I’ve been studying this for the past several years and here’s the story.
In the 1990’s businessmen started to imagine the profit potential if businesses could take over the public education system. They hatched a plan that would maximize the flow of tax dollars into the hands of a few. They weren’t alone with such an idea; the same era also saw the privatization of prisons and military companies.
In order to acquire the public schools, they needed to be destabilized first. A national campaign was launched to discredit and undermine them as rapidly as possible. The primary strategy was to direct the nation’s focus onto a single measure of student success – test scores. Clever and consistent use of the media would help accomplish their goal, as testing failures make great headlines. Businesses immediately began to profit as public school systems started pouring money formerly destined for students into increased testing, test prep products, “consultants,” and other opportunists. Simultaneously, the need for decent levels of public education funding was continuously minimized and brushed aside.
To force a rapid loss of confidence in the public schools, a law was implemented which ensured that all of the public schools would eventually be labeled as “failing.” You must understand how NCLB works to understand that this is true. Even Piedmont Unified is considered by the Federal government to have “failed” for the past three years.¹ No one with a brain ever really believed that schools alone would be able to raise the achievement of our nation’s most-disadvantaged kids to that of the most-advantaged within the short time span of 12 years, but this is the fantasy they wanted us to believe.
These business people manufactured the crisis of confidence in the public schools (and the teachers working in them) in order to produce an exodus of those schools by the most anxious families. Voucher programs and charter schools were created which stood by with open arms to capture them. Vouchers ultimately proved problematic because of church vs. state issues, so the focus was turned on expanding charter schools.
Charter schools permit individuals and businesses to receive public money, but to exclude members of the public at the same time. From one school to the next, these schools obtain, or reject, students from particular types of families, both passively (self-selection and indirect pressure) and actively (targeted recruitment and elimination, as with “maybe this school’s not a good fit for you”). The regular public schools must accept and serve all students, even the most-difficult-to-educate ones, but charter schools are not held to that same standard.
If charter organizations could market their schools and make them seem better than the regular public schools (like selling soap by calling it “new and improved”), and if enough new charter schools could be sprung up every year, perhaps momentum would build which would make the regular public schools extinct, which is of course the ultimate goal. No more unions, fewer regulations, less transparency, etc. all sound good from the business point of view.
Enter Eli Broad, courtesy of Jack O’Connell (
Billionaire Eli Broad is one of those eduphilathropreneurs who thinks schools should be operated like businesses. Not coincidentally, he also loves charter schools. In 2001, he started training really smart people to run school districts according to his grand plan. He needed a destination for his first graduating classes (The Broad Academy and Residency) so they could implement his ideas. The timing of OUSD’s financial troubles was perfect for him.
What happened next is revealed in a Tribune article of 8/03 which stated, “Brown [Jerry] and Broad are longtime allies, and O'Connell is a major recipient of Broad campaign contributions.” Take a guess at who owed whom a favor?
The rest is history. Since the state takeover, there has been a string of Broad graduates operating our district through a pet project called “Expect Success!” Instead of meaning to help steady OUSD, they wanted to create more disarray. Broad's henchmen did his bidding by undermining our established traditional public schools, all the while greasing the way for more and more of the charters they favored. Now OUSD has one of the highest levels of charter school enrollment in the country (at over 16%). Most of those schools popped up during this time.
It is not clear to me that charters need any more money. They are already supplemented by pro-charter philanthropic organizations and sympathizers, either directly (with donations), or indirectly (as in the case of providing website support, marketing, and who knows what else). Their principals and boards of directors have time to actively pursue these extras.
In 2007, the Walton Family Foundation donated $230,000 EACH to four charter schools in
And remember that pro-charter report recently released by the California Charter Schools Association? The Walmart family (Jim, Robson, Alice & Christy with a total net worth of 93.1 billion dollars) gave that organization $1,200,000 in 2007, and probably other hefty sums each year. Think how public opinion about OUSD could be swayed if it had funding like that to pay for propaganda of its own!
It’s a funny thing about the timing of O’Connell’s demand.³ As total control of OUSD is about to be turned over to our elected-by-the-people school board, can you think of anyone (especially someone who might be interested in a higher political office) who might still be thinking it would be wise to do favors for someone else?
2. The OUSD school board needs to put a cap on them today!
3. We need to get the foul Broad stench out of
¹ The City of
² Eli Broad’s wealth is listed at $6.7 billion. A salary of $50,000 is to $6,700,000,000, what $1 is to $134,000. His oh-so-generous $2,000,000 Broad Prize which he gives to urban school districts he approves of is like a person who earns $50,000 giving $15 to an organization they like. Whoop-dee-doo. Of course, everything is relative!
³ State Superintendent Jack O’Connell placed a parcel tax proposal on
If we had been smarter – and if we had cared – we would have realized the 2003 Tribune article was the writing on the wall when it said: “I think we’re going to see more and more of what we call non-traditional superintendents,”’ Broad said, citing New York City and Chicago as examples of major cities where non-educators were put in charge of public schools.” And, “Broad played a key role in former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein’s appointment as
But of course, who else?
Something is really wrong with this picture. If the billionaires had our (the People's) best interest at heart, they could have oh-so-easily found ways to improve the schools within the context of our democracy. If the billionaires had our best interest at heart, they wouldn't have felt it was necessary to completely obstruct public input while they revised our public education system. If the billionaires had our best interest at heart, they wouldn't have felt the need to grab democratic power away from American citizens in order to take absolute control of the education of our children.
What is going on is NOT how a democracy works. An especially worrisome thing is that Obama and Duncan are likely to have been duped by them, too. Oh
In the meantime, I think it will be a good idea for me to read up on ancient feudalism and the more modern concept of self-determination.