Markets, Profits and Education

“The State is being ripped off by private companies who only want to make a quick buck out of our kids.”

Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, speaking on BBC1’s Panorama this evening:

Reading, Writing and Rip-Offs

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n2t2f

Panorama investigates the computer supply companies whose directors have grown rich signing up hundreds of schools across the country to deals that have taken them to the brink of bankruptcy. Parents are usually unaware that their school can be carrying debts of up to £1.9 million for overpriced or sub-standard equipment.

Reporter Paul Kenyon reveals the mis-selling that has ended the careers of head teachers who say they were duped by dishonest salesmen, forced some schools to make staffing cuts, and raises questions about the government’s roll out of greater financial autonomy to schools.

Watch this and weep.

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From time to time 3D Eye focuses on what’s happening in education right around the world, and considers how different societies and different governments are changing their systems of education. This year we’ve written about education in Finland, Singapore, Japan, and a few other places.

One story that’s made major headlines right around the world in recent weeks is the teachers’ strike in Chicago. There are many different views on what’s been taking place and why it’s had such significance, but it’s been difficult to get beyond the superficial and the inane.

Pete Dolack is an American writer whose essays analyse some very large and complex issues and are perceptive, lucid and highly informative. His website is called Systemic Disorder. The following paragraphs are a quick summary of his thoughts on the teachers’ strike. Click the link to have a look at the whole piece, and indeed the other pieces on Pete’s website.

Chicago pushes back against the war on teachers — and neoliberalism

http://systemicdisorder.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/chicago-teachers-push-back-against-the-war-on-teachers-and-neoliberalism/

The Chicago teachers returning to work today earned a victory — not for themselves, but for two important ideas. The first is that dignity and security are not unreasonable for those of us who have to go to work every day. The second is that the job of schools is to build the citizens of tomorrow, not line the pockets of corporate executives and investors.

We can’t understand the reasons behind the “war on teachers” without examining both of these ideas.

The corporate executives salivating over their potential profits, the funders of the charter-school movement seeking more takeovers and, most of all, the willful mayor who expected to steamroll over the teachers each had their agenda stalled.

Not that those powerful people were defeated, nor that the teachers won a total victory. The new contract is a negotiated settlement, with both sides getting something. That is what a “negotiation” is — a compromise by two parties.

Mayor Emanuel had clearly expected the community to be on his side; instead the people have been with the teachers. The mayor’s response? Stamp his feet, attack, go to court to force an end to the strike. His reaction says much about the mayor and his complete adoption of corporate ideology. When you give an order, it is to be obeyed!

It wasn’t obeyed — schools are not corporations. Professional educators believe they should have a hand in shaping the education system. Imagine that. Teachers just might know something about education that the hedge-fund managers running television commercials in Chicago don’t. What if people in other professions start getting the idea that they, too, should have a hand in decision-making in the workplace?

Charter schools are the key here. An increasingly stressed component of the neoliberal agenda is privatization of public schools. Public schools are shuttered, and replaced by private charter schools. Sometimes the charter schools are given part of the facilities of a still-existing public school, which is given second-class treatment in its own building. Unionized teachers are fired, and nonunion teachers paid much less are hired in the charter schools. The charter schools are given money diverted from the public schools but without the accountability or requirement to follow existing contracts. Some of the money goes to pay huge salaries to the executives of the charter-school companies and for profits.

The movement for charter schools is not a movement for reforming education, as promoters claim, but rather is naked union-busting. It is a bold attempt to force down wages, parallel with the decline of wages in the private sector.

A Dissent article by Joanne Barkan explained who funds the charter-school movement, then exploded the myth that they perform better:

“Stanford University’s 2009 study of charter schools—the most comprehensive ever done—concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately.”

The rate of poverty, as numerous studies have shown, is the leading indicator of student performance. Gaps in social development and cognitive functions begin before children are old enough to go to school. But to confront the vast inequalities of capitalist societies is verboten — better to blame everything on teachers. And so we come to another component of the corporate charter-school agenda: Judging teachers almost exclusively on standardized tests. Doing so deflects attention from underlying social issues (issues that are much bigger than schools by themselves) and enforces a specific agenda in education: To mold children to be proficient in narrow technical skills without the ability to think originally.

