The War On Teachers

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The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:08 pm


How is it that we haven't had a discussion here yet about the ongoing attack on teachers, their salaries, their unions -- now the largest in the United States -- and public education itself by the Billionaire Boys, Obama and Duncan following in the footsteps of Bush's No Child Left Breathing, and pretty much the entire corporate media 24/7?

I will aggregate a bunch of stuff here. Add your own!

All matter quoted on this thread is done so fair-use for strictly non-commercial purposes of archiving, education and debate. ... tpage=true

Diane Ravitch wrote:The Myth of Charter Schools

November 11, 2010
Diane Ravitch

Waiting for “Superman”
a film directed by Davis Guggenheim
Paramount Pictures

Anthony, a fifth-grade student hoping to win a spot at the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C.; from Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’

Ordinarily, documentaries about education attract little attention, and seldom, if ever, reach neighborhood movie theaters. Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” is different. It arrived in late September with the biggest publicity splash I have ever seen for a documentary. Not only was it the subject of major stories in Time and New York, but it was featured twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was the centerpiece of several days of programming by NBC, including an interview with President Obama.

Two other films expounding the same arguments—The Lottery and The Cartel—were released in the late spring, but they received far less attention than Guggenheim’s film. His reputation as the director of the Academy Award–winning An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming, contributed to the anticipation surrounding Waiting for “Superman,” but the media frenzy suggested something more. Guggenheim presents the popularized version of an account of American public education that is promoted by some of the nation’s most powerful figures and institutions.

The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit.

The Cartel maintains that we must not only create more charter schools, but provide vouchers so that children can flee incompetent public schools and attend private schools. There, we are led to believe, teachers will be caring and highly skilled (unlike the lazy dullards in public schools); the schools will have high expectations and test scores will soar; and all children will succeed academically, regardless of their circumstances. The Lottery echoes the main story line of Waiting for “Superman”: it is about children who are desperate to avoid the New York City public schools and eager to win a spot in a shiny new charter school in Harlem.

For many people, these arguments require a willing suspension of disbelief. Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.

Waiting for “Superman” and the other films appeal to a broad apprehension that the nation is falling behind in global competition. If the economy is a shambles, if poverty persists for significant segments of the population, if American kids are not as serious about their studies as their peers in other nations, the schools must be to blame. At last we have the culprit on which we can pin our anger, our palpable sense that something is very wrong with our society, that we are on the wrong track, and that America is losing the race for global dominance. It is not globalization or deindustrialization or poverty or our coarse popular culture or predatory financial practices that bear responsibility: it’s the public schools, their teachers, and their unions.

The inspiration for Waiting for “Superman” began, Guggenheim explains, as he drove his own children to a private school, past the neighborhood schools with low test scores. He wondered about the fate of the children whose families did not have the choice of schools available to his own children. What was the quality of their education? He was sure it must be terrible. The press release for the film says that he wondered, “How heartsick and worried did their parents feel as they dropped their kids off this morning?” Guggenheim is a graduate of Sidwell Friends, the elite private school in Washington, D.C., where President Obama’s daughters are enrolled. The public schools that he passed by each morning must have seemed as hopeless and dreadful to him as the public schools in Washington that his own parents had shunned.

Waiting for “Superman” tells the story of five children who enter a lottery to win a coveted place in a charter school. Four of them seek to escape the public schools; one was asked to leave a Catholic school because her mother couldn’t afford the tuition. Four of the children are black or Hispanic and live in gritty neighborhoods, while the one white child lives in a leafy suburb. We come to know each of these children and their families; we learn about their dreams for the future; we see that they are lovable; and we identify with them. By the end of the film, we are rooting for them as the day of the lottery approaches.

In each of the schools to which they have applied, the odds against them are large. Anthony, a fifth-grader in Washington, D.C., applies to the SEED charter boarding school, where there are sixty-one applicants for twenty-four places. Francisco is a first-grade student in the Bronx whose mother (a social worker with a graduate degree) is desperate to get him out of the New York City public schools and into a charter school; she applies to Harlem Success Academy where he is one of 792 applicants for forty places. Bianca is the kindergarten student in Harlem whose mother cannot afford Catholic school tuition; she enters the lottery at another Harlem Success Academy, as one of 767 students competing for thirty-five openings. Daisy is a fifth-grade student in East Los Angeles whose parents hope she can win a spot at KIPP LA PREP, where 135 students have applied for ten places. Emily is an eighth-grade student in Silicon Valley, where the local high school has gorgeous facilities, high graduation rates, and impressive test scores, but her family worries that she will be assigned to a slow track because of her low test scores; so they enter the lottery for Summit Preparatory Charter High School, where she is one of 455 students competing for 110 places.

The stars of the film are Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a broad variety of social services to families and children and runs two charter schools; Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system, who closed schools, fired teachers and principals, and gained a national reputation for her tough policies; David Levin and Michael Feinberg, who have built a network of nearly one hundred high-performing KIPP charter schools over the past sixteen years; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is cast in the role of chief villain. Other charter school leaders, like Steve Barr of the Green Dot chain in Los Angeles, do star turns, as does Bill Gates of Microsoft, whose foundation has invested many millions of dollars in expanding the number of charter schools. No successful public school teacher or principal or superintendent appears in the film; indeed there is no mention of any successful public school, only the incessant drumbeat on the theme of public school failure.

The situation is dire, the film warns us. We must act. But what must we do? The message of the film is clear. Public schools are bad, privately managed charter schools are good. Parents clamor to get their children out of the public schools in New York City (despite the claims by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the city’s schools are better than ever) and into the charters (the mayor also plans to double the number of charters, to help more families escape from the public schools that he controls). If we could fire the bottom 5 to 10 percent of the lowest-performing teachers every year, says Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek in the film, our national test scores would soon approach the top of international rankings in mathematics and science.

Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?

The propagandistic nature of Waiting for “Superman” is revealed by Guggenheim’s complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools. There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools. Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools? Why did he not report on the charter principals who have been indicted for embezzlement, or the charters that blur the line between church and state? Why did he not look into the charter schools whose leaders are paid $300,000–$400,000 a year to oversee small numbers of schools and students?

Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores. He shows us footage of the pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, to the amazement of people who said it couldn’t be done. Since Yeager broke the sound barrier, we should be prepared to believe that able teachers are all it takes to overcome the disadvantages of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, poor nutrition, absent parents, etc.

Paramount Pictures

Francisco, a first-grade student in the Bronx whose mother wants him to attend a charter school

The movie asserts a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.

Guggenheim skirts the issue of poverty by showing only families that are intact and dedicated to helping their children succeed. One of the children he follows is raised by a doting grandmother; two have single mothers who are relentless in seeking better education for them; two of them live with a mother and father. Nothing is said about children whose families are not available, for whatever reason, to support them, or about children who are homeless, or children with special needs. Nor is there any reference to the many charter schools that enroll disproportionately small numbers of children who are English-language learners or have disabilities.

The film never acknowledges that charter schools were created mainly at the instigation of Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997. Shanker had the idea in 1988 that a group of public school teachers would ask their colleagues for permission to create a small school that would focus on the neediest students, those who had dropped out and those who were disengaged from school and likely to drop out. He sold the idea as a way to open schools that would collaborate with public schools and help motivate disengaged students. In 1993, Shanker turned against the charter school idea when he realized that for-profit organizations saw it as a business opportunity and were advancing an agenda of school privatization. Michelle Rhee gained her teaching experience in Baltimore as an employee of Education Alternatives, Inc., one of the first of the for-profit operations.

Today, charter schools are promoted not as ways to collaborate with public schools but as competitors that will force them to get better or go out of business. In fact, they have become the force for privatization that Shanker feared. Because of the high-stakes testing regime created by President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, charter schools compete to get higher test scores than regular public schools and thus have an incentive to avoid students who might pull down their scores. Under NCLB, low-performing schools may be closed, while high-performing ones may get bonuses. Some charter schools “counsel out” or expel students just before state testing day. Some have high attrition rates, especially among lower-performing students.

Perhaps the greatest distortion in this film is its misrepresentation of data about student academic performance. The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level. This is flatly wrong. Guggenheim here relies on numbers drawn from the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years, and I know how misleading Guggenheim’s figures are. NAEP doesn’t measure performance in terms of grade-level achievement. The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade. The film assumes that any student below proficient is “below grade level.” But it would be far more fitting to worry about students who are “below basic,” who are 25 percent of the national sample, not 70 percent.

Guggenheim didn’t bother to take a close look at the heroes of his documentary. Geoffrey Canada is justly celebrated for the creation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which not only runs two charter schools but surrounds children and their families with a broad array of social and medical services. Canada has a board of wealthy philanthropists and a very successful fund-raising apparatus. With assets of more than $200 million, his organization has no shortage of funds. Canada himself is currently paid $400,000 annually. For Guggenheim to praise Canada while also claiming that public schools don’t need any more money is bizarre. Canada’s charter schools get better results than nearby public schools serving impoverished students. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, they might get the same good results.

But contrary to the myth that Guggenheim propounds about “amazing results,” even Geoffrey Canada’s schools have many students who are not proficient. On the 2010 state tests, 60 percent of the fourth-grade students in one of his charter schools were not proficient in reading, nor were 50 percent in the other. It should be noted—and Guggenheim didn’t note it—that Canada kicked out his entire first class of middle school students when they didn’t get good enough test scores to satisfy his board of trustees. This sad event was documented by Paul Tough in his laudatory account of Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, Whatever It Takes (2009). Contrary to Guggenheim’s mythology, even the best-funded charters, with the finest services, can’t completely negate the effects of poverty.

Guggenheim ignored other clues that might have gotten in the way of a good story. While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force. His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students. Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers. It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5–10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. Finland has a national curriculum, which is not restricted to the basic skills of reading and math, but includes the arts, sciences, history, foreign languages, and other subjects that are essential to a good, rounded education. Finland also strengthened its social welfare programs for children and families. Guggenheim simply ignores the realities of the Finnish system.

In any school reform proposal, the question of “scalability” always arises. Can reforms be reproduced on a broad scale? The fact that one school produces amazing results is not in itself a demonstration that every other school can do the same. For example, Guggenheim holds up Locke High School in Los Angeles, part of the Green Dot charter chain, as a success story but does not tell the whole story. With an infusion of $15 million of mostly private funding, Green Dot produced a safer, cleaner campus, but no more than tiny improvements in its students’ abysmal test scores. According to the Los Angeles Times, the percentage of its students proficient in English rose from 13.7 percent in 2009 to 14.9 percent in 2010, while in math the proportion of proficient students grew from 4 percent to 6.7 percent. What can be learned from this small progress? Becoming a charter is no guarantee that a school serving a tough neighborhood will produce educational miracles.

Another highly praised school that is featured in the film is the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C. SEED seems to deserve all the praise that it receives from Guggenheim, CBS’s 60 Minutes, and elsewhere. It has remarkable rates of graduation and college acceptance. But SEED spends $35,000 per student, as compared to average current spending for public schools of about one third that amount. Is our society prepared to open boarding schools for tens of thousands of inner-city students and pay what it costs to copy the SEED model? Those who claim that better education for the neediest students won’t require more money cannot use SEED to support their argument.

