Michael Ryan's Blog

De-educating Society (Part 2): Squandering “Our Greatest Resource”

Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children.[1]Walt Disney

Walt Disney’s famous quote seems like a good place to begin an appraisal of the current primary and secondary school system.  Disney, described as the world’s second largest media conglomerate on the Wikipedia page devoted to the corporation,[2] became an international neoliberal success story selling the idea of children as a treasured resource, and it continues to grow in wealth doing so; In 2015, Forbes described The Walt Disney Company as the world’s eighth most valuable brand, worth a cool $179.5 billion.[3]  Not surprisingly, Disney has positioned itself to capitalize on the private education industry that has sprung up in recent years.  Disney offers courses in “Applied Sciences, Environmental Studies, Liberal Arts and Leadership Development (that are) accredited, standards-based and designed to reinforce your classroom lessons” in “the information-rich setting of the Disney Parks in Florida and California.”  A two-to-five-day course entitled “Discovering Marine Life Conservation,” for example, costs between $163.13 and $282.34, depending on the number of days the “student” attends.  Disney lists a total of twenty-six “courses” on its “education” website, and this is the price range for all but five.  The five exceptions, priced between $75.00 and $208.00, are one- to three-day programmes, and the price is in part determined by whether or not the “student” also wants access to the amusement park.[4]  Ultimately, this is not education at all, but simply an additional lucrative way of packaging and selling entertainment.  It is, however, far from the worst of what the neoliberal education model has brought us.


As the U.S. public school system has been systematically defunded and reduced to a network of detention centres, the dream that neoliberal economist and theorist Milton Friedman once had of a privatized school system is increasingly taking shape in the form of publicly funded, independent charter schools.  It was, in fact, Friedman himself who saw the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans as a golden opportunity for privatizing an entire city’s primary and secondary school system.  He opened an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Promise of Vouchers” with: “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them.  The children are now scattered all over the country.  This is a tragedy.  It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”  After disparaging the New Orleans school system as a failing school system, Friedman argues:

Rather than simply rebuild the destroyed schools, Louisiana, which has taken over the New Orleans school system, should take this opportunity to empower the consumers, i.e., the students, by providing parents with vouchers of substantial size, say three-quarters of per-pupil spending in government schools, usable only for educational expenses.  Parents would then be free to choose the schooling they considered best for their children.  This would introduce competition, which is missing from the present system.  It would be a move to a bottom-up organization, which has proved so successful in the rest of our society.

To encourage private investment, Friedman insisted that the state of Louisiana “should make clear that the vouchers are not an emergency expedient that will be terminated once the emergency is over, but are a permanent reform.”[5]

As Naomi Klein reports in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, “A network of right-wing think tanks seized on Friedman’s proposal and descended on the city after the storm.  The administration of George W. Bush backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools into ‘charter schools.’” [6]  The result was that “Less than a month after the hurricane devastated the city, the U.S. Department of Education gave the state of Louisiana $20.9 million to reopen existing charter schools and open new ones, and nine months later, the department gave the state an additional $23.9 million for new charter schools, most in New Orleans.”[7]  Where prior to the hurricane there had been 123 public schools in New Orleans, in the aftermath only four remained.[8]  On the other hand, of the fifty-five schools opened in New Orleans in 2006-2007, thirty-one were charters, and by 2010, sixty-one of eighty-eight public schools were charters.[9]  In the final analysis, “education reform” in New Orleans has left “whole neighborhoods … bereft of schools (sometimes referred to as ‘education deserts’), and it is now quite common for students to spend hours a day in transit as they trek from their homes to available schools across town.”[10]

Specifically examining the work of Walton Family Fund (WFF) in New Orleans, Philamplify, an initiative of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, reports the foundation’s “preformulated, specific approach fixated on very particular market reform vehicles:  publicly funded charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools,” undermining any “transformative potential of the foundation’s education program.”  As we shall see, there is no reason to believe that the WFF approach differed from that of other pro-charter actors.  Teasing out the implications, Rick Cohen, writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, argued that the charter system is “a zero-sum [game], focused on the individual and the family and increasingly saying to hell with community…  What’s lost is what the nation was trying to achieve in the first place with public education.”[11]

At the end of the day, what made New Orleans unique is, as Friedman put it, the “opportunity” to privatize the education system on the tabula rasa the “tragedy” had created.  It is however only one incident in a protracted campaign being waged by neoliberal interests that span a spectrum that includes the ultra-conservative Koch brothers and Walton family, the centrist Gates, young upstarts like Google’s Mark Zuckerberg, and even outsiders who’ve worked their way in like Sean “Diddy” Combs.[12]