Teachers in Chicago and elsewhere who push back against heavy reliance on test scores are reasonably protecting themselves against a rigid system that takes no account of social and other issues that are intertwined with student performance, but they are also striking a blow for a more complete, more rounded education — one in which the liberal arts and other topics are employed to teach students how to think rather than imposing a narrow education in which pre-selected answers are simply regurgitated.

It is unconscionable to claim that teachers, or teacher unions, don’t care about students or education. Surely there are scattered individuals who should not be in the classroom — but there is no profession or human endeavor without some people who are poor performers. Such people can be weeded out without tarring entire groups.*

Rita Stephanie [a Chicago teacher] wrote:

“The interests are complex and if the problems of education were easily solved it would have been done already. All morning on the picket line we talked about the problems of poverty. The teachers on my picket line wanted to talk about the big problem of poverty. We still need to teach our babies, but society needs to take responsibility for the problem of poverty.”

Chicago teachers were on the front lines this month: Holding the line against the attacks on public education and the need for a holistic approach on the one hand, and holding the line against the attacks on working people and their ability to earn a good wage and pension on the other hand. A strike, particularly one that is defensive as this one, can’t succeed without significant community support. Even then the odds are often long: industrialists, financiers and the governments over which they have decisive influence possess huge power and a willingness to use it.

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* See our previous post on the continuing efforts of people within the UK government and Ofsted to suggest that there are significant numbers of teachers who lack commitment, dedication and effort – suggestions which clearly have an impact on public perception of teachers as a whole and indeed on the morale of teachers:

Dear Sir Michael –  https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/dear-sir-michael/

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About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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2 Responses to Markets, Profits and Education

  1. Kevin says:

    Perhaps the bare face of the business world exposed. The figures in £’s charged to schools for equipment is staggering to say the least. Removing the Local Authority ‘protection’ exposed the schools to the sharks and they had a feeding frenzy, it is as simple as that. What did politicians think, that the business sector would act honourably and in the best interests of schools? Surprise, surprise and not a good omen for the way in which Academies are funded surely – not unless you are a ‘business partner’ of course. Now this practice has been exposed along with the terrible human as well as financial cost there is no pretending it does not and will not happen. Since politicians are appointed to look after my interests I charge them with the responsibility of ensuring it does not and hold them accountable if it does. No more excuses, denials or apologies we need to protect one of our most valuable assets and resources from the ‘for profit’ brigade who are circling like a pack of wolves, waiting their opportunity. I can see though that some will use this as an excuse to further infiltrate education under the pretext of protection and guidance. The term ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’ come to mind!

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    • 3D Eye says:

      It sounds as though you were as shocked and enraged as we were, Kevin, by the Panorama programme. It’s good to see the BBC continuing to act as a watchdog on some of the nastier aspects of the commercialisation of education, and our society in general. There seems to be very little public awareness of the pressures on school management since the introduction of LMS with regard to the purchase of everything from paperclips and computers to cleaning services, school meals provision and buildings maintenance. Everyone needs to wake up to the fact that managing the purchase of essential supplies and services and keeping at bay the crooks, fraudsters and con-men can be a massive distraction from managing the core business of learning and teaching.

      As for the drift towards handing over public education and schools to “for profit” organisations, I think Pete Dolack’s article does a great job in exposing the horrendous consequences in terms of everything from reductions in salaries and pensions to the narrowing down of the curriculum and the reduction of the business of schools to preparing students for tests – the results of which are then used as the basis for determining salaries and bonuses. It’s an appalling thing to witness the creeping marketisation of public services and the steady erosion of the spirit of public service which was what motivated most teachers to enter the profession in the first place.

      Sad to say, one can hardly blame the current generation of headteachers for playing the game of “driving up standards” since they know that a failure to do so will normally result in the termination of their career. Short-termism in education and the failure to invest in long-term solutions is now exactly matching the short-termism that has marred and destroyed swathes of British industry. This is also being shown in the amalgamation and ‘federation’ of schools under the direction of so-called “super managers” – the same as the tendency for businesses to grow on the basis of takeovers and mergers. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that politicians who have been indoctrinated by neo-liberalism see everything through the lens of competition, ‘standards’ and ‘results’.

      Regardless of what’s happening in the UK and the USA it’s heartening to know that Finland has shown how education can meet the real needs of children and young people and produce citizens who are independent learners and critical thinkers, capable of using their imagination and able to work creatively. It’s even better news that other countries that have followed Finland’s example have risen in the OECD’s PISA rankings and created a movement for change that can even be called a new learning revolution.
      G.

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