The Scary Language of Crisis and the Seductive Language of Choice and Accountability by Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones

Latest Story by Alfredo Gaete of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia.

The Georgia General Assembly is one vote away from approving Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to take over the state’s “chronically failing” public schools by privatizing them with charter schools.  It’s a plan that demolishes the public sphere of education, which should be protected like our national parks from the grip of corporate privateers.

Professors Gaete and Jones detail the effects of privatization on education in Chile, and warn that the Chile experiment of corporatization was not successful in improving education there.  We should argue with extreme veracity against the Governor’s Opportunity School District which would essentially privatize struggling schools.

The authors have written a brilliant article.  Please share and distribute.


IMAGINE a country that was once committed to quality public education, but began to treat that public good like a market economy with the introduction of charter schools and voucher systems.

Imagine that after a few years, most students in this country attended private schools and there was public funding for most of such schools, which must compete for that funding by improving their results. Imagine the state fostered this competition by publishing school rankings, so parents were informed of the results obtained by each institution.

Imagine, finally, that school owners were allowed to charge extra fees to parents, thereby rendering education a quite profitable business.

But let’s stop imagining, because this country already exists.

After a series of policies implemented from the 1980s onward, Chilean governments have managed to develop one of the most deregulated, market-oriented educational schemes in the world.

Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.

How did they do this?

Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).

This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.

So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”

  • First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.
  • Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.
  • Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.
  • Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.
  • Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.
  • Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.
  • Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years.
    So even though there still are advocates of the private model of education, especially among those who have profited from it, an immense majority of the Chilean society is now urging the government for radical, deep reforms in the educational system of the country.

Very recently, in fact, an announcement was made that public university would be free for students, paid for by a 24 percent tax on corporations.

The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.

So we don’t have to guess what the result will be of the current “U.S. experiment” with competition-infused education reform that includes school choice, charter schools, charter systems, voucher systems, state-funded education savings accounts for families, tax credits for “donations” to private schools, state takeover school districts, merit pay, value-added models for teacher evaluation, Common Core national standards, PARCC and Smarter Balanced national tests, edTPA national teacher education evaluations, and federal “rewards” such as Race to the Top for states that come aboard.

Indeed, Chilean education reform from the 1980s to the present provides the writing on the wall, so to speak, for the United States and we should take heed. Chile is now engaged in what will be a long struggle to dig its way out of the educational disaster created by failed experimentation and falsely produced miracles.

The United States still has time to reverse course, to turn away from the scary language of crisis and the seductive language of choice and accountability used in educational reform, and turn toward a fully funded and protected public education for our nation.

Permission to re-publish this article was granted by Stephanie Jones with many thanks.

Stop the Louisiana Style Take Over of Georgia’s Struggling School Communities

Ted Terry, State Campaign Director, Georgia AFL-CIO and I have been communicating about the plan being proposed by Governor Deal to take over Georgia’s “failing” schools by implementing a Louisiana style state-wide recovery school district.  Ted Terry is organizing a campaign that we all should support to fight against this take over by the state of schools that need direct assistance community wide, and not becoming a charter school run by corporate charter companies that will be interested in only one thing: making a profit on the backs of the students by indoctrinating them with a diet of worksheets and drill and practice to get ready for tests that will be used to decide the school’s profitability.

Oh, and if they really use the Louisiana Recovery School plan, there is a very good chance that many teachers will be fired (surely the principal will be ousted), and replaced with teachers from America’s top temp agencies: Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.

Research by Professor Kristin Buras of Georgia State University shows that experienced teachers in New Orleans were replaced with non-certified and inexperienced teachers.  The average number of years of experience for many of the New Orleans school in Recovery Project is very close to 1 (one).   Do you want that for Georgia schools?

So, here is some material prepared by Ted Terry.  I urge you to use this information, and the link below to take action on Governor Deal’s plan to take over Georgia’s struggling schools.

Subject: Send a letter: STOP Louisiana Style School Takeover Scheme

I wrote a letter for the Action Network letter campaign “STOP Louisiana Style School Takeover Scheme”.

