Monday, October 29, 2012

The New Face of Philanthropy

This weeks reading addressed the rising trend of how philanthropy is dictating the future of American education, particularly the future of public schools. Our class witnessed how this type of philanthropy can manifest itself in the structuring of education by highlighting the importance of test scores as a way to produce citizens that will be productive in the market system. One of the the things that came up in these readings in the decline helping foster a true democracy. According to Kovacs, "In a democratic school system, parents, students, teachers, academics and business leaders would participate in curricular decisions" (Kovacs, pg. 1). The privatization of public schools, under the guise of philanthropy has stripped the public of their voice in matters relating to education. This is dangerous and troubling because we all still believe that school choice is perpetuating freedom. Shouldn't people be able to have access to good education?

It seems that this push is supposed to change how Americans are socialized. A Nation at Risk set the tone of American failure in the global system, which have steadily saturated the school system to fill the void and to have America be "on top" again. This is where democracy crumbles and corporations step in facilitate what children can and should be learning (Saltman, 57). As we saw in the Harlem Children's Zone, the school is heavy on rewarding students for having high test scores and this is seen as a positive step in the education of at risk students. These test scores are a way for they system to fortify those who they think will "make it" and those who are not fit to participate in the American workforce.

Overall, I think that America has internalized that public means socialism and heavy control from the government. Private is looked at as grassroots and an institution that is built to specifically cater to the needs of individuals. These readings have solidified that the public has been demonized, even though this system was created to create democratic citizens who are active in trying to fix problems that arise within the system. The private sphere has been glorified, but in reality it puts control in the hands of few who may have good intentions, but are governed by the market system. Do we really want to do away with dynamic and creative thinkers?

Philanthropy is a great thing. In the case of education, however, it is restricting the methods employed to improve our already broken system. NCLB and RTT cater to the needs of corporations and allows them to donate millions of dollars, which then takes funding out of the hands of the state, which allows them to make the rules on what education should look like. Another issue is that philanthropy is never scrutinized the way that these articles break down how theses foundations are gaining a lot of control; how can giving away money to needy schools be bad? Overall, the problem here is that the students who need the most help are the ones being used in this large experiment to make the market regulate every aspect of our lives. Can America afford to keep this trend in education going?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Schools & the New Business: Making Money by "Not Really" Reforming Education

NCLB has helped to turn U.S. education into a business. Many educational policies have allowed for the different sectors of schooling to be privatized, taking more power away from the people in the communities in which these schools are located.  Saltman attacks the notion of EMOs and their affects on schooling. Because education has been given to the market, the public feels like they are fighting for a limited amount of resources (Saltman, 56).  This beliefs allows business owners to conduct a school like a commercial business, allowing for monetary values to be attached to individual students and turning schooling into a for-profit business. But schooling is a business,  isn't it? Our understanding of American schooling has been disheveled by the NCLB policy, neoliberal values and deregulation (Kovacs, 2). I believe that NCLB has allowed for schooling to not be seen as important and the privatization of the educational market has the power away from the general public.

The privatization of education has turned education into a for-profit industry, allowing business people to instill business-like values on students turning them into dollar signs. However, there is no proof that test scores will help students in our society economically (Kovacs, 9).  We have learned that standardized tests are designed for the culture of power (white, middle-class, male), however we allow them to continue to be used to determine educational advancement. NCLB still has work to do with closing the achievement gap but that cannot be completed with the strict rules that have been put in place due to the policy (11). It seems that the gap has grown because more students are being excluded from having access to a quality education.

I do not want to be a pessimist, but it seems like NCLB is not working. It has only helped to turn society farther away from schooling and perpetuate the divide among communities. We are confusing choice, freedom, and access. Not all students have access to the same resources allowing education to be a place where more social divides occur. Money has allowed us to turn away from the original purpose of schooling. We are no longer concerned about creating better citizens, but more about beating Japan in the next technology race. The privatization of the educational market informs the public that they will have more “choice” in educating their children, allowing them to attend any public, private, or charter school in their area. Problems occur when everyone does not have the same access to this choice. School is now a place where students and administrators are judged for producing poor standardized testing results. We have allowed the teaching profession to be dehumanized and devalued (Saltman, 74). We must learn to care about students as individuals and not by the test scores they produce. This can happen if the power is given back to the public, allowing the community to have a presence in schools. We have gotten too far away from community-based education. We have to understand that all levels of society can aid in the education of children (Kovacs, 13).  But we must not confuse this with tolerating people without educational experience to be leaders in our classrooms.

