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Every so often, I run into someone who says that he or she cannot take seriously the claim that there is such a thing as a “privatization” movement. They think that charter schools are public schools (I do not) and they scoff at any concern about for-profit schools. They say things like, “There have always been for-profit businesses in education, selling tests, textbooks, supplies, etc., why does it matter if some corporations run schools for profit?” In their eyes, corporate reform is innovative and risky, and no one—not even the for-profit corporations—is trying to privatize public education.
To anyone who questions the existence of the privatization movement, I recommend Doug Martin’s “Hoosier School Heist.” Martin is a blogger who holds a Ph.D. in nineteenth century American literature. He is a native of Indiana who is deeply versed in that state’s school politics and its major (and minor) players. His book is eye-opening; actually, his book is eye-popping. It is a no-holds-barred critique of Indiana’s politically and financially powerful privatization movement.
Martin’s critique shows the linkages among the free-marketeers, the Religious Right, and the greedy.
A few examples of his snappy style:
“Academic progress is irrelevant to voucher supporters, for the goal is not to improve schools through competition, as they claim, but to completely dismantle traditional public schools altogether. In fact, those calling for school privatization don’t want to hold anyone with profit motives accountable, as Florida has proven.”
He recognizes that vouchers and charters drain funding from public schools, leaving the latter with fewer teachers, fewer aides, fewer programs—“so for-profit education management companies can take them over with temporary teachers or justify starting charter schools by deeming the neighborhood schools as ‘failing.’”
He sees why Wall Street is involved in the charter industry. “Making money from disasters is a Wall Street specialty, and investors have jumped on the opportunity for school privatization. Besides generating tax-exempt bonds, stocks, and other shady financial gimmicks, school privatization allows big bank CEOs, private equity firm honchos, and hedge fund managers to collect interest on loans to non-unionized charter schools which employ a temporary teacher workforce….Unlike traditional public school boards, charter school boards are unelected, undemocratic, and cloaked in mystery. Their conflicts of interest enable schemes like high rent to waste public education money.”
Martin challenges the corporate-sponsored claims that the public schools are failing to produce a good workforce. He says that Indiana’s newspapers and TV stations “advertise corporate school talking points, portray front group spokespeople as ‘experts,’ and seldom, if ever, question that profit motives and rigged research behind the corporate-sponsored statements that our schools are failing.”
The Republican-dominated legislature has taken steps to cripple the funding of public schools. “To sneak more politically connected for-profit charter schools into Indiana, in 2010 legislators cut $300 million annually from the public school budget and mandated tax caps to purposely ensure the destruction of public schools….Since the state controls the purse strings, Republican lawmakers have purposely bolted in place everything needed to start closing down Indiana schools and expanding for-profit charter schools.”
Martin shows how the overuse of standardized testing has benefited corporate politicians like Mitch Daniels. Not only do they stifle the critical thinking skills needed in a democratic society, not only do they send millions to testing corporations, but they demoralize and drive out good teachers. This too sets public schools up for failure.
One of the valuable aspects of Doug Martin’s book is his careful dissection of the sponsors of corporate reform in Indiana. A key player is called the Mind Trust, which Martin cites as an exemplar of “crony capitalism.” Martin writes:
“The Mind Trust typifies America’s counterfeit political Left. Mouthing the rhetoric of class warfare, civil rights, and female empowerment, the mock liberals at Education Sector, the Center for American Progress, and the New America Foundation, all supportive of the Mind Trust specifically or school privatization in general (and most bringing home six-figure salaries), attack teachers unions and public schools and connive to mount in place a school system based on corporate profit, one which disenfranchises the female teachers and minority and poor students they claim to be helping.”
Martin calls out the enablers of the school privatization movement, such as Eli Lilly and the Lilly Endowment, reliable funders of privatization activities, and of Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, which will recruit the temporary teachers needed for the charters. He cites the power of ALEC in the Indiana legislature, whose members pushed to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores and to judge colleges of education by the test scores of students taught by their graduates. He provides overviews of the anti-teacher, anti-union, privatization agenda of Stand for Children, DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), the Christian right, the Bradley Foundation, the DeVos family of Michigan, and the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which promotes charters and vouchers.
Martin doesn’t offer any suggestions about how to combat the well-funded, interconnected organizations that are advancing the privatization agenda. His book contains valuable information about the privatization movement, its goals, its major players, and its strategies. He leaves it to voters to figure out how to save public education in Indiana.
Whether or not you live in Indiana, you should read this book. The major players like DFER and BAEO operate nationally. The activities in Indiana follow a script that is being enacted in many states, probably including yours.
Hoosier School Heist is listed on amazon.com, or you can obtain a copy by going to the website http://www.hoosierschoolheist.com.