Politicians in Atlanta have cut billions from local school districts for over a decade. This has resulted in larger class sizes, teacher furloughs, and an increased property tax burden. Nathan Deal was just elected to a second term, as Governor — now he is proposing that he also become the education Czar of Georgia by holding the power to put schools on a list that could be taken over by central command, in downtown Atlanta at the Twin Towers.

This Louisiana style school takeover scheme would give a special set of bureaucrats in Atlanta, appointed by the Executive Branch, the power to declare your local school or school district “failing” and then take it over. This simply is a bad deal for schools that are put on a failing list based on uncertain and fluctuating “data” points, that sets up some schools for failure, according to the state’s definition of failure.

There is no disagreement about the importance of turning around so-called failing schools. However the scheme that the Governor is proposing simply has been shown to be the wrong approach. After nine years in New Orleans, Louisiana, only 4 of the 107 schools taken over by the Recovery School District score above the state average. Please email (right side —>) your State Senator and State Representative today. Tell them to vote NO on Senate Bill 133.

Can you join me and write a letter? Click here.

The work being done by Ted Terry is important and crucial to defeat this unjust plan.

Re-Blog of Twitter Charter Debate with Michelle Rhee & Julian Vasquez Heilig

This “twitter debate” from Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog appeared in my inbox today. I am working on a post on charters and public schools based on an EPI study of the Rocketship Education charters in Milwaukee.

This twitter debate is a perfect introduction to that forthcoming article.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is now an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin. He blogs at cloakinginequity.

Michelle Rhee was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. In late 2010, she founded StudentsFirst, a non-profit organization which works on education reform issues such as ending teacher tenure, closing public schools and replacing them with charters staffed with Teach for America unlicensed recruits.


Why Don’t Our Elected Representatives Write Their Own Legislation?

Update 3.22.2013: EmpowerEd Georgia reported that the Parent Trigger legislation in Georgia was tabled for this legislative session. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution story, the bill was pulled because it didn’t have the votes needed in the senate for passage.

Today, a committee in Georgia Senate will discuss the Parent Trigger Bill which has already passed the House. The bill will enable disgruntled parents of low performing school to fire the teaching and administrative staff and turn the school over to a for-profit charter management company paid with school district money.

House Bill 123 bill did not originate in Georgia. A similar parent trigger bill is before the Florida legislature. And you guessed it, the Florida bill did not originate in Florida. The same can said of the parent trigger bill in Oklahoma.  If you wonder just what the parent trigger bill really is, follow this link to Fund Education Now, an amazing website created by three parents and education advocates whose understanding of school reform research is far beyond what our legislators use to improve education.

As these Florida education advocates say, “something is being done to public education” and its important that politicians who are making it possible for public funds for education to move to the corporate sector realize that they are going to be challenged.

The bills were written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  The parent trigger bills moving in and out of the legislatures in Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma were written by ALEC. The legislators in these states only had to fill in the dates, the name of their states, and sign the legislation as if it were their own.  ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works behind closed doors to create model bills that in the end favor corporate interests over the interests of the public sphere.   It’s goal is to promote the privatization of government services and that includes the public schools.

Schools and universities would call this plagiarism. Maybe it’s simply copying with permission. In either case is shows complete disregard for the citizens they represent. To some extent, the legislators are being dishonest, especially when they try to rationalize or explain the reason for the bill. They tell us that they are on the side of parents and their children, when in fact they are using children for the financial gain of private charter firms.

These elected legislators have no integrity in the way they are performing their responsibilities. In this case, the law they are trying to pass is not based a real or perceived need at the local school level. If it was, we would have data on the number of disgruntled parents who are marching and rallying to fire the staff and hire a charter management company.  It’s simply not happening.

Why don’t they write their own legislation? Groups, such as ALEC,  do all the work. The thinking of these legislators is shallow.  All they have to be able to do is read from a menu of model bills on the ALEC website, select a bill that they like, meet with national organization representatives and their lobbyists, and then send the bill to a house and senate committee in their own state.

