Monday, April 27, 2009

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Periodically I’ll take a look at Whitney Tilson’s blog. The first time I became aware of Tilson was when word went out about his account of Ben Chavis’ verbal attack on New York City Council Member Charles Barron at Sharpton’s National Action Network EEP forum. Chavis, Oakland’s notorious and poorly-behaved American Indian Public Charter School founder, had been invited to sit on the panel.

According to Tilson, Chavis approached Barron and said, “You're a mother f-ing black pimp, you're f-ing our kids. Come to the reservation and I'll beat your ass. You want our kids to take Home Ec? YOU should wear a dress!"

For those of us in Oakland who have been experiencing Chavis for years, hearing something like this was nothing new. But then there was Whitney Tilson’s enthusiastic response of, “I LIKE this guy!”

Tilson's day job is as the founder and managing partner of a New York company that manages investments. He also writes about financial investing and is a minor TV business celebrity. He has posted some of his appearances on YouTube.

In addition to the things above, Tilson's super-intense hobby is being involved with education reform-minded things. He co-founded Democrats for Education Reform, and is on the board of directors of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. He has spoken to Philanthropy Roundtable members, guiding and reinforcing their K-12 education philosophy. Tilson is a huge fan of Joel Klein, according to whom he meets regularly, he adores Michelle Rhee, and Jay Green gives him praise.

Whitney Tilson was the first person to join Wendy Kopp as a founding member of Teach For America. He is the vice chairman of KIPP Academy Charter Schools in NYC. All-in-all he is a big pro-charter, pro-voucher cheerleader of TFA and KIPP; possibly the ultimate neo-liberal education reformer of our day.

Tilson explains on his blog that his parents spent most of their careers doing international development. His interest in education came about because of both the work of his parents and from his experience with TFA.
“I remember the many times, going back to my teenage years, that she [his mother] reminded me of all the good fortune I’ve had in my life and told me that I had a duty to give back and make the world a better place.”
A photo posted online reveals that he was a high school student at Northfield Mount Hermon School (where today's current tuition, room, and board charge is $43,400+, and $30,500+ for day students). He attended Harvard, and eventually Harvard Business School. His education trajectory is very much like Duncan and Obama's.

Tilson invites his readers to look at the photos and videos of KIPP celebrations which he has posted online. I was surprised to see them intertwined with photos and videos of his personal life, and have no idea why someone involved in a controversial, public topic would do such a thing. But since he made them available to the world and I'm a curious person, I thought I’d take a look. I’m fascinated with trying to understand the make-up of people who think so differently from me. For some reason, or the other, I keep looking for a bridge.

The photos and videos feature the travel and activities of an extraordinarily privileged American family; Machu Picchu, Kenya, Prague, Jackson Hole, skiing, golfing, water skiing, private plane flying, white-water rafting, paragliding, and on and on and on. It strikes me that Whitney Tilson is one entitled dude. Incidentally, I learned that his children attend a private school who a mother described as "one of the most elite girls’ schools in the nation." It has a student to faculty ratio of 7:1 and its tuition is around $34,000/year. No public schools will be experienced here.

This all brings me to a fascinating and useful article I discovered during my googling of “elite schools,” The Disadvantages of an Elite Education by William Deresiewicz, a literary critic and former Yale professor. I love how he begins his piece:
It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

Here are nine additional excerpts which not only relate to Tilson and TFA, but also to the current state of education reform, the vision of which has been conceived, and is being pushed, by our nation’s elite. The article also gives us a clue as to why other social classes are being excluded from participating in important conversations about their own schools. Deresiewicz writes:
(1) It’s not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(2) The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(3) At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it. Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(4) My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(5) [Elite universities] …select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic. While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. One needs to wander away from the educational elite to begin to discover this.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(6) Elite institutions are supposed to provide a humanistic education, but the first principle of humanism is Terence’s: “nothing human is alien to me.” The first disadvantage of an elite education is how very much of the human it alienates you from.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(7) The second disadvantage, implicit in what I’ve been saying, is that an elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth… It’s been said that what those tests [SAT, GRE, and other numerical rankings] really measure is your ability to take tests, but even if they measure something real, it is only a small slice of the real. The problem begins when students are encouraged to forget this truth, when academic excellence becomes excellence in some absolute sense, when “better at X” becomes simply “better.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(8) One of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not. Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(9) This is not to say that students from elite colleges never pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation, but even when they do, they tend to give up more quickly than others… Because students from elite schools expect success, and expect it now. They have, by definition, never experienced anything else, and their sense of self has been built around their ability to succeed. The idea of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them. They’ve been driven their whole lives by a fear of failure—often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure.

