Privatization Posse Rides With Rhee

“There they go again.”  The Privatization Posse rolled into Nevada with the most recent incarnation of plans to privatize our public education system. “The proposed bill would allow parents and teachers to petition school district officials to execute one of several federal recipes for school improvement, including replacing the principal and half the staff, closing the school or converting it into a charter school.”  [LVSun]

Consider the Source

The first clue to the ultimate intent of the legislation is the enthusiastic sponsor — Nevada’s very own right wing Tea Party state Senator Mike Roberson (R-LV).  The second clue is that the astroturf StudentsFirst organization founded by former Washington, D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee, is aligned with the Chamber of Commerce, and Republican Governors in Ohio and Michigan, and — not surprisingly — Florida’s Governor Rick Scott. [HuffPo]

The third clue is that the vultures are circling; here’s one example among many:

“In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.  The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.” [Reuters]

The Premise

The proposed legislation rationalizing the privatization of our public schools rests on the highly questionable premise that parents have “no voice” in the operation of their schools.   Not True.   At worst, this premise discourages parents and guardians from active participation in school district discussions by informing parents in advance that they are powerless in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy.   After spending many a less than thrilling hour attending school board meetings, I can say without much fear of too much contradiction, a packed room works wonders in terms of the enlightenment of school committee or board members.  Nothing so moves a recalcitrant principal to action as a few telephone calls from parents, and nothing is more appreciated by classroom teachers than calls from parents asking what they can do to get Johnny or Susie’s arithmetic grades up.

Parental involvement matters.  Better still, parents don’t have to adopt proposals for expensive consultants, pricey Silver Bullets from corporate vendors, and for-profit “management solutions.”   Corporate proposals for education are analogous to selling any other product — We, say the corporations, will do for  you what you don’t want to do for yourself.  And, that’s the premise of any private service, from selling carpet cleaning to lawn care — the corporation or firm will do for us what we do not wish to do for ourselves.

It’s ironic that while stoutly defending and “promoting” parental involvement in the education of their children, the proponents of the right wing privatization plans are essentially telling parents: Here’s a legislative answer to your desire for better education which allows you to outsource the education of your children to for-profit corporations.   And, IF your local elementary school is transferred to the management of a private corporation answerable to their shareholders from an elected board of education who are members of the community — then which organizational structure is obviously more closely accountable to parents in the LOCAL area?  In which structure do parents have more power?

Fiscal responsibility matters.  The Privatization Posse depends on the myth that private sector management is always cheaper and more efficient.  Not True.  They are cheaper. [BIPP]  They are not necessarily more efficient, nor do they necessarily provide a better outcome.

Management Issues:  There appears to be a generalized premise that public schools can fail, but charter schools do not.  Wrong.

“Of the approximately 6,700 charter schools that have ever opened across the United States, 1,036 have closed since 1992. There are 500 additional charter schools that have been consolidated back into the district or received a charter but were unable to open.”  [AJC]

So, from 1992 to 2011 6,700 charter school lost 1,036 to closure and another 500 to reversion.   That computes to a 22.92% failure rate, approximately 1 in 4.

What were the reasons for the failure: “There are five primary reasons for charter closures – financial (41.7 percent), mismanagement (24 percent), academic (18.6 percent), district obstacles (6.3 percent) and facilities (4.6 percent).” [AJC]

Combine the top two reasons for charter failure and we find 65.7% going down because of financial constraints and/or mismanagement.   Now we should return to the question of parental and voter involvement, because the solution offered by proponents of chartered education are NOT advising more parental control, to wit:

“As overseers of charter school performance, financially affiliated directors serve as an important link to external resources and support flowing into the school insofar as they act as a credible signal to other donors and sponsors. Additionally, the academic program supplied by the charter school must be of high quality and financial resources are properly managed by school administrators and governing board.”  [CharterNB] (emphasis added)

To whom are the charter managers and administrators responsible?  “Donors and Sponsors.”  Those are not necessarily voters and parents.

Getting Results

The essential question should be for all the abdication of parental influence in school management, and for all the public funds funneled to private education corporations and groups — do charter schools offer better education?

“Middle-school students who were selected by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools, according to a study funded by the federal government and released Tuesday.

This is the first large-scale randomized study to be conducted across multiple states, and it lends some fuel to those who say there is little evidence to back the drive for more charters.” [ChSciMon]

Similar results were obtained in a study of charter schools in Michigan. [MLive] [EJ.org] There is some evidence that urban low income areas may benefit from charter schools, but the notion that charter schools have an across the board advantage over the public schools is not substantiated by the research to date.

This is a Test

Q: If the research to date does not offer evidence that charter schools are necessarily any better at educating our children, then why should parents hand over their authority to directly elect school boards of education to boards of unelected corporate managers?

You may open your blue-book now.

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