In the case of the Parent Trigger act, Parent Revolution and ALEC have parent trigger model legislation on their websites.  You can read the Parent Revolution bill here, and the ALEC bill here.

Model Bill Menu–A One Stop Service Station for State Legislators

The American Legislative Exchange Council says it provides a “unique opportunity for legislators, business leaders and citizen organizations” to develop model policies based on academic research, existing state policy and proven business practices (American Legislative Exchange Council 2013).  It’s a goldmine for legislators who take the side of corporate interests over the citizens they represent.  If a legislator is a member of ALEC (there are about 2,000 state representatives on the roll), then you must realize that only 2% of the budget of ALEC comes from these legislators dues, and the rest comes from corporate sponsors.  There are too many corporate sponsors to list on this page.  However, here is a link to a page where you can scroll through the hundreds of corporate sponsors.

On this page, you can get access to brief descriptions of model bills, acts and amendments.  There are about 600 model bills on this page!  I decided to scroll through the hundreds of bills, and select some that relate to education.  I’ve also included several model bills that impinge of science and environmental education.

As you read through the bills that I’ve selected, it is clear that ALEC is in the business privatizing schools, and undermining teachers.  As I wrote in an earlier post, there is a clear attempt to commercialize education and exploit children and schooling further undoing the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

Over on the Center for Media and Democracy, you will find an exposé outlining the way ALEC is undermining education in a democratic society.  Following are some ways that ALEC is working to undermine public education.

Look for these in the bills that follow:

    • Offering vouchers with universal eligibility
    • Tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools
    • Preying on parents with children with special needs by using federal funds to subsidize untested for-profit schools
    • Segregating children on the basis on disabilities, race, and parental income.
    • Removing charter school authorization from local school districts and giving it to a state appointed commission
    • Staffing schools with uncertified teachers with little experience
    • Making it almost impossible for teachers to get tenure by basing it on student test score improvement
    • Supporting right-wing ideology by requiring courses that are propaganda forums
    • Promoting climate change denial
  1. Charter School Growth with Quality Act–set up a state charter school commission to serve as charter authorizer.  This act became law in Georgia last year with the help of outside billionaires sending money to the pro-bill organization headed by the legislator who pushed the bill through the Georgia legislature. The bill reinstated a commission that the Georgia Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. It was a get back by the republicans who had their feelings hurt. The bill was opposed by John Barge, the republican Superintendent of Education. Barge was called a turncoat and liar by members of his own party. He’s to be admired.
  2. Civil Rights Act–affirmative action programs would be void.
  3. Education Savings Account Act–enables public funds from the school district to be used to in any program chosen by parents for their children
  4. Endangered Species Resolution–urges Congress to amend the Endangered Species Act to require a stronger role for the states and stronger consideration of the social and economic consequences of protecting species
  5. Environmental Literacy Improvement Act–this is a good one.  Teaching about the environment must be designed to “acquire” knowledge, taught in a “balanced” way (you know, if evolution, then evolution must be examined critically), not designed to change any student behavior, attitudes or value (this is the best one–what is the purpose of learning?)  By the way, this is the bill that created an Environmental Education Council, except no one can be on the committee if they have ability in environmental science!).
  6. Environmental Priorities Act–An assessment of all environmental priorities based on “good science” and “sound economics” shall be undertaken by people without a background in environmental science; the Environmental Priorities Council will have 2 politicians, a state administrator selected by the Governor, a member of the chamber of commerce, and an economist. No members should have backgrounds in environmental science.  Remember, the ALEC bills are based on “academic research.”
  7. Founding Philosophy and Principles Act–A bill requiring all students to take and pass a course in America’s founding philosophy based on The Creator-endowed rights of the people.  It appears to be endorsing a propaganda type course, and for me it glaringly omits the key words used in the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act, and that is “critical thinking.”  The content of this course is not be questioned.  The bill promotes right-wing ideology.
  8. Founding Principles Act–basically the same as the previous act requiring students to learn that in a short time, the 13 colonies became the greatest and most powerful nation on earth.  More right-wing ideology.
  9. Free Enterprise Education Act–this is another humdinger.  A course in economics (no complaint here), but based on the idea that to get out of the Great Recession, which was caused by illegal and immoral behavior of well-educated adults in the financial and housing industry, students must take a course that tells them how the free enterprise system works!  Ideology at work again.
  10. Great Teachers and Leaders Act–teacher tenure will be based on student growth on academic tests, and tenure can be removed if the teacher has two consecutive bad years.  This bill endorses unsubstantiated claims that teacher effectiveness can be measured using student academic test scores.  It is an anti-teacher and anti-adminstrator bill that further supports the degradation of public school educators.  Shame on any legislator that supports this bill.
  11. Hard Science Resolution–you must read this one.  This bill requires that any government regulation have a strict and absolute basis in hard scientific fact and cut any arbitrary and imprecise regulations that might harm the free-maker competition and consumers.
  12. Higher Education Transparency Act–In this bill, colleges and universities must make available on their website all syllabi, curriculum vitae of each instructor, a budget report, distribution of last grades, and the college must also give a report to the governor. All of this information is already available on higher education institutions websites.  This is a bill that encroaches on academic freedom, and adds a new role for the governor, and that is to evaluate undergraduate courses in paleontology!
  13. Indiana Education Reform Package–It calls for charter schools, school scholarships (vouchers), teacher evaluations and licensing, teacher collective bargaining (none), turnaround academies and textbook act.
  14. Parent Trigger Act–Enables parents or teachers (50% +1) to take over a school and replace it with a charter school.  The movement is deceptive and fraudulent and is simply a way to open the doors of struggling schools to charter management pirates.