For example, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), essentially a Koch brothers front group,[13] “first pitched vouchers to legislators in 1984 as a way to ‘introduce normal market forces’ into education and to ‘dismantle the control and power of’ teachers’ unions.”  ALEC is perfectly clear that “legislators (should) not adjust the amount granted based on family income.”  While the Milwaukee programme, the first voucher programme in the U.S., enacted in 1990, was initially only open to families earning 175% of the poverty level or less, Governor Scott Walker, who came into office in 2010, increased that to 300% of the poverty level, an amount substantially above the U.S. median income.  The result was predictable:  “Most students receiving vouchers last year were already attending private schools – meaning vouchers were being used (as) a taxpayer subsidy for private education rather than as a way for students to escape underperforming public schools.”  As Walker plunges ahead with voucher expansion, an estimated $600-800 million will be sucked out of the public education system over the next decade. [14]

This situation is replicated across the country.  The Southern Education Foundation reports that while the voucher-like corporate tax credit programme in Georgia was sold as a leg up for blacks and Hispanics, the bulk of the scholarships were awarded to upper class white students.  Meanwhile, both Indiana and Florida have raised the maximum permissible income for their voucher programmes.[15]  As a result of the work of ALEC, David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and the closely associated American Federation for Children, a group chaired by Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos, the voucher system has been introduced in thirteen states and D.C.[16]

ALEC campaigned particularly aggressively in 2015:  “172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states.”  The objective of the ALEC model bills is to “divert taxpayer money from public to private schools through a variety of ‘voucher’ and ‘tuition tax credit’ programs.”  In some cases, ALEC bills claim the focus of the voucher system will be on marginalized populations – students with disabilities, foster children, children attending “failing” schools, etc., but the history of the programme indicates that once in place, there is strong tendency to open it up in a way that advances the goal of crippling the public sector altogether.[17]

The ALEC drafted Alternative Certification Act, for example, is part of its effort to undermine teachers’ unions.  Versions of the bill, which offers “teaching credentials to individuals with subject-matter experience but not the appropriate education background” were introduced in four states, Michigan, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  Similar bills have been introduced in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Washington.  In Wisconsin, it took a public outcry to beat back an amendment that would have allowed people who had not even completed high school to teach certain subjects.  Meanwhile:  “A version of ALEC’s Public Employees Freedom Act, which prohibits payroll deductions for union dues, was passed in Oklahoma and became law in 2015.”  Iowa, Maine, Missouri, New Mexico and Oregon have all introduced their own versions of this bill.  The Alternative Certification Act and the Public Employees Freedom Act join other ALEC bills that support “minimum wage repeal, living wage repeal and prevailing wage repeal.”[18]

Other bills that reflect the ALEC strategy include:  “the Next Generation Charter Schools Act, introduced in three states – Maryland, Utah, and West Virginia – which exempts charter schools from complying with the legal requirements that govern traditional public schools, such as teacher qualification standards”; “The Innovation Schools and School District Act, introduced in three states – Connecticut, Mississippi, and Texas” – which “removes local accountability by giving state-level officials – rather than elected local school boards – chartering authority for schools that do not follow the legal obligations of public schools, including possibly waiving provisions of teacher collective bargaining agreements”; “the Virtual Schools Act, introduced in five states (Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Virginia), the Statewide Online Education Act, introduced in three states (Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia), and the Course Choice Program Act, introduced in five states (Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin)” are all bills that “promote an education model where a single teacher remotely teaches a ‘class’ of hundreds of isolated students working from home.”; “the Great Teachers and Leaders Act, introduced in three states – New Mexico, New York, and Oklahoma” – which allow “schools to let go of teachers, despite seniority or contracted tenure”; “the Career Ladder Opportunities Act, a version of which was enacted in Idaho, which modifies teaching contracts and pay scales to base them upon teaching ‘performance,’ potentially demonstrated in part by student test scores”; “the Founding Principles Act, introduced or expanded in six states – Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, New York, South Carolina, and Texas” – which provides for “the teaching of a semester-long course on the ‘philosophical understandings’ of America’s founders that appears geared toward indoctrinating children with conservative views”; “The Open Enrollment Act, introduced or expanded in three states – Arkansas, Florida, and Rhode Island,” which “(r)equires the government to facilitate and fund sending students to any school in the state.”[19]

The Kochs and ALEC are not alone is this ultraconservative attack on the educational system.  Education Week, which itself receives Walton funding,tells us that the Walmart gazillionaires’ WFF has “announced it is doubling down on its investments in school choice with a $1 billion dollar to help expand the charter school sector and other choice initiatives over the next five years.”  This amount, roughly the same amount the foundation has spent on education over the previous twenty years, indicates a major push in the foundation’s attempt to shape primary and secondary education in the U.S.[20]  The report goes on to say, “Nearly one-quarter of all charter schools nationally have received startup funds from (the WFF).”  The WFF’s most recent round of funding “will focus on expanding school choice options in low-income communities in cities such as Los Angeles and New Orleans, developing teachers and school leaders, and supporting strategies to help parents navigate school choice.”  Typical of the slippery slope approach championed by Milton and Rose Friedman, the WFF initially “focused on creating competition in K-12 to improve the overall system.  The foundation’s latest report says it has learned that’s not enough.  Parents need help in choosing schools – such as citywide enrollment systems, said Sternberg.”[21]

