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School Choice

School choice? A rose by any other name still spells privatizing education

The reformers don’t use such ugly words. They call it “choice” and they call those of us fighting to preserve education as a public right, the “status quo.” Clever … if you pay no attention to the man behind the curtain that is. The corporate reformers, er, uh, I mean the “choice” advocates at the very top, the ones turning the wheels and playing on the fear and hopes of parents who want nothing more than the best for their children, have been digging away at the pillars of public education in order to turn a profit, and to turn the socio-political tides of American power relationships between the 1% and the remaining 99.

It’s brilliant propaganda. The word “choice”-I mean, who doesn’t like choice? To say you don’t is simply, well, un-American right? There are several other brilliant slogans that have washed over our national lexicon: No Child Left Behind (who wants children left behind, right?) and see how that turned out! Or, “The Patriot Act” … more aptly named “Brave New World.” The key is to look at the actions, and the real players, behind the labels. This political rhetoric isn’t about any parents individual right to choose what’s best for their own children. This word is being launched about to build (often unknowingly on behalf of many parents) the stamina of the conservative ideology to privatize public education as part of its measure to eliminate many other social institutions in order to “cut the budget”-mind you they never advocate to cut spending that may affect them or their million dollar golden parachutes. These are the same folks executing measures to “reform” educational policy in schools (as Peg Robertson points out) that their own children don’t even have to attend.

In fact, next week is National School Choice Week. Wouldn’t it be really ironic if public schools had the day off as a national holiday? Never mind, the reformers will close them for good soon enough. If I counted correctly only about 41 of their listed partners are faith-based organizations. A handful of them are private schools that are sectarian-based. I have no issue with faith-based or sectarian private schools nor their desire to attract students. I have no issue with parents who choose to educate their children as they see fit if that choice excludes a public education. Somehow I don’t think it’s in the agenda of such organizations or schools to eliminate public education as their final goal. They simply want the right to have a seat at the table. Therefore I am leaving their association with this School Choice effort out of this critique.

But somewhere along the lines of our current political agenda, war has been declared against public education’s right to exist, and flourish, as well.

I have no issue either with charter schools (or at least as they were originally conceived decades ago) as community-based opportunities to provide creative alternatives with unique approaches. But the corporate-led reformers must have gotten wind that there were billions of dollars to be made by funneling federal dollars through these schools, and have since taken the lead to legislate policies to their benefit. For example, according the a New York Times article, Agora, an online charter school has been found to be failing in its promises to its students and yet “by Wall Street standards … Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.”

This takes me to an examination of other partners listed as supporters of School Choice Week. The organizations listed below have direct connections with, or strong ties to, a right-wing agenda to privatize many American institutions including education. The first and foremost, and a listed partner of the School Choice Week, is The American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC).According to ALEC Exposed, “Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights…Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a ‘unique,’ ‘unparalleled’ and ‘unmatched’ organization.” Their largest contributing members include the tobacco industry and big oil.

The 2011 ALEC Annual Conference Substantive Agenda on Education shows their current interests: “…the Task Force voted on several proposed bills and resolutions, with topics including: digital learning, the Common Core State Standards, charter schools, curriculum on free enterprise, taxpayers’ savings grants, amendments to the existing model legislation on higher education accountability, and a comprehensive bill that incorporates many components of the landmark school reforms Indiana passed this legislative session.

Additional partners with School Choice Week include:

Goldwater Institute: Is a member of ALEC. Founded in 1988 with the blessing of the late Senator Barry Goldwater, the Goldwater Institute’s mission is to advance freedom and protect the Constitution.

Friedman Foundation: Is a member of ALEC and funds Michelle Rhee’s brain child Students First. Additionally Friedman is an Indiana-based nonprofit devoted to the privatization of schools through the promotion of an educational voucher system. It is regarded as one of the most influential proponents of neo-liberal market economics.

Heartland Institute: According to ALEC Exposed it “is a nonprofit ‘think tank’ that questions the reality and import of climate change, second-hand smoke health hazards, and a host of other issues that might seem to require government regulation.”