We need to have a public discussion about the extent of the patronizing contempt for the middle-class-on-down held by some of those in the non-public school using elite, and how it is manifesting itself in the way our public education system is being treated and where education reform is being headed. The People who actually use the public schools, and the providers who work in them, are being excluded from important decisions on both the local and national levels.
The response by the elite is always about how much they are trying to "help." Sorry, I just don't buy that, especially because so many of the reforms are being pushed onto communities after the elite arranges for general public input to be forcefully disengaged.*

Before a reader charges me with inciting class warfare, I hope they realize how much class tension is already there, and growing by the minute. Think of these entries as reports about what is going on at the ground level.

*Remember Joe Williams' (Tilson's buddy) description in his report for the Center of Education Reform of a desirable "politics free zone" conveniently created by the state control of Oakland's school district, and which opened the door for Eli Broad's reform ideas to be implemented?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who's in the Driver's Seat

Online arguments about school reform between the two predominant opposing factions repeat themselves over and over and over. One side argues that the entire existing urban school system needs to be scrapped and replaced. They want to see a model which implements at least some of the following: new employment strategies for teachers, more and more charter schools, and new systems for running school districts which are similar to those which have been developed by business. Un-chartered charter territory, so to speak.

Their opponents believe that the schools – and the teachers in them – have been exclusively and unfairly blamed for the low achievement, and resents that they are called “failures” by the other group. This side believes the teachers are under attack for the consequences of things for which they have no control, namely poverty. They would like to see increased levels of support to their students and their families including smaller class sizes, quality preschool, health clinics at school sites, and strong after school programs.

As far as I can tell, the bridges between these two groups are non-existent.

A few of weeks ago on, I expressed my resentment about the philosophy and supposed “help” from the venture philanthropists, like the Walton family, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad. This sparked an exchange with another reader named Stuart Buck, who I eventually investigated to discover is a Harvard-educated attorney working as a Research Associate at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform. This department was created from an unprecedented gift from the pro-charter Walton family and is headed by Jay Greene, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. As Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

In the exchange, I had made a comment about how the "pro-charter forces have swooped into the communities with the weakest ability to fight (least educated, high illiteracy, non-English, immigrant, etc.)." It stimulated this response from Stuart Buck:

It's truly amazing to see this kind of demonization. And it's a catch-22. If rich people started schools for rich kids, well that would be segregative, elitist, etc. But let a few rich people finally say, "I'm going to do my best to help poor communities," then the knee-jerk status quo folks accuse them of somehow victimizing the poor communities.

I replied:

I don't have a problem with rich people helping poor communities by trying to improve their public schools. But I do have a problem when they don't directly and closely consult with those communities first, but instead presume to know what is needed.

For years, one of my local philanthropists, Gary Rogers of Dreyer's Ice Cream fortune, has had a program called the Rocky Road Community Bus. Teachers apply for a day when this decorated, special bus picks up their class and takes them on a field trip to anywhere they want. The waiting list is perpetually very long, even hopelessly so.

Kids who grow up in poor communities don't have parents with minivans who drive them to museums, aquariums, parks, and other wonderful places. I recall a 7th grade teacher telling me that in one of his classes, half of the kids had already been to Europe, and that in another class half of the kids had never even been to San Francisco (16 miles away). At that time the school had "accelerated" and "non-accelerated" classes; guess which one was which.

Wouldn't it be marvelous for inner-city kids if there were many more buses like the Dreyer’s bus, and if the program even paid for entrance fees and provided a great lunch? What if non-working parents were invited to come along, too? Middle-class families get to do this all the time; the experiences open eyes, foster curiosity, and give inspiration.