In a June 2015 statement, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten asserted that the Walton’s investments in charters are “not about public charters … or about ensuring parents have great choices for their kids,” but are “about the fundamentally flawed Walmart model that destabilizes and diminishes public education.”[22]  In fact, argues Jeffrey R. Henig, a political science and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and a co-editor of the book The New Education Philanthropy, the massive WFF investment is meant to “rapidly expand the number of charter schools to create a constituency of parents and others who will have a direct stake in the continued funding and expansion of these schools.” Summing up the WFF strategy in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System:  How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, education historian Diane Ravitch “likens the competition that charters pose to public schools to the competition that Walmart stores present to locally owned stores, and suggests parallel consequences:  just as Walmart forces stores that can’t match their prices to shut their doors, so charters – which bleed students, and their funding, from traditional schools – cause local schools to close down.”[23]

The Walton’s WFF is not, however, the leading funder of the charter school and education privatization movement, that honour goes to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[24]  For example, after the Washington Charter School Initiative became law in 2012, the Gates Foundation “disbursed more than $31 million in less than three years ‘to give public charter schools in Washington State a strong start.’”  This putative “strong start” was, in reality, more of takeover bid, with much of the Gates’ largesse being devoted to “selecting and financing individuals and organizations to start schools, advise charter boards, and develop education programs.”  This includes “$13.5 million to set up and run the Washington State Charter Schools Association – a private group whose work includes awarding ‘fellowships’ to educators who want to open schools.”  In 2013, an additional $8 million was invested in expanding Green Dot Public Schools, a charter management organization based in Los Angeles, bringing to $24 million the amount that Green Dot has received from the Gates Foundation since 2006.  The Gates Foundation also donated $1.2 million to Charter Board Partners, a DC-based nonprofit consultancy for charter school governance, to allow it to expand into Washington State, and California’s Seneca Family of Agencies received “$1 million to develop support for at-risk students in Washington’s charter schools.”  In effect, Joanne Barka argued in her article “Charitable Plutocracy:  Bill Gates, Washington State and the Nuisance of Democracy” that “the Gates Foundation, with no public oversight, (has) stepped in to shape the charter system.”[25]

However, Gates’ project ran afoul of the courts:  “Washington’s first charter school opened in 2014 and was on probation for compliance problems in the summer of 2015, when eight more charters were about to launch.”  Then, by a 6 to 3 margin, “on September 4, 2015, the Washington Supreme Court halted the entire charter program by declaring the 2012 law unconstitutional,” because the “state constitution stipulates that only common (public) schools can receive government funding, and all common schools in the state must be subject to local voter control.”  As, “charter schools are run by appointed boards or private organizations, they are not common schools and do not qualify for government funding.”  This was the first time the courts had entirely squashed a charter school system.[26]

Obviously, Gates didn’t become the wealthiest man in the world taking “no” for answer:

three Gates grantees – the Washington State Charter Schools Association, Stand for Children, and League of Education Voters – partnered to create a PAC to channel money to legislators willing to vote for a modified charter law.  When the PAC was announced, in December 2015, checks had already gone out to twenty-four lawmakers.  On March 10, 2016, the legislature passed a new bill that would fund charter schools with state lottery revenue.  Supporters believe this will pass constitutional muster because lottery proceeds go into an account that is separate from the state’s general fund and the lottery account is not restricted to common schools.[27]

Assigning blame for his inability to reach “his broader goal to redo all of public education,” Gates gripes, “It’s not easy.  School boards have a lot of power, so they have to be convinced.  Unions have a lot of power, so teachers need to see the models that are working.”  To which he added:  “It’s a very big system … very resistant to change.”  Although generally perceived as a more reasonable and liberal plutocrat, Gates focuses his critique in the same place as Milton Friedman, the Kochs and the Waltons – on the teachers’ unions and the public administrative bodies.  As Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, notes, Gates and Walton are “operating with the same playbook.”[28]  “The best results,” Gates claims, “have come in cities where the mayor is in charge of the school system.  So you have one executive, and the school board isn’t as powerful,” adding, “The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible”[29] – the implication being that Gates has had the greatest impact in areas where the potential for resistance is minimized.

