Call It What it Is: Predatory Reform

“Shutting down public schools and handing them over to private organizations is not a ‘turnaround,’ it is a heist.” — Sabrina Stevens


I am a member of a bloggers group called Basecamp, which has about 100 amazing bloggers comprised of teachers, activists, academics, parents and others from around the country.  Frequently new questions or topics of conversation are posed by members of the group. About a week ago Robert Perry (in a discussion strand) called for examination of, ”the elusive ed reformer catch phrase,” and asked us to consider what we should replace the word “reformers” with. The ongoing “conversation” via email responses was lively and informative. Reformers, as they are self-named is simply not enough we all agreed, besides being an outright lie. It’s like calling Donald Trump the “the salt of the earth.”

It was pointed out by some that “de-formers” (a term embraced by Norm Scott in 2007) perhaps has little too much edge of “snark” to be very helpful in broader public settings, though still immensely satisfying as a descriptor. Others like Tim Slekar use the phrase “faith-based reformers” because there’s no evidence to support their policies and because of their blinding faith in free market ideology for education. All true, but it still sounds too “nice” for me. Something’s still missing. Until now I personally had always used the term “corporatists”… until Jeff Bryant eloquently illustrated reasons why that term may not be accurate enough. He surmises that, “When a word has too many meanings, it ends up spreading confusion rather than clarity.” He illustrated the multiple meanings of the word. So now, having learned something new, I feel hesitant to continue with that phraseology and find myself pondering:

”Reformers….what are they?”

I think the new term I will use to describe, discuss, challenge, or resist “refomers” (aka corporatists, faith-based reformers, deformers, Rheeformers…or any number of expletives I could add) is this:

PREDATORY REFORMERS (also see: predatorial policy or predatory policy makers).

Yes. This new name feels right somehow. It aptly describes both the who and the what in a proverbial nutshell. The name comes from the use of the term to describe immoral, unethical and illegal lending practices in housing which bubbled over and exploded around 2008. Predatory lending. AskHow (a guide for economic theory novices like myself) describes it in simplest terms as follows:

“Predatory lending is the unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices of some lenders during the loan origination process …(T)he office of inspector general of the FDIC broadly defines predatory lending as ‘imposing unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers.’ The practice of a lender deceptively convincing borrowers to agree to unfair and abusive loan terms, or systematically violating those terms in ways that make it difficult for the borrower to defend against.

Let’s (re)define this now in more analogues terms. The “lenders” are the U.S. Department of Education, certain politicians, and billionaires (or the think-tanks they fund) who “lend” monies to push (using unfair, deceptive or fraudulent measures) for certain polices or practices in exchange for self-serving or profitable benefits.  Who are the borrowers? Children, teachers, tax payers, schools and communities who are convinced they need to agree to unfair or abusive terms.

The most painful parallel is how predators as lenders and as education policy makers start with those who they perceived as the easiest “prey”: lower- income largely black and brown communities. Hard working and struggling individuals who are deceptively led into believing that here is the answer to their prayers, the salve for their struggle. They too can “have the American Dream—no really, it’s easy…just sign here.” Predatory lenders often target senior citizens and people of color to place them in unnecessarily expensive loans.

So how are “reformers” and reform policies predatory? Too many ways to count. But I’ll focus on the top few.

Race to the Top is a primary example. The federal government promises to loan monies to cash-starved states in exchange for a few “terms of an agreement.” These terms of agreement include new accountability systems (data collection), new tests (PARCC or SBAC), adoption of Common Core, new methods for teacher evaluation, alternative teacher education programs (TFA), and school turn around policies (charters and vouchers). In exchange for the RtTT monies states in essence are forced to comply with unsustainable, and down-right abusive policies.  “Sure we’ll help you get that new house…just sign here.”