Supporting school libraries is another thing philanthropists could do. My guess is that public schools in many cities are experiencing the same neglected situation that is going on in Oakland. Most schools here have a physical library space and a collection of books from the old days, but they aren't staffed because schools haven’t been able to afford librarians for years. If staffing needs were met, the libraries would also need more reading materials and up-to-date library technology (bar codes, magnetic swiping, etc.). Why don't billionaires adopt all those dead school libraries and bring them back to life? With some support, they could be turned into thriving local centers of learning that could be open before and after school, maybe even a night or two so whole families could stop by. Isn't promoting literacy in this population one of the main goals?

Low income parents aren't as likely to attend school meetings, because they don't feel connected with the school and/or because sacrificing that time and effort is a true family hardship. They’d be a lot more likely to attend if good food and childcare was provided, if great things are raffled off, and if transportation assistance is given. Overwhelmed inner-city public school administrators don't have the funding and time to develop programs that would entice poor parents to attend their useful meetings. Why couldn't the rich people form a non-profit that would provide the schools with positive programs like this?

In the seven years I was working at my local school, it astounded me to watch computer after computer get purchased, but then languish in the corner because the district didn't have enough computer techs to set them up and keep them running. When things went wrong with a working computer, it could easily take months before a tech would respond from the district's IT department; there just isn't enough staff. Lucky schools here have parents or teachers who take on computer maintenance as a do-gooder side job. Also, it's not unusual to find that the internet doesn't functioning properly in older school buildings. The idea of having working wireless seems like light years away. Why doesn't computer mega-mogul Bill Gates narrow his focus and help the schools with that?

Parents who want to volunteer in schools in my district must now be willing to pay the $90 for fingerprinting every year. My local middle school used to have three school counselors, one for each grade; now it has only one. Why won't the edu-philanthropists sponsor those things? I KNOW it would help. On and on and on. There are so many things that would truly help the traditional neighborhood public schools and the kids in them, other than closing them down and replacing them with charters.

I wish the billionaires would stop their charter pushing and send teams into the public schools to assess what the grassroots needs are. The team could interview teachers, students, principals, parents, school security staff, secretaries, etc. and ask, "What things do you need to help you do a better job?" A lot of useful things could be learned by consulting directly with the common people. Then the immense resources could be used to improve the quality of life at the existing schools, to increase the schools’ ability to function, and to boost teacher morale. Extra targeted support would work wonders.

Of course, my entire response is on a presumption that the true intention of these people has been simply to "help," but I am not convinced that it is. At any rate, if they had done something as sensible as the things I am suggesting, the two of us wouldn't be engaged in this testy conversation now.

Stuart Buck responded:

Those all sound like great causes. That said, I'm still not sure why people who, from their perspective, are trying to help should have to be limited to the few things that you would personally approve.

Put it this way. There are people in the world who have a different perspective from you, and who don't necessarily agree with everything that you say.

From their perspective, the world of education is somewhat like Microsoft having a monopoly on computer systems, and they see themselves as wanting to start up a better alternative (such as Apple, or Linux, etc.).

Still viewing things from their perspective, these people see you and your ideological kin as making the following argument:

"I hate all these people who are trying to destroy Microsoft by targeting poor computer users for their propaganda about having a choice among computers. If these rich folks were really interested in helping computer users, they would spend all their time and money volunteering for Microsoft. For example, they could donate money for Microsoft to hire more personnel to answer the phones for technical support. Or they could donate more money for Microsoft to make more user-friendly versions of its products."

Again viewing things from their perspective, these people think that your argument is odd. Who says it's written in stone that all computer users must use Microsoft, and that the only way to improve the computer experience is to do it by specifically giving more money to Microsoft? Maybe Microsoft itself could figure out some ways to improve with a little more healthy competition. And maybe Apple isn't an evil conspiracy trying to "target" people; instead, it's just a company that's trying to grow specifically by helping people.

I could spell out the analogy to schools, but that would be rather tedious. You get the point, I'm sure.

So that’s their point of view. And because they have billions of dollars to make what they want to happen happen – from paying for propaganda to influencing politicians – that’s where the rest of us are being taken now.

Sorry kids. I tried making these people aware that you deserve nice things, too, but they aren't interested in listening. They have their own idea of what's best for you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Not a Charter System for Police Departments?

