Former New York Times reporter Bob Herbert’s new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, includes a Chapter entitled: “The Plot Against Public Education, How millionaires and billionaires are ruining our schools.” Politico reprinted the chapter yesterday.
Herbert retells the early days of this trend, when Bill Gates decided smaller high schools were the answer. He was wrong.
From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.
Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”
Undeterred, Gates moved on to fixing teaching, although he admitted he didn’t know how. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it seems that the field doesn’t have a clear view on the characteristics of great teaching. Is it using one curriculum over another? Is it extra time after school? We don’t really know.”
This random shot approach has persevered. But common to every reform proposed is the entry of the private sector, ready to apply the profit motive.
While schools and individual districts were being starved of resources, the system itself was viewed as a cash cow by so-called education entrepreneurs determined to make a killing. Even in the most trying economic times, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, earmarked for the education of children from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, are appropriated each year. For corporate types, especially for private equity and venture capital firms, that kind of money can prove irresistible. And the steadily increasing influence of free-market ideology in recent years made public education fair game.
The chapter serves as a 4 page primer on the corporate takeover of public schools. It illustrates, thanks to the Republican party’s fealty to market-oriented solutions, that corporations have been given the go-sign to the monitize this new market.
“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Rupert Murdoch
Read the entire chapter on the Politico site.