Education: The Shift From Public to Private

As we have learned throughout the semester, our current Public Education System sucks. However, instead of improving our current education system there has been a push towards privatization. Saltman writes venture philanthropy is one of the ways in which privatization is being implemented in our schools (55). "Venture philanthropy has a strategic aim of "leveraging" private money to influence public schooling in ways compatible with the longstanding privatization agendas of the political right"(56). Saltman points out throughout the chapter that philanthropists such as Bill Gates claim their actions to be for the public good. In reality philanthropists are influencing public schools to meet the needs of their respective corporations. The Eli and Edythe Broad Education Foundation is another foundation at the front of the venture philanthropy movement. Saltman makes a key point about this foundation in the middle of the chapter. "Broad's fortune and hence his ability to steer educational reform, debate, and policy through his foundation derive from the two primary industries at the center of the financial crisis and subsequent economic meltdown-namely, real estate and finance" (63). The way Broad accumulated wealth and his education reform contradict itself at its roots. In other words he doesn't practice what he preaches. This should cause us to wave a red flag. 

Philanthropists have influenced the language policy makers now use. Language such as efficiency, accountability, success and failure have been implemented more and more in current education reforms. Last week in class we discussed the differences between public and private. Public and private institutions have different goals in mind. Kovacs and Christie write "When corporate leaders shape government institutions according to their needs, countries move away form democracy and toward corporatism, a relative of, and arguably a precursor to, fascism" (1). As Americans we pride ourselves in having freedom and liberty. Though at the surface privatization seems to give us choice, how "free" is this choice? If schools are heavily influenced by major corporations we will receive subjective forms of education that meet the needs of these corporations. Public institutions are created to include everyone. Public schools are one of the few public institutions left. "In a democratic school system, parents, students, teachers, academics and business leaders would participate in curricular decisions" (1). Education reform needs to happen as a collective group not as individuals who change the system to meet their needs. 

Philanthropist foundations do a great job of influencing and brainwashing our policy makers. "Engaging in political science abuse, these organizations perpetuate discourses and narratives that stand in opposition to democratic school alternatives, ultimately reducing the likelihood that democratic school reform will ever happen" (12). This is an example of neoliberalism working against the people. If the problem seems to big to solve then why not just sit back and do nothing? Figure 1 at the end of the Kovacs and Christie article is disheartening (13). More and more occupations are not requiring a high school education (13). If high school diplomas are not important to our employers maybe we should evaluate how effective our schools are. We should ask who will benefit from the privatization of schools? Follow the money trail and you will find your answer. 

Public Education as a Business: Kovacs, Christie, and Saltman

Continuously throughout the semester, we have read articles that demonstrate how public education is being turned into a business. What Kovacs, Christie, and Saltman demonstrate is that through things such as venture philanthropy and business terms such as “choice, competition, efficiency, accountability, monopoly, turnaround, and failure” (55) are the ideas that are beginning to define education. Money gives the private sector power to persuade schools to agree with their ideas. There will always be a need for money and that provides the perfect leverage to force changes. The idea of turning schools into investments and franchises is a direct result of neoliberal policies. As Saltman discusses, foundations such as the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation describe their policies on the surface as being beneficial, but in reality use manipulative tactics that are grounded in already failing ideas. This foundation claims that problems are administrative and result from bad management. In addition, the only beneficial reform is top-down with quality understood through standardized scores and achievement. However these foundations have policies that are problematic from the beginning.

Broad proposes a leadership agenda, which makes leadership military based, implying that the natural discipline for all children should be modeled by the military. However symbolic social conditions inside and outside the school that are the real reasons for making schooling difficult are being ignored. (61) The problem becomes racial as it claims that those who are struggling are struggling because of a lack of discipline. What is needed instead is critical dialogue that does not force everyone into capitalistic conversations that turn everything into terms of money and business. The public sector almost becomes the private sector’s puppet as the ideal becomes centered on “if only the public sector can be made to look and act like the private sector.” (63) However, the public is fundamentally different from the private sector with different goals. Private represents private, which by definition excludes, while the public represents the community, and essentially or ideally everybody within it. You cannot assume that public teachers, and therefore part of the leadership in education, function the same way as private teachers. From the beginning they operate on different curriculums and training.

In addition, these neoliberal foundations turn knowledge into a standardized product that ignores conversation in schooling and exactly whose knowledge and values should be taught and learned. In this manner, everyone strives for the exact same knowledge, despite cultural, familial, intellectual etc. background, and then you are judged on it. In addition, conversations continuously fall back on who gets to decide and what gives them that power. The Broad foundation really emphasizes the importance of money by actually giving prizes to schools that achieve the best test scores and therefore “achievement”. I had a conversation with someone the other day about how people who are not “that intelligent” can do better than someone “very intelligent” just because of knowing how to take the test. With this idea in mind, how can we declare that a school is bettering their achievement in education if the tests themselves do not actually measure intelligence. Isn’t intelligence a key factor in education? In addition, Saltman states, “how children see the world informs how they act on the world.” (70) We are teaching our children that the only thing that is important is to test well and memorize specific techniques. All they need to do to succeed in our world is follow a specific script. This idea assumes that a test is a universal value, undermines public aspects of public education by suggesting private businesses have the power to determine what is valuable knowledge, and that schools are teaching conformity while ignoring the rising cost of college tuition and a student’s ability to afford it.

We are constantly seeing money from powerful people such as Bill Gates being funneled into the school system, which looks all well and good. However, who is actually receiving it, and what is the value of that money where it is placed? Is it actually bettering education? Public education needs to be public and stop ignoring the children that actually need it most. The private sector has individual ideals, goals, morals, and motives that do not always reflect the collective, common good. It is the foundations like Broad and powerful, individual people who funnel money into public education that mask the real issues that are at hand: education is now a business that can be traded and taken away from those who are not in a powerful position.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The "Hidden" Cost of Innovation: Buras, Lack, and Winerip

     The Buras, Lack, and Winerip pieces raise very similar issues in regards to school choice and the allure of educational innovation. In today's competitive society parents have been led to believe that in order to provide their children with the most successful and profitable education (i.e. high graduation and college acceptance rates) they must become consumers in the dog-eat-dog educational market. When Katherine Sprowal placed her son Matthew in the lottery to attend the Harlem Success Academy 3 charter school she believed he would be provided with an innovative educational opportunity that would surely foster success. Instead what she found was that her son Matthew was a troubled student, and would need to be transferred to an alternative form of public schooling. At the time she thanked the charter school principal for her help in finding Matthew a new school, proclaiming that she would take the required steps to "correct" his poor behavior, in hopes that he would someday be able to return to this magnificent institution. Three years later she came to understand that perhaps her intelligent son was not the problem, and realized that the charter school should be held accountable.
     For parents like Ms. Sprowal the innovative educational reforms of the charter school movement often convinces them that this education is best for their child. However, the Lack article provides an in depth analysis of the rigorous standards these institutions are held to, standards which often make or break a child's chance for success. This piece critiques the Knowledge is Power program, otherwise referred to as KIPP, which is promoted for its promise of educational success through a "no excuses" policy. These students experience a rigorous almost nine and a half hour school day, are required to attend classes every other Saturday, and receive a work load of approximately 2-3 hours every night (Lack 129). For students like Matthew Sprowal who experience attention disorders or other extra-educational needs, it is no wonder that this demanding environment creates a culture of "thrive or transfer" (Winerip). These Kipp programs provide statistics which show that they serve high needs, racial minority students, but many of these students get funneled out of the system before they get a chance to succeed. On top of that, Lack goes on to explain how many KIPP programs throughout the country are not doing to their job of out performing public institutions in their immediate areas. The allure of innovation has shielded the fact that these institutions are not producing the results they proclaim, and are also failing the very students it attempts to empower.
     We have come to realize throughout the course of this semester that the high-stakes testing and charter school movement, while trying to compensate for the downfalls of public education, has in turn created a culture in which institutions of education leave more children left behind than ever before. The neo-liberal influence on education has begun to change the pedagogy of the field. While charter schools proclaim their interests in helping all children to succeed, they are quick to funnel children out of their system, providing this dream to those who already possessed the means to achieve it.

Buras, Lack, and Winerip- the Face of Innovation?

