Capitalist crisis invades public educationGo To Original
Capitalism is leaving tens of millions of workers without jobs. It is also abandoning millions of children to flounder in a chaotic education system, buffeted by school closings and teacher firings.
The capitalist government in Washington has sharply escalated its ongoing assault on the public education system. Using the budget crisis as leverage and seizing on the deteriorating quality of schools in impoverished districts, government officials have intensified the campaign for charter-school privatization, school closings, and the firing of teachers and staff across the country.
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But the attack is not on all public education. Virtually all the target schools and school districts are in impoverished communities marginalized by capitalism, especially those that are heavily African-American and Latino/a.
The ax falls on Kansas City
The Kansas City, Mo., school board announced on March 10 that it will close 29 of its 61 public schools. About 700 jobs will be cut, including 285 teachers. The targeted school district is majority African-American.
This school district has long been drained by redistricting and the flight to private schools and charter schools. It has been sued for racial discrimination. Its school population has gone from 77,000 to 13,400. The drop in enrollment, caused by poverty and privatization, and the budget crisis are being used as a pretext to further victimize children and their families by these brutal school closings.
The crisis goes beyond Kansas City. On Feb. 23, the school board in Central Falls, R.I., announced that all its 93 teachers, administrators and support staff would be fired. The Central Falls school district is majority Latino/a. Other schools in Rhode Island are also under threat, including in Providence.
On March 4, Boston school officials announced that all the teachers and staff at six public schools would have to reapply for their jobs. These six schools are among 35 on a target list as “underperforming.” The schools on the list face closures, firings and state takeovers.
Cleveland plans 13 school closings. This includes breaking up high schools into “academies,” leaving a big opening for charter schools to move into the vacuum and get public funds.
These examples could be multiplied many times over, from Detroit to Atlanta, Reno, Los Angeles, New York City — virtually across the country.
Rat race to the top
The immediate trigger is the $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund established by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama publicly praised the drastic firing of all the teachers in the Central Falls high school as an example of progress in education reform.
The Race to the Top is a continuation of the No Child Left Behind program initiated by George W. Bush. Bush promoted charter schools, school vouchers and breaking union contracts — using merit pay and other devices — under the guise of improving teacher performance.
The Race to the Top goes further. It specifies that states can apply for grants if they adopt one of the models specified by the program. These models include moving toward charter schools; firing the teaching staff and then allowing them to reapply for their jobs, but not hiring back more than 50 percent of those fired; and closing “underperforming” schools.
This has touched off a rat race among government officials to get grant money by attacking teachers, closing schools, opening up to charter schools, using school vouchers to pay for private schools, and taking other measures to undermine public education and teacher organization.
This reactionary development is an attempt to select out a small percentage of students for exposure to a superior education while leaving the vast majority behind. Those left behind are overwhelmingly children of the poor and the oppressed. This reality is exactly the opposite of what these programs promised.
It is also important to note the motor force for charter schools: handing over the education system to private companies. It is not about these schools’ level of achievement.
To date, the most authoritative study of charter schools was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University in 2009. The report is the first detailed national assessment of charter schools. It analyzed 70 percent of U.S.-based students attending charter schools and compared the academic progress of those students with that of demographically matched students in nearby public schools. The report found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46 percent showed no difference from public schools; and 37 percent were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts.
The authors of the report considered this a “sobering” finding about the quality of charter schools in the United States. Charter schools showed a significantly greater variation in quality as compared with the more standardized public schools. Many charter schools fell below public school performances and a few exceeded them significantly.
Privatization: ‘The Big Enchilada’
Jonathan Kozol, a well-known authority on public schools and author of the book “Death at an Early Age,” wrote an article entitled “The Big Enchilada” for Harper’s magazine of August 2007. It was about reading a stock market prospectus. Kozol wrote:
“A group of analysts at an investment banking firm known as Montgomery Securities described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools. ‘The education industry,’ according to these analysts, ‘represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control’ that ‘have either voluntarily opened’ or, they note in pointed terms, have ‘been forced’ to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, ‘the education industry represents the largest market opportunity’ since health care services were privatized during the 1970s.
“Referring to private education companies as ‘EMOs’ (Education Management Organizations), they note that college education also offers some ‘attractive investment returns’ for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. ‘The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers,’ which, they emphasize, ‘are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers.’ From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, ‘the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada.’” (See FIST statement, “Defend Education from ‘Disaster Capitalism,’” in the Workers World of March 4.)
These two items speak volumes about the Race to the Top program. It is an attempt to put a big part of the public school system on a corporate model of cutthroat competition. The funds for the education of poor children are the object of this competition.
This model has public school officials marketing their schools to the community to fend off the competition of charter schools. New York’s Harlem is a prime target of charter schools and has put the public schools under enormous pressure.
For example, “River East Elementary on East 120th Street draws students throughout Harlem and typically has more applicants than seats. But at this time of year, staff members spend hours scurrying to day care centers, churches and apartment complexes to find prospective parents, said Katie Smith, the assistant principal. ‘We have to be out there constantly representing ourselves,’ Ms. Smith said.” (New York Times, March 10)
The net result is that the capitalist establishment is using the economic crisis to accomplish three things: to wring profits out of the public education system; to solve its budget crisis on the backs of the people by closing schools; and to open up an anti-union campaign against the teachers by driving them into non-union charter schools and weakening the contracts of those who remain in the public system.
This crisis demonstrates many things about the capitalist system at its present stage of crisis, when the opportunity for profitable investment in the real economy of production is narrowed by the crisis of overproduction and the saturation of markets.
It shows that the vultures of finance capital will find every avenue possible to raid the public treasury in pursuit of profit, including forcing a crisis on the education system.
This hurts students, parents, teachers and communities. This is the basis on which to unite against this plan of divide and conquer. It calls for a united mobilization to defend public education and make the bankers and bosses pay for a quality education for all.
This is the richest country in the world, with a $14 trillion economy. There are hundreds of billions available for the schools. But these funds are being pocketed by the banks, the Pentagon, the corporations. There is enough money to give everyone a quality education.