Tag Archives: privatization

American Schools Part 2: The Great Privatization Scheme

$650,000,000.  Each year. That is what the US spends on public education. A big pile of pennies. A massive gold egg.

As  certain elements of our political system continue to degrade teaching and public education they are keeping one eye firmly focused on this treasure trove of tax dollars. Your dollars. My dollars. Dollars that are going to educate the next generation of citizens.

On one hand they attack teachers and unions and emphasize testing rather than learning. On the other hand they can’t keep their eyes off that big mountain of gold. Ripe for plucking. Privatization.

If you don’t keep the figure of $650,000,000 in mind you will  not get it. Just as the private prison industry has been taking over the housing of criminals, we see a movement in politics to turn over education, and tax dollars, to private companies. What Mitt Romney would call a “transfer of wealth”.

Now, you might think that is a good thing. Public schools can do better. Add to that the ingrained myth that private industry is somehow more efficient that public institutions. And there is no doubt plenty of waste , corruption and failure in some public schools.  So, it may be tempting to turn over the education of kids from highly trained professionals  to for profit companies.

Except it doesn’t work. Well, it depends. If your goal is to simply shift wealth from regulated, licensed, dedicated institutions to unregulated ,  short-term profit scam artists  it does work. If your goal is to  improve schools,  it doesn’t. Of course, the same politicians who are constantly trying to degrade public education, de-fund it and de-unionize  it are the ones who want to turn it over to the private entities. Starve the schools then complain about them.

I took my car to my “government-regulated” mechanic last week and told him to rebuild the engine using only a screwdriver. He said couldn’t do it.  He said he needed better tools to do the job correctly. I told him he was a failure. So, I need to get a new mechanic. I found a guy who said he could do it. He is a “privatized” mechanic. He doesn’t need to follow any stupid government regulations. And he is cheap. Left my car with him last week. I am sure it will be fine. Can’t wait to get it back.

Not a single long-term study has shown any significant increase in student performance in these privately run “schools”. A good example is the Wisconsin “Rocketship” fiasco.  Cut teaching staff. Put kids in front of computers. Emphasize only test scores. And even then test scores did not improve. But “Rocketship”profits did…from $ 2 million to $16 million. Without results. (http://truth-out.org/news/item/23319-scathing-report-finds-rocketship-school-privatization-hurt-poor-kids)

$650,000,000. Each year. Every year. Waiting to be transferred from the taxpayer to the private companies. Like pirates scanning the horizon searching for the Spanish treasure fleet.  The Jolly Roger of the privateers is being raised all over America. And the bullion is your tax dollars.

It’s coming. Every time you hear a politician degrade teaching and schools on one hand you can be sure he is taking something else from the privatization movement with the other hand.

The formula is here: Underfund education. Blame the teachers. Turn it over to privateers.

$650,000,000 each year is too hard to resist.

 

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American Schools, Part 1: The Great Leap Forward

After Mao Tse-tung (or Mao Zedong) the communist dictator took control of China he decided to develop industrial production as quickly as possible. His goal was to catch up with the nation of Great Britain, a hated imperial power, in the production of food and iron and steel. He did this by instituting a series of 5 year plans…the most important  called the “Great Leap Forward”. China was going to “leap” over a century of industrial and agricultural production in a few short years.

To do this,  the Mao bureaucracy assigned production goals of food stuffs and raw iron to  every commune. The commune  leader was responsible for meeting those goals. One of the ways to meet the production of iron ore was a multitude of “backyard” furnaces. Small furnaces in which the communes throughout China purified iron ore, pots, pans and scrap metal  for pig  iron, later to be used in the production of steel. The peasants and communes “enthusiastically” responded. (The toll in human life to these policies is well documented elsewhere).

Now, if a commune failed to meet it’s yearly quota the leader of the commune was demoted and a new bureaucrat took his place. If the commune did meet the quota the government often increased the quota slightly more the next year. After a couple years of this system the Chinese communes were producing massive amounts of pig iron. The Great Leap Forward was a great success. Or was it?

As it turned out the production of food and iron was pretty much a fantasy of the bureaucracy. In order to keep your job you had to turn in production totals. People lied. All the production was on paper, not in reality. After all, the government gave them no help and had production goals that were unreachable. In reality. And the iron that was produced was of such low quality that it was virtually useless.  But on paper all was well. After three years the Great Leap abruptly ended. A massive failure.

Which brings us to the current Great Leap Forward in American public education. We have heard ,  well,  forever, that US schools are “failing”.  Despite the fact that the US has one of the best educated work forces in the world. Just look at test scores. Look at those failure rates. Bring up those test scores. Demolish those failure rates.

Once, teachers were expected to teach youngsters. How to read, write, think, express and do all those other things educated folks are supposed to do. Teaching is hard work. Learning is harder work. It isn’t easy getting 14 year old boy to study . Video games, sports, the internet are all much more interesting than Pythagorean’s theorum. Or the causes of WW1. Or Darwin’s theory. Learning is an active process, after all. And if a youngster does not put in the time he will not get the reward. Should he?

Except. Those test scores. Those failure rates. If the test scores are low we have to blame someone. If the failure rates are high we have to find a scapegoat.  And the principals and superintendents and media and politicians and parents know exactly who is to  blame. The teachers. The unionized, lazy teachers. The overpaid peons. The peasants. The commune workers struggling to make pig iron in those backyard furnaces. Without much help.

So, what do we do? Have a Great Leap Forward. Just like Chairman Mao. Tell the peasants to “produce ” more with less. Just give us those “test results”. And raise those “passing rates”. And we will be happy. Lower the passing requirements. Make the tests easier. Produce test grading systems that boggle the mind (Like 40 out of 50 correct equals a 95). Do whatever it takes. Or heads roll. Superintendents get replaced. Principals get fired. But those damned teachers have tenure. Not what do we do?

Massive dishonesty. If  a student fails it is the teacher’s fault. Or the school’s fault. Or the parents’ fault. Never the student’s responsibility. The numbers look bad. Fix them. Some teachers and administrators cheat. Better to produce good test scores than lose your job. Keeps the community happy. No teacher is ever criticized for having too many passing grades. Drill, baby, drill. Forget about learning. Forget about the process of discovery. Focus only on the test. And then wonder why real students get bored. Doesn’t matter. It is all about the test scores. The production quotas. The pig iron. Forget quality, just produce the pig iron.

And when the Great Leap Forward (No Child Left Behind; Race to the Top) fails miserably, we know what has to be done. Blame the peasants. Blame the teachers. Privatization.

Next essay: The Great Privatization Scheme.

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