The latest round of ALEC legislation is also an excellent example of predatory policy. As part of their new “student achievement backpack”  they propose changes that would enable private entities (online and edutech companies) to serve in public schools as LEA’s thus enabling them to not only get paid to replace experienced professional public school teachers, but they’ll get oodles of data in return (remember-this predator feeds on money and data). Through the “robust and comprehensive data collection” ALEC aims to allow predatory behaviors into your child’s classroom, where students will be seen not as learners but as “consumers” of the goods and products being sold via these companies.

Parent Trigger. The greatest heist foisted upon parents in many years. The ultimate in deceptive advertising. Spawned in the bowels of ALEC and promoted by many think tanks such as The Heritage Foundation. Parent Trigger sold many communities into believing that this policy would place education decision making back in their hands, locally, where it belongs. Hey, they even made an all star movie Won’t Back Down. Parents are used as patsies to do the dirty work for corporations who, once the public schools are closed, swoop down and claim their rightful space as colonizers of their brave new world. While many parents across the country have begun to fight back, still many other states continue to see this policy as “empowerment ” for communities.

Co-location, charters, and turn-arounds. Remember,  “Predatory mortgage lending practices strip borrowers of home equity and threaten families with foreclosure, destabilizing the very communities that are beginning to enjoy the fruits of our nation’s economic success.”  Similarly, lending agreements with RtTT funds require that more schools be co-located with charters, and expanse of charter schools, and higher rates of “forclosure” on schools which were never equitably funded to begin with. The hedge fund managers who finance the giant charter chains and charter CEO’s profit handsomely by bilking millions from tax payers for which they are rarely held accountable. As a result of these measures, communities are becoming destabilized, and are faced with the loss of community schools and increased race and class segregation as the result of the charters.

Common Core and PARCC/SBAC. The standards and the tests must always be seen as intertwined. Because they are. Common core uses deceptive advertising like “world class standards” and “state led” to lure buyers into a bad deal. And with the agreement to use PARCC or SBAC, the terms of the loan will prove impossible to repay. The costs associated with the new standards and the testing require technological infrastructure, monstrous loads of data collection, endless need for training and retraining, new and shinier curricular materials…NO state can afford the costs.

Once the federal funding runs out in 2014-2105, who will pay for all this new stuff? How will we pay for the metaphorical new garage, the built-in pool, or the roof (which when we bought the place didn’t know it had huge leaks…)? Corporations like McKinsey and Co (king of the predator food chain)  will step in and “take over” PARCC and SBAC in many states, funneling millions to their bank accounts to help “fix the pool, the garage, and the roof”—for a small fee of course.

Additionally, when children “fail” to meet the expectations (cut off scores, VAM) of the new tests, it’s like not being able to “make the payment.” Time to kick them out and parcel them out to private interests. Public into private, school to prison, public educator into TFA…the list goes on.

Both the feds and the free-market corporations are predators it seems.

It’s a blend of capitalism and federal overstep at their worst. After a few drinks, they mated. And they’ve bred a strange beast. Don’t try to feed it. It’ll bite your hand off. It’s a predator.

And you can see the effects of predatory policy coming to fruition. The terms of agreement in each instance are deceiving, unfair and impossible to meet. Or.. we’ve realize we’ve been duped and refuse to meet them. Either way, our public education system, our schools, our children, and our democracy are on the foreclosure auction block- for sale to the highest bidder. And we’re left out in the cold.

So the next time someone asks you what “reform” can be called, call it what it is-PREDATORY.

I’ve been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed and at least a year old is a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled: and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”—Jonathan Swift.

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 “Call It What it Is: Predatory Reform

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Data Disruptors

Fight The Ed Reform 2.0 Agenda

Peg with Pen

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

Dissident Voice

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

The in·ter·reg·num

A site for radical edu-science fiction


Commenting on the State of the World From Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Cloaking Inequity

A blog focused on education and social justice research

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

educator, public scholar, poet&writer - academic freedom isn't free

Chris Mercogliano

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

Reclaim Reform

by Ken Previti

Re:education in Baltimore

A city mom thinks outside the sandbox.

Fred Klonsky

The thoughts of a retired public school teacher.

%d bloggers like this: