All multinational corporations use the same playbook to push privatizing a public good– whether it’s a human resource like clean drinking water or food; or a public service like education. The similarities between the various industrial giants aren’t coincidental. Each stage in their endeavors is part of their shared ideology, and their strategies, therefore, parallel one another.  While discussions about food, water, and energy might seem like diversions from discussion about education reform, it’s not. In fact, it helps answer the question: WHY? What this parallel reveals is how education DE-formers are forcing public education to fit like one piece of a bigger puzzle, in which all of our basic human needs, goods, and services are falling into the hands of a few corporate- owned interests. For example, in the agricultural industry, one corporate giant is Monsanto.  In energy it’s the fracking companies such as BP, Halliburton, and Exxon. In the water industry it’s Nestle, RWE/American Water, and Coca Cola. (Note: These are just a few examples! I could name other companies. I could reference other industries. This is merely a sampling to drive home a point.)

And in education our corporate parasites include Pearson, Bill Gates, and hedge fund-owned charter schools (to name but a few).

It’s no coincidence either that most of these major corporations for ALL of these different industries are members of ALEC, as are those leading the way toward education reform including the Common Core. This is not intended as a lesson in environmental awareness or health issues! I don’t care where you buy your food or what you eat. I don’t care what kind fuel you use, or where you get your water. Rather, it’s vital that we understand how deeply and profoundly all of these industries, and events taking place, are interconnected on systemic and ideological levels. To get to the dead cold heart of corporate reform in education, we must make note of the bigger picture in which all of this is occurring. It’s a necessary step to knowing exactly what we’re up against and how to fight back.

So what are the four steps in their (shared) playbook? Here’s a broad outline


Create a “crisis”: Food crisis, energy crisis, education crisis. While we agree these issues are facing perilous times…corporations spend billions of dollars crafting faux research and white papers to tell a narrative defining the problems in their own self-serving terms, which in all instances evade the REAL causes of the problems (because the corporations themselves are usually at the root of it). From A Nation at Risk to the U.S. Education Reform and National Security report, reformers decry that our education “crisis” is a threat to national security. How “Post 9-11” of them.


Spin a wide narrative to the public through mainstream media that promotes their agenda and limits ways for the truth to get out. It doesn’t matter if the claims even have a shred of truth. Money sells and tells. Truth be damned. Charter school promoters, and Common Core pushers, not unlike fracking companies, sell their ideas to communities promising “quality” services, and a means to solve the community’s problems. They use whatever sound bites will “sell.”

Fracking, as a means to obtain natural gas, genetically modified (GM) seed to produce food, and education reform “innovations” all share one thing: None of them were ever really tested for their viability or safety in small-level trials before being pushed through legislation to become the (inter)national dominators in their fields. The potential high risks, the lack of real knowledge about what the results might be, the negative repercussions of these initiatives are quickly buried. For example:

(T)he problem Monsanto faced was that GMOs are inherently unsafe. They can create dangerous side effects. That was the overwhelming consensus by FDA scientists, according to 44,000 agency documents made public from a lawsuit. But the most important document, FDA’s official policy, claimed that GMOs were not substantially different. They were granted the status “Generally Recognized as Safe,” even though they failed to meet the normal criteria. Thus, no safety testing is necessary. If Monsanto declares their GM products safe, the FDA has no further questions.

 Meanwhile, in 2012 charter schools with failing grades were still promoted at a Chicago school fair. According to Lutton: “One-third of schools featured at New Schools Expo 6.0, mostly charters, are low achievers.”

 Never mind that according to a national study, forty-six percent of charter schools offered a comparable education to similar public schools, 17 percent offered a superior education and 37 percent offered an inferior one.

Money trumps truth. Facts are silenced by power. Rationality and reality have little place in the world of corporate interest.


Create think-tanks, “non profits”, and groups that can provide “solutions” to the problems they’ve outlined in #1. Naturally their solutions are a perfect “fit” for the problems

Eliminate opportunities for real alternatives: make it economically, politically or even legally viable to grow. Become the one and only resource available for the given “problem.”

“Poor performance of American children in schools!!!”  Solution? Test them more!!!  With “new and improved” tests.

One way such corporations corner the market to ensure the “solutions” they have to sell dominate all others is through extensive lobbying to change legislation which suits their own needs and interests.  Right now the majority of food/farming production in this country is owned by 3 or 4 major corporations.  Similarly, our drinking water is increasingly owned by a small handful of multinational billionaire private companies.

In education, our schools are increasingly “owned” by a handful of corporate interests as well. In energy, corporations push to de-fund alternative energy solutions that might become their competitors. In education, decreased funding leads to overcrowding in schools, loss of needed resources and programs, closing schools, and dis-empowering schools to make curricular and assessment decisions. But there’s millions of dollars in reserve for new tests, Common Core, and technology needed to push both.


The corporate dominated solutions not only do NOT solve the problems… THEY MAKE THEM WORSE. They deny responsibility for creating problems resulting from their actions. Whole neighborhoods whose drinking wells have been destroyed by fracking can probably relate to whole communities whose neighborhoods have been hollowed out by the destruction of their public education system. They too were sold a “false promises.” The “well of learning” has been poisoned by test mongers, millionaire-owned charters, privatizers, and profiteers.