Connections Academy: An online charter school company that serves as the current co-chair for the ALEC Educational Taskforce

The New Jersey Teat Party Caucus

The Heritage Foundation: Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a New Right think tank. Its stated mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” It is widely considered one of the world’s most influential public policy research institutes. Heritage is also a member of ALEC.

The Reason Foundation: The Reason Foundation is a self-described liberatarian ” think tank. The Reason Foundation’s projects include NewEnvironmentalism.org and Privatization.org, as well as Reason Magazine It is part of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation network. The Reason Foundation is funded, in part, by what are known as the “Koch Family Foundations,” and David Koch serves as a Reason trustee.

Freedom Foundation: A non-profit organization that is member of ALEC. Media Transparency, as cited in ALEC Exposed state: “In fact, foundation tax records show that more than one-third of Evergreen’s support comes from out-of-state foundations — most of them financed by advocates of anti-public education efforts, including school vouchers, or anti-labor activity including ‘paycheck protection.’ Several Evergreen contributors have strong ties to the State Policy Network, the national string of smaller think tanks that promote conservative agendas in their respective states

Institute for Justice: Is a member of ALEC. According to its website, “The Institute for Justice has a long history of successfully defending school choice from legal attacks.”

Foundation for Excellence in Education: Is a member of ALEC. The Chairman of the Board of Directors is Jeb Bush.

Atlas Network: According to their own website, “Atlas is coordinating essay contests and summer schools to encourage students to go beyond the anti-market biases of their professors and grapple with the moral issues surrounding respect for property, achievement, and free exchange.”

Citizens for Educational Freedom: According to their website, “Long opposed by teachers unions, state bureaucrats, and local public school boards who struggle to maintain their monopoly control, CEF can claim many victories, as state legislators and concerned citizens move ahead with voucher and tax credit programs. But far too many parents still see their educational choices limited to the local government-run school.”

Veridus: According to their website: “Veridus is a full spectrum public affairs and government relations firm providing every client with an experienced team of results-driven individuals. Veridus is prepared to help your business or organization navigate the complexities of the legislative process, to succeed in an election or public relations campaign, or to assist with a state procurement.” Some of their clients include Pearson and Teach for America.

Students First: The school choice initiative that was the brain child of Michelle Rhee and is funded largely by other members of ALEC such as the Walton Foundation and the Friedman Foundation.

Liberty on the Rocks: Has as its three key educational focuses- free market economics, private property rights and/or individual liberty.

Center for Educational Reform: Is a member of ALEC. Defines itself as “the leading voice and advocate for lasting, substantive and structural education reform in the U.S.” since 1993.

K12Reboot: According to its website, “In any functioning market for services, there will be successful providers who grow, and unsuccessful providers who fail. But this dynamic supports a fundamental point: no system is likely to show sustainably good results if the end users (customers) cannot exercise choice. Much attention has been given to ‘accountability’ in K-12 education, and throughout this site you will see discussions on how to achieve better accountability — better results — in education. But the bottom line for us is that choice drives improvement.”

Evergreen Freedom Foundation: Defines their mission as “to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.”

American Federation for Children: A member of ALEC. Chairman of the Board is Betsy Devos. On a related note, “In 1993, ALEC gave its first ‘Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award’ to school privatization advocate and funder Richard DeVos. In the early 1990s, under the leadership of longtime ALEC member Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to implement a voucher program using public funds to send children to private schools.” Betsy DeVos, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, has a little known connection to war profiteering and private security forces in Iraq.” Her younger brother, Erik D. Prince, is “the founder of Blackwater USA, a private security firm currently working in Iraq.”

Alliance for School Choice: This group has as its core supporters four ALEC associated groups included those listed above: The American Federation for Children, Students First, The Foundation for Educational Choice, and The Institute for Justice.

To read this article in full, go to examiner.com.

The Rhetoric of Choice: Segregation, Desegregation, and Charter Schools

From Fall, 2011 Dissent

Over the last decade, talk of choice in education has reached an unprecedented pitch, and the talk has brought forth extensive dollars and human energy. Advocates for school choice, which has become a pseudonym for charter school reform, claim that changing how individual students end up at one school rather than another will contribute to significantly expanded access to quality education.

To read this article in full, go to this website.

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