In 2010, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg entered the game of school privatization in a style that reflects the crass self-involvement of his particular generation of plutocrats; he announced on the TV show of one of the U.S.’s two black billionaires, The Oprah Winfrey Show, that he would be ponying up “$100 million to ‘fix’ the public school system in the blighted, violent city of Newark, New Jersey.”  Mighty white of him, as the saying goes.  The cash went to Startup:Education, described on its website as “a not-for-profit grantmaking organization established in 2010 by Facebook founder and CEO Marck Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan,”[30] and, as is the case with the WFF and the Gates Foundation, tens of millions went to consultants from “a fairly small circle of people who have been everywhere in education reform, and the going rate is $1000 a day.”[31]

Thirty million dollars of the money also went to “backpay for the teachers union,” but this didn’t reflect a positive predisposition toward the unions on Zuckerberg’s part.  Zuckerberg supported merit pay, a major plank in the de-unionization campaign, arguing that it would attract a flood of teachers to the beleaguered Newark education system.  It didn’t.[32]

The hubris of a man who would announce to the world on TV his intent to retool a city’s education system without ever speaking to the families that would be affected – like the rest of the country, they learned the news from Oprah – did not augur stellar results on the ground.  In an interview with Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize:  Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? Amy Goodman tells us:

Charter schools were radically expanded, and teachers were evaluated by their students’ test scores.  As charter school attendance doubled, public schools were shuttered, and educators and support staff lost their jobs.  Neighborhood schooling was replaced with a lottery system that divided families and forced children into dangerous commutes.  While some students benefited from placement in the higher-funded charter schools, the Newark school system’s overall performance level fell even lower.

Russokoff fleshes this out:  “the district schools, where 60 percent of the children go, is not a positive story. … (E)very year since they brought in the new superintendent, there’s been declines in reading and math throughout the school district.”  So much for the “hemisphere of hope” in Newark promised by then mayor Cory Booker, who helped raise an additional $60 million to add to Zuckerberg’s $100 million.[33]  In the end, matching funds would raise the total amount to $200 million.[34]

Perhaps no single anecdote captures the breathtaking conceit and indifference to the local population with which Zuckerberg and Startup:Education proceeded than the story of the 15th Avenue School.

They closed it, and there was a school just across the park, so in a plan scripted by the consultants they decided to send the kids to the next closest school.  Which makes sense if you’re looking at a map.  But if you’re living in the neighborhood, you know that that park is a haven for drug dealing and gang activity, and you don’t want kids walking through that territory right away.  The parents were completely terrified.[35]

Ultimately the arrogance with which Zuckerberg and company proceeded led to a backlash, with the local population rejecting the changes and the media characterizing the initiative as a failure.[36]  Shavar Jeffries, a civil rights attorney and the president of the Democrats for Education Reform sums it up this way, “education reform … comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades.  It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in coöperation with people.” He goes on to argue, “You have to build coalitions and educate and advocate,” finally summing up, “At some time, you have to persuade people.”[37]  Jeffries was discussing Zuckerberg’s initiative, but at the end of the day, he could just as well have been talking about the Koch brothers, the Waltons or the Gates.

Joanne Barkan describes the outcome of this neoliberal experiment in marketizing education as follows:

More than five thousand charter schools were operating in the United States in 2012,[38] and researchers were finding some serious problems.  Charter schools were diverting funds from district schools while also enrolling a smaller proportion of the most at-risk children (for example, children with disabilities and English-language learners).  These children remained at or returned to district schools just as the districts were losing resources.  In addition, the quality of charter schools was extremely uneven, according to the education reformers’ own criterion:  student scores on standardized tests.  A large-scale study, published in 2013 by the pro-education-reform Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, concluded that about 27 percent of charters performed better than district schools serving equivalent student populations; about 25 percent performed worse; the rest were about the same.[39]

Bruce Baker and Gary Miron of the National Education Policy Center point out that “charters generally aren’t subject to the same disclosure laws that apply to state operated entities and public officials, especially when the governance bodies for these schools outsource management services to for-profit management firms, as is increasingly the case.”  The result, not surprisingly, is a “substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children … being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain.”[40]

If charter schools have been a disappointment overall, online charters have been a particular disaster.  Even the WFF has publicly acknowledged that online charter schools are a travesty.  WFF officials Marc Sternberg and Marc Holley wrote, “If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth largest in the country and among the worst performing.”  In the autumn of 2015, the WFF “simultaneously released three detailed commissioned studies finding more than two-thirds of America’s 200,000 charter students receiving all of their instruction over the Internet were barely learning the basics.”[41]  In an a press release accompanying the studies, we are told:

the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers.  To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year.  This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.[42]

These failing online charters are costing taxpayers $1.2 billion a year.[43]

Mathematica, one of the groups involved in these studies summed up the shortcomings of online charters: “33 percent of online charter schools (offer) only self-paced instruction” (i.e., no imposed deadlines); the schools “typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day”; these charters place “significant expectations on parents … to actively participate in student instruction.”  Meanwhile, another participating institution, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), reported that “only two percent of the online charter schools outperform their comparison [brick-and-mortar charter] schools, 32 percent perform no differently, and 67 percent have weaker growth than their comparison schools.  In math, a full 88 percent of online charter schools had significantly weaker growth than their comparison schools.”  To this the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) adds, “two-thirds of online charters “contract with for-profit education management organizations (EMO), raising suspicions that schools will skimp on quality to maximize profits.”The CRPE also tells us that government regulators “often raise concerns about the quality of teachers … and how charter authorizers can ensure that taxpayer money is being used productively in online schools.” [44]