Guggenheim seems to demand that public schools start firing “bad” teachers so they can get the great results that one of every five charter schools gets. But he never explains how difficult it is to identify “bad” teachers. If one looks only at test scores, teachers in affluent suburbs get higher ones. If one uses student gains or losses as a general measure, then those who teach the neediest children—English-language learners, troubled students, autistic students—will see the smallest gains, and teachers will have an incentive to avoid districts and classes with large numbers of the neediest students.

Ultimately the job of hiring teachers, evaluating them, and deciding who should stay and who should go falls to administrators. We should be taking a close look at those who award due process rights (the accurate term for “tenure”) to too many incompetent teachers. The best way to ensure that there are no bad or ineffective teachers in our public schools is to insist that we have principals and supervisors who are knowledgeable and experienced educators. Yet there is currently a vogue to recruit and train principals who have little or no education experience. (The George W. Bush Institute just announced its intention to train 50,000 new principals in the next decade and to recruit noneducators for this sensitive post.)

Waiting for “Superman” is the most important public-relations coup that the critics of public education have made so far. Their power is not to be underestimated. For years, right-wing critics demanded vouchers and got nowhere. Now, many of them are watching in amazement as their ineffectual attacks on “government schools” and their advocacy of privately managed schools with public funding have become the received wisdom among liberal elites. Despite their uneven record, charter schools have the enthusiastic endorsement of the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Dell Foundation. In recent months, The New York Times has published three stories about how charter schools have become the favorite cause of hedge fund executives. According to the Times, when Andrew Cuomo wanted to tap into Wall Street money for his gubernatorial campaign, he had to meet with the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a pro-charter group.

Dominated by hedge fund managers who control billions of dollars, DFER has contributed heavily to political candidates for local and state offices who pledge to promote charter schools. (Its efforts to unseat incumbents in three predominantly black State Senate districts in New York City came to nothing; none of its hand-picked candidates received as much as 30 percent of the vote in the primary elections, even with the full-throated endorsement of the city’s tabloids.) Despite the loss of local elections and the defeat of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (who had appointed the controversial schools chancellor Michelle Rhee), the combined clout of these groups, plus the enormous power of the federal government and the uncritical support of the major media, presents a serious challenge to the viability and future of public education.

It bears mentioning that nations with high-performing school systems—whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan—have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do. Fewer than 5 percent of children in Finland live in poverty, as compared to 20 percent in the United States. Those who insist that poverty doesn’t matter, that only teachers matter, prefer to ignore such contrasts.

If we are serious about improving our schools, we will take steps to improve our teacher force, as Finland and other nations have done. That would mean better screening to select the best candidates, higher salaries, better support and mentoring systems, and better working conditions. Guggenheim complains that only one in 2,500 teachers loses his or her teaching certificate, but fails to mention that 50 percent of those who enter teaching leave within five years, mostly because of poor working conditions, lack of adequate resources, and the stress of dealing with difficult children and disrespectful parents. Some who leave “fire themselves”; others were fired before they got tenure. We should also insist that only highly experienced teachers become principals (the “head teacher” in the school), not retired businessmen and military personnel. Every school should have a curriculum that includes a full range of studies, not just basic skills. And if we really are intent on school improvement, we must reduce the appalling rates of child poverty that impede success in school and in life.

There is a clash of ideas occurring in education right now between those who believe that public education is not only a fundamental right but a vital public service, akin to the public provision of police, fire protection, parks, and public libraries, and those who believe that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. Waiting for “Superman” is a powerful weapon on behalf of those championing the “free market” and privatization. It raises important questions, but all of the answers it offers require a transfer of public funds to the private sector. The stock market crash of 2008 should suffice to remind us that the managers of the private sector do not have a monopoly on success.

Public education is one of the cornerstones of American democracy. The public schools must accept everyone who appears at their doors, no matter their race, language, economic status, or disability. Like the huddled masses who arrived from Europe in years gone by, immigrants from across the world today turn to the public schools to learn what they need to know to become part of this society. The schools should be far better than they are now, but privatizing them is no solution.

In the final moments of Waiting for “Superman,” the children and their parents assemble in auditoriums in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley, waiting nervously to see if they will win the lottery. As the camera pans the room, you see tears rolling down the cheeks of children and adults alike, all their hopes focused on a listing of numbers or names. Many people react to the scene with their own tears, sad for the children who lose. I had a different reaction. First, I thought to myself that the charter operators were cynically using children as political pawns in their own campaign to promote their cause. (Gail Collins in The New York Times had a similar reaction and wondered why they couldn’t just send the families a letter in the mail instead of subjecting them to public rejection.) Second, I felt an immense sense of gratitude to the much-maligned American public education system, where no one has to win a lottery to gain admission.

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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:22 pm


Reading the list of hedge fund managers at the end of this overview makes me think I should post it in the Wall Street thread. ... Superpower

Barbara Miner wrote:Ultimate $uperpower: Supersized dollars drive “Waiting for Superman” agenda

- Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Short URL address for this article:

by Barbara Miner

This article, written expressly for, explores the money behind the movie, its promoters, and those who will benefit from the movie. As author Barbara Miner writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys’ club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

Illustration by Michael Duffy

In 1972, two young Washington Post reporters were investigating a low-level burglary at the Watergate Hotel and stumbled upon a host of unexplained coincidences and connections that reached to the White House.

One of the reporters, Bob Woodward, went to a high-level government source and complained: “The story is dry. All we’ve got are pieces. We can’t seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like.”

To which the infamous Deep Throat replied: “Follow the money. Always follow the money.”1

For nearly 40 years, “Follow the money” as been an axiom in both journalism and politics—although, as Shakespeare might complain, one “More honor’d in the breach than the observance.”

It is useful to resurrect the axiom in analyzing the multimedia buzz and policy debates swirling around the movie Waiting for Superman.

This year’s must-see documentary, Waiting for Superman is an emotional, painful look at the U.S. educational system, especially the bleak options for poor children in inner cities. Even its critics admit that it shines a light on educational disparities. At the same time, its admirers concede the film oversimplifies complicated issues, uncritically hypes charter schools and vilifies teacher unions.

What’s less obvious is how the film serves a coordinated and well-funded intervention in a polarized national debate over educational policy. What’s at stake is not just whether this debate will lead to better schools. More fundamentally, it involves public control and oversight of a vital public institution.

In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.

Squeezing democracy

Waiting for Superman and its surrounding campaign reflect an influential trend that has proven adept at dominating education policy in both Republican and Democratic administrations. This bipartisan alliance unites 20th Century conservatives closely aligned with the Republican Party who made the bulk of their money before the dawn of the digital era, and 21st Century billionaires more loosely aligned with the Democratic Party who generally made their fortunes through digitally based technology. (These two groups can loosely be described as analog conservatives and digital billionaires.)

Despite their differences, both groups embrace market-based reforms, entrepreneurial initiatives, deregulation and data-driven/test-based accountability as the pillars of educational change. Under the banner of challenging bureaucracy and promoting innovation, both groups chafe at public oversight and collective bargaining agreements. Above all, both rely on money to get their way.

Waiting for Superman and its accompanying campaign are part of a coordinated and well-funded intervention in a polarized national debate over educational policy.

Two decades ago, challenges to public schools were spearheaded by groups such as the Christian Coalition, a grassroots, church-based phenomenon that sought to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and to elect religious conservatives who could take over local and state school boards. Today’s bipartisan corporate reformers tend to sidestep democracy altogether by abolishing school boards, promoting mayoral control, and hiring corporate-style CEO’s who answer to a city’s power elite. No longer preoccupied with abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, they instead use their wealth to effectively control it and to dictate reform.

This developing alliance is evident in Waiting for Superman.

Paramount, Participant and Walden

First, the alliance involves the movie’s backers—listed in the film credits as Paramount Vantage and Participant Media, in association with Walden Media.

Paramount Vantage is the specialty film division of Paramount Pictures, which in turn is owned by Viacom—the international media conglomerate that has gobbled up huge chunks of television and film, from Nickelodeon, to MTV, to BET, to Comedy Central. For Paramount, Waiting for Superman exists primarily for one reason: to make money. (This is one possible explanation of the movie’s heroes/villains dramatic narrative; Hollywood has never been fond of complexity.) At the same time, in 2009 Viacom launched the project Get Schooled in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Get Schooled, with a focus and graphic design in sync with the MTV generation, is designed to “leverage consumer-oriented media and brands” to raise awareness about the education crisis, with the goal of supporting the work “of the broader education reform community by leveraging the creative talent, digital and media assets and resources of the country’s top media and consumer brands.” Exactly what this buzzword-laden description ultimately means is unclear, although Waiting for Superman and Davis Guggenheim, the film’s director and co-writer, are featured on the group’s homepage.2

The involvement of Participant and Walden is more overtly ideological, and also more clearly shows the alliance between the analog conservatives and digital billionaires.

Participant has a dual strategy: make commercially viable films and use the movies to promote a political/social agenda.3 Its liberal credentials include films such as Syriana, Food, Inc., and An Inconvenient Truth. The company was founded in 2004 by Jeff Skoll, using the billions he earned when he cashed out his stock in eBay (Skoll is #400 on Forbes current list of billionaires, with a net worth of around $2.5 billion). Skoll, meanwhile, has gone on to found a foundation noted for its emphasis on social entrepreneurship as the best way to make change.

Participant’s CEO is Jim Berk, who before joining Participant in 2006 was chair and CEO of Gryphon Colleges Corporation, a for-profit chain of post-secondary schools. At Gryphon, Berk was responsible “for the formation, platform acquisition and establishment” of the for-profit schools.4 (For-profit colleges, meanwhile, are currently the focus of Senate hearings following a report by the Government Accountability Office on misleading, unethical and sometimes illegal practices to lure students to the schools. The for-profit schools, charges Sen. Tom Harkin [D-Iowa], have abnormally high failure rates for the students while enjoying abnormally high profit margins. “There’s irrefutable evidence now that something’s gone wrong with this industry,” Harkin says.5)

Under Berk’s leadership, Participant has become “an integrated media entity.” Two years ago, for instance, Participant received $250 million in financing from Imagenation, owned by the government of the oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi, which is focused on transforming the country into a cultural and financial hub.

Participant has also launched, a “social action website” that, in its education initiatives, bemoans teacher tenure, promotes Teach for America, and idealizes charter schools as the Promised Land: “Maybe the public school in your area stinks. Maybe it’s a dropout factory staffed by burned-out teachers and you’re looking for an alternative…. What you’re looking for is a charter school.6

With its roots in the eBay empire, its socially conscious films, its global connections and its promotion of charter schools, Participant is a good example of the bipartisan digital billionaires.

Walden Media, on the other hand, is a classic example of old-fashioned, pro-Republican conservatives.

Walden Media is owned by Anschutz Film Group, which in turn is owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Company. One way or another, it all reaches back to Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who made his first fortune as an oil wildcatter and who has moved on to real estate, movie theaters, professional sports and the media. (Fortune once called him America’s “greediest executive.”)

The business website described Anschutz this way in a 2009 profile, “Who is Philip Anschutz?”:

More than just a businessman, that’s for sure. He’s active in Christian fundamentalist and Conservative political causes, including funding a campaign to support Amendment 2, Colorado’s 2006 ballot initiative to overturn gay rights, the Institute for American Values, the Center for Marriage and Families, and Morality in Media.

