Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Business marches to take over public education

"It's all about the money, boys."

Thanks to intrepid readers for suggesting this note, titled "Business moves to center of school policy debate," from Stateline.org, the news website published by the Pew Center on the States. The crux of the article is found in this ominous segment:

Similar efforts are taking place in many states. At a time when cuts in K-12 funding are going straight to classrooms, as Stateline has reported, business groups are moving beyond their traditional role of broadly supporting education to take a more active role in creating school policy. While critics argue that funding cuts will make it impossible for struggling school districts to even maintain the status quo—let alone improve the their students’ test scores and college preparedness—the standard language on state chamber of commerce websites about “investing in education” is being replaced by “accountability,” “data,” “choice,” “vouchers” and “assessment.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a study last month that advises business leaders on how to engage more intensively in policy debates about education. The report argues that businesses have too often allowed themselves to be used merely as promoters of funding, and should be more aggressive and targeted in their efforts to improve educational quality. “If business leaders are serious about school improvement,” authors Frederick Hess and Whitney Downs wrote, “they must play a more forceful role and drive harder bargains…They must insist that in return for their support, educators will use new resources and tools to transform—not merely subsidize—public education.”

Hess conducts training sessions on education for state and local business leaders. Instead of investing in well-intentioned scholarship awards and mentoring programs, he argues that their time can be better spent improving data systems or lobbying in state capitols for legislation that enables experiments. Stretched budgets may motivate school districts to overhaul their organizations in ways they’ve long avoided, says Hess, and business leaders should look at the current climate as an opportunity to encourage tough decision-making. “Instead of simply going to bat for new dollars for schools,” he argues, “business is in a position to say, ‘We want to help you guys out, but we want to be confident that these dollars are going to be spent in a way that matters for students’ success.’ ”

Fundamental facts:
Business is in business to turn a profit. Any business that isn't in business to turn a profit is not a business.

Some wise fellow, whether it was de Tocqueville or Tytler or Elmer Peterson in the Daily Oklahoman, wrote smartly, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury." In some earlier time, elections were decided by counting votes; today they are often decided by counting dollars. Those willing to spend more dollars, therefore, can collect more seats the government. Business interests learned long ago the fine art of buying seats in government.

By collecting the majority of seats in democratic governments, business interests have benefited tremendously by voting themselves largesse from the public treasury in the form of contracts. Some South Carolina lawmakers, in fact, show special affection for "no-bid" contracts -- the sort handed out by lawmakers themselves without even the illusion of competition.

Because a good portion of state funds are devoted to public education, business interests have itched for decades to find ways to tap education funding as a source of profit. Thanks in large part to the roadmap to profit published in the federal "No Child Left Behind" law, many business interests have been motivated to devise "products" to sell school districts, at a profit.

But this has not been enough, and the cleverest of the business community's leaders have deduced that the way to gain the greatest profit margin from education is to privatize the whole system. This isn't accomplished easily or quickly, as education professionals, sensible leaders and others of good will recognize that education is not a business. Much to the chagrin of the business community, the mission of schools is not to produce uniform widgets at the lowest cost and greatest profit.

In fact, the late George Carlin explained precisely what business wants from schools:

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying, lobbying, to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I'll tell you what they don’t want:

They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That's against their interests.
You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly [bad] jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it...

So, to accelerate the process of privatization, business interests seek to install their leaders in positions to lead school systems, districts and schools (see also: Teach for America) and to inject their business theories and models into the systems of public education where they can -- like ours.

As Big Dan Teague said in the Coen brothers' classic film, "It's all about the money, boys." If it weren't, business interests wouldn't pay a moment's attention to public schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment