Why the Carnival Barkers of Factory School Reform Have a Megaphone

Oh! What a tangled web we weave

When first we practice to deceive!

This verse is dated, but a reminder of what we teach children: Lies build on lies until they are so interwoven they can’t be pulled apart.

And it’s timely because of the new report just published by Media Matters that helps explain the echo chamber of lies that continue to bounce off the crumbling walls of the famously failed factory model of education “reform.” While there are a few notable groups and individuals missing from this report (for instance, the Walton Foundation, billionaire Eli Broad and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), this research is an impressive starting point for mapping the labyrinth of paths our opponents have created to oppose public education.

In a true and honest marketplace of ideas, the factory-model pillars of Privatize (vouchers, charters), Standardize (scripted lessons, test-score focus), and De-Professionalize (Teach for Awhile, Easy-Pass Alternative Certification) would have been put to shame years ago.  There is no country that is regarded as our global competition (Singapore, Finland, Canada) that is propped up by any of these pillars. There is no evidence after 14 years of national Test & Punish under No Child Left Untested that any of it worked to improve teaching and learning. They used to tar and feather snake oil salesmen because snake oil wasn’t just useless – it made you sick.

But the Media Matters report explains why the carnival barkers of factory school reform continue to have an audience and a megaphone to invite the public to “step right up and see the amazing three-headed troll.” The report highlights which billionaires, foundations, and corporate empires are providing the web of money and manpower to keep the lies tangled and tight.education-not-for-sale

There’s a simple pattern to the lies. First, they defund schools in our most challenged communities so that ceilings leak; technology is trashed; educators are demoralized; and programs in the arts and sports and clubs are slashed. Then they “bait and switch.” They lie to parents that vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other privatization schemes will save their children and provide them a “choice” to move to a better school. But the truth is, they want to hand public money over to private schools that have no accountability to taxpayers or to parents.  Those “choice” schools choose the students they decide to serve.

The Media Matters report shows just how deeply entrenched these well-financed groups are in corporate education reform – and how tied together they are. As an NEAToday article points out, the connections are enough to make your head spin.

“But understanding the scope and reach of this ‘tangled network’ is key to understanding how the corporate reform agenda has dominated the national debate over education,” the article says.

It should be noted that the groups have a to-do list that goes well beyond taking over public education. They also want to take away the ability of teachers and other working people to come together to negotiate things like pay, working conditions, and benefits.  Organized public educators are a threat to their model. They cannot intimidate us or threaten our jobs for speaking out against their plans. Because of that, they work very hard to silence us and weaken our union.

“These conservative-backed policies aim to weaken labor unions by attacking teachers’ job protections and to push state-level education legislation that makes way for greater private profiteering – while leaving traditional public schools further behind,” the Media Matters report says.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is one of many examples of this phenomenon. According to the report, the foundation has used its home state – Wisconsin – as the testing ground for many of its ideas.

The foundation spent more than $100 million on school choice and voucher initiatives in the state from 2005 to 2014. It’s also been a major supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, who has decimated funding for public schools and in 2011 signed a law undermining the rights of teachers and other working people to negotiate collectively.

Beyond Wisconsin, the Bradley Foundation played a huge role in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that would have silenced the voices of teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other educators in shaping their profession. The foundation funds the Center for Individual Rights, which brought the Friedrichs case. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, reaffirmed in March that a strong educator voice is crucial in providing students with a good education.

As people who believe in the mission of public education – that every community in every ZIP code must have a quality public school that gives every student a quality opportunity to learn – we stand in a dangerous place:  Between a profiteer and his profits. But we do not stand alone.

I’m personally working on another exposé that should be published any day now that will reveal the surprising fact that there are very few billionaires who work in an American public school, college, or university. Yes, I, too, was shocked. We can’t count on a web of billionaires to save us. Fortunately, we don’t need one. We have the truth.

And we have millions of ordinary people who understand that truth – that a great public school in every neighborhood is what we must fight for. And educators have a circle of influence amongst our own friends and neighbors and families who know us and trust us.  They will stand with us and with the truth and against billionaires and webs of lies every time.

Remember the power of your personal influence. Every chance you get, expand our network of allies and supporters by making the argument for our students and public education. Be sure and stay up to date on the latest news in education advocacy. Let’s use our network to speak up for and support every student.

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