April 20, 2025

Part One: The Crisis in Law Enforcement

In the early part of the twenty-first century, the United States experienced a crisis in law enforcement. Urban crime rates were high, and it was clear to the nation that police officers were failing to do the most basic job.* Huge numbers of lazy and incompetent police officers were kept on staff, year after year, because they were backed by a powerful police union. Urban police departments had a monopoly on providing law enforcement to the citizens, but they were clearly unable to provide that simple public service. It was time for massive reform.

An alternative system was proposed – the creation of “charter beats.” Independently operated providers, mostly private individuals who claimed that they could provide a superior service, were granted charters by a number of cities which gave them control of individual police beats. As a part of the agreement, “charter beat” operators were permitted to have more program flexibility than the traditional police department. They could make additional demands of the citizens who lived in their beats, and of the non-union officers they employed. It was thought that these types of innovations would be good, and that the competition presented by the “charter beats” would stimulate the failing police departments to do a better job.

After the President and the US Department of Justice decreed that “charter beats” were to be the preferred method of law enforcement in urban communities, the rate of turning over neighborhood law enforcement management to various “charter beat” operators soared. Educated, English speaking residents living in more affluent communities were not included in this "charter beat" experiment.

Here’s how it played out in the City of Oakland.

At the time, Oakland was divided into 60 police beats – geographic parcels staffed with a set of specific police officers. Some beats had higher crime rates than others depending on certain factors in the geographic region, namely a high poverty level. Most law enforcement reformers staunchly believed that high poverty was no excuse for higher crime rates, and that if the police would only try harder, and smarter, those challenges would be overcome.

To get this new system underway, small portions of preexisting beats were turned over to the “charter beat” operators. A few of these operators were local community members, but most were individuals who had worked in law enforcement outside of Oakland, in various capacities for various extents of time. The organizations were managed by boards of directors, most members of whom worked in the finance or business industry. Sometimes board members referred to themselves as “law enforcement entrepreneurs.”

The law enforcement officers in the “charter beat” neighborhoods were permitted to use tactics which the regular police officers were legally barred from doing. This helped their crime stats to improve.

Just one of these tactics was the ability to pressure out "bad actors (either actual or potential) from the beat. Because there was no reciprocity in this regard, the beats staffed by the regular force were required to accept these individuals, and also weren’t allowed to transfer any of them back into the “charter beats.”

Since people have the choice to live where they like, the most astute and resourceful locals moved into those “charter beats” once they learned how “bad actors” were being aggressively cleared from those parts of town. However, as a precondition for being allowed to move into those neighborhoods, incoming residents were required to sign a commitment that they must comply with a set of behavior standards, or their residency would be terminated by the “charter beat” operator.

The “charter beats” used a force of non-unionized security officers. Many were recent top college graduates who were interested in giving two years of service to urban communities. Once they were accepted into an alternative training program, they would attend an intensive, five-week series of classes, after which they would be given a set of equipment, a patrol car, and their assignment. To compensate for the ongoing lack of experience, coaching was provided by a host of paid consultants.

As the “charter beats” increased, more and more of the traditional, preexisting beats were closed down. Police officers were laid off and the size of the regular police department shrank. It eventually disappeared, along with the police union. The city's law enforcement had been transformed into a system free of unions and of many of the previous legal restrictions.

By 2010, nearly 10% of Oakland’s population lived in neighborhoods managed by “charter beat” operators.

Part Two: How Things Played Out

Check back later for the exciting conclusion. With our head-in-the-sand, continued neglect to get to the root of the problem, razor wire and chain link fencing stock will soar.

AN IMPORTANT PS: This day (4/20 of every year) is a good time to bring your attention to the fact that this entire country has a MAJOR, MAJOR problem with substance abuse. It is a huge national threat. Drug use and sales is a billion-dollar, tax-free industry. It is a highly functioning underground economy in symbiotic relationship with another underground industry, gun sales and use. It is all connected with crime, family breakdown, and the big problems in urban public schools. This country needs a stay at rehab.

If you don’t know the significance of 4/20, look it up. And watch out for stoned drivers if you’re on the road from 4:20 on today.

*My apologies to police officers. This piece is just a fable and an analogy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oligarchs, Crime, the Underclass, Neglected Schools, and more.

Watch a new interview with David Simon, former Baltimore Sun journalist and creator-producer-writer of The Wire, on Bill Moyer's Journal. He discusses a variety of things such as America’s abandoned underclass, our current oligarchy, and the high level of national apathy. In the mix, he talks about inner-city education issues and crime.