Invariably described as “secretive” or “reclusive” in the press, he is nonetheless involved in media. He just bought the Weekly Standard for a reported $1 million from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which funded the small—but for a time, highly influential—conservative magazine since 1995. Add this to his other conservative media holdings, which include the Washington Examiner, a free tabloid, and the 101 locally targeted Examiner-branded sub-sites and it’s no wonder Forbes described Anschutz as “the Stealth Media Mogul.”7

Fortune also did a fascinating profile on Anschutz in 2006 (Anschutz has not spoken to a reporter since 1974). The article describes how Anschutz morally objected to much of Hollywood’s fare, and that he argued “there was more money to be made in ‘uplifting’ family films that could be marketed through grassroots campaigns to teachers, librarians, and church groups.”8

In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.

Anschutz often targets his movies to evangelical Christians. Through films such as the 2005 release The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he perfected his approach: know your target audience, provide advance screenings to interested groups, and have them encourage their members to see the film. In many ways, Anschutz sketched out the roadmap for the campaign around Waiting for Superman.

An old-fashioned economic and social conservative, Anschutz holds little faith in science. He is a major supporter of The Discovery Institute, which challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution and promotes a theory of intelligent design.9

Hedge Funds Bullish On Charter Schools

Two of the organizations most prominently featured in Waiting for Superman are Harlem Children’s Zone and Success Charter Network, also focused on Harlem. The movie’s central narrative metaphor—highly emotional public lotteries—turns out to have been perfected during a political strategy and public relations campaign engineered by Success Charter Network and Democrats for Education Reform, a national political action committee that promotes charter and other “school choice” options. Add the fact that Manhattan is the country’s media and financial capital, and it becomes apparent that investigating the relationship between hedge funds and charters in New York City helps unravel the puzzle of who stands to financially gain from the charter movement in general and the movie in particular. (An important caveat: there is a difference between charter schools faithful to the original concept, and the pro-market orientation of the charter school movement that now dominates.)10

But first about hedge funds — those masters of the universe known for their financial speculation and insane levels of compensation. (The top 25 hedge fund managers took in an average of $1 billion each in 2009 — enough to pay for 658,000 entry-level teachers.)11

Encompassing the lower and east side of Manhattan and extending north to Greenwich, Connecticut, is a kingdom that New York magazine has dubbed “Greater Hedgistan.” Of the world’s hedge funds with more than $1 billion in assets, a significant majority is based in Greater Hedgistan.12

Smack dab in the middle of Greater Hedgistan is Harlem.

These two worlds—one rich, white and powerful, the other poor, Black and Latino but located on prime real estate— meet in the charter school world, although not as equal partners.

“Charters have attracted benefactors from many fields,” a New York Times article noted almost a year ago. “But it is impossible to ignore that in New York, hedge funds are at the movement’s epicenter.”13

Charters are edging out traditional public schools in Harlem and other poor neighborhoods —and the charters are overwhelmingly controlled by hedge fund directors and finance capitalists who sit on the boards of directors that are legally responsible for running a charter and establishing its financial, educational and personnel policies. (There is a more than a little irony that New York, home to one of the fiercest battles for community control of schools in the 1960s, is now a prime example of rich white billionaires controlling the education of low-income children of color.)

Take the board of trustees of the Success Charter Network. Of its nine members, seven are involved in hedge funds or investment companies. The eighth is CEO of the Institute for Student Achievement, and the ninth is a managing partner at the NewSchoolsVenture Fund, involved in both for-profit and non-profit charters across the country. No community, parent or teacher representatives sit on the Success Charter Network board of trustees (see sidebar).14

There is no single reason why charter schools have become the must-be-involved cause among the hedge fund and finance capital crowd.

Real estate obviously plays a role, as Harlem and the South Bronx are the poor neighborhoods most ripe for gentrification now that so much of Brooklyn has come under the reach of condos, trendy restaurants, Trader Joe’s and Ikea. (In New York City, no deal ever goes down that doesn’t involve real estate.) And, just as clearly, there’s old-fashioned altruism and missionary zeal at work. “What you’re seeing is for the under-40 set, education reform is what feeding kids in Africa was in 1980,” an education reformer said in explaining Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark public schools in September.

Another explanation is that the hedge fund crowd is comfortable with the charter way of doing business—overwhelmingly non-union, which means that management gets to call all the shots; a guaranteed cash flow in the form of public dollars per student; minimal public oversight; lots of data and test scores; and an educational ideology based on a free-market model of schooling.

The minimal public transparency and oversight of charters is particularly in sync with the hedge fund culture. Infamous for their secrecy, hedge funds operate largely beyond public scrutiny. Their securities tend to be issued in “private offerings” that are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose regulations were established in 1933 during the banking crises of the Great Depression. Nor are they required to make periodic reports under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. And, to play the game, you have to be rich, with millions of dollars to invest.15

Charter schools are the type of entrepreneurial initiative that “electrifies” hedge fund managers, according to Whitney Tilson, a finance capitalist, founding member of Teach for America and board member of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). “With the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged,” he told the New York Times.16

Ravenel Boykin Curry IV of the money management firm Eagle Capital Management and who helped found the Girls Prep charter schools in New York, told the Times that charter schools are “exactly the kind of investment people in our industry spend our days trying to stumble on, with incredible cash flow, even if in this case we don’t ourselves get any of it.”17

Charter schools have also become a way to network and hobnob with elite powerbrokers and celebrities (who knows what deal might emerge from such networking)—all in the name of helping poor people.

One of the best ways to hobnob is at the annual fundraiser by the Robin Hood Foundation. Founded in 1988 by hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, the foundation considers charter schools “right there at the top of our list of priorities,” according to a spokesperson.18 Last May at the fundraiser—Wall Street’s biggest of the year—the foundation called upon the more than 3,000 people gathered and raised more than $88 million in one night. Sting sang at the event, comedy routines featured Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live writers, and NBC anchor Brian Williams hosted the festivities.

Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaire boys club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?

“Robin Hood is like the cool table in the high school cafeteria,” one benefactor said of the foundation.19

And, in addition to being cool, the foundation’s supporters are rich, with the board “a blue-chip collection of Who’s Who in business and media.”20

While hedge funds dominate the New York charter school movement, old money and traditional conservatives are more than welcome. The Robin Hood gala last May, for instance, was chaired by the heads of Maverick Capital and the uber-digital Google but also of JP Morgan Chase—whose legacy, according to its website, “reaches back more than 200 years with the founding of its earlier predecessor in 1799.”

And, of course, there is money to be made. And it cuts both ways.

Harlem Children’s Zone, for instance, is one of the most financially well-endowed education reform efforts in the country. Following Waiting for Superman, where its founder Geoffrey Canada emerged as the most charismatic and eloquent of those featured, Harlem Children’s Zone received millions—including $20 million from Goldman Sachs in mid-September. New York City is also contributing $60 million toward a $100 million new school.

But there are also those who will make money off of Harlem Children’s Zone.

The organization had net assets of $194 million listed on its 2008 nonprofit tax report. Almost $15 million was in savings and temporary investments, and another $128 million was invested at a hedge fund. Given that most hedge funds operate on what is known as a 2–20 fee structure (a 2 percent management fee and a 20 percent take of any profits), some lucky hedge fund will make millions of dollars off of Harlem Children’s Zone in any given year.

Meanwhile, the boards of directors of charter schools pay their charter managers extremely well. At least three charter school leaders make more than New York City’s Schools Chancellor—with Deborah Kenny of the Village Academies Network leading the way with $442,000 in compensation in 2008, according to the group’s 990 tax form.

A considerable gap between management and workers’ salaries is common in charter schools across the country, according to a recent study out of Western Michigan University. Overall, charters spend less on teacher salaries and instruction and more on management and administration than traditional public schools.21

Politics and Profits Make Reliable Bedfellows

Do an internet search beyond the first few results, dig into the inner-workings of a website and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find connections that even a court of law would question as merely coincidental.

Hedge funds, for instance, are targeting not just charter schools but also the for-profit college market. As an article this June on noted, “Hedge funds have been circling for new carrion to devour in the next economic slowdown and have found a big fat target in the for-profit educational sector. The industry is ripe for the taking. For two decades, for-profit schools have lured gullible students with inflated promises of impressive sounding degrees which they pay exorbitant tuition to obtain.”22

The minimal public transparency and oversight of charters is in sync with hedge fund culture. Infamous for their secrecy, hedge funds operate largely beyond public scrutiny.

The article goes on to call the phenomenon “education’s version of the subprime crisis” because so many of the students at the for-profits default on their federal student loans. Despite their educational downsides, for-profits now account for 10% of all higher education enrollments in the country, “and the profits that have poured in have been absolutely massive.” While for-profit charters have not yet reached a similar market share in the K-12 educational sector, in the last decade they have made significant inroads. In the 2008–09 school year, there were more than 725 for-profit charter schools in 31 states.23

And, it turns out, one of the hedge funds most involved in post-secondary education is Maverick Capital—whose founder chaired the Robin Hood Foundation fundraiser. What’s more, the same hedge fund is involved in Education Reform Now, the nonprofit arm of Democrats for Education Reform, the PAC that routinely hits up Wall Street for contributions to promote charter schools, mayoral control, and voucher programs that provide public dollars to private and religious schools and that, in essence, serves as the political arm of the pro-corporate education reformers. The group is involved in elections and campaigns across the country, with branches in eight states: Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

The Education Reform Now and Democrats for Education Reform joint effort represents a skilled blending of old-fashioned conservatives and 21st Century billionaires—and an equally impressive obfuscation that the groups embrace both Republican and Democrats.

Historically, charter and voucher initiatives have received their most consistent support from pro-Republican traditional conservatives such as the Walton Foundation of Wal-Mart fame and the Bradley Foundation based on the fortune of the Allen-Bradley Corporation in Milwaukee. This was especially true under the Reagan and both Bush administrations, when vouchers for private schools seemed the stronger of the voucher/charter “school choice” reforms. Vouchers were never popular with voters, however, and so much of the emphasis shifted to the more politically palatable charter reform—with corporate-oriented Democrats and digital billionaires jumping onto the school choice/charter bandwagon.

Hedge fund managers have been especially involved, as the board of directors of Education Reform Now makes clear. The five board members are: Sidney Hawkins Gargiulo of Hawkshaw Capital; John Petry (chair) of Gotham Capital; John Sabat of SAC Capital; Joe Williams, head of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER); and Brian Zied of Maverick Capital.

If some of the names sound familiar, that’s not a coincidence. A surprising number of people sit on multiple boards associated with charter school initiatives, in what is best explained as the nonprofit equivalent of interlocking directorates. Indeed, one of the advantages of money is that one can set up new groups and websites to give an appearance of breadth and depth. Take away the Gates, Walton and Broad Foundations, Teach for America alumni, DFER, and a few essential hedge fund and investment managers, and the pro-corporate charter movement would shrink significantly.

As befitting hedge fund managers, some of DFER’s members hedge their political bets as well as their financial investments. Take the case of Steven Klinsky, CEO and founder of New Mountain Capital. While he gave $5,000 to DFER in 2010, the maximum allowed, most of his campaign donations went to Republicans, including $10,000 each to National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Campaign Committee of New York.24

A look at DFER and its relationship to Success Charter Network uncovers how the politics of charters operate in the real world rather than in the sanitized Hollywood version.

