By Kevin Hart and Félix Pérez
Proponents of privatizing public education have spent the past few years on a perpetual road show, travelling state to state selling a toxic mix of education reforms that are unsupported by research and silence the voices of teachers, and rebutting any and all efforts to improve public education. They flood the airwaves with apocalyptic-sounding advertisements and even assemble phony grassroots groups to give the impression of public support.
But this spring, the tired act was booed off the stage in Connecticut. The Connecticut Education Association (CEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association, worked to rally educators and parents to expose the privatization agenda behind a series of proposed reforms, and to help craft meaningful, teacher-led reforms that work for all students.
Trouble began brewing this year when a New York-based private equity firm and Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization began advancing a series of reforms that would expand for-profit charter schools—despite research showing that their students tend to perform worse academically than those in neighborhood public schools—and would silence the voices of educators and weaken their job security.
Rhee, a former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, has spent the past several months working with extreme right-wing groups and legislators to advance an agenda that puts private profits ahead of children. Her Students First group spent $790,000 on advertising in Connecticut to try to advance her unproven—and, in many cases, thoroughly disproven—reforms.
The state’s educators quickly found themselves “being told by wealthy and powerful interests—from CEOs to charter management companies to out-of-state, ultraconservative, anti-union organizations— that their voices should not count,” said Phil Apruzzese, a math and science teacher from Wethersfield, Connecticut, and president of the CEA.