Let’s just say...he gets it.

If you know Simon, pass the word to him about my blog. I’d love to talk to him about what is happening with public education.

Also, please read Senator Jim Webb's Parade article, Why We Must Fix Our Prisons.
"The United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world's reported prisoners."
The United States of America has a potentially lethal condition. Consider the above fact and realize that this is just one of the many symptoms.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pimping for Privatization

By Steve Miller, a longtime Oakland public school teacher.

The privatization of public education has developed characteristics of both tragedy and farce. Suddenly Plainfield Asset Management, a hedge fund that has been trying to privatize New York City’s Off-Track Betting operations, is concerned about the achievement gap between African-American and Anglo-American students!

So they “donated” $500,000 to the Education Equality Project! Here’s the background:

“The Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stunned the education world last June when they joined forces to reform the nation's public schools.

“They called their ambitious venture the Education Equality Project, and they vowed in a
Washington press conference to lead a campaign to close the decades-old achievement gap between white and black students.

“What Klein and Sharpton never revealed is that the National Action Network, Sharpton's organization, immediately received a $500,000 donation for its involvement in the new effort.” (Juan Gonzalez, NY Daily News,
April 1, 2009)

Such awesome generosity is typical of the corporations and their henchmen who are going all out to privatize the public schools of the
United States! They have long experience is buying spokesmen to extol their corporations.

The Basic Premise

Now that these forces are out of the closet at last, we can examine their central premise, first articulated by that champion of civil rights and equality, right-wing economist, Milton Friedman.

Friedman demanded the total privatization of schools. He claimed that the so-called “free market” is the best guarantee of efficiency, quality education and equality (not to mention modernizing the system) because it introduces competition, which provides “choice” for parents.

This is in essence the corporate model for education. It is being sold across the country to parents, especially minority parents, who are quite clear that the public schools are more segregated than ever, and who are desperate for something different. Nationally, a gaggle of reactionary billionaires (the Walton family, of Wal-Mart, Eli Broad, of KB homes and AIG Retirement, and Donald Fisher of the Gap) have suddenly become champions of equality and are pushing charter schools as the solution.

So let’s examine how valid these assumptions really are.

People were shocked when the extreme right-winger, Grover Norquist made his famous call to shrink the government to the size where “we can drown it like a baby in the bathtub”. But this is exactly what has been happening for the last eight years. It is well known that the Bush Administration outsourced the war in
Iraq to private contractors. He attempted to also privatize the Iraqi government.

The government’s pitiful and criminal response to Hurricane Katrina tells us a lot about privatization, because the relief effort was also privatized. Naomi Klein shows in her great book, The Shock Doctrine, how Bush privatized many of the federal governments functions by out-sourcing these to private corporations. Even the Bail Out is outsourced, with the law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett winning the contract to oversee distributing billions to corporations that are its own clients!

The government is getting out of the business of governing. So it should be no surprise that privatization is being forced on school systems across the country. The
United States really has two highly segregated school systems. Suburban schools are the best in the world; urban schools are among the worst. Privatization is being forced on urban school districts alone.

Since the upsurges of the ‘60s, government at all levels has been forced to address the public demand to provide an equal and quality education to all students, regardless of race, nationality or class. What happens, then, when the government no longer handles public education? It is then absolved of this essential responsibility.

The next step then is to make the responsibility for the quality of education a personal one. Just like health care, “you get what you pay for”. The big ideological push for a decade now is to make everything personal responsibility. Then it’s your fault if something goes wrong. Government no longer is even expected to provide equal access.

Is this really what we want? To terminate the social demand of decades that the government makes good on its promise, without discussion? Ask yourself – when exactly was it that this was taken off the table?

When was it that the problem started being described, as in the article above, as “the achievement gap” rather than the refusal of government to fulfill the historical demand for real equality? Why do we now just assume that corporations are somehow going to do this better for us and let governments off the hook? Where were these discussions held?

These questions have answers. When you ask the privatizers these questions directly, they simply talk about something else.

Enter the Odd Couple.

Joel Klein is Chancellor of the
New York public school system, the country’s largest. He is famous for stating that every school in New York should become a charter. He is also on of the signees of the notorious report, Tough Choices in Tough Times, which calls for ending local community control of schools, ending high school in the 10th grade, and replacing all public schools with “contract schools”. These schools would have total authority to determine what is taught and how it is taught. This removes the power over public schools from parents through their elected school boards.