            I found the contrast between Lack’s and Buras’s articles interesting, to say the least. Buras highlights the shock and awe side of the Recovery School District charter school movement in New Orleans, while Lack focused on the KIPP schools, a less commonly critiqued branch of the charter school movement. In each of these widely disparate instances, the proponents of the schools would have you believe that the charter schools are able to embody the spirit of innovation, thus paving the way for the success of each of its students. Whether this occurs through the concept of parent ‘choice’ and competition (the good ol’ neoliberal way, which the New Orleans residents were literally crying out for) or through the enforcement of military-grade discipline (which just drips with the essence of efficiency,) parents- or ‘consumers’ - are led to believe that their school are progressive, responsive to ‘what really works’, cutting edge- in short, they would serve their children better than any run-of-the-mill public school could. As a result, charter schools are viewed as the way out, the only way for individual success.
             In demanding ‘innovation’ and choice, several key factors are missed. If parents could see past the novelty and the ‘innovative’ label that has been stuck on these schools, they would find that what they perceive as innovation is, quite often, really just the maintenance of the status quo, a restriction of creativity, a departure from the development of critical thinking. Innovation in and of itself can be a frightening thing. Innovation needs a goal- in education, this ought to involve the development of students as both individuals and members of society, able to think critically with concern for society, rather than conforming to society because someone- someone ‘innovative’- told you it is more efficient that way. Also, innovation may, very likely, translate into experimentation, especially when the less powerful members of low SES are concerned. We find, in these instances, that the concern of the innovators seems to lie beyond the students with whom they are working.
            With all of the outcry for change and the warm reception of charter schools, a tension seems to exist between what is demanded of public schools with respect to innovation, and the leash they are given to accomplish it. Parents, students, teachers, and other citizens acknowledge the need for change, yet public schools are denied the flexibility which is granted to charter schools, and instead are tied down by standardized tests and the like. It seems that the public is disgruntled with the state, lacks faith in the collective and its ability to innovate and progress, doubts the strength of its teachers, and is willing to take a chance on the innovators behind the charter schools- those clever and ambitious entrepreneurs who are so attractive by our neoliberal standards. When frustrated with the state (the scapegoat), who wouldn't choose to try something new? Especially when it promises you the world, and its 'innovative' novelty is so shiny.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rofes and Bush

In “Charter Schools as the Counterpublics of Disenfranchised Communities” Rofes and Stulberg discuss charter schools by using the theories of educational theorist Pierre Borudieu to illustrate how social classes are reproduced through schooling.  Rofes uses Bourdieu’s argument that the “habitus” of the privileged classes is reaffirmed through the organization, interactions, language, and curriculum of systemized schooling. (247) Thus, the success of students within privileged classes is guaranteed.  Rofes also alludes to the fact that privileged students bring “social capital” to the classroom which is what schools are ultimately trying to instill in their students. Therefore, privileged students start with a distinct advantage over poor students who lack social capital, and a system of reproduction is confused for a system of meritocracy. Within this system, schools do not promote social mobility (what we’re told they do), but instead provide certification for the outside capital that privileged students bring into the classroom. 
Later in the chapter the idea of choice is described as the most central mechanism by which “symbolic violence” occurs. It is seen as a way that dominated classes continued to be dominated without the need for enforcement by the dominant class."(251) While aiming to assist their life chances, the opening up of school choice options serves simply as a mechanism for the dominated classes to guarantee their own domination." (253) This idea of choice discretely funnels masses of people into social classes. Once in these social classes people internalize the blame in an effort to explain how they got there. When looking at school choice and its affect on IBI's Bush takes a long look at the relationship between IBI's and choice. He realizes that charter schools and the voucher system pose a tremendous threat to IBI's due to their political backing. This leads Bush to conclude that charter schools and the voucher system will most likely lead to the demise of IBI's; however he sees the risk as a risk worth taking due to the fact that the levels of African American students failing is the ultimate concern. 
When analyzing how Bourdieu would change the schooling system in the United States, Rofes suggests that we should develop a form of public education that will avoid reproducing the status quo. Within this system charter schools would act as "mechanisms of resistance" as opposed to mechanisms of reproduction. These charter schools as mechanisms of resistance would have two main tasks. The first would be to develop strong academic skills without basing those academic skills on the culture of the dominant class. The second is that they instill a critical consciousness of how "power circulates, cultural groups and communities are valued and devalued, and capitalism functions as a colonizing force."(257) 
I believe that the idea of social capital and its role in our schooling system today is one that needs to be addressed. There is no reason why students of privileged classes should be given any bigger of an advantage over poor students. We constantly hear how "education is the number one way to access social mobility" however, it continues to reproduce inequality. Funneling certain groups of people into low social classes instead of giving them access to the upper classes. If we ever want education to have the capability of providing social mobility for people we must level the playing field. The idea of eliminating social capital from the classroom is one of many things we must do if we truly want to grant equal opportunity in schools.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cooperate Makeover