Online charters may be an educational catastrophe, but they are, nonetheless, a gold mine for their owners.  As the Center for Media and Democracy notes, although “it is a model few educators think is appropriate for young children,” the “low overhead for virtual schools certainly raises company profits.”[45]  Ohio’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) offers a salient example.  ECOT graduated 2317 students last year (trumpeted as “the single-largest graduating high school class in the nation.”) and is on course to graduate a similar number this year.  What the triumphalism papers over is that, according to federal data, “more students drop out of the Electronic Classroom or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country.”  In fact, “For every 100 students who graduate on time, 80 do not.”  In effect, at a point when “the national on-time graduation rate has hit a record high of 82 percent, publicly funded online schools like the Electronic Classroom have become the new dropout factories.”  According to “a reportby America’s Promise Alliance, a consortium of education advocacy groups, the average graduation rate at online schools is 40 percent.”  ECOT, whose “graduation rate did not even reach 39 percent,” is currently “under ‘corrective action’ by a state regulator.”[46]

When cyberschools like ECOT enroll a student “a proportion of the state money allotted for each pupil is redirected from traditional school districts.”  In the case of ECOT, “which (William Lager, a software executive) founded in 2000, the money has been used to help enrich for-profit companies that he leads.  Those companies provide school services, including instructional materials and public relations.”  In 2014, for example, “the school paid the companies associated with Mr. Lager nearly $23 million, or about one-fifth of the nearly $115 million in government funds it took in.”  This includes “IQ Innovations and Altair Learning Management,” neither of which were required to go through a competitive bidding process.  IQ innovations, with Lager as its CEO, received $18.7 million from ECOT, while Altair, again with Lager as its CEO, “has had a contract with the school since 2000 (and) received $4.2 million in 2014.” School spokesman Neil Clark tells us that “IQ Innovations had provided the school with grading software and digital curriculum materials since 2008.”  In the case of Altair, he says payment is for services that include “a program of instruction, strategic planning, public relations, financial reporting and budgeting.”  Stephen Dyer, a former Ohio state legislator and the Education Policy Fellow at Innovation Ohio, a Columbus think tank, concludes that Lager is “becoming incredibly wealthy doing a very mediocre job for kids.”[47]


Charter schools have failed to gain ground in Canada.  The libertarian Fraser Institute tells us, “Only one province – Alberta – introduced charter school legislation, in 1994. Provision for 15 charters was created.  To date, no other Canadian province has been added to the list of jurisdictions allowing charter schools and the cap on numbers of charters remains at 15 in Alberta.”  In 2012-2013, Alberta’s charter schools only served 1.4% of the province’s primary and secondary student population.[48]

It is not terribly surprising that Alberta is the sole province where charter schools have gained traction.  Michael Mindzak writes, “Alberta has been characterized, culturally, as the most ‘American’ of the Canadian provinces with a greater emphasis on individualism and corporatism.”  Furthermore, “Alberta has historically been different from the rest of Canada, as defined by a strong sense of individualism, social conservativism, and competitiveness” and “a strong relationship with the U.S., as Alberta’s economic and social connections to the U.S. have always been at least as strong as its connections with the rest of Canada.”[49]

Mindzak continues:  “Following the election of the Ralph Klein government in June 1993, Alberta undertook a period of large-scale reform in education and other social sectors in what has been labeled the Klein Revolution.”  Mindzak characterizes the Klein Revolution as “a period of rapid policy development centered on the principles of neoliberalism, fueled by the advocates of the New Right.”[50]

As was the case in the U.S., in Canada, teachers’ unions have been among the leading opponents of the charter school movement.  In 1995, a year after the first charter schools appeared in Alberta, Larry Kuehn of the British Columbia Federation of Teachers wrote a research report entitled “Ten Problems With Charter Schools.”[51]  His ten points: 1)  Charter schools create two-tiered education.  Pointing to the British experience, Kuehn writes:

Research indicates that inequalities in schooling and segregation by social class have increased in Britain since the system of grant-maintained schools was introduced.  Most of the people who choose the alternatives are from high socio-economic status.  They want their children in schools with similar students and have the time and money to ensure that their children can make it to a school from outside their neighborhood. 2) Charter schools encourage social fragmentation rather than common experiences.  Kuehn argues:

Charter schools lead to balkanization as groups create schools to reflect their special interests.  As an example, one charter school in the U.S. is being promoted by promising parents that they will teach creationism through the school’s distance education program. 3)  Charter schools aren’t the answer to inequalities in Canada.  Pointing to the U.S., Kuehn contends:

The degree of “savage inequalities” of the U.S. school system is not present in Canada.  Funding of schools is much more equal, both between provinces and among school districts within the provinces.  In the Canadian context, charter schools will increase inequalities rather than reducing them. 4)  Charter schools don’t encourage system reform and improved quality.  Kuehn criticizes the experience in both the U.S. and Alberta:

