Sunday, October 28, 2012

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.


  1. I think Eliza makes a strong point when she says that “what is needed is critical dialogue that doesn’t force everyone into capitalistic conversations that turn everything into terms of money and business”. The readings for today demonstrate how people with money have the power to control our education system. Private businesspeople, such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad, are pouring money into schools in order to reform them. They are now the ones organizing schools into business models and determining the success of children. As Saltman discusses, the goals of the private sector differ greatly from those of the public sector when considering education. On the one hand, the private sector is concerned with maximizing profit. On the other hand, educational leaders in public schools focus on serving the needs of the general public. They are responsible for the community, parents, students and teachers who make up the public schools. As Saltman says, “the end of public school administration is not profit maximization but public service” (64). The money being put into public schools by the private sector is not benefitting the children in our schools. It is not bettering our overall education system. These businessmen are not focused on the children who could use financial assistance the most. Broad sees a “deficit” in poor and minority children who perform poorly in school. These wealthy individuals could look to aid children outside of schools rather than placing the burden solely on schools. As Eliza says, the private sector doesn’t always act in ways that reflect the common good. People are self-interested and serve their own desires in our world today. People who have power and money are able to reach their own goals. Poor and minority students in schools are now trapped under the control of those with power in the private sector.

  2. I agree with Eliza that money allows the private sectors to control the types of ideas discussed about education and in recent years has even persuaded the public to agree with them. Kovacs and Saltman both argue that neoliberalism ideology has taken control over educational policy and creating a powerful discourse for deregulation and privatization. Kovacs argues, that large corporations and the ruling elite “deliberately mislead voters and their representatives with narratives that are some “times convincing,” but “not necessarily valid” (6). In a market base culture charters schools use a notion of choice in order to create misrecognition and the people in power use misrecognition as an opportunity. This misrecognition can connect to how cultural capital functions in terms of education. As we have discussed in class this process creates imperial education where by schools reproduce certain white middle class values and behaviors that are already acceptable in society. Instead of teaching poor children why they are poor they teach them to behave to a certain social “norm”. Broad’s agenda for schools to run similarly to the military is a perfect example of changing the ways in which we discipline students to fit into a certain mold. Eliza is correct in that this type of leadership in schools becomes racial allowing these ideas to become reproduced and justified. We need to control the ways in which powerful individuals and corporations “donate” money because they are only reaffirming their ideas rather than looking out for the public and the collective good.

  3. I find that one of the biggest challenges in navigating the privatization and corporate takeover of our public education system has to do with public perception of the matter. Kovacs and Christie provided a great explanation for the disconnect that exists between the public’s knowledge and the reality of our schools. In discussing propaganda and political science abuse, it is no wonder that many of America’s citizens on both sides of the political spectrum agree with the types of reform that are taking place. Kovacs and Christie mention that the DOE actually “suppressed” a study that showed the faults of charter schools (7). Of equal importance is the way in which the entire problem of our education system is being completely oversimplified. The only “gap” that is ever mentioned is “achievement gap” whereas all social contexts and other resulting “gaps” are ignored in the media (11). When we look at who is distributing information, citing studies, and donating money to public education reform, it is obvious that public perception is going to be biased in favor of corporate and private entities. It is hard to blame the public for falling into the trap that is being laid out in front of them in so many ways, which is why it is even more important than ever to counter these notions of reform. The truths about the public education system need to be voiced to a much greater extent so that people have all the information about where the shortcomings truly are and how we can create a democratic system of schools that actually caters to public, rather than private, interests.

  4. As Eliza mentions the biggest issues that are completely ignored by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation are the social factors that contribute to students failing in schools. It seems that every other potential issue imaginable will be addressed in an effort to avoid confronting the issue of social inequality. In our most recent readings about KIPP and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation the new reason children seem to be failing is a lack of discipline. These schools have the goal of producing successful students through the implementation of a military based education system. In doing so these schools will help these students who "lack discipline."

    In my opinion this military approach is just another rhetorical tool in an effort to push for privatization. Unfortunately, the idea of black failing students "lacking discipline" is something that people will actually buy into and support. Further aiding the push for privatization. If you pair this ideal with words like "monopoly" when talking about the public school system it will be very easy to sway people towards the side of privatization. Add a few inspirational movies by a guy like Bill Gates, who has notoriously donated a lot of money towards charity , and the public school system never stood a chance.