Al Sharpton is an erstwhile “civil rights leader” who has inserted himself as a champion for the equality that the
United States has never provided African Americans.

Both are now proponents of the corporate model for providing equality. Can this really be done?

Here is Barney Frank’s take on the question. Frank is the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee that “supervises” the $ 9 trillion in Bail-Outs so far to Wall Street.

Frank, a self-described capitalist and liberal, stated in a House Financial Services meeting, on
Wednesday, July 16, 2008, “No one expects equality, equality is not a good thing. You can’t have an economy that works if everything is equal.”

Frank has emphasized this before. In Business Week, February 2006, Frank wrote, “Inequality is not a bad thing in a free market economy; indeed, it’s essential if we’re to benefit from the incentives and efficiencies that make the market so effective a producer of wealth.”

Turning a public good, provided by the government, into a private service, provided by corporations for profit will do exactly what Frank describes. We are witnessing this with the Bail Outs, which are shrouded in secrecy and lack any public control or oversight. If we have trillions for banks, imagine how war a mere $100 billion would go to create a real system of equal, quality education, free for all.

If they are so sincere about addressing the history of inequality in this country, how would Klein, Sharpton and the privatizers address these issues?


The idea of school choice is another “get rich quick scheme” that sounds good until it is examined. What happened in
America that should we even have to choose at all

In 1999, David Hughes and others wrote Trading in Futures. Why Markets in Education Don’t Work. In it they concluded, “in effect education markets trade off the opportunities of less privileged children to those already privileged.” (p 2).

Other books document the same effects: Michael Appel’s Educating the “Right” Way, Helen Ladd’s introduction in Choosing Choice, Joycelyn Berthelot’s Education for the World, Education for All. Alfie Kohn also provides abundant material.

Data from countries like
Chile, Britain under Thatcher, New Zealand, Sweden and other countries all show the same result. Schools push out the students who take more time and resources to educate. Once privatized, schools compete for the “good” students. Middle-class parents, who have the time and know-how to work the system, get their kids into the “right” schools. Parents from poorer families generally lack these resources and usually wind up taking whatever they are given.

To paraphrase… the law, in all of its magnificence, allows poor parents, as well as rich, to drive their students across town twice a day in their Porsche SUVs to insure their kids are receiving a quality education. “Choice” benefits parents who have the resources to choose. It simply does not carry the same guarantees as a “right”.

New Orleans all but privatized its school system. What do we see there? Boutique schools for well-off families and poorly supported charters for the poor. How’s that for “efficiency, quality education and equality”?

The End of Equality?

The idea that the so-called “free market” can solve social problems is a scam and a fraud. For 40 years, the
US has pushed the economics and politics of Neo-Liberalism on countries from South America to Asia and Africa every time there has been an economic crisis. Now that we are beginning to live through what clearly is the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, these policies are being forced on the American people.

Back in the ‘90s, Edward Luttwak, a champion of the “free market” described their agenda this way. He could be describing our current public school policy:

“At present, almost all the elite Americans, with corporate chiefs and fashionable economists in the lead are utterly convinced that they have discovered the winning formula for economic success – the only formula – good for every country, rich or poor, good for all individuals willing and able to heed the message, and of course, good for elite Americans: PRIVATIZATION + DEREGULATION + GLOBALIZATION = TURBO-CAPITALISM = PROSPERITY”. (Thomas Frank, One Market, Under God, 2000. p 17)

We are now living out the results of “Turbo Capitalism”. It ain’t prosperity that’s for sure. Markets have never solved social problems. They create them.

All we have to do is look around to find the answers. The “free market” Bailouts are creating social problems in all directions, not eliminating them. This is the inevitable result of turning the responsibility for public problems over to private forces. The privatizers are all about deregulating public schools by eliminating public control.

Markets are designed for profit making. Remember when Bill Clinton told us that corporations were the best institutions to tackle the national health care disaster? HMOs have made things much worse, producing the worst health care for the highest price in the industrial world – and – completely outside public control. Sharpton and Klein support the domination of EMOs (Educational Maintenance Organizations) and the elimination of the responsibility of government to address the concerns of society.

