Bus tour with teacherken: The Greed Agenda and education


Ken Bernstein is a recently retired National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher who was a 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher. Nationally known for his blogging as teacherken at Daily Kos and elsewhere, he served until his retirement as the lead building representative (NEA) at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD.

Now that the Stop the Greed Agenda Bus Tour is complete, I want to take this occasion to try to reflect upon the Greed Agenda in the context of public education, and to explore in a bit of depth the issue of cyber charter schools, a key component of that Agenda.

The American Legislative Exchange Council has long had a strong focus on education, with an emphasis on things like vouchers and “school choice.” Its current (17th ) Report Card on Public Education lists states by their rank on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) (often called the Nation’s Report Card and produced by the National Center for Educational Statistics), as well as by its own set of criteria, which

ranks states from A to F based on education reform policies including academic standards, school choice programs, charter schools, online learning, and that state’s ability to hire good teachers and fire bad ones

It will not surprise you that ALEC’s rankings favor states with stronger restrictions on unions and fewer on charters. Although since the rankings combine multiple factors heavily unionized California appears in the top ten while right to work Alabama is in the bottom 5.

ALEC’s Task Force on Education is one of 8 around which the ALEC “Greed Agenda” is organized. Each task force contains private sector members as well as public sector (legislators), with the intent of providing the private sector

an unparalleled opportunity to have its voice heard, and its perspective appreciated, by the legislative members.

An examination of the membership of the task force shows the presence of for-profit charter organizations, both bricks and mortar and online, for-profit colleges and their professional organizations, and think tanks heavily oriented towards the Greed Agenda.

ALEC does not operate in isolation. It helps propagate the Greed Agenda on education by influencing its legislative members to advocate its legislative proposals. Americans for Prosperity helps to elect those members and to defeat those seen as obstacles to advancing the Greed Agenda.

A key part of privatizing public education is the expansion of online charters and requiring students to take online courses as a condition of high school graduation. Virginia recently added the online course requirement, even as there is NO research demonstrating the effects of such a requirement – it does provide revenue to equipment and software providers as well as content providers – all usually for-profit entities. As to online charters, even as we see them expand, we have clear evidence that they do NOT provide a better educational opportunity for students.

According to a Federal government report, in 2008, of more than 4500 charter schools nationwide, 180 were cyber charters.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, which studied performance of Pennsylvania Charters from 2007-2010, concluded

Compared to the educational gains the charter students would have had in their traditional public schools, the analysis shows that students in Pennsylvania charter schools on average make smaller learning gains

While 35% of the brick and mortar charters performed significantly better in reading than the comparable public schools and only 34% significantly worse, the pattern for cyber charters was starkly different: 100% performed significantly worse. A similar pattern applied for math performance, with again 100% of cyber charters performing significantly worse.

The Greed Agenda seeks to privatize and corporatize public schools. It seeks expansion of charters, often run by for profit entities. It seeks expansion of online education without regard to control for quality, especially as it is a means of breaking teachers unions as a first step toward destroying all unions. It opposes collective bargaining, especially for public employees. It wants to keep unions from political participation (on this the pending Proposition 32 in California is crucial). It focuses on controlling state legislatures as a means of overriding local control that might oppose its agenda. It uses various methods of voter suppression to prevent those who might oppose its agenda from voting against its initiatives and its favored legislative (and executive) candidates.

In going after public education, the Greed Agenda is undermining real democracy.

That leaves those of us who care about public education, who care about democracy, only one path to follow.

We must educate voters.

We must organize and motivate voters to oppose this agenda.

We must fight the Greed Agenda in the Courts and at the ballot box.

If we do not do so, public education will be destroyed.

So will real democracy.

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