In the U.S. and Alberta, most of the charter proposals have been for “niche schools” that serve a particular special population.  Charter schools end up serving special interests, rather than creating programs that develop alternatives that would be offered to most students. 5)  Charter schools don’t reduce spending on administration.  Here, Kuehn turns the British experience:

In Britain, grant-maintained schools have spawned new agencies to serve administrative needs.  Many individual schools have had to create jobs for people to handle finances; where schools have not, the principal ends up spending a great deal of time on day-to-day business administration, like insurance, benefits, and building repair, rather than educational concerns. 6)  The concerns of most parents can be addressed by the current system.  Kuehn argues:

Parent advisory committees, mandated in the School Act, provide an opportunity for parents to provide input into the school policies. 7)  Marketing, rather than educational improvement, becomes a central focus.  In this case, British studies indicate that

resources are devoted to marketing instead of educational program change.  One study says that “concerns about self-presentation, surface appearance and image [are] increasingly becoming a main preoccupation for school managers.”  Further, “significant amounts of money which could be spent on teachers and textbooks are being diverted to meet the costs of publicity and presentation.” 8)  Charter schools may exclude students with special needs.  Here again:

Research in Britain indicates that the “most effective strategies are

1.   to recruit more students who are likely to perform well academically, and

2.   exclude students who are likely not to do well academically.” 9)  Hidden impediments get in the way of real choice.  Countering the claims of charter school supporters, Kuehn argues:

Proponents of “choice” through charter schools often claim that the choice is open for any parents.  In practice, hidden factors, such as the cost of transportation or the lack of skills to take part in meetings, get in the way of any real opportunities for many to choose.  A case study on one California district demonstrated that a school choice program designed to overcome economic inequities resulted in increasing stratification because of these hidden factors. 10)  A charter school could mean the end of a neighbourhood school.  Kuehn contends:

If charter schools become part of the school system, some existing schools would be converted from neighbourhood schools to charter schools.  This would mean that the neighbourhood public school would not necessarily be accessible to everyone who lives in the neighbourhood.

The BCTF is not alone.  “The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) and its affiliates adopted policy to oppose charter schools and similar initiatives that they believed undermined the democratic principles of public education.”  The one Canadian teachers’ association with direct experience, The Alberta Teachers’ Association, “continues to take a strong stance against the existence of charter schools in the province, claiming that there is no evidence of their perceived improvements in innovation and student achievement.”[52]  Even key supporters of the charter school concept have been forced to admit this.  A document by Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Lynn Bosetti and Phil Butterfield, Assistant Principal Connect Charter School, in Alberta, posted on the website of the charter school advocate, The Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools (TAAPCS),[53] acknowledges that “There is little conclusive evidence from US studies that charter schools are boosting academic achievement in a significant or sustained manner.”[54]

All of the evidence points to the charter school system being primarily a way to marketize education, allowing for a small group of people to further concentrate their power and increase their profits.  This should come as no surprise, given that the charter schools are first and foremost a business, and as the grandfather of the charter school system Milton Friedman put it, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”[55]  In that sense at least, charter schools have been a success – well, maybe not the “deception and fraud” part.

[1] Accessed at:  http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/24045-our-greatest-national-resource-is-the-minds-of-our-children

[2] “The Walt Disney Corporation,” Wikipedia, accessed at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Walt_Disney_Company

[3] “The World’s Most Valuable Brands,” Forbes (May 2015), accessed at:  http://www.forbes.com/companies/walt-disney/[4] “Disney Youth Education Series,” Disney Youth Programs:  Education, accessed at:  http://www.disneyyouth.com/our-programs/education/sp/youth-education-series/program/yes-properties-of-motion-physics-lab-dlr/#categories-youth-education-series

[5] Milton Friedman, “The Promise of Vouchers,” Wall Street Journal (December 5, 2005), accessed at:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB113374845791113764

[6] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine:  The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York:  Metropolitan Books, 2007), 5.

[7] Pauline Lipman, “Neoliberal Educational Restructuring,” Monthly Review, Volume 63, Issue 03, accessed:  http://monthlyreview.org/2011/07/01/neoliberal-education-restructuring/

[8] Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 5.

[9] Lipman, “Neoliberal Educational Restructuring,” accessed:  http://monthlyreview.org/2011/07/01/neoliberal-education-restructuring/

[10] Jeff Bryant, “How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Education,” Alternet (March 13, 2016), accessed at:  “http://www.alternet.org/education/how-cutthroat-walmart-business-model-reshaping-american-public-education?akid=14058.7338.uidAaE&rd=1&src=newsletter1052471&t=2

[11] Bryant, “How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Education,” accessed at:  “http://www.alternet.org/education/how-cutthroat-walmart-business-model-reshaping-american-public-education?akid=14058.7338.uidAaE&rd=1&src=newsletter1052471&t=2

