Privatization is undoing Brown v. Board of Education

Our school system is increasingly "separate and unequal" -- and we have Michelle Rhee's political allies to thank

Topics: AlterNet, Brown vs. Board of Education, privatization, Michelle Rhee, UCLA, Civil Rights, Plessy v. Ferguson,

Privatization is undoing Brown v. Board of Education (Credit: AP/Susan Walsh)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast called the public school system a “socialist regime.” Michelle Rhee cautions us against commending students for their ‘participation’ in sports and other activities.

Privatizers believe that any form of working together as a community is anti-American. To them, individual achievement is all that matters. They’re now applying their winner-take-all profit motive to our children.

We’re Sliding Backwards, Towards “Separate and Unequal”

In 1954, the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education seemed to place our country on the right track. Chief Justice Earl Warren said that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Thurgood Marshall insisted on “the right of every American to an equal start in life.”

But then we got derailed. We’ve become a nation of inequality, worse than ever before, worse than during the racist “separate but equal” policy of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that “segregated schools are systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities.” The Economic Policy Institute tells us that “African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago.”

The privatizers clamor for vouchers and charters to improve education, but such methods generally don’t serve those who need it most. According to a Center on Education Policy report, private schools serve 12 percent of the nation’s elementary and secondary students, but only one percent of disabled students. Forty-three percent of public school students are from minority families, compared to 24% of private school students.

Meanwhile, as teachers continue to get blamed, the Census Bureau tells us that an incredible 38 percent of black children live in poverty.

The Underprivileged Have Been Cheated Out Of Taxes

A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report revealed that total K-12 education cuts for fiscal 2012 were about $12.7 billion.

Almost 90 percent of K-12 funding comes from state and local taxes. But in 2011 and 2012, 155 of the largest U.S. corporations paid only about half of their required state taxes. That comes to $14 billion per year in unpaid taxes, more than the K-12 cuts.

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Untaxed and Unqualified Foundations Want To “Save Our Schools”

The “starve the beast” mentality allows the privatizers to claim that our “Soviet-style” schools don’t work, and that a business approach must be used instead. Philanthropists like Bill Gates and Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch and the Walton family, who have little educational experience among them, and who have little accountability to the public, are promoting “education reform” with lots of standardized testing.

But according to the National Research Council, “The tests that are typically used to measure performance in education fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways.” Diane Ravitch notes that the test-based Common Core standards were developed by a Gates-funded organization with almost no public input. Desperate states had to adopt the standards to get funding.

Bill Gates may be well-intentioned, but he’s a tech guy, and his programming of children into educational objects is disturbing. One of his ideas is to videotape teachers and then analyze their performances. The means of choosing ‘analysts’ is unclear. Another Gates idea is the Galvanic Skin Response bracelet, which would be attached to a child to measure classroom engagement, and ultimately gauge teacher performance. It all sounds like a drug company’s test lab.

As noted by Ravitch and others, philanthropic organizations tend to contribute to “like-minded entities,” which are likely to exclude representatives of the neediest community organizations. They are also tax-exempt. And when educational experiments go wrong, they can just leave their mess behind and move on to their next project.

Getting Past Our “Exceptionalism”

If we’re willing to look beyond our borders for help, we will see the short-sightedness of our educational “reforms.” Finland’s schools were considered mediocre 30 years ago, but they’ve achieved a remarkableturnaround by essentially challenging their teachers before they’re entrusted with the welfare of the children. Most Finnish teachers are unionized, and they undergo rigorous masters-level training to ensure proficiency in the teaching profession, which is held in the same high esteem as law and medicine. In keeping with this respect for learning, government funding is applied equally to all schools, classes in the arts are available to all students, and tuition is free.

As a result, Finnish students, who are not subjected to standardized testing, finish at or near the top of international comparisons for reading, math, and science.

It’s not just Finland with such impressive results. Research at the National Center on Education and the Economy has confirmed that educational systems in Japan, Shanghai, and Ontario, Canada have prospered with an emphasis on the preparation of teachers for the essential task of instructing their young people.

A Strong Community Leads To Individual Success

George Lakoff summarizes: “The Public provides freedom…Individualism begins after the roads are built, after individualists have had an education, after medical research has cured their diseases…”

Public education is vital to the promise of equal opportunity for all. But it will only succeed if we work together as a community, and stop listening to the voices of profit and inexperience.

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