First, there are the personal connections—privileged rich people rarely leave their fate up to ping-pong balls and lotteries. John Petry, for instance, is on boards of DFER, of its nonprofit arm Educators for Reform, and of the Success Charter Network. Joel Greenblatt is on the DFER Board of Advisors, and is chair of the Success Charter Network board.

More interesting are the joint political workings of the organizations, of such as the 2008 effort “Flooding the Zone: How an intense, focused ‘school choice’ campaign in Harlem increased support for reform.”25

The campaign makes clear that the charter lotteries have more to do with political propagandizing than with serving the needs of children and families. (The “flooding” reference is just one of several examples of charter forces cavalierly using Hurricane Katrina to promote disaster-based reform. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went so far as to call Katrina the “best thing to happen” to New Orleans schools, and as recently as September NBC’s “Education Nation” event included a session entitled “Does education need a Katrina?” The latest DFER report, interestingly, is called “Bursting the Dam.”)

Flooding the Zone, Bamboozling the Media

The “Flooding the Zone” campaign was jointly decided upon by the leaders of Success Charter Network and DFER (and, allegedly, a group of parent activists which appears to be moribund now that this year’s lottery is over). The campaign’s purpose was to “go ‘on offense’ to provide political cover” to increase the number of charters in Harlem, create a hospitable climate for charters to take over space in public schools, and promote the concept of parent choice.

The strategy to do so was to create a groundswell of publicity for the charter lotteries and to “flood the zone” in Harlem with pro-school choice messages. No effort was spared, with hundreds of thousands of leaflets, multiple mailings to families, ads at bus stops, posters and literature drops. Lacking a membership base, DFER used “an army of field workers, many high school students who were hired to blanket the neighborhood with materials.”26 Success Charter Network coordinated the information and DFER coordinated the political rally.

The paper does not provide figures on the campaign costs. But a recent article in the Daily News reported that Success Charter Network spent $1.3 million on marketing between 2007 and 2009, with most of that going to the leaflets, posters and mailings that were part of the “Flooding the Zone” campaign.27

“Flooding the Zone” makes clear how the Success Charter School lottery was a very conscious public relations effort. Given the political and economic clout behind DFER and Success Charter Network, and the inherent drama of a winner-take-all lottery, it’s not surprising that Waiting for Superman used the lottery as its dramatic heart.

DFER’s “Done Waiting” campaign, meanwhile, is a partner in Waiting for Superman’s social action campaign, along with a who’s who of traditional conservatives and digital-age billionaires including the Walton Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (On the local level, more politically diffuse groups such as the United Way and Stand for Children are coordinating efforts.) The “Done Waiting” partners, meanwhile, include not just charter organizations but groups focused on vouchers for private and religious schools.

DFER prefers to play a behind-the-scenes role. The same is not true of the foundations that have emerged as the forces behind the corporate reform agenda that now dominates education policy discussions.

While names like Rockefeller, Ford, Annenberg, and Carnegie traditionally have dominated foundation-funded education reform, in recent years a new group of foundations has emerged—Gates, Walton, and Broad, in particular. And all three are deeply involved in campaigns promoting the educational perspectives of Waiting for Superman. (Gates is featured as an education “expert” in the film, which conversely does not include an interview with a single public school teacher.)

Gates—whose education grants in the last decade approach the $3 billion mark—has been so dominant that he has been dubbed the country’s education czar.28 Given the imperial nature of foundation-driven reform, the czar moniker is particularly appropriate. (Gates, with a net worth of about $53 billion, saw his worth increase by $13 billion alone last year, according to Forbes magazine.) Foundations, although benefiting from their status as nonprofits and thus essentially subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, are private institutions with private boards, able to make behind-the-scenes decisions and sidestep public accountability for the success or failure of their programs.

Given the realities of school funding, with public dollars focused on essential services, schools and districts—and even the U.S. Department of Education—often look to foundations to fund new initiatives. Add in grants to organizations such as Teach for America or the Charter School Growth Fund (which received $12 million from Gates this July), and the foundations have inordinate power in determining the future of public education.

“What we’ve done is create a new nobility, where basically the lords and ladies decide who gets the money,” argues Barbara Dudley, head of the Veatch Foundation in the early 1990s, former director of Greenpeace, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and currently an adjunct professor at Portland State University.29 “It is not democratic and you can’t pretend that it is.”

Education’s role in strengthening our democratic institutions is a long-standing tradition in this country; it isn’t a mistake that the right to a free public education is enshrined in every single state constitution in the country. Yet many charter school promoters don’t even feel the need to make a rhetorical nod toward democratic concerns.

The NewSchools Venture Fund, for instance, issued a 10-year report on its $100 million investment in nonprofit and for-profit initiatives and called the report “Investing in a Revolution.” While the words “entrepreneur,” “entrepreneurs” or “entrepreneurial” shows up 84 times in the report, the words “democracy” or “democratic” do not appear even once.

Which leads to a fundamental and unaddressed question. Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaire boys club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?

As educational historian Diane Ravitch notes, the corporate-based reform agenda undermines community and democracy and is subject “to the whim of entrepreneurs and financiers.” The obsession with schools as a business, she notes, “threatens to destroy public education.”

“Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?”30


1 Based on dialogue from the 1976 film All the President’s Men. (↑)

2 (↑)

3 Ann Hornaday, “For the studio behind Waiting for Superman, movies are a tool for change,” Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2010, E01. (↑)

4 Participant Media website (, “Our Team.” Berk also oversaw Participant’s investment in Summit Entertainment, a worldwide film financing, production and distribution company known for its Twilight series. (↑)

5 (↑)

6 TakePart website: (↑)

7 ... -standard/ (↑)

8 ... ne_050106/ (↑)

9 Jodi Wilgoren, “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive,” New York Times, Aug. 21, 2005. (↑)

10 The charter school reform emerged in part out of progressive efforts to promote innovation that could be used to improve all public schools, and to open up discus- sion on the relationship between school and community, particularly in urban areas. At the same time, the charter concept appealed to reformers wedded to a free-market, privatization agenda. In the past decade, these privatizers have come to dominate the charter school movement. For a further exploration of these contradictions, see the Rethinking Schools book Keeping the Promise? The Debate Over Charter Schools, 2008, Rethinking Schools. (↑)

11 Les Leopold, “Why Do We Save Billionaires But Not Teachers?” The Huffington Post, April 30, 2010. ... 58213.html (↑)

12 Daniel Gross, “The Kingdom of Hedgistan,” New York magazine, April 9, 2007. (↑)

13 Nancy Hass, “Scholarly Investments,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2009. (↑)

14 See sidebar article outlining the boards of trustees of Success Charter Network and the Harlem Children’s Zone. (↑)

15 Zuckerberg’s $100 million “gift” to Newark is in the form of such private stock, raising numerous issues of financial disclosure. ... into-cash/ (↑)

16 Nancy Hass, “Scholarly Investments,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2009. (↑)

17 ibid. (↑)

18 ibid. (↑)

19 Andy Serwer, “The legend of Robin Hood,” Fortune, Sept. 8, 2006. (↑)

20 ibid. (↑)

21 Miron, G. & Urschel, J.L. (2010). “Equal or fair? A study of revenues and expenditures in American charter schools.” Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. (↑)

22 “Hedge Funds Are Now Targeting For-Profit Education,” June 2, 2010, (↑)

23 Miron, G. & Urschel, J.L. (2010). (↑)

24 Information from the website DFERWatch, which provides detailed information on the organization ( (↑)

25 The position paper, written by Democrats for Education Reform, is available at (↑)

26 “Flooding the Zone,” p. 4. (↑)

27 Juan Gonzalez, “Local charter schools like Harlem Success is big business as millions are poured into marketing,” Daily News, Oct. 1, 2010. (↑)

28 Historian Diane Ravitch reports that Gates spent about $2 billion on its campaign from 2000 to 2008 to make small schools the driving reform for high schools, a campaign it dropped when results hovered between abysmal and mediocre. The Washington Post reports Gates has spent about $650 million from 2008 to July 2010 on education reform, mostly on teacher evaluation and performance pay. Nick Anderson, “Gates Foundation playing pivotal role in changes for education system,” Washington Post, July 12, 2010. (↑)

29 Barbara Miner, “Who’s Behind the Money,” Rethinking Schools, Vol. 19 No. 4. (↑)

30 Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 222. (↑)

Barbara Miner is a journalist based in Milwaukee and former managing editor of Rethinking Schools. (This article was written for, initiated by Rethinking Schools.)


Sidebar articles:
Guggenheim: Fueling the attack on teacher unions?

The clearest winners in Waiting for Superman are not the children who “win” the lottery, but the charter school movement. And the clearest losers are the teacher unions. Portrayed as a one-dimensional villain straight out of central casting, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers takes more than a few hard knocks in the movie.

When analyzing urban education, there is plenty of blame to spread around. Yes, a number of union leaders are resistant to change and too narrowly focused on defending the contract. But many corporate reformers dismiss legitimate concerns of due process, working conditions and decreasing school resources. In addition, there are forces that would like to get rid of teacher unions altogether.

Overall, Waiting for Superman has bolstered fears that the criticisms of unions go beyond issues of pay, seniority and evaluation, and that the true goal is to bust the union, reduce teachers to do-as-you-are-told factory workers, and allow management free reign in all educational decisions.

Rather than encouraging dialogue and collaboration, the Waiting for Superman phenomenon runs the risk of hardening positions—precisely at a time when unions across the country are exploring new ways of approaching contract issues. In wide-ranging interviews with presidents of 30 union locals across the country, a 2007 report by the independent think tank Education Sector found that with few exceptions, the presidents had moved away from industrial-style bargaining and focused on collaborative “win-win” approaches with their school districts. 1

The anti-union vilification is clear in the remarks by Howard Fuller. A nationally recognized advocate of both charters and vouchers for private schools, Fuller is featured in Waiting for Superman as he describes “the dance of lemon teachers” while he was superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools.

On Aug. 5, during a panel after Waiting for Superman was previewed at the KIPP: School Summit 2010, Fuller said—to much applause—that he saw no use in talking with union leaders such as Weingarten. “One time George Wallace stood at the door trying to keep our kids from getting in, and people like her are standing at the door keeping our kids from getting out. And it is the same fundamental view. And until we confront these people, and quit talking to them like they really want to do so much for our kids, we are not getting anywhere.”2 (Fuller is best known for promoting voucher programs that give public dollars to private and religious schools, with his efforts most consistently financed by traditional conservatives such as the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Foundation.)

Not to be outdone by Fuller, and ratcheting up the rhetoric, a Sept. 28, 2010 commentary on The Huffington Post compared Weingarten to Osama bin Laden. “And if even one tenth of Guggenheim’s film is to be believed,” wrote blogger Keli Goff, “then this distinction is well earned and well deserved.”3

Guggenheim says he is not anti-union, but that he took his educational cues from Fuller and Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. 4 Canada also has a history of union opposition. Following a screening of the film last summer for education policy wonks in Washington, Canada said, “I’m sure there are things the unions have done to help children. I just can’t think of any.”5

Interestingly, Guggenheim filmed both students and teachers at the Green Dot charter school in the South Bronx, which is a partnership that includes the teacher union. Guggenheim had led the school’s founders to believe he “was turned off” by divisive school politics and the “self-limiting anti-unionism of today’s charter movement,” according to school co-founder Jonathan Gyurko. Guggenheim even shot footage of Weingarten and Green Dot founder Steve Barr signing the school’s first collective bargaining agreement. “This landmark thin contract makes little mention of work-rules, provides for due process but makes no mention of tenure, includes Green Dot’s trademark un-timed ‘professional day’ for all employees, and has ample opportunities for teacher input,” Gyurko writes.