Wells points out that our society has no true definition of what democracy is. It has become and an idea that is based on capitalism and consumerism.  The shift has ventured from a public standpoint to an economic standpoint. Part of the reason is the regulation of our markets. One of the main markets being controlled is Education.  Schools are being regulated by the school boards who are controlled by our government which privatizes ours schools policies.  Fabricant, Fine and Wells talks about this idea with their charter school argument.   Wells gets most of his information with his study of several California school districts. Wells says that charters schools are highly selective to continue to represent the highest achieving portion of students which in turn continues to suppress the students who are in the lower achievement gap.   So even though in theory charter schools are trying to promote equal education for those already in highly segregated public schools it further marginalizes those students   who are already starting off in that low band.  A lot of this Wells points out has to do with the lack of freedom schools have.  Schools are regulated in a way to support certain groups or individuals.  Wells points out that the solution is actually redefining what democracy is.  It has to be an idea that our decisions should include society as a whole rather than individuals and most of all de privatizing our markets.        

 Fabricant and Fine points out that charter schools were thought of as a way to save the public school sector.  The charter school movement was thought of as the answer to the opportunity gaps.  However the facts remain charters schools didn’t progress like they were supposed to.  Similar to Well’s argument it is because they are privatized.  When you put educational policies in the hands of the private sector you do not answer to public needs.  Therefore you only continue the system that is in place only in a different atmosphere.  Like we have talked about so many times in class if we do not answer to the needs of the public and give the public a place in some of our major decisions than nothing will change.      

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fabricant & Fine and Wells

Wells discusses how, as a nation, we have reconceived democracy in economic rather than political terms.  In the U.S., we have a narrow conception of democracy as a means to maintain capitalism and promote independent economic success.  A notion of democracy primarily concerned with ensuring deregulated free-markets to allow for independent capital accumulation fundamentally undermines democracy as a means to pursue common, collective goals and reduces human relations to market transactions (340).  Egalitarian ideals have been subordinated as the private sector wields increasingly greater power in the political sphere.  Wells elaborates on the depth of this reconceptualization by articulating the discursive limitations that result from this narrow idea of democracy. Because capitalist ideas about free-markets are framed as common sense, there is no space to critique capitalism.  This hindrance of critical reflection and debate is at odds with notions of democracy that promote deliberation among a collective citizenry.  We only know how to discuss “democratic” schools in market terms, and offering alternative models is often perceived as idealistic or nonsensical.

Importantly, the idea that citizens can assert their democratic voice via market transactions privileges those with greater social, cultural, and human capital. This is apparent in Fabricant and Fine’s discussion of social stratification in charter schools.  Wells explains that charter schools serve disproportionately low numbers of ELLs and students with disabilities. Additionally, the charter school movement allows for white flight and has served to further stratify already highly segregated public schools. The idea that parents can assert their democratic voice via choice in a free-market is flawed because not all families have access to equal information.  Those students who come from families with greater social and cultural capital are able to more effectively navigate the school system to benefit their individual child.  The exclusion of the highest needs students form charter schools is noteworthy for a number of reasons.  These students often perform poorly on culturally-biased high-stakes tests.  This suggests that, were charter schools serving students representative of the larger population, they would perform even more poorly on standardized tests than they currently are.  Additionally, it is incredibly problematic that schools that exclude the neediest students are being appraised as replicable models.  In stark contrast to the discourses used to promote them, charter schools are emerging as a means to return to separate and unequal schooling practices.

Fabricant and Fine’s articulation of the disconnect between rhetoric surrounding charter schools and these schools’ actual performance is incredibly ironic given the movements obsession with accountability.  This raises issues we’ve previously discussed regarding the lack of accountability to the public on the part of private corporations and wealthy philanthropists who support charter schools.  Charter schools, instead of developing innovative practices, are recreating and furthering many of the shortcomings of traditional public schools. They are emerging as an alternative and even more flawed model for public schools. Fabricant and Fine describe the tension this dual system has created within schools.  Charter schools are privileged by policy-makers and take funds and space away from public schools, the resultant tension of which was apparent in the public school we visited in NYC. As the reading substantiates, charter schools, despite all of the advantages they receive in terms of funding and political support, are still failing to deliver results.  Policy-makers failure to consider the accumulation of evidence against these schools’ efficacy exemplifies how corporate influence undermines evidence-based policy-making.