There’s a movement underfoot to end the way children learn. Look carefully at who says “we need to reimagine” or “this is the time to reassess” schools. These can be signals from those who’ve led the charge to dismantle public schools for years. Like vultures, they’re scheming how to use this pandemic to put the final stamp of success on their privatization agenda.
Most parents and teachers can’t wait for public schools to reopen. Children miss their teachers, friends and their public schools. Teachers tirelessly work to assist their students from afar. Heartwarming stories flood social media about how children and teachers are coming together.
Many, including me, have implied that due to the virus there will be a renewed appreciation of what’s been lost. Public schools and the teaching profession we hope will return stronger and more appreciated. It’s especially important to have hope.
It’s also important not to be fooled. A frightening, albeit not unexpected, reality has emerged. Those who’ve foisted their ideology on public schools for years don’t care about heartwarming stories of success. They don’t see teachers as professionals, but as worker bees to carry out their digital transition plans. Their end is not our end.
Here are some signs.
The Controversial Opinion Piece
Thomas L. Friedman’s New York Times opinion piece describes what the next presidential cabinet should look like. He says We need a political system that mirrors the best in us. His idea of the best are billionaires who’ve hated public schools for years. They include Bloomberg, Gates, and a new secretary of national infrastructure, Walmart C.E.O. Doug McMillon. Ask how much infrastructure funding would go to public schools with the CEO of Walmart in charge.
Laurene Powell Jobs as education secretary.
Friedman’s article suggests the wife of the late Steve Jobs should replace Betsy DeVos. Jobs XQ Super Schools give millions to school districts for her ideas often matched by tax dollars. Schools are similar to Gates backed High Tech High schools. Students rely on self-direction and technology. XQ Super Schools are not a success story. Their school in Massachusetts failed to start last August, see “Despite $10M in outside support, a ‘super school’ failed before ever getting off the ground.” But if the system planned is digital transformation of public schooling, Jobs is the person to do it.
Charter schools apply for small business loans and also get $65 million from the federal government.
Everyone wonders about public school budgets after the pandemic is over. One solution would be to end charter schools that demonstrate no accountability to the public. Instead, Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education says, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools is actively encouraging its members to take advantage of those taxpayer funds intended for small businesses, although their income has not been interrupted at all. Online charter schools will return. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently announced that the federal government would be giving $65 million to charter schools. In a recent Forbes report, “DeVos Makes New Charter School Grants From Troubled Fund,” Peter Greene describes the federal charter school program and breaks down the charter schools that are funded.
Florida Virtual School contracts with Alaska.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who has been instrumental in foisting reforms on public schools, and who is a cheerleader for online learning (see, Jeb Bush’s Cyber Attack on Public Schools), got the Governor of Alaska to sign a $525,000 contract with the Florida Virtual School. Alaskan educators were left out of the decision and expressed concern. The contract runs through February 2021. There’s little proof virtual schooling surpasses the rich learning environment of a well-run public school.
The Koch plan for online schooling.
In the Public Interest reports “Koch-funded think tank says for-profit online schools are ‘what the future of learning looks like.’” The non-profit free-market-oriented research, education, and outreach think tank Mercatus Center at George Mason University has created a policy brief called “Public-Private Virtual-School Partnerships and Federal Flexibility for Schools during COVID-19.” It’s all about converting public education to digital instruction. They highlight K12 and Connections which have poor track records, and the Florida Virtual School.
Eliminating protections for students paves the way for online instruction.
How will disability services return after rights have been deemed “flexible?” The move by Betsy DeVos to waive disability rights rejects the law to educate all children. Either your child learns with online instruction or they’re out of luck. This should never have been permitted.
Reports praise a move to virtual learning after the pandemic.
I have already noted reports showcasing this change from public schools to online learning. David Mansouri is the president and CEO of the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), a nonpartisan nonprofit about transforming education. He writes in The 74, an anti-public school publication, …the embrace of online instruction by academic and distance-learning experts, as well as early enthusiasm for massive open online courses, have demonstrated how technology will transform education delivery, but maybe we were never going to embrace all the possibilities until confronted with today’s K-12 and postsecondary school closures and shelter-in-place quarantines.
Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute pens another report called “A Revolution in Education, Born of Necessity.” She highlights the work of Doug Lemov, an MBA, who wrote Teach Like a Champion, a controversial book focusing on controlled classrooms, often used in charter schools. The methods have been criticized as being harsh and instilling student passivity. Lemov praises online learning.
Bill Gates says students still need to socialize.
Bill Gates claims face-to-face school is irreplaceable. He doesn’t mention academics or teachers. Students can socialize anywhere. Or they can socialize in online charters where they work on their own, likely his vision.
It’s important to question what the powerful are plotting. It’s critical to remember that the last thirty years have not been kind to public education. Americans have been complicit in permitting the privatization of a free public education, giving up ownership of their democratic public schools.
It hasn’t been without a fight. Many educators and parents struggle to hang on to public schools for all children.
But this country through its bipartisan political system has fiercely and arrogantly pushed a privatized agenda. Local school districts have used tax dollars to change public education into their for-profit vision.
Many parents hated:
- high-stakes standardized tests,
- Common Core State Standards,
- the de-professionalization of teachers,
- huge class sizes,
- making kindergarten the new first grade,
- the loss of services for students with disabilities,
- rigid charter schools,
- the loss of online student privacy,
- and more.
Yet here we are. Will online instruction and online charters be what’s left?
While many of us dream about what schools can and should be after this mess subsides, those with clout are planning their final blow.
No one denies the importance of technology, but all-technology and a loss of public schools, will omit the rich learning experiences that all children deserve. No proof can be found that all online instruction works. It will leave children and the nation at risk.
While it’s understandable that public schools will face hurdles when they return, we must ensure that a democratic public education will continue to serve the children for which it was originally designed. That funding will address learning driven by professional teachers and not be for those who seek to cash in on our students.
Lee Snarr says
American schools need reform, but not the ‘for profit’ charter schools of DeVos. Why don’t we look toward the other nations who are doing so much better for ideas?
Sadly I don’t believe public education is of interest to the wealthy one way or another.
Trump’s campaign contributor, DeVos, is as big a disaster as Trump himself.
We need improvement but this administration will not be the answer. VOTE TRUMP OUT in November.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Lee. I agree that schools could use reform. But some of the things that need reform are the old school reforms like high-stakes testing!
I’m a retired public school teacher in my seventies and looking back a long ways. Just my opinion but, teacher training programs around the country would do well to pay more attention to who actually wants to be a teacher K-12 and why, and what for.
Then reevaluate the ridiculous push for “clinical expertise” in the classroom whereas the teacher is all things to all kids.
And lastly, a serious push for stronger unionism. I mean the organizational strength of political advocacy. I could go on about many things but, politics, money, and advocacy are needed.
Nancy Bailey says
I appreciate your comment. No one denies that many changes could improve teaching and public education. The unions should also get with the program.
But those who mean to disrupt education are all about converting schools to nothing but online instruction. They are powerful people. Teachers and parents have pushed back with the Red for Ed movement, but teachers are also busy doing the work.
Looking for more specific solutions….
Hello again Ms. Bailey,
Re: your reply on my post, thank you.
Again only my opinion but, I have taught the old fashion way from way back in the sixties; note books, blackboards and mimeograph machines to computer based classroom instruction, and online cyber tutoring- currently part-time for free. No Luddite here.
I believe you are correct, in that we need specific solutions to remedy the insidious manner that our education system is being tracked. My contention is that the worn out (but true) adage is: “follow the money.” So, for debate would be:
In my state where we spend approx. $16K per student a year, and have over 500 separate school districts funded by property tax and that some districts are so small they only graduate 20 kids a year and other districts have “campuses” with 2000 students in wealthy pockets of the state the inequities are staggering.
Tuition for our public cyber charter schools is based on a calculation that uses local district costs. Tuition for those schools varies from one district to the next and can range from about $7,500 a year for mainstream students to as much as $40,000 a year for special education students.