There you have it.  Only 14 of the more than 600 bills on the ALEC website.  It no wonder that our legislators don’t write their own legislation.  They don’t have to.  All they have to do is: Go Ask ALEC.

What is your opinion about state legislators making use of the model bills on the ALEC website, and then introducing them in their own state legislature as if they were the authors, and that they were introducing the bill to resolve an important state issue?



American Legislative Exchange Council. (2013). Model Legislation. In American Legislative Exchange Council. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from


Why Education Must Be Public & Not Privatized

Education needs to be in the public domain, and citizens need to fight to make sure that the slow creep of privatization does not turn into an avalanche. The democratic values that are the centerpiece of our society have been under assault, especially with the rise of the extreme conservative movement that began with Barry Goldwater, and continues today with the take over of the Republican party by extreme right-wing ideologues.

However, the ideologues, who won’t go away, were dealt a blow by the “47%” who wouldn’t go away either. Although the election might mean an opening for progressives to move their agenda, and hold firm against on issues such as health care, social security, and education, there is the need to be vigilant, as well as activist.

Why education should be public and not privatized.

But there is a conundrum about the nature of education, and the ideas that are flowing out of Washington about the future course of public education. Both major political parties show little difference in how they approach education, including standards, testing, teacher evaluation, and funding. Neither party seems to understand why education needs to stay public, and should not be privatized, or sold off piece meal to the point that all of education is in the hands of corporate education wanna bees. George Lakoff and Elizabeth Wehling are helpful in making clear why education must stay in the public domain. They write

American democracy is built on the ethic of citizens caring about other citizens— empathizing with each other, taking responsibility, both individual and social, for our citizenry as a whole, and creating a public government through democratic participation. Democracy’s sacred mission is to protect and empower everyone equally by the provision of public resources, what we call the Public.

There are two views of education that are helpful in understanding the nature of what public education should be, and not be. We’ll analyze the conservative (in this post) and the progressive (in the next post) views of education and find out that the conservatives have used the language that enables them to dominate schooling today. Progressives have good ideas but they have been too reactionary to the conservative education agenda. They have not made convincing arguments. Progressive educators have a long history of accomplishments and the theory to support their views.  Now is the time for progressives to not only make their case, but figure out how to get seated at the policy tables.

Conservative View of Public Education: Business as Usual

I’ll start with the conservative view of education.  It dominates education today.  We need to know why, and how to change this.