Monsanto’s self proclaimed mission states they are focused on “empowering farmers-large and small …supporting their on-farm efficiency and reducing their on-farm costs.”  Yet, according to critics of Monsanto:  “From Iowa to Paraguay, from England to India, Monsanto is uprooting our food supply and replacing it with their patented genetically engineered creations. And along the way, farmers, communities, and nature become collateral damage” 

Replace Monsanto with Pearson, and food supply with education and you have some idea of where I’m going with this. 

This claim seems to overlook the hundreds of  claims that Monsanto has made against small farmers who they claim are “using” their patented trade seeds.  They also sue small farmers for exercising their right to advertise that their products contain no artificial hormones. Monsanto claimed that such advertising made other companies which use Monsanto brand chemicals “look bad.”

Genetically modified food products are subject to intellectual property laws (ownership) just as Common Core materials and the required “assessments” are privately owned and operated by Achieve and Pearson. Pearson has spent large sums of monies lobbying for control over intellectual property laws since 2008.

When Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops hit American farm fields in 1996, virtually no safety studies had been published. While Common Core standards (and PARCC or SBAC tests) hit American schools, virtually no genuine study of their actual quality in real schools has been published.

But that’s not the only comparison. It’s as if replacing teachers with TFA grads, public school closures, and insertion of charter schools sucking dry the funding and resources of public schools, all of which is financed by state and federal monies, really took some notes from Nestle which in Michigan:

“(B)ought wilderness, began pumping water, which is causing stream to dry, flora and fauna to die. And the company got financial incentive from the state, didn’t pay taxes and sold bottled water to citizens who did/should/would have the water from their own faucets for free or minimal delivery costs.”

Research shows that many bottled water companies falsely advertise, claiming that water supposedly from springs in the Swiss Alps was actually culled from a drainage ditch in New Jersey. In a scientific study in which more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of water were tested, about one-third of the bottles contained synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic.

Like many brands of bottled water, this new brand of corporate education is likely to be tainted. According to strong educational research, the corporate-model, for-profit, brand of education reform contains: school re-segregation (arsenic), mind numbing and meaningless curriculum (synthetic organic materials), a reduction in critical thinking skills (bacteria), and an increase in failing but still profitable charter school chains (bacteria). That’s just naming the top few forms of poison among many.

What Millions of Dollars Can Get You: New Laws and Being Above the Law

See John Stoeffel’s recent Chalkface piece which echoes some of the ideas put forward here. 

New legislation will remove the requirement of schools to report just how many of their teachers were hired from alternative certification programs like TFA. According to new legislation: “The Department of Education is seeking public comments on the Civil Rights Data Collection process for 2013-2016. The feds have decided that it is no longer necessary to keep track of the FTE of teachers meeting all state licensing/certification requirements.”

Likewise, Monsanto, with its billions of dollars of lobbying efforts prevented the Food and Drug Administration from requiring food packing be labeled if it contains genetically modified products in it (in CA called Prop 37). No labeling required. We don’t know need to know if our classroom teachers are really highly qualified any more than we are given the right to know if our food has been genetically modified.

Tony Bennett (I am sure among many others) doctor the test scores of charter schools to prevent them from looking bad, and perhaps doctor the numbers on test scores in public schools to ensure they do look bad. Michelle Rhee and a host of other reformers continue to evade any REAL punishments for their actions such as wide spread cheating. They continue to deny any culpability.

Tony Bennett notwithstanding, too many high level reformers still walk the streets untouched by their criminal negligence. Just like Michelle Rhee, when Monsanto’s transgressions are reported to authorities, somehow the company is magically let off the hook.

And …could inBloom and other data ownership companies courtesy of Bill Gate, now slipping their way into our schools to mine private student data with no promise of real accountability or security be taking its cue from Monsanto from which: “intentional contamination occurred in Paraguay, where illegal Roundup Ready seeds were smuggled in before GMOs were approved. Roberto Franco, Paraguay’s Deputy Agriculture Ministry, tactfully admits: ‘It is possible that [Monsanto], let’s say, promoted its varieties and its seeds’ before they were approved. ‘We had to authorize GMO seeds because they had already entered our country in an, let’s say, unorthodox way.’” 

But Monsanto’s negligence is not the only instance. In the energy industry, in the instance of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, “BP’s partners in the Macondo well have so far refused to pay any costs for the spill, claiming that BP’s gross negligence means it is 100% liable.”

85 percent of the people in the United States are served by public water companies, and multinational corporations see this as an opportunity to take control of this resource from cash-strapped municipalities in difficult financial times.  Charter schools investors see cash strapped school districts as their opportunity to turn education as a public good into an addition to their own personal stock portfolio. Just as water companies drain naturally occurring water from public aquifers, “own it,” and then re-bottle it at a profit- education reformers are draining away funds and resources from public education, and reselling it back to the public with their own private stamp and sticker price.

What Can We Do?

Fight back. Be informed. Work within the system by understanding current legislation. And work outside the system by acts of civil disobedience when necessary.

We are dealing with corporate colonization. Don’t let them buy the rights to our land, our water, our means of food production…. or our children.

Keep sharing the real solutions. We know what good teaching looks like. We know what sustainable schools really need. We know what enables all children to grow and flourish. Don’t let them silence us with the false claims that we have “no alternatives.” Yes… yes, we do. We must prevent reformers from continuing to erase them from our schools, from our memories, and from our state and local policies.

See the Parallels for Yourself

For more information on fracking see Gasland

For more information about water see Flow

For more information about the agriculture industry see The World According to Monsanto 

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.

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