The first specific suggestion I would make is to allow the school districts to cap the number of charters. That would be a start.
A second suggestion along these lines would be to cap a flat rate per student. It has been suggested that $5000 per student and $8000 per special education student would save the state over $250 million dollars.
Other issues to then be addressed as “follow the money”would be the “self dealing” many of the cyber schools operations (nonprofits) are making with their business “partners” leases, rents, buildings, etc.
When some “nonprofit” charter schools take public money and pay their owners with it, “it creates an enormous incentive to overpay for facilities and supplies and underpay for things like teachers and student services.”
It could be the beginning of better transparency and some relief for the taxpayer which is always a positive approach to involve the community.
Here in Douglas County Colorado the republicans just sacked the school board. I’m disappointed at parents who voted for republicans and the public for poor voter turnout. Now I am so fed up I will never support another mill levy or tax increase for any school ever again. Let them starve.
Nancy Bailey says
I’m so sorry. I know how you feel. Let’s hope there will somehow be a renewed effort to appreciate public education. But it might take a while. Hang in there, Ede.
Brian Ford says
But it is not always vultures. Sometimes it is the seemingly nice guys.. .
I have been working on a blog post explaining how the vultures
(by the way, I love that you used that word) are helped by the
seemingly well-intentioned. Here is a long (sorry) draft.
Where do they gain traction? One place, surprisingly enough, NPR.
I just listened to a TED talk this week in which Ricard Culatta, the CEO of ISTE, was the featured
interviewee. [https://www.npr.org/transcripts/825897322] entitled “Can the Crisis Revolutionize’the way we Teach.” Reminded me of 10 years ago when Michelle Rhee was on Oprah saying we needed a Revolution..
ISTE is the International Society of Technology in Education. Mr. Culatta, who unlike Betsey or Michelle or Joel Klein, seems like a nice guy, nonetheless his remarks about ‘the Great Innovation’ and the Pseudo-Utopia of the school of the future bothered me greatly.
“We will never go back to school the way it was” as if this is a good thing.
He expects that when students return, all of a “sudden we’re going to have this conversation about what expectations are from students when they walk back into the classroom.”
I don’t know how he views schools today, but he talks about a “model of education for the future that we really need to get to and have needed to get to for many years,” one where you “create activities that are not just reading a worksheet that you’ve uploaded online?”
Sure, definitely Every teacher worth her or his salt wants their students to do more than fill out worksheets, wants to avoid a situation in which “the content is the only part that we’re making available,” because “it’s just not effective learning.” But why does he suppose that teachers are not creating activities and engaging students, at least when they are not overwhelmed by workload or their originality hasn’t been crushed by administrative edicts.
Part of the answer is that people are looking for business opportunities and a greater ‘profit pool.’ While ISTE is a non-profit that “works with the global education community,” its main source of revenue (over 60%) comes from conferences and events meant “to accelerate the use of technology to solve tough problems and inspire innovation.”
Its conferences have “YEAR-ROUND MISSION SPONSORS,” including Promethean World, a global education technologies company that develops, integrates and implements ‘learning environments’ and is held by NetDragon Websoft, a Chinese video game company. The other is Microsoft.
Contributing to ISTE’s $20 million budget is nothing for Microsoft and other donors.
Donors –Technology companies– can contribute as ‘a good corporate citizen,’ but they are pushing to ‘Transform learning and teaching’ with an emphasis on technology and providing “a framework for rethinking education and empowering learners.”
They can also say, ”Hey, it wouldn’t hurt us if this was a big thing in ten years – more technology is good for us and we won’t even know the money we are giving is gone.”
It’s a bet on the future direction of education and, while it is not necessarily ill intentioned, it is a view of teaching based on tunnel vision.
So Mr. Culatta has set up a straw man or two. It is not always clear to me whether he is talking about normal school or the worksheet centric online lessons that are being rushed into place because of the COVID crisis and the sudden shift to remote learning. But he wants there to be “still times where everybody can get together in a live space” and to have kids “interviewing each other or their family members and editing and creating videos” or “designing campaigns to help address an issue in their community.”