In schools today, the most important result or outcome is the achievement level (test scores) of students and schools. Higher scores are better, of course. But a further inspection of using test scores as the measure of success for students (and teachers) and schools leads us to the conclusion that eduction is a business. George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling have looked into this and here is what they have to say:

The conservative view of education can be thought of as the application of the laissez-faire free market. Good grades are profits; bad grades are losses. Greed is good. Classmates are competitors, not cooperators. Grade inflation is a metaphorical version of economic inflation. The more good grades there are, the less valuable they are. Innate talent that makes school easy is like being born wealthy, but for most students it is assumed that success is a direct consequence of discipline. The lack of natural talent is like being born poor; the only way to succeed is through discipline, by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

When we begin to think of schools as business, then test scores are a measure of profitability.  Indeed, students of teachers who get high achievement scores are rewarded in the same way that employees earn bonuses.  But when scores are low, it is analogous to an unprrofitable business, which might mean layoffs, store closings, and fired staff. Lakoff and Wehling put it this way:

Schools whose students regularly get bad test scores are unprofitable and considered failing schools. Like divisions of companies that lose money, they can be closed down, and just as managers whose divisions regularly lose money stand to get fired, so do teachers whose students don’t get high test scores.

The No Child Left Behind Act of the Bush administration, and the Race to the Top Fundof the Obama administration are based on the conservative world view of public education.  In each of these programs it is only natural to think of education as a business.  The mandate (NCLB) to test students annually and to insist that the scores increase each year is analogous to many businesses that base their success on increasing  profitability each year.

There is nothing wrong with making a profit.  But in education, we have to ask, “In whose interest is it to insist that students reach a minimum score on an achievement test?”  Is measuring achievement a convenience that allows the authorities to use test scores the way CEOs using numbers to  measure company growth?

A common core of standards is the centerpiece of the conservative view of school.  With corporations, non-profits,  and billionaire individuals financing and lobbying policy makers, the standard’s movement defines curriculum and evaluation.  With single sets of content standards (in mathematics and English/Language Art, and in a short time, science) and computer based testing soon to put in place, school managers will have spreadsheets on their computer screens to reward and punish schools, teachers, and students. Private companies quickly realized that they could design schools that taught to the test, claiming that their schools could out do regular public schools.  The original  idea of a charter school as a teacher led innovation was corrupted by national charter management companies.

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It’s ukind of like a 19th century elixir, or remedy that will serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools. Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.
Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, and not “partisan think-tanks.” Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and set up charter schools, almost at will. These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees). Some of the charter bills that have been passed will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA.
Two weeks ago, Georgia voters, connived by conservative politics and politicians, and lobbied by millions of dollars of out-of-state funding, voted yes to change the constitution making  schools less-democratic by authorizing the Governor and legislative leaders to appoint a commission of fellow conservatives with power to approve charters anywhere in the state.  The local district is left out of the decision, as are the voters since the commission is an un-democratic agency. The  sell off of public schools is underway.
Privatization is the transfer of public property, functions,  and institutions in to private hands (Lakoff and Wehling).  Privatization of schools, through charters or vouchers, is a colossal and moral mistake.  Lakoff and Wehling explain how privatization of education is taking place.  They write:

Certain companies have set up widespread chains of corporate-owned charter schools, taking over public buildings and luring local students with claims of superior education while hiring teachers with little training at lower salaries and no or meager benefits and pensions. And all of this is paid for with government money that would otherwise go to support public schools. The public schools meanwhile lose their building spaces and funding for teacher salaries and pensions as money goes instead to profits for the charter school owners. Some charter school companies actively try to put public schools out of business. And some charter schools pay their principals hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but pay teachers a pittance. Moreover charter schools tend to teach to the test, turning schools into testing factories and undermining learning. Yet on the whole, charter schools do not perform better than public schools (though there are exceptions). Control over our children’s education has been handed over to private companies.

In the next post, we’ll exam the progressive view of public education.

Do you think the trend of privatization is good thing for education?