For some unexplained reason, Guggenheim left footage of Green Dot’s South Bronx school on the cutting room floor. 6

—Barbara Miner

1 Susan Moore Johnson et al., “Leading the Local: Teacher Union Presidents Speak on Change, Challenges,” Educator Sector, Washington, D.C., 2007. (↑)

2 _panel_discussion _clip_2 (↑)

3 keli-goff/what-teachers- unions-the-_b_741880.html (↑)

4 Duane Dudek, “Documentary takes school problems back to class,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 26, 2010, E1. (↑)

5 John Heilemann, “Schools: The Disaster Movie,” New York magazine, Sept. 5, 2010. (↑)

6 Jonathan Gyurko, “On Guggenheim’s Cutting Room Floor,” Huffington Post, Oct. 11, 2010. Similarly, Waiting for Superman forgot to mention that Finland—extolled in the film for its academic success—grants tenure to its unionized teachers. (↑)

Boards of Trustees: The Powers Behind the Thrones

The Success Charter Network and Harlem Children’s Zone are the two most prominent charter school operations in Harlem, and both are featured in Waiting for Superman. The schools are managed by Boards of Trustees, which have the legal responsibility to oversee policy, set compensation, and ensure educational outcomes. While the websites of both Success Charter Network and Harlem Children’s Zone list the names of their boards of trustees, no further information is provided. The following is gleaned from the websites of the firms and/or foundations involved, and from media sources such as Business Week and Forbes. Overall, banking, hedge fund and private equity firms dominate both boards. Neither have community, parent or teacher representatives from their schools. In the case of Harlem Children’s Zone, two of its trustees are also on the board of trustees of Columbia University, which has long had an interest in real estate and gentrification in northern Manhattan.

Chair, Joel Greenblatt is founder, managing partner and CEO of Gotham Capi-tal. Based in New York City, Gotham Capital is a privately owned hedge fund.
Rob Goldstein is a managing partner in Gotham Capital.
David Greenspan is a managing director at Blue Ridge Capital, an Atlanta-based real estate investment company; he looks after technology sector investments and is a member of the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School.
Gerry House is President and CEO of the Institute for Student Achievement and before that was superintendent of schools in Memphis, Tennessee, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Yen Liow is a Managing Director and Sector Head (Communications and Media; Agricultural Commodities) of ZBI Equities, an investment fund.
John Petry is a partner at Gotham Capital.
Jim Peyser is a managing partner at NewSchools Venture Fund and former chair of the Massachusetts Board of Education where he helped shape state policy on charter schools. He is on the board of several charter schools, and a member of the board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Rich Pzena is chairman, CEO and Co-chief Investment Officer at Pzena Invest-ment Management, Inc., in New York. As of Aug. 31, 2010, the firm managed $13 billion in assets for leading corporate, public, and individual clients.
Gideon Stein is a partner in Argyle Holdings LLC, described on its website as “Developers of premier properties in Northern Manhattan.”

Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO
Stan Druckenmiller, Chairman, is the President, CEO, and Chairman of Duquesne Captial, which he founded in 1981. The fund is reported to have more than $10 billion in assets. With an estimated current net worth of around $3.5 billion, he is ranked by Forbes as the 91st Riches person in America as the. He is reported to have made $260 million in 2008. Known for his philanthropy, his donations include $25 million to the Harlem Children’s Zone in 2006.
Mitch Kurz is a former senior management executive at Young and Rubicam, a marketing advertising and communications company, and former board member of Teach for America.
Matthew Blank is chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Showtime Networks, Inc.
Wallis Annenberg is the Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation.
Gary D. Cohn is President and Chief Operating Officer of the global banking and securities firm Goldman Sachs.
Zoe Cruz, managing director of Voras Capital Management, is a Greek-born American senior banking executive and former co-president of Morgan Stanley. In 2006, she was #10 on the list of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women of the World.
Joe DiMenna is a hedge fund manager and Managing Director of Zweig-Di-Menna Associates.
Brian J. Higgins is a Principal of the private investment company The Jordan Company.
Joe Gregory is the former president of Lehman Brothers, which was the nation’s fourth-largest investment bank until its bankruptcy in 2008, the largest in U.S. history.
Mark Kingdon is president and founder of Kingdon Capital Management, an investment management company. He is also a member of the board of trustees of Columbia University.
Kenneth G. Langone is the former director of the New York Stock Exchange and the co-founder of Home Depot. He is currently chair and CEO of Invemed Associates.
Sue Lehmann is a management consultant whose clients range from American Express to McKinsey and Company to Morgan Stanley. She is also a former board chair of Teach for America. She also leads a family real estate business.
Marshall J. Lux is managing director of McKinsey and Co., the global management consulting firm that has 90 offices in 51 countries.
Richard Perry co-founded Perry Capital in 1988 and before that worked in the equity arbitrage area of Goldman Sachs.
Laura Samberg is Co-Director of the Samberg Family Foundation.
Steve Squeri is head of global services and chief information officer for American Express.
Caroline Turner is a Trustee of the Oak Foundation which in 2009 donated $1 million to Harlem Children’s Zone.
Richard Witten is the senior managing director of The Orienta Group and a managing member of RSW Capital Management investment advisory firms. Before that he was managing director of Goldman Sachs. He is also a trustee of Columbia University.
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:34 pm


Why the hell is Bill Gates an expert in education? In the 1990s, the Gates Foundation set off a movement to make smaller schools based on faulty reasoning. Their money was enough to get states and municipalities with the program. They themselves abandoned the idea when their own studies showed it made no difference.

Hint: It's not the school size, it's the class size.

(This by the way is the real reason for the supposedly excellent results of home schooling. How can you go wrong, at least in terms of transmitting the material to be learned, with one teacher per student?)

Now the humanitarian philanthropist Bill Gates says: give pay raises for teachers on their willingness to teach larger classes. In other words,

Gates: Increase Class Size, Cut Teacher Salaries

Got this from a DU thread: ... 17#9596017 ... =education
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November 19, 2010
Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls


Bill Gates, the founder and former chairman of Microsoft, has made education-related philanthropy a major focus since stepping down from his day-to-day role in the company in 2008.

His new area of interest: helping solve schools’ money problems. In a speech on Friday, Mr. Gates — who is gaining considerable clout in education circles — plans to urge the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation’s public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn.

He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.

“Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive” — but restructure them anyway, Mr. Gates plans to tell the superintendents in his talk to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which opens a convention in Louisville on Friday.

“Rebuild the budget based on excellence,” Mr. Gates says.

Teachers’ unions defend giving raises to teachers as they gain experience and higher education.

“We know that experience makes a difference in student achievement — teachers get better,” said Bill Raabe, director of collective bargaining at the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union. “And additional training, too, whether its a master’s degree or some other way a teacher has improved her content knowledge, we think it ought to be compensated.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of Mr. Gates’s speech: “He is proposing to change one of the things that parents count on — small class sizes to differentiate instruction. There’s a mountain of solid research and common sense showing smaller class sizes benefit students.”

States and local school districts are headed toward what may be painful budget decisions because two years of recession have battered state and local tax revenues, and the $100 billion in stimulus money that has been pumped into public education since spring 2009 is running out.

New Jersey, for example, faces a $10 billion deficit, and Gov. Chris Christie has clashed with superintendents over his efforts to cap their pay.

In several other states including Ohio, which faces an $8 billion deficit, newly elected governors are scrutinizing school spending as part of a broad review.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his own speech in Washington this week, titled “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” in which he made arguments similar to those of Mr. Gates.

School officials should be using this crisis to “leverage transformational change in the education system” rather than seeking to balance budgets through shorter school years, reduced bus routes or other short-term fixes, Mr. Duncan said.

Yet another dick has read The Shock Doctrine.

Mr. Gates accepted an invitation to speak to the council, he said in an interview, because many of the key decisions in America’s decentralized education system are made by state superintendents and local school boards.

“These are the leaders,” he said.

Steven Paine, the West Virginia superintendent who is the council’s president, said the group invited Mr. Gates because “he has a perspective that we need to consider.”

“He’s been fairly successful in the business arena,” he added.

After reading an advance copy of Mr. Gates’s speech, Mr. Paine said, “We all want to transform our education systems, but when you’re falling off that funding cliff it’s difficult to do.”

In the speech, Mr. Gates says that improving student achievement is a central challenge, and that budget crises are making change necessary.

“You can’t fund reforms without money,” he says. “And there is no more money.”

The only way out, he says, is by rethinking the way the nation’s $500 billion annual expenditures on public schools is allocated. About $50 billion pays for seniority-based annual salary increases for teachers, he says. The nation spends an additional $9 billion annually to pay salary increases to teachers with master’s degrees, he says.


My school reform proposal: Adopt Linux as the only operating system for school computer rooms and administrative software.
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:44 pm


Rich Gibson apparently would abolish school altogether and slams the unions from the left, but the critique of current developments is well-informed and it's good reading.

September 7, 2010
Education, School and the Resistance
Why Have School?


As schools open throughout the US, one typically ignored question needs to be asked in every classroom: Why have school? Why are we here?

Let’s step back a moment in order to put school in its proper, social, perspective.

Schools are the centripetal organizing point of de-industrialized North American life, and much of life elsewhere. Evidence: School workers, not industrialized workers, are by far the most unionized people in the USA, more than 3.5 million union members. School unions are growing, if slowly, while industrial unions collapse, evaporate, because, in part, industry evaporates, and because industrial union leaders abandoned the heart of unionism—the contradictory interests of workers and employers. Nearly one-half of the youth in high school today will be draft-eligible in the next seven years.

What is going on in schools?

The demagogue, Obama, invaded US schools with his Race to the Top (RaTT) project personified by Chicago’s education huckster Arne Duncan. The RaTT speeds what was already happening in capital’s schools and adds a few factors for spice.

The RaTT’s predecessor, a bi-partisan project touted by Democrats and Republicans alike called the No Child Left Behind Act had at least these key factors:

(1) The development of a regimented national curriculum to promote nationalism;

(2) High stakes standardized tests to promote segregation and
ignorance through with a pretense of scientific backing; and

(3) the militarization of schools in poor and working class areas.

The RaTT makes logical extensions:

– Sharpened demands for a national curriculum in more subjects (beyond literacy and math),

– merit pay based on student test scores,

– attacks on all forms of tenure (made palatable to the public because they know through experience that there is no shortage of incompetents in schools),

– Layoffs, hits on pay and benefits, increases in class size,

– Tuition hikes driving youth out of college with razor-like precision, typically rooted in inherited wealth.

– Some privatization, but hardly only privatization (the corporate state reflects both the unity and contradictions internal to the ruling classes who have different short term views of profitability).

– Calls for national service setting up a syphon for middle class opposition to a draft.