None of this does what the title suggest, ‘ Revolutionize The Way We Teach,’ because he is talking about interactive activities and project based learning, pedagogical techiniques that teachers have been using literally for decades, if not centuries and millenia, if you include Socratic method.
And, for my experience (Public HS teacher in the Bronx for 20 years), to make them successful you need either very motivated, excited students or you need a teacher to direct, cajole, instruct and motivate. That may be possible on line, but that would certainly be a second choice policy.
On line learning might improve, it might become a great supplement, but there is in discussions of virtual learning, going back to Paul Peterson, a through line of how the on line universe is going to liberate our youth from the staid and unimaginative teacher who bores our youth.
I’ll tell you right now, it is not usually the teacher, it is usualy the administrative committee above him or her that places constraints on academic freedom by adding more and more items to the curriculum or insisting that you have to backward plan from assessment, as if assessment is the goal, not the child assessed.
That is not what Culcatta says. He is not a committee. He thinks himself possessed of vision, and there is something there: “five critical qualities of digital citizens, and we say that we need to teach kids to be inclusive, informed, engaged, balanced and alert.” Okay, fine, but it is really how you opertionalize getting you students to want to have those adjectives describe them, the scaffolded steps you take along the way.
On line learning may be a necessary evil at the moment, it may be a supplement in the future, but kids need teachers, not just to teach them content or skills, but to care about them as human beings, and that is so much harder via a screen. Its not just that you have uniformly unproblematic kids who aspire to make their “community a better place when you’re online.” Even if they most genuinely want “to create an environment that is inclusive of people with a variety of different viewpoints and backgrounds online,” others want to cut up or socialize or assert power or think of ways to have fun.
It’s knowing how to recognize information that is true, information that has biases in it and make decisions about what information is more valuable in what circumstance. Those are the types of skills that we need to be teaching. And if we do, then our virtual environment becomes a community that is rich and engaging and supportive.”
But only some of these are skills. Many of them are attitudes and aspirations, and in order to get kids to aspire we need to engage with them.
Something else bothers me more than that, Culatta says “we’ll go back to a school with a realization, with a reality that the world is a virtual world, that these kids are dual citizens.” Sure, but the school cannot appropriate or monopolize their virtual world. I loved to have students working on computers, putting together projects such as Prezis or porfolios of learning, but I also know that half the kids will wander off to click bait, online shopping, music videos or the like. They get distracted. Culatta seems to have a vision of a the school as an “engaging, rich, meaningful environment that empowers kids not just to soak up information that we give them but to solve problems and to communicate and collaborate with their peers around the world,” but he suggests that that has been what school has been – soaking up information.
Sometimes that is part of it, but on line learning is not going to solve the problem. The problem comes from the administration committes I spoke of, who add items to the curriculum –items that might show up on the test– and demand that teachers adopt the pedagogy of the month.
And that is the problem with Culcatta’s POV. He says, “Teachers are the most creative people on the planet. And once they get the tools in front of them and they know and are comfortable with the tools, the amount of creativity that we’re going to see is just going to be unbelievable.”
No, or at least I am afraid it is not. They are admirable thoughts, and more and better and more varied tools are welcome, but it very well could be the administrators are going to come in and ruin everything. They will dictate curriculum, come up with bullet points of things you should accomplish in a class and be evaluated upon, ask you to perform a dozen tasks having to do with differentiation – overall, they will overwhelm you and then say, “But we have new technology that should makes things easier. And you’ll have to use it, you’re tasked with that.”