[12] Sean “Puff Daddy” “Puffy” “Diddy” P. Diddy” Combs “has founded Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School, (which) will open in the fall. It will be managed by Capital Preparatory Schools, an organization founded in 2012.”  Other fatuous celebrities who felt the need to own their own schools include “former NBA player Jalen Rose, tennis champion Andre Agassi, and rapper (Armando Christian Pérez) Pitbull,” see:  Lonnie Shekhtman, “’Diddy’ the schoolmaster? Sean Combs to open charter school in Harlem,” Christian Science Monitor (March 28, 2016), accessed at:  http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2016/0328/Diddy-the-schoolmaster-Sean-Combs-to-open-charter-school-in-Harlem?cmpid=ema:nws:Daily%2520Newsletter%2520%2803-28-2016%29&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20160328_Newsletter:%20Daily&utm_term=Daily

[13] The Center for Media and Democracy, “Cashing in on Kids:  172 ALEC Education Bills Promote Private For-Profit Education Model in 2015” (March 2016), 1.

[14] Jonas Perrson, “ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are for Kids in Suburbia,” Truthout (July 23, 2015), accessed at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32026-alec-admits-school-vouchers-are-for-kids-in-suburbia

[15] Perrson, “ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are for Kids in Suburbia,” accessed at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32026-alec-admits-school-vouchers-are-for-kids-in-suburbia

[16] The Center for Media and Democracy, “Cashing in on Kids”, 2.

[17] The Center for Media and Democracy, “Cashing in on Kids”, 1-3.

[18] The Center for Media and Democracy, “Cashing in on Kids”, 4-5.

[19] The Center for Media and Democracy, “Cashing in on Kids”, 5-6.

[20] Arianna Prothero, “From Walton to Zuckerberg:  How Education Philanthropy Has Changed,” Education Week (January 15, 2016), accessed at:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2016/01/from_walton_to_zuckerberg_how_education_philanthropy_has_changed.html?_ga=1.92330968.435448597.1464121498&print=1

[21] Arianna Prothero, “Charter Sector to Get $1 Billion From Walton Family Foundation,” Education Week (January 8, 2016), accessed at:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/charter-sector-to-get-1-billion-from.html[22] Prothero, “Charter Sector to Get $1 Billion From Walton Family Foundation,” accessed at:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/charter-sector-to-get-1-billion-from.html

[23] Bryant, “How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Education,” accessed at:  “http://www.alternet.org/education/how-cutthroat-walmart-business-model-reshaping-american-public-education?akid=14058.7338.uidAaE&rd=1&src=newsletter1052471&t=2

[24] Bryant, “How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Education,” accessed at:  “http://www.alternet.org/education/how-cutthroat-walmart-business-model-reshaping-american-public-education?akid=14058.7338.uidAaE&rd=1&src=newsletter1052471&t=2

[25] Joanne Barkan, “Charitable Plutocracy:  Bill Gates, Washington State and the Nuisance of Democracy,” Alternet (April 27, 2016), accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/how-bill-gates-and-his-billionaire-pals-used-their-enormous-wealth-start-privatizing?akid=14198.7338.VLGwBR&rd=1&src=newsletter1055263&t=8

[26] Barkan, “Charitable Plutocracy,” accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/how-bill-gates-and-his-billionaire-pals-used-their-enormous-wealth-start-privatizing?akid=14198.7338.VLGwBR&rd=1&src=newsletter1055263&t=8

[27] Barkan, “Charitable Plutocracy,” accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/how-bill-gates-and-his-billionaire-pals-used-their-enormous-wealth-start-privatizing?akid=14198.7338.VLGwBR&rd=1&src=newsletter1055263&t=8

[28] Bryant, “How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Educationaccessed at:  “http://www.alternet.org/education/how-cutthroat-walmart-business-model-reshaping-american-public-education?akid=14058.7338.uidAaE&rd=1&src=newsletter1052471&t=2

[29] Barkan, “Charitable Plutocracy,” accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/how-bill-gates-and-his-billionaire-pals-used-their-enormous-wealth-start-privatizing?akid=14198.7338.VLGwBR&rd=1&src=newsletter1055263&t=8

[30] Startup:Education, accessed at:  http://www.startupeducation.org/aboutus.htm

[31] Molly Hensley-Clancy, “What Happened To The $100 Million Mark Zuckerberg Gave To Newark Schools?” BuzzFeed News (October 8, 2015), accessed at:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/mollyhensleyclancy/what-happened-to-zuckerbergs-100-million?utm_term=.pty508VVZ#.eaK3QjWWp

[32] Hensley-Clancy, “What Happened To The $100 Million Mark Zuckerberg Gave To Newark Schools?” accessed at:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/mollyhensleyclancy/what-happened-to-zuckerbergs-100-million?utm_term=.pty508VVZ#.eaK3QjWWp

[33] “How a $100M Facebook Donation for Neoliberal School Reform Sparked a Grassroots Uprising in Newark,” Democracy Now (October 21, 2016), accessed at:  http://www.democracynow.org/2015/10/21/how_a_100m_facebook_donation_for

