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.