Market Place Education

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Market Place Education
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, May 16, 2010

Emergency Financial Manager Bobb avoids democratic debate because his plans cannot stand up to questioning. His main thesis, that the market place can better educate our children, is unfounded. Privatizing education turns our children into commodities. Market place education depends on punitive measures enforced by constant test taking. It is a means by which corporations and the foundations they run can funnel the wealth of the public into their own hands.

Bobb’s claim that market forces can reform public education is simply not supported by experience or research. In a recent article in Rethinking Schools, Barbara Miner interviewed Wendy Puriefoy, president of the Public Education Network, a non- profit focused on school reform in low income communities. Ms Puriefoy, a former board member of Teach for America, is no radical.

The same people who promote economic deregulation, Puriefoy tells us, are influential supporters of organizations such as Teach for America. They want to sidestep professional teachers, unions, and schools of education “and let loose the forces of the market,”. “The marketplace of education is a big market, ” explains Puriefoy. “There is a lot of money to be made.”

Last week Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzales gave us an idea of just how much money is being made by corporations backing charter schools. He reported on the New Market Tax credit, a little known measure passed at the end of the Clinton administration in 2000. This provision gives huge tax breaks to banks and equity funds that invest in community projects in underserved communities.

This is the financial mechanism that is fostering the interest of banks and hedge funds in charter schools.

Gonzales looked at the money trail in Albany, the district that has the highest percentage of students in charter schools in New York. What he found should be a cautionary tale for Detroit. Gonzales documented that investors who put up money to build charter schools “virtually double their money in seven years through a 39% tax credit from the federal government.” To increase profits this credit is leveraged against other credits like historic preservation and brownfield remediation.

Meanwhile. charter schools are forced to pay rent and pay debt services on the loans used to start them. As a result, Albany schools have seen rents go up from $170,000 to $500,000 in a year. The money for the rents and debt, of course, comes from public coffers, placing the city of Albany in an escalating financial crisis.

All these expenditures might be worth it if we could demonstrate that charter schools would result in remarkable change for the better. But, nationally or locally, there is no data supporting that claim.

A recent article in The New York Times reluctantly concluded:

“But for all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many case, worse than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research.”

Last year one of the most comprehensive studies by Stanford University
researchers found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools. Almost half offered an equivalent education, and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”

Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education
reformers,” the report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools.”

Manager Bobb and Mayor Bing are using our children to make money for corporate interests. No wonder Bobb avoids a democratic discussion of his means and motives.

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