In a ironic fashion, the “free market” imposes an equality of sorts on all the peoples of the
US. This is the equality of poverty and its misery. This is not the concept of equality that drove this country forward for the last 60 years to say the least. If not deregulation, privatization and the market, what is the alternative?

The only counter to privatizing and ending the control of the public is to de-privatize and extend the control of the public. Who says that everything we fought for 60 years is off the table? Why are we supposed to settle for this scam? It’s not time to let government off the hook. If a privatized government cannot guarantee a free, equal, and quality education for everybody, and maintain education as a public good, then the public must replace the government.

Steven Miller
April 9, 2009
Oakland, California

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Where Sociology, Criminology, and Charter Schools Converge

From his ethnographic studies in inner-city Philadelphia, sociologist Elijah Anderson identified two types of inner-city families/people, “decent” and “street.” He did not invent those terms; they are used by the residents in that community.

With the skyrocketing incarceration levels of recent decades, I believe that Anderson’s “street” population has now grown so large that it constitutes an entire class of Americans, our “incarcerated class.”* By “incarcerated class” I mean those who are either pre-, currently, or post-incarcerated (many times a never-ending cycle), AND their offspring. Read Marian Wright Edelman's Column: "The Cradle to Prison Pipeline: America's New Apartheid."

So for instance, Edelman says that “a poor Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison.” However, a closer look would most likely reveal that it is something more like a 90%+ chance for a certain set of those boys, and much, much less for a different set of boys (depending if they are from a street/incarcerated class environment or from a decent one). The high-at-risk subgroup describes the incarcerated class. Parents in the community know exactly who is who.

The extreme numerical escalation of this group is what feeds the interest in charter schools. The non-I.C. parents who live in areas where members of this class are numerous are desperate to separate their kids from the offspring of the incarcerated class. For instance, read this recent, emotional pro-charter opinion piece in the New York Post and some of the response comments. One said, “A good kid going to school with kids that were not raised in a good household is like putting a kitten in the middle of a pack of wolves.” Now we're getting to the meat of things.

Over the past few decades, the number of these kids has been increasing and thus their enrollment in the public schools has been climbing higher and higher. Because of the sheer numbers, their presence at some point became overwhelming, thus all the “bad” urban public schools.

David Berliner’s recently issued report, “Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success,” describes the effect of family relations and stress on schooling, pages 24 to 29. It says:

Children from families that suffer from violence, from whatever income group and race, often display social and emotional problems that manifest themselves in the schools they attend. Too often these children show higher rates of aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, decreased social competence, and diminished academic performance.

He continues:

“…such families [the above described] are overrepresented among the poor and in the African American community, increasing the difficulty of the instructional and counseling missions of schools that serve those populations…the effects these troubled children exert on others in the classroom is strong.”

More details, with citations, are given. (Intelligent people will read this sort of information and absorb it, and then fashion a response that is appropriate and relates. The supposedly brilliant venture philanthropists like Eli Broad and Bill Gates, I'm afraid, are not in this group and will never do the same.)

This large set of kids is tremendously difficult to manage and they make the school life miserable for everyone else. The teachers in the schools who aren't getting driven away are at risk for getting totally worn down -- thus the apathy which is sometimes described.

My first guess is that our ongoing inability to acknowledge that this is occurring, reasonable legal arguments and important civil rights concerns have all restrained public schools from developing the strategies that would be necessary for dealing with large numbers of kids from this group. Unlike special education or English learning, there is no extra-funding offered to schools that must manage large numbers of them. I believe this is something that could be considered as a disability of a social nature – the behaviors and the symptoms are very extreme.

My second guess is that charter schools don’t deal with too many of these kids. The parents in this social class are extremely alienated from any mainstream and aren’t as inclined to seek charters. If they happen to enter the charter school world (because a relative did, for instance), their children will be more likely to get kicked out for bad behavior and non-compliance.

Bad school climates are what drive parents away. Public schools will need a great deal of help to manage their increasing numbers of this most-difficult-to-educate population.

How does this theory sound? I invite you to poke away.

* To my knowledge, the term "incarcerated class" was first used on March 31, 2009, by Tony Waters in his comments on ”Bridging Differences.” He is a faculty member of the Sociology Department at
California State University, Chico.