– Intensified moves into cities and schools in crisis, like Detroit, demonstrating the contradictory goals of social control and profiteering.

– Ruthless competition between school districts and states for limited RaTT
reward dollars.

– A harsh rule of fear and intimidation sweeping across all of capitalist schooling.

Fear seems to be the core emotional value in schools today.

What is the social context of school?

The education agenda is a class war agenda, and an imperialist war agenda. One begets the other.

Let us tick off the emerging realities of our times; the results of the many crises of capital contradicted by the promises of democracy.

The coming and recent elections should not only be studied as how voters chose who would most charmingly oppress the majority of the people from the executive committee of the rich, the government. It should be studied, more importantly, as how an element of capitalist democracy, the spectacle of elections, speeded the emergence of fascism as a mass popular force; that is:

– the corporate state, the rule of the rich, near complete merger of corporations and government;

– the continuation of the suspension of civil liberties (as with renditions);

– the attacks on whatever free press there is;

– the rise of racism and segregation (in every way, but especially the immigration policies);

– the promotion of the fear of sexuality as a question of pleasure (key to creating the inner slave), and the sharpened commodification of women (Sarah Palin to pole dancers);

– the governmental/corporate attacks on working peoples' wages and benefits (bailouts to merit pay to wage and benefit concessions);

– intensification of imperialist war (sharpening the war in Afghanistan sharpens war on Pakistan which provokes war on Russia, etc, and the US is NOT going to leave Iraq's oil);

– the promotion of nationalism (all class unity) by, among others, the union bosses,

– teaching people the lie that someone else should interpret reality and act for us, when no one is going to save us but us;

– trivializing what is supposed to be the popular will to vile gossip, thus building cynicism—especially the idea that we cannot grasp and change the world, but also debasing whatever may have been left of a national moral sense;

– increased mysticism (is it better to vote for a real religious fanatic or people who fake being religious fanatics?); and

– incessant attacks on radicals, isolating, discouraging, surveilling, and in some cases jailing those who not only practice radicalism, but who theorize to the root analysis.

Capitalist schooling exists within these social rising circumstances

Whose schools are these? These are capital’s schools.

This is, again, a capitalist democracy in which capital dominates democracy at every turn (bankster bailout, the auto-takeover on behalf of stockholders while auto workers’ lives were gutted, empire’s wars, etc).

Schooling is not education, the latter a “leading out,” the former, schooling, a fethishized form of mis-education.

The capitalist market necessarily creates pyramid-like inequality, not only in the pocket, but in the mind.

Is there a single public school system in the US? Actually, there is not. There are five or six carefully segregated school systems, based mostly on class and race.

The image of education in the minds of philanthropic economists is this: “Every worker should learn as many branches of labor as possible so that if…he is thrown out of one branch, he can easily be accommodated in another.” (Marx)

There is a pre-prison school system in much of Detroit, Michigan or Compton, California; a pre-Walmart system in National City, California; a pre-craft worker system in City Heights, California; a pre-teacher or social worker system in Del Cero, California; a pre-med or pre-law system in Lajolla, California and Birmingham, Michigan; and a completely private school system where rich people send their kids, like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney–or the Obama kids.

Rich schools teach different realities using different methods from poor schools. In rich schools the outlook is: “This globe is ours; let us see how we can make it act.” In the poorest schools, the outlook is, “Tell me what to do and I will do it.”

What are schools designed to do?

Schools are huge multi-billion dollar markets where profit and loss influences almost everything.

Consider the buses, the architects, textbook sales, consultants, the developers for the buildings, the upkeep, the grounds, the sports teams, salaries, etc. Cost is always an issue in school. This is, after all, capitalism (a maneuver drawn from dialectical materialism, abstracting, looking to history–the Church–and locating school in its historical place: capitalist schooling).

The average salary for public school teachers in 2006–07 was $50,816, about 3 percent higher than in 1996–97, after adjustment for inflation . Salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990–91. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009)

Multiply $50,816 by the total number of school workers, above. That’s a tidy sum.

These relatively good salaries, in comparison to the crash of industrial wages and jobs, served as a bribe to educators, winning them to conducting the child abuse that is high-stakes exams and regimented curricula, for example. But, as economic break-downs caused by overproduction and war evaporated at least some of the ability to make the pay-off—and as school workers became more and more alienated from each other, their communities and students, through those same
processes—the bribes and jobs began to vanish–as we witness today.

There is, in schools unlike most factories, a tension between elites’ desire for social control and profitability. This can be seen in the contradictions within elite groups about the privatization of schools.

It can also be seen in the liberal and unionite response to the current school milieu: “Defend Public Education!”

This is to defend a myth, on the one hand, to wish to harken back to non-existent halcyon days of schooling when it was not teaching lies, not segregated, and truly public. On the other hand, the false demand is designed to treat schools like middle class job banks, to lure school workers into attempting to tax the rest of the working class to “win,” the further mis-education of their children–as did the California Teachers Association in 2009 with a ballot measure that failed, deservedly, by 2/3rds.

Better to “Transform Schooling!” or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!”

More answers to why have school:

Skill and ideological training. Under skill training we might list, of course, “the three r’s,” along with music, art, athletics, theater, science, etc. That list comes fast and easy.

But ideological training is another thing. Ideological grooming would include nationalism (the daily salute to the flag, school spirit, etc.) as well as the training in viewpoints established by teaching distinct curricular substance in the segregated schools, using different methods. Beyond nationalism, one clear purpose of most schooling is to make the system of capital natural, almost invisible, and to present it as the highest, last, stage of human development. Further, students must become so stupefied that they see no real contradiction between nationalism and the other
central tenet of capitalist thought: individualism. Me! Education, necessarily a social effort, becomes an individual commodity, often in the form of test scores, used as a weapon for merit pay and, by realtors, to fix home values.

The upshot of capitalist schooling is that many students, surrounded by the unsystematic, incoherent, mystical world-views of both the curricula and most teachers, come away learning not to like to learn. Curiosity, a birthright of all children, gets crushed. Parallel to that dubious success, children in exploited areas learn they cannot understand or alter the world. So, people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression.

Baby-sitting and warehousing kids.

Babysitting is a key role played by capitalist schools. One way to find out, “Why have school?” is to experiment; close them. In our case, teacher strikes serve as a good test subject. In school strikes (no sane union shuts down a football program), the first people to begin to complain are
usually merchants around middle schools–who get looted. The second group is the parents of elementary students, quickly followed by their employers. (These realities can help demonstrate to elementary educators their potential power along with setting up kids’ entire world views).
The baby-sitting role is, again, funded by an unjust tax system and serves as a giant boon to companies that refuse to provide day care for their employees–but are able to duck taxes as well.

Schools fashion hope: Real and false. On one hand it is clear that societies where hope is foreclosed foster the potential of mass uprisings: France in the summer of 1968 is a good example of what can happen; uprisings starting in school and quickly involving the working classes nearly overthrew the government.

Real hope might be found in showing kids we can comprehend and change the world, collectively, and teaching them how. Ask, “Why are things as they are?” every day. Or, in demonstrating that we are responsible for our own histories, but not our birthrights. Must we be lambs among wolves? Does what we do matter?

False hope might be the typical school hype: Anyone can make it, all you must do is work hard. Trumpery. Inheritance is, more than ever, the key to understanding social mobility, or immobility.

To the contrarians: there is nothing unusual about elites picking off children of the poor, educating them, and turning them back on their birth-communities as a form of more gentle rule. Obama would be one example of such a success. Skanderberg, the Albanian rebel trained by the Turks, would be a failure.

Schools create the next generation of workers, warriors, or war supporters.

Automatons or rebels, or something in between, a process with some witting direction. Those workers need to be taught to accept hierarchy, to submit, to misread realities like class war and endorse nationalism (school spirit) or racism (segregated schooling products). They need to accept their lot, to be unable to notice why things are as they are; why some live in abundance while others have no work—when there is plenty of work to do—why drudgery is so much part of most jobs. The core project here: obliterate the possibility of class consciousness.

What of the resistance. People will fight back because they must. But the traditional organizations of resistance failed both the pedagogical project at hand, that is, teaching people why things are as they are, how to develop strategy and tactics on their own, and the practical project of direct action, control of work places and communities. While people must resist, it is vital they grasp: Why?

Let us make another tick-list, this time about the school unions:

*No leader of any major union in the US believes that working people and employers have, in the main, contradictory interests, thus wiping out the main reason most people believe they join unions. The bosses (for that is what they are) of the two education unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-AFL-CIO--by far now the largest unions in the USA) openly believe in what former NEA president Bob Chase called “New Unionism,” the unity of labor bosses, government, and corporations, “in the national interest.” There is nothing new about company unionism, however, nor the corporate state. Company unionism produces spectacles like the AFT, the smaller of the school unions, to invite Bill Gates, dead-set on capitalist schooling, to be the key-note speaker to the 2010 AFT convention.

*Union bosses recognize their own opposing interests to the rank and file. The union tops, after all, earn a lot more than school workers. Past NEA president, Reg Weaver, took in $686, 949, in his last year of office. Current president, Dennis Van Roekel, will make at least $450,000. Power in the unions is vertical, top-down, perfectly clear in the structure of the AFT, somewhat disguised, but every bit as real in NEA.

These mis-leaders who move up fairly slowly through a hierarchy learn a variety of strategies to manipulate people and, “protect the contract.” These maneuvers, like grievance procedures, move workers away from the locus of their power, the work place, to geographically distant spaces where “neutral” arbitrators decide on vital issues. But the unions rarely file cases to arbitration and, nevertheless, lose about 2/3 of the cases they file. Union bosses also divert member action to the ballot box–any place away from the job site—where, in the words of one top NEA organizer, “if voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.” But electoral work keeps member volunteers busy and it reinforces the false notions school workers have about professionalism (professionals set their own hours and wages, they determine the processes of work–teachers typically are called professionals by people asking the workers to buy textbooks for their kids), allowing educators to win hollow” respect,” the chance to dress up and rub elbows with Important People, away from school.

*Corruption is endemic in the AFT where a steady stream of leaders have been jailed, not only for looting the treasury (Miami, D.C.) but also for child-rape (Broward, Florida). NEA hasn’t suffered the kind of dramatic jailings AFT suffers, but, for example, my own boss in Florida, where I worked as an NEA organizer, was convicted of embezzling about $1/4 million from the union.

*The school unions draw on a member base that is about 90% white and reflect the racism that such a base inherently creates. Rather than fight to integrate the teaching force, the unions urge more and more “education” classes, adding on expenses for students, meaning those with the least get shaved out with razor sharp precision–by class and race.

*The unions, like all US unions, do not unite people, but divide them along lines of job, race, years of tenure, staff and leaders from rank and file, that is, down to the narrowest interest–capital’s favorite question: What about me?

*Since the mid-1970's, union bosses have supported every measure that elites used to regain control of schools which were, in many cases out of control. The NEA and AFT bosses today support curricular regimentation, high stakes racist exams, the militarization of schooling, merit pay, and charter schools (a key new source of dues income).

*The AFT organized the decay and ruin of urban education in the US, while the mostly suburban NEA let urban schooling be devastated, failing to recognize the truth of the old union saw, “an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.” That both unions steeped themselves in volumes of forms of racism (racist exams, racist expulsions, racist segregation, etc) should not go unnoticed or excused.

