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The Dialogue with the Gates Foundation: What happens when Profits drive Reform? - Living in Dialogue - Education Week Teacher


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Here is how this approach works. Impossible-to-meet ever-rising test targets have been used to "prove" that the public schools are failing. This message is reinforced at every opportunity, and the schools are even wrongly blamed for problems in the US economy. The supposed "failure" of the public schools then creates the "market" for alternatives, and legislators shift funds away from public schools towards all sorts of charter schools, virtual schools and even parochial schools.

This has unfolded largely according to plan. We saw the storyline played out in the 2010 pseudo-documentary "Waiting For Superman." The public schools, burdened by unionized teachers impossible to fire, are failures, and the only salvation for students is in the scrappy charter schools that make no excuses.

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This video explains the thinking now driving investments in charter schools:

The opportunity to make money has attracted lots of entrepreneurs towards education as a profit center. The testing companies were in on the ground floor, and have been active in supporting test-based reforms for years. The market for high stakes tests is experiencing double digit growth, according to this industry report. The Pearson Education Foundation was investigated for flying legislators around the world to education conferences, in advance of decisions they made granting Pearson lucrative test contracts. In the years since then-governor Jeb Bush created the McKay Scholarship Fund, hundreds of millions of tax dollars have flowed to schools with little to no oversight, leading to widespread fraud.

Just a few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that charter schools are leaving special needs students behind. The article says,

Most charter, parochial and magnet schools serve children with disabilities, but they are often milder disabilities, leaving the brunt of students with significant needs in traditional district schools.

Charter schools have also been faulted for various forms of selection. Most draw from a pool of parents who are seeking them out. Some have requirements for parental support and participation, which excludes some students. And some, such as the KIPP schools, have been found to have higher than average rates of attrition, meaning students who are not making the grade are transferring back into the public schools, something I witnessed in Oakland.

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We have seen what has happened to our health care system when it is driven by profit. People who are high risk cannot get insurance, and die without treatment. The same thing is happening to children walled off from educational excellence, shunted into dead end schools. For all the proclamations about education being the civil rights issue of our time, the marketplace does not fix inequity - it makes it worse. The children of the poor are more likely to have special needs, more expensive to educate, and thus less likely to be served by profit-seeking charters.

Choice in education is an illusion. In some cases it allows a lucky few access to a better school. But those seeking profit rarely want a level playing field - they seek whatever advantages they can get, and often that means leaving behind the special education student and the English learner.

As a parent, I was not only concerned about my own sons. I wanted the best education possible for all the children of our community. The public schools were a legacy handed to us by generations before that built them. It is our challenge to rebuild them into places that fulfill that now tarnished ideal, to educate everyone well. It is critically important that institutions such as our schools be driven not by decisions based on what is most profitable, but instead by our interest in the common good, and by our commitment to providing excellent opportunities for every child, even when this is unprofitable.

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