Thursday, March 17, 2005

Taking the public out of public schools

Eduwonk links to a Columbia Journalism Review article on NCLB and opposes the notion that "No Child Left Behind reflects Bush’s belief that the private sector is best equipped to carry out public reforms."

As evidence, he writes:

Bush has never really done much for vouchers, particularly in Texas, much to the disappointment of the Christian right, when he really could have.

Uh, no he couldn't have, though he definitely wanted to (if you need evidence, click here for a whole page full of quotes). You see, in Texas, public schools are essentially sacred ground. Any attempt to undermine them is seen as an attack on Texas communities. From the Valley to the Panhandle, for most Texans, public schools are the center of their communities. Thus, voucher programs have been hugely unpopular here. In the current legislative session there is yet another attempt to institute voucher programs. Most likely, it will go nowhere-- not because right wing idealogues (and make no mistake, Bush is a right wing idealogue) don't want them to, but because the people don't want them.

Second, it is undeniable that a part of NCLB is aimed at privatizing "low performing" public schools. Companies like Edison Schools stand to make lots of money on these deals initially, even though there is little evidence that they will succeed in the most intractable schools. The recent education bill that passed out of the Texas House (but will be significantly altered by the Senate) increases the privitization initiative so that any school that lands in the bottom ten percent two years in a row can be taken over by a private company.

Consider this from the Austin Chronicle:

As public education advocates see it, one of the most frightening features of the school finance bill that limped out of the House last week is a provision that could spell the beginning of the end of public schools in Texas. This unraveling process would start by empowering the state education commissioner to turn over control of low-performing schools to private, for-profit companies. If the bill were in effect today, some estimates reflect that as many as 375 school campuses would qualify as candidates for private takeover.

This is just one of the things about House Bill 2 that worries Rep. Mark Strama. The Austin Democrat had at one point considered supporting the bill, if only because of the property-tax relief it would bring to people in his middle-income swing district in northeast Travis Co. But in the end, Strama concluded, "You shouldn't have to hold your nose to vote on the most important issue of the session." Strama had in fact gone back and forth on the bill until an hour before the second-reading vote last Wednesday evening. He had spent the day wearing a look of visible anguish as he moved across the House floor, conferring with one senior colleague or another. Every once in a while he would study a running stream of notes, or add a new entry, like this one: "Takeover of public schools by for-profit corporations ... could affect several Travis County s
chools, including Connally HS, Johnston HS, Lanier HS, Reagan HS, McCallum HS."

This plan was largely conceived by Sandy Kress, a top education adviser to the president.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it's not hard to connect the dots here. Look at the president's plans -- if you can even call them that -- for social security. Right wingers like Bush have a deep and near religious belief in the power of free markets. It stands to reason that they would like to extend the magical free market system to education.


Blogger Matt Johnston said...

You note at the end of this post that the Right prefers free markets and extending those markets to education is just a logical extension of the free market attitude.

Why not extend free market principles to secondary education, even elementary education. Look how well free market principles have worked at the collegiate level. One could reasonably argue that the collegiate system in America is head and shoulders above all others.

This is not to say that people should pay for elementary and secondary education, rather they should be free to chose, with the schools getting the federal and state funds associated with each child.

The failing of this system is that most parents are not engaged enough to make a reasoned selection for their children's education. They may spend days, weeks on the decision to buy a car, but will not spend the requisite attention to educate their children.

1:49 PM  

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