And, of course, there is the matter of class and unequal access to resources. As teachers, we are tasked with teaching kids, many of whom, unlike the kids Mr. Culcatta envisages, don’t have a yard outside or a park next to their house. And they don’t have a parent at home to help them, because the parents are not able to work at home. They work not at a computer terminal, but fixing broken machines, or driving a truck, or picking up trash. It is an elite centered view, one that seems to assume that a child’s parents can provide the necessary resources to engage in learning and supplement the school’s efforts. For affluent people that is at least possible, if not always desirable, especially in terms of socialization and civic engagement. But for parents who work two jobs or have to be on the road or who themselves were not educated well, they absolutely need the school and the child’s teachers to step in and sustain the educational endeavor and to make possible that a child can reach beyond their beginnings.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Brian. I need to check out that TED talk. I appreciate your words. You cover it well. You are also correct about the nice guy phenomenon. It reminded me of this old post.
Your post touched on most of my beliefs about teaching but, I am one of the converted.
Something I came to understand, during my long teaching career was that the basic challenge with K-12 education in general, and teaching in particular, is that every kid who sits in a classroom, grows up, moves on, and has a cemented opinion how teachers operate; that teaching is-since they were exposed to 12 years of schooling, something anyone can do. Nothing to it. They know what it “takes” to be a teacher.
They are all convinced they have a plan. If only we the “unwashed” would listen to them.
Well, Mike Tyson (Iron Mike the boxer), once said… “everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” I think we as a society have just been punched in the mouth.
Rick B says
The Chromebook/iPad invasion of our public schools foreshadowed this devious plan. With most of the hardware already in place, the switch to on-line schools will be easy. The Great Recession created conditions (devastating cuts in programs and staff) that enabled the data-driven, Common Core test-a-thon to narrow the curricula. The economic disaster of the CoVid-19 pandemic will produce cuts to state budgets that will devastate the public schools. These vultures are ready to swoop down on this perfect storm that will make on-line instruction the only viable solution for school districts that can no longer fund traditional teacher lead classrooms with relatively small class sizes. Sorry to paint such a dystopian picture, but normal will be re-defined in many aspects of life; the vultures will be more than happy re-define our public schools in their own image.
Patrick J Wiltshire says
Dang, I wish I had read THIS essay before I read Diane’s titled “Corona Virus Just Might End School Privatization Nonsense”. Instead of my long reply (that views her premise as wishful thinking” I COULD have just pointed to your essay and typed: “What SHE said”. Cheers
Nancy Bailey says
I loved her essay. In these trying times educators and parents must have hope. We want public schools to reopen better and for there to be an end to the privatization agenda.
All I’m saying is that the threat to get rid of public schools hasn’t gone away and many people are still plotting their demise.
I hope they read Diane’s post and Slaying Goliath to see what most parents and educators truly want!
Thanks for commenting.
Nancy Bailey says
My thanks to Diane Ravitch and anyone else who passed this blog post forward, or read the post. I always appreciate when you take the time to read something I write. Stay healthy!
The push to end public schools is nothing new at least in the South. After the Brown decision by the Warren court in 1954 most whites in the south abandoned the public schools for private “segregation academies”. More than 60 years after the collapse of Virginia’s policy of “Massive Resistance” (to the racial integration of public schools) most of these former segregation academies are still going strong. Here in Southern Virginia enrollment is at an all time high at several of these private schools and they are expanding and adding facilities and additional classrooms. In many Virginia localities that lie within the “black belt” these private schools serve as the de-facto school system for white children while the black children attend the public schools.
Although these former segregation academies have all officially had non-discrimination policies since the 1980s, few black parents can afford the tuition to send their kids there. They probably wouldn’t want to even if they could because these schools were founded by the white ruling class for the sole purpose of maintaining racial segregation in the classroom.
If public schools were eliminated many people across a large swath of the Southern US wouldn’t notice because they don’t use them and haven’t for more than half a century. It is really the same deal with public transportation. Most whites in the south haven’t used public transportation since Rosa Parks. If you got rid of the bus system in most southern cities most whites wouldn’t know the difference because they don’t ride the bus.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Trevor. I agree with much of what you write, however, I still think public schools are relevant to many parents. We see that now with Covid-19. My concern is that wealthier public schools will eventually become privatized leaving substandard charters for the poor. But similar concerns here.