*The education unions serve to peddle the wage labor of education workers as a commodity to employers and to guarantee labor peace. In this context, there is a direct trade off: no strikes or job actions in exchange for guaranteed dues income, the check-off. That is precisely the historical origin of the agency shop. It is also a big reason why union bosses obey court injunctions against job actions; threats to the union’s bank account, that is, the union staff salaries.

*School unions attack the working class as a whole. The most recent example (May 2009) of this was the support the California Teachers Association and the NEA gave to a series of ballot propositions that would have dramatically raised the taxes of poor and working people
while leaving corporations and the rich off the hook, again. NEA and CTA combined spent more than $12.2 million dollars on the campaigns, and lost overwhelmingly. CTA-NEA demonstrated to poor and working families that organized teachers are enemies–yet those same people are educators’ most important allies.

*These are the empire’s unions. Top leaders are fully aware that a significant portion of their sky-high pay is made possible by the empires adventures. NEA and AFT bosses work with a variety of international organizations on behalf of US imperialism. These adventures are frequently deadly as with the AFT’s unwavering support for Israeli Zionism, support for the recent oil wars, and, precisely to the point, work throughout the world with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Central Intelligence Agency front, in wrecking indigenous leftist worker movements. While the AFT has been the spearhead of US imperialism inside the wholly corrupt “labor movement,” NEA has also been deeply involved. There is a long history to this, back to World War I and the AFL’s support for that horrific war. The theory behind it: US workers will do better if foreign workers do worse.

Unlike the private sector where less than 10% of the people belong to unions, school workers are the most unionized people in the country. It follows that it is important for change agents to be where the people are. But one must keep one toe in and nine toes out of the unions.

There are some indications that resistance inside the unions, and out, is rising. In Chicago, a recent election threw out the past, sold-out, union leadership. The CORE caucus organized for months, inside schools but, importantly, in communities among students and parents. New president Karen Lewis may serve as a beacon for future union reformers, should she overcome the temptations of office, the hierarchical union structure, the patch-work nature of the CORE foundations, and the full-scale attack that will be surely launched on CORE over time.

The ongoing public workers’s strike in South Africa, a true class battle that includes the entire public work force (educators too) versus the Quisling African National Congress government might serves as an inspiration, if any US media covered it. They do not. Word, however, does slip out.

On March 4th, 2010, masses of students, school workers, and community people organized under banners that said, “Educate! Agitate! Organize! Strike! Occupy! Teach-in!” Their actions, which included building seizures, express-way sit-downs, walk-outs, rallies, marches, and freedom schooling, varied from area to area but the connection of capitalism/war/racism/class war was made in every case I saw.

The organizers then called for similar actions on October 7th and a national conference in San Francisco in late October.

In the interim, the expert dis-organizers from the unions, the Democratic Party, and the usual sects showed up. As I write, with radical students only now returning to campuses, the movement veered from its radical beginnings to the reactionary call, “Defend Public Education,” and mobilizing to get out the vote–rather like urging people into church where they know their children will be raped, where they are expected to tithe, but it’s all for the common good–some day.

What can be done now?

People can be told that this is capitalism,

– that there is a connection between capitalism and imperialism,

– that the key reasons for the attacks on working people and schools are rooted in those two,

– the education agenda is a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda,

– that the government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the ruling class and there they work out their differences, allowing us to choose which one of them will oppress us best,

– that the overwhelming majority of union bosses have chosen the other side in what is surely a class struggle and the union hacks gain from the wars and capital by supporting those wars, winning high pay and benefits, and betraying workers, they're a quisling force,

– that we can build a social movement that rejects the barriers US unionism creates, from job category to industry to race and sex and beyond.

The core issue of our time is the reality of endless war and rising inequality met by the potential of mass, active class conscious resistance.

We can fight to rescue education from the ruling classes

Everything negative is in place for a revolutionary transformation of society (distrust of leaders, collapse of moral suasion from the top down, financial crises, lost wars, massive unemployment, booming inequality, imprisonment of only the poor, growing reliance on force to rule, eradication of civil liberties, corruption and gridlock of government at every level, etc.) What is missing is the passion, generalization, organization, and guiding ethic to make that change.

Time is short.

Rich Gibson, Emeritus Professor of Education at San Diego State University and a co-founder of the education-based Rouge Forum, can be reached at:
We meet at the borders of our being, we dream something of each others reality. - Harvey of R.I.

To Justice my maker from on high did incline:
I am by virtue of its might divine,
The highest Wisdom and the first Love.

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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:46 pm

Strong New Films Go After the Much Hyped "Waiting For Superman" and Its Simplistic Educational Analysis

By Megan Driscoll, AlterNet

Posted on November 15, 2010, Printed on November 24, 2010

In light of the success of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman, many education experts have come out with vehement criticism against the film’s assertion that teachers, and the unions that protect them, are the primary cause of the public education crisis. Now, Guggenheim’s fellow filmmakers are beginning to do the same.

Vicky Abeles rejects Superman’s allegation in her new film, Race to Nowhere. Instead of placing blame on educators, Abeles suggests that the current failures of the education system are largely due to the excessive pressures students and teachers alike endure on a daily basis, primarily as a result of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy.

Inspired to make Race to Nowhere after observing the detrimental effects that extreme academic burdens were having on her own children, Abeles’ picture portrays a number of students who exhibits signs of emotional distress under the confines of NCLB. Abeles highlights the consequences of a test score-driven system – one that Superman emphasizes as a solution – featuring students who feel overwhelmed by the intense academic expectations imposed upon them and begin to manifest their stress both emotionally and physically. One teacher interviewed in the film remarks, “You have a system that is trying to further roboticize students, mechanize them if you will, to be these academic competitors, these producers. The very nature of it in itself is very dehumanizing,” while a frustrated student exclaims, “Everyone expects us to be superheroes.”

While Abeles’ depiction of the consequences NCLB has on American youth is certainly compelling, it is her portrayal of exhausted teachers that proves to be her strongest case against Superman’s claims.

Race to Nowhere, currently screening in schools and theaters across the country, examines the effects NCLB has had on educators and public schools since its inception in 2001. The education policy, which measures success and determines funding almost entirely based on standardized test results, leaves little room for teachers to develop alternative instruction methods that may better appeal to individual students. Rather, educators are left “literally just drowning in content” they are obligated to teach in order to ensure that adequate scores are achieved and necessary financial support is provided. Numerous teachers throughout Abeles’ film express frustration with the pressures they endure to follow the rigid curriculum. “Do it or you don’t have a job,” says one teacher. “It’s gotten harder and harder to feel like I can teach the things I believe in, versus be a yes-man.”

Vanessa Roth reiterates the prevalence of undervalued educators in her upcoming documentary that exists as part of The Teacher Salary Project, a campaign spearheaded by Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari to advocate for higher wages for teachers across the country. The Project, set to premier May 3, 2011, is comprised of Roth’s film, as well as an interactive online resource and a national outreach campaign, all of which collectively seek to educate and empower citizens on both the local and national level on the fight for sustainable wages for educators.

Eggers and Calegari, who co-authored the 2005 book, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers, joined with Roth to produce and create a film that emphasizes the struggles educators face in a system that fails to recognize their significant role in shaping American youth. Contrary to Guggenheim’s contention against today’s teachers, Calegari stresses that, “The main reason that American public schools are failing is because we, as a country, haven’t taken the teaching profession seriously.” The Project, like Race to Nowhere, asserts that current U.S. education policy has resulted in schools that are gravely underfunded and educators who are too often forced to survive on unsustainable salaries or abandon their professions altogether. As noted on The Teacher Salary Project’s Web site, 50 percent of the nation’s best teachers are forced to take on second jobs in order to be able to actually afford teaching.

Calegari continues on the subject, contending, “Research has proven that the quality of a students’ teacher has the greatest impact on a students’ future success.” These findings, however, suggest a grim future, when 46 percent of public school teachers leave the profession within the first five years of being in the classroom.

So what methods of reform are needed?

Contrary to Superman’s not-so-subtle urging for the dismantling of teacher unions, The Teacher Salary Project team advocates for the increase of teacher wages. “Raising effective teachers’ salaries, and keeping them in the classroom, is the most important thing we can do to preserve our democracy,” Calegari argues, “We need to create an overwhelming movement that says to everyone that teachers need to have a new day. A day with a seriously prestigious profession, that is wildly competitive, with strong and inspiring leadership, meaningful development, and legitimate financial rewards and incentives.”

Abeles urges for similar changes in Race to Nowhere, where she emphasizes the need for a more personalized curriculum that permits teachers flexibility in the classroom and encourages more creative approaches, such as project-based learning. Moreover, Race to Nowhere suggests that a reevaluation of our capitalistic focus on creating an academically competitive youth is essential. Abeles’ film suggests that America’s incessant dependence on test results to measure knowledge and achievement is rapidly destroying students’ overall health and eagerness to learn. Thus, the call for a greater emphasis on more uniquely tailored methods of teaching will serve to benefit both educators and the students they instruct.

In other words, the two projects suggest, Guggenheim gets it utterly wrong – it is about the funding, it is about sustainable-living wages, and it is about providing students with a customized, challenging curriculum that does not equate them or their teachers to a group of homogenous androids.

Collectively, the films serve to illustrate the true complexity of today’s education crisis. Both show that placing blame on educators and their unions is not only a gross oversimplification of the current circumstances, but in fact is a disservice to those teachers who make substantial financial sacrifices with very little return.

With 2010 being deemed the year of education films and Superman at the forefront, make sure to watch these alternatives that offer a different perspective on the call for education reform.

Megan Driscoll is the editorial and communications assistant at AlterNet.
© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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To Justice my maker from on high did incline:
I am by virtue of its might divine,
The highest Wisdom and the first Love.

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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:48 pm ... cores.html

Monday, November 22, 2010
More on our "bad" math scores

Published in San Jose Mercury News (November 16).

Is it true that "U.S. lags other wealthy nations in higher math" (Page B1, Nov. 11)?

Studies show that middle-class American children attending well-funded schools score near the top of the world in math. American average scores are unspectacular because a high percentage of American school children live in poverty (20 percent; Sweden has 3 percent).

Also, some countries inflate their scores by excluding many children of poverty from taking the test. This does not happen in the United States.

Finally, the Stanford study only considered the percentage, not the number of students reaching the top level. Several countries that did better than the United States have small populations (e.g., Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland). The United States had 25 percent of the world's top achievers on the 2009 PISA science test. China had 1 percent.

Stephen Krashen
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby JackRiddler » Thu Nov 25, 2010 11:56 pm


In his usual style, James O'Keefe's contribution to the War on Teachers destroys one woman's life for the thrill of it, as a "reporter" he hired filmed her surreptitiously while asking leading questions for a deceptively-edited video. Covered here: ... un#p366233

Meanwhile, Mayor Fenty was voted out in DC largely because voters wanted to get rid of Michelle Rhee.

In New York, Joel Klein announced he would be going after eight years as the head of the new Department of Education under mayoral control of the public school system.

Klein took a job with MURDOCH.

A week later, News Corp bought an education materials and software company for something like $400 million. Klein will be the chief salesman of News Corp junk to schools. These things are always too obvious. It's disgusting.

