject areas, are the keys they need to create their kingdom. Our children are merely data sets, dollar signs, and blue chips in the stock exchange for them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a teacher testing my child. I am all for assessments aimed at determining my child’s needs and abilities. I am all for holding teachers accountable for excellence in their craft.  But these high stakes tests being forced on schools and the Common Core Curriculum serve no benefit to children. The former does nothing to inform my child’s teacher about my kid’s abilities or needs, and the latter has been seriously challenged by teachers and teacher educators who have seen first-hand how the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate and robs our kids of many important experiences like exposure to fiction, creativity and the imagination.

There are a lot of times and places in our lives where we feel powerless to change the course of political policy. This should not be one of them. For once, we CAN do something.  Tell your child’s school administrators that your child will not be taking the high stakes standardized tests. Opt out! Tell them why. Expect push back from them. But it’s your right as a parent to opt your child out. This will stop only and if we stop it. How long are we going to be willing to rob our schools of the funding they need, and to subsidize billions of our dollars to pay billionaire corporations for the opportunity to destroy our children’s education?

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

4 thoughts on ““Education-Corporate Reform 101”: What Parents Need to Know

  1. Good article, but there’s also the issue of construction companies that get hired by districts to build new charters or co-locate them in existing buildings, as well as the finance companies that finance the building projects. We need more light shed on the hedge-fund aspect of this. We need to show that their “donations” to even non-profit charters has a payoff elsewhere. They don’t do it just because they’re idealists.

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