[34] Hensley-Clancy, “What Happened To The $100 Million Mark Zuckerberg Gave To Newark Schools?” accessed at:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/mollyhensleyclancy/what-happened-to-zuckerbergs-100-million?utm_term=.pty508VVZ#.eaK3QjWWp[35] Abby Jackson, “Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark public schools failed miserably — here’s where it went wrong,” Business Insider (September 25, 2015), accessed at:  http://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerbergs-failed-100-million-donation-to-newark-public-schools-2015-9[36] See, for example:  Jackson, “Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark public schools failed miserably,” accessed at:  http://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerbergs-failed-100-million-donation-to-newark-public-schools-2015-9; James Pierreson and Naomi Schaefer Riley, “Zuckerberg’s $100 Million Lesson,” Wall Street Journal (October 5, 2015), accessed at:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/zuckerbergs-100-million-lesson-1444087064; Ruth Marcus, “How Newark schools partially squandered Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation,” Washington Post (October 20, 2015), accessed at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-newark-schools-partially-squandered-a-great-prize/2015/10/20/ffff660c-7743-11e5-a958-d889faf561dc_story.html[37] Dale Rssokoff, “Schooled: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg had a plan to reform Newark’s schools. They got an education.” The New Yorker (May 19, 2014), accessed at:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/19/schooled

[38] By 2016, the number had grown to 6700, see:  Steven Rosenfeld, “Online Public Schools Are a Disaster, Admits Billionaire, Charter School-Promoter Walton Family Foundation,” Alternet (February 6, 2016), accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/online-public-schools-are-disaster-admits-billionaire-charter-school-promoter-walton

[39] Barkan, “Charitable Plutocracy,” accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/how-bill-gates-and-his-billionaire-pals-used-their-enormous-wealth-start-privatizing?akid=14198.7338.VLGwBR&rd=1&src=newsletter1055263&t=8

[40] Bryant, “How the Cutthroat Walmart Business Model Is Reshaping American Public Education,” accessed at:  “http://www.alternet.org/education/how-cutthroat-walmart-business-model-reshaping-american-public-education?akid=14058.7338.uidAaE&rd=1&src=newsletter1052471&t=2

[41] Steven Rosenfeld, “Online Public Schools Are a Disaster, Admits Billionaire, Charter School-Promoter Walton Family Foundation,” Alternet (February 6, 2016), accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/online-public-schools-are-disaster-admits-billionaire-charter-school-promoter-walton

[42] Mathematica Policy Research, Center on Reinventing Public Education and Center for Research on Education Outcome, “Online Charter School Students Falling Behind Their Peers” (October 27, 2015) accessd at:  http://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/Online%20Press%20Release.pdf

[43] Rosenfeld, “Online Public Schools Are a Disaster,” accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/online-public-schools-are-disaster-admits-billionaire-charter-school-promoter-walton

[44] Rosenfeld, “Online Public Schools Are a Disaster,” accessed at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/online-public-schools-are-disaster-admits-billionaire-charter-school-promoter-walton

[45] The Center for Media and Democracy, “Cashing in on Kids”, 5-6.

[46] Motoko Rich, “Online School Enriches Affiliated Companies if Not Its Students,” New York Times (May 18, 2016), accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/us/online-charter-schools-electronic-classroom-of-tomorrow.html?emc=edit_th_20160519&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=73364733&_r=0

[47] Rich, “Online School Enriches Affiliated Companies if Not Its Students,” accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/us/online-charter-schools-electronic-classroom-of-tomorrow.html?emc=edit_th_20160519&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=73364733&_r=0

[48] Bosetti, Lynn, et al., “A Primer on Charter Schools,” Fraser Institute (December 10, 2015), accessed at:  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/a-primer-on-charter-schools

[49] Michael Mindzak, “ What Happened to Charter Schools in Canada?” Equity & Excellence in Education, 48:1 (2015), accessed at:  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10665684.2015.991162

[50] Mindzak, “ What Happened to Charter Schools in Canada?” accessed at:  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10665684.2015.991162

[51] Larry Kuehn, “Ten Problems with Charter Schools,” BCFT Research Report, Section XII, 95-EI-06 (1995), assessed at:  http://www.bctf.ca/publications/researchreports.aspx?id=5610

[52] Mindzak, “ What Happened to Charter Schools in Canada?” accessed at:  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10665684.2015.991162

[53] See:  http://www.taapcs.ca/

[54] Lynn Bosetti and Phil Butterfield, “The Politics of Educational Reform:  The Alberta Charter School Experiment 20 Years Later,” Global Education Review, 3(2) (2016), accessed at:  http://www.taapcs.ca/pdf/The%20Politics%20of%20Educational%20Reform_Bosetti%20&%20Butterfield.pdf

[55] Milton Friedman, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits,” New York Times Magazine (September 13, 1970), accessed at:  http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/friedman-soc-resp-business.html

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