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Reed Hastings, billionaire founder of Netflix, hates public schools. He wants to eliminate school boards and replace them with corporate management. He has spent more than $100 million promoting charter schools.
“Hastings’ lavish spending has raised concerns among critics who worry that the sort of technologies and efficiencies he used to build his Silicon Valley empire and is now applying to education might not work for the nation’s schoolchildren.
These concerns were raised in 2014, when Hastings, at a California Charter Schools Association meeting, asserted that public schools are hobbled by having elected schoolboards.
“Let’s think large-scale,” says Brett Bymaster, a Silicon Valley electrical engineer who broke the story about Hastings’ school board comments on his blog about Rocketship, a charter school chain supported by Hastings. “You have someone who is contributing millions and millions of dollars to local and statewide political races and who was the former president of the state school board — whose stated goal is to end democracy in education. That is deeply disturbing.”
When Hastings served as chair of the California State Board of Education, he opposed bilingual education, leading Democratic legislators to block his reappointment. While on The State Board, he led the charge to remove any limits on the number of charters in the state and to limit regulation or accountability.
“The fact that California Charter Academy, one of the country’s largest charter school operators, collapsed and left 6,000 California students without a school during his board tenure, did little to sway Hastings’ enthusiasm for publicly financed yet privately run schools. Along with helping to fund the Rocketship and Aspire charter programs, he’s served on the boards of the California Charter Schools Association and the KIPP Foundation, the largest network of charter schools in the country. And much of Hastings’ school reform efforts have focused on technological solutions. He helped launch NewSchools Venture Fund, which has invested $250 million in education entrepreneurs and “ed tech” products. He’s also been a major backer of DreamBox Learning, which develops the math software used in Rocketship schools, and the Khan Academy, an online teaching video clearinghouse.
“But so far, the outcomes of many of these ed tech ventures have been mixed. Khan Academy has been criticized for including fundamental math errors in some of its instructional videos. And while DreamBox once championed a Harvard University study that found that use of its math software was associated with test achievement gains in grades three through five, the study itself noted it could not be ruled out that the gains were “due to student motivation or teacher effectiveness, rather than to the availability of the software.” What’s more, the user data collected by programs developed at Khan Academy, DreamBox and other companies are fueling concerns over student privacy.
“More broadly, education experts are worried about the impact of minimally staffed, call center-like computer learning labs on the nation’s students and teachers, especially as this approach becomes more commonplace in the name of cost savings and innovation. (In a 2012 Washington Post article, former Rocketship CEO John Danner noted that “Rocketeers” could eventually spend 50 percent of their school day in front of computers.)”…
“When Netflix became the first major U.S. company to offer unlimited paid family leave for both male and female employees, it was criticized for extending the policy only to its white-collar employees, not blue-collar workers in charge of customer service and DVDs. And while Microsoft has required that many of its contractors and vendors provide their workers with sick days and vacation time and Google has demanded that its shuttle bus contractors pay better wages, so far Netflix has ignored calls for improved working conditions for its contract workers, says Derecka Mehrens, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising, a campaign to raise pay and create affordable housing for low-wage workers in the tech industry.
“Mehrens sees a similar class bias in Hastings’ approach to public education. “We see profound consequences, both political and economic, when technology industry leaders take action from a position of privilege and isolation from the very communities they desire to help,” she says. “When tech industry leaders like Reed Hastings call for an elimination of school boards or for more privatization of public schools, they block low-income people from using the one instrument that the powerful can’t ignore – their vote.”
“Hastings’ end goal for California appears to be the near-total replacement of traditional public schools with charter schools. In his 2014 speech where he discussed abolishing elected school boards, Hastings pointed to New Orleans – whose school system was largely taken over by the State of Louisiana after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and converted to the country’s first predominantly charter public school system – as a model:
“So what we have to do is to work with school districts to grow steadily, and the work ahead is really hard because we’re at eight percent of students [in charters] in California, whereas in New Orleans they’re at 90 percent, so we have a lot of catchup to do… So what we have to do is continue to grow and grow… It’s going to take 20-30 years to get to 90 percent of charter kids.”
For his contempt for public schools and his determination to remove democratic governance of education, I hereby place Reed Hastings on this blog’s Wall of Shame.