As a new NYC chancellor Bloomberg announced the appointment of Cathy Black, a cost-cutting publishing CEO with absolutely no experience ever as a teacher! This is actually meeting with push back, for a change. ... nted=print

November 23, 2010

Education Chief Raises Doubts on Pick by Bloomberg

The candidacy of Cathleen P. Black, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s choice to be chancellor of the New York City schools, was in jeopardy on Tuesday as both a panel weighing her credentials and the state official who will determine her fate expressed deep doubts about her readiness for the job.

The official, David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner, said he would consider granting Ms. Black, a publishing executive, the waiver she needed to take office only if Mr. Bloomberg appointed an educator to help her run the system.

But even then, Dr. Steiner did not rule out rejecting her request for a waiver, saying he was skeptical about her ability to master the intricacies of the nation’s largest school system. Ms. Black lacks the education credentials required by state law to be schools chief.

Her cause was further undermined on Tuesday when only two of the eight members of an advisory panel Dr. Steiner appointed to evaluate Ms. Black’s background unconditionally endorsed her bid for a waiver.

The erosion of support for Ms. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, was a rebuke to Mr. Bloomberg, who had enlisted powerful business and political allies to lobby Dr. Steiner.

Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers huddled on Tuesday night to map out the mayor’s next step. A spokesman for the mayor, Stu Loeser, declined to comment.

Mr. Bloomberg has said that transforming the school system would be his legacy, and a rejection of his candidate would be an embarrassing and public defeat for a mayor accustomed to getting his way.

Since Mr. Bloomberg appointed Ms. Black two weeks ago, his political machine has been in high gear, enlisting powerful chief executives, academics and former mayors to urge Dr. Steiner to grant the waiver. Mr. Bloomberg personally wrote a six-page letter to Dr. Steiner last week that cited Ms. Black’s extensive management experience as a reason she deserved an exemption.

But despite the considerable pressure, Dr. Steiner, a former dean of the Hunter College School of Education, remained unconvinced. From the start, he was troubled by Mr. Bloomberg’s choice, and he worried that Ms. Black would be unable to get up to speed on fundamental issues like curriculum, student testing and the overhaul of failing schools.

Mr. Bloomberg argued that Ms. Black was a “superstar manager” whose expertise in cost-cutting would be a boon to a school system facing significant cutbacks. He said her experience dealing with customers would help mend relations with alienated teachers and parents.

At the meeting of the advisory panel on Tuesday, Dr. Steiner offered three options: vote yes on the waiver, vote no or vote “not at this time,” meaning the panel would reconsider the application if it were resubmitted with a change like the addition of a chief academic officer to oversee teaching, learning and accountability.

Four members voted “no” outright, two voted “yes” and two voted “not at this time.” Dr. Steiner had been criticized for his choice of panelists: four of them had personal or professional ties to the mayor.

Dr. Steiner proposed the compromise as a way of satisfying Mr. Bloomberg while also helping to allay the concerns of parents, teachers and students, who have expressed reservations about Ms. Black and the highly secretive process leading to her appointment.

Dr. Steiner said he might be more inclined to approve a waiver if Mr. Bloomberg appointed a chief academic officer with requisite education credentials to serve as the No. 2 person to Ms. Black.

But should Ms. Black receive a waiver, she would still retain the ultimate decision-making authority in the Department of Education and would, presumably, be free to determine how much latitude to give a chief academic officer.

Harold O. Levy, a former city schools chancellor, said he was skeptical of any arrangement that would give anyone in the Department of Education besides the chancellor leverage and autonomy.

“I don’t know that structure works,” Mr. Levy said. “There has to be one person in charge for there to be accountability.”

It is possible that Mr. Bloomberg may be able to satisfy Dr. Steiner’s request by simply promoting someone within the Department of Education. But the mayor has typically resisted outside efforts to meddle in his decisions.

The department already has a deputy chancellor responsible for school instruction and support, Eric Nadelstern, a 39-year veteran of the system who some thought might one day succeed Joel I. Klein, the current chancellor. And Santiago Taveras, the deputy chancellor for community engagement, attended city schools and has spent his career as an educator.

Mr. Klein plans to step down on Dec. 31. Mr. Bloomberg has said that if Ms. Black is not approved, he is not certain any other qualified candidate would want the job.

“You know, we had a great pitcher for the first seven innings,” Mr. Bloomberg told reporters on Tuesday before the panel voted. “We bring in the closer for the last couple of innings, and this was the right closer to bring in.”

The mayor has argued that under the 2002 law that gave him control of the city schools, he should be able to appoint whomever he pleased. On Tuesday, he said the law requiring chancellors to hold education credentials should be abolished because the city needed a schools chief with a broader set of skills.

Ms. Black, who helped oversee the early success of USA Today in the 1980s, has faced criticism because she attended Roman Catholic schools and sent her own children to boarding school. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English but does not have any professional degrees.

A poll released by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday found that 51 percent of New Yorkers did not believe that Ms. Black had the qualifications to be chancellor, while 26 percent said she did.

Ms. Black has avoided speaking publicly since she was named, but in her few appearances, she has defended her record and vowed that she would become the next chancellor. She has even established a Department of Education e-mail address.

Sharon Otterman contributed reporting.

Okay, that's what I've got for now. Comments?

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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Fri Nov 26, 2010 12:40 am

Watched "Waiting for Superman" with a room full of educated liberal activist types and I was the only person saying something stunk from front to back. Thank you for making me feel less insane. (I was also told twice that I must be mistaken because Guggenhiem's last film was An Inconvenient Truth which is just salt added to injury added to insult.) The movie is a particularly noxious and effective example of spin.
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby Alaya » Fri Nov 26, 2010 1:47 am

Larger classes and teaching to the test will bring a more militaristic style to the classroom. It will force the old tracking system according to dumb and dumber without any kind of individuation or integration of special needs kids. All part of the plan. This will not insure higher teaching standards either. It will be the tough insensitive teachers that will make the cut. If there is any idealism left in the profession, it will be killed dead and a lot of teachers will leave that career behind them.

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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby Simulist » Fri Nov 26, 2010 1:53 am

I started to write something completely different, and halfway through I realized that the problem is even worse than I was identifying. I started by quoting a portion of one of the articles above, and then remarking on it:

Simulist wrote:
In light of the success of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman, many education experts have come out with vehement criticism against the film’s assertion that teachers, and the unions that protect them, are the primary cause of the public education crisis.

The primary cause of the public education crisis is the American public — not teachers, not teachers' unions.

Now, while I think this is true in large part, there is an even bigger picture to become aware of — one that opens up not "a can of worms," but a can of "elephants in the classroom."

Exactly how do you educate children in a society that lies about pretty much everything of importance?

No, the teachers are not themselves to blame — neither are the teachers' unions — and, yes, the American public is an astoundingly incurious lot, both ill-informed and/or mis-informed about most of the biggest matters of importance.

But one of the reasons for all of that misinformation is the nation-sized kettle of lies we're all presently cooking in!

If — perchance! — a student should become curious about all the inconsistencies s/he is being spoon-fed on a daily basis in, say, history class for one example or in civics class for another (do they even teach civics anymore?), exactly how does a teacher address these inconsistencies (and national lies), and still keep his/her job?

My point is that the culture of illusions and outright lies a teacher is expected to support, maintain and then teach his/her class has itself become corrosive to any real "educational" process, and that by teaching these corrosive untruths, the prime directive of "education" — which, literally, is "to lead out of" ignorance — is deeply damaged.

Before we can teach truths to our children, a nation must itself become unafraid of the truth. As it is, our nation is terrified of a great many truths.

And I don't think enough people are even considering the degree to which — or the many possible ways — our "sacred" national lies might be impacting the integrity and success of our educational process in this country.
"The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego."
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby Sounder » Fri Nov 26, 2010 9:09 am

Cultural and social conditioning has made all of us afraid of confronting the limitations of our initial assumptions because that would make us look silly in the eyes of our more 'rational' brethren.

Thus the machine grinds on.

(I have had GREAT teachers that brought me to this conclusion.) :yay
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby 82_28 » Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:00 am

Back in the day, my growing up Denver days, there was this right wing fool named Mike Rosen who I would listen to on KOA radio. He just went on and on about the "charter school" bullshit. I listened to him not be informed, but to be "enlightened" as to the methods of the right wing and their hatred for things not affluent. Note, I did not do this because someone prodded me into becoming who I am now, but because I really have always extra enjoyed learning their tactics, their mental state etc. All of this shit caused a mental overload and then caused me to become neurotic to a degree.

People have always said I should be a teacher and I have always replied, I would be assassinated or even worse than that, made an example of of what they do not want known, the methods of understanding this existence around us -- because this is what I would do as a teacher. There is no room for curiosity, There is room for charters. I had a high school teacher who leveled with me once and soon thereafter got the fuck out of teaching and he said at the time "don't you see? I am only your babysitter for an hour out of the day. This is how they treat us. I'm not allowed to teach you. I merely keep an eye on you while your parents are off at work doing something more important". This teacher was the most awesome teacher there ever was. All kids knew it too. He had extremely deep eyes. Eyes that looked into you with genuine concern.

I actually went up to teachers who failed me growing up, and thanked them for the class, even though they failed me. I graduated with a less than 1.0 average. But, yes, there is a war on teachers. The machine doesn't want good people who can make good compassionate decisions. The machine wants all of this emulated instead. Even the right wing fools don't get this. All they understand is that there is an "enemy", always, always is there an enemy in every age of life. There are no friends only those they teach you to exploit, not help.
There is no me. There is no you. There is all. There is no you. There is no me. And that is all. A profound acceptance of an enormous pageantry. A haunting certainty that the unifying principle of this universe is love. -- Propagandhi
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Fri Nov 26, 2010 3:55 pm

People tell me to be a teacher all the time. Lately, I just ask them "Why, what do you think I am now?"
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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby Sounder » Fri Nov 26, 2010 5:51 pm

good one wombat, it's a bit of a crack-up how narrowly we treat our labels.

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Re: The War On Teachers

Postby wordspeak2 » Sat Nov 27, 2010 2:45 pm

Jack, I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. That Diane Ravitch article in particular was excellent. I hadn't even heard of this movie, though I'm very familiar with this issue, the *hard right-wing* anti-public school push that Obama, Bill Gates, and the entire corporate media are pushing hard and successfully right now. I think it's really important that we all spread the truth of so-called "education reform." It's adored by the New York Times and their brethren, and what disturbs me most is how many Democrats are biting on it. My very liberal mother, for instance, essentially supports it.

I'd say we haven't seen such an across-the-board right-left establishment consensus on an issue since... what? I don't even know. The right-wing and the ostensibly liberal foundations are out on it. The new Bush foundation or whatever is in on it from the gun. Obama's pushing it hard. I even remember a column in the NYT several months ago by Jeb Bush saying essentially, "I don't support much going on in Washington these days, but President Obama deserves praise for his work on education reform."

It shows you that there is certainly a capitalist conspiracy, and the matter of privatizing schools, standardizing the whole youth education system, and disempowering teachers is extremely important to them. And I can understand why: If I were tasked with controlling a population I would certainly prioritize what children are taught in schools. Don't want any more of these renegade teachers having their kids read Howard Zinn. It's time to compete with China on math and science scores now. The "New World Order," indeed.
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