The Corporations Colonizing our Public Schools

Joel Klein, the former Bloomberg favorite and Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, was hired by right-wing media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to help Amplify move desperately needed funding out of the classroom and into corporate hands. (Photo: via Amplify.com)

In an era of corporate aggression into the public sphere, not even the classroom is safe. As the corporate reach extends into public schools, our kids are increasingly reshaped as products, as data to be collected, as pawns in the corporate fight to rid the country of unionized jobs. In our classrooms, the humanity and education of students is gradually being replaced with corporate systems and profit-values.

As if the only human activity with any meaning or moral relevance is the pursuit of money, corporate education transforms the entire scope of the education process into pre-employment training. Instead of investing in the future, corporate education looks to squeeze a profit from it before it arrives.

Rather than trying to educate evolved, modern adults, the corporate model seeks to profit off our tax-money while reshaping students as nothing more than future employees. The long process of raising our kids into responsible, active grown-ups is replaced by a process that openly places profit over progress, corporate values over human ones.

Joel Klein, the former Bloomberg favorite and Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, was hired by right-wing media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to help Amplify move desperately needed funding out of the classroom and into corporate hands. (Photo: via Amplify.com)

Joel Klein, the former Bloomberg favorite and Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, was hired by right-wing media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to help Amplify move desperately needed funding out of the classroom and into corporate hands. (Photo: via Amplify.com)

While there are many corporations, foundations, and individuals who have contributed to the infiltration of private corporate interests into publicly funded education, there are 3 that stand out.

The Walton Foundation, The Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, known as the Big Three, have consistently threatened democratic processes in public education reform.They’re able to spend nearly $4 billion annually on anything from political campaigns to Astroturf organizations to funding research and studies that are in line with their goals.All three of these groups have heavily invested in School Choice reforms and voucher programs.

School choice, charter schools, and voucher programs are really ways to subsidize private education using public money. These failed, profit-driven policies are an extension of the corporate search for profit, an attempt to transfer public wealth to private hands under the pretense of "reforming" schools (whose failure, conveniently enough, was triggered and exacerbated in the first place by selective austerity policies driven by some of the same corporate groups now trying to profit from their failure).

Which groups, companies and individuals
are behind the corporate drive
to privatize public education?

The Gates Foundation: while the Gates Foundation does great work in other areas, their work in US educational systems seems to be misguided at best. They fund Astroturf groups like Teach for America and Educators for Excellence, who recruit young professionals and basically pay them to undermine teachers unions. The Gates Foundation advocates data based compensation for teachers, as well as closing schools that perform poorly on data driven high stakes tests. They also support increasing class size.

However, reducing class size is one of  the only reforms that has repeatedly been proven to improve student performance(pdf). While the Gates Foundation claims to be open to all reform ideas, they tend to primarily fund and publicly support those based on test scores alone, ignoring teacher and parent input.

The Broad Foundation: Broad contributed millions of dollars to the campaign to extend mayoral control of the public schools in New York City under Michael Bloomberg. He also has an unusually close relationship to Joel Klein, Randi Weingarten and Arne Duncan.

The Broads got their money by building federally subsidized housing in suburbs of California and Texas. Apparently, there have been a number of chronic problems with those homes. The Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy trains management candidates in six intensive, four-day sessions spread over 10 months to become school superintendents in primarily urban areas.

These superintendents have a clear preference to charter schools over public. They also have a not-so-great record of corruption.

The Walton Family Foundation: this is the charitable arm of the Walton Family, owners of the middle class job killing, union busting company, Walmart.

They claim to want to improve public education through school choice. What they really support is the voucher system. As most aware New Yorkers know by now, this is nothing more than a ruse to siphon public money into private hands.

Teach For America: this is possibly the largest group trying to undermine public teachers unions in the country. Recruits for TFA are not encouraged to continue teaching, they are recruited to teach for 2 years, gain experience, then move on to something bigger and better.

For those trying to undermine unions, Teach for America is perfect. They can hire teachers for way less than a dedicated career educator, give them a whopping 5 weeks of training, put them in any classroom and after 2 years, get them out.

No long-term health benefits, no pension plans, nothing.

The “teacher” gets to bulk up their resume. Major corporations get to donate to an organization that looks like it cares about children. Everybody wins!…except the students.

A look at TFA’s donors list is another cause for concern. The Walton Foundation is one of its biggest contributors. Other contributors include Bain & Company, Monsanto, Bank of America, Exxon Mobile, and Goldman Sachs just to name a few. It’s like a “who’s who” of groups that caused the Great Recession.

They aren’t only receiving private money though. They also get your tax dollars. They receive money from the US Department of Education and NASA.

Amplify: Amplify Insight just won a 12.5 million dollar contract to develop assessments and teaching tools for Common Core tests. Amplify Insight is a division of Amplify, an education technology company whose CEO is Joel Klein.

Amplify is the education branch of News Corp, owned by notorious phone hacking, privacy invading, Rupert Murdoch. Besides the very real concern of keeping children’s personal information as private as possible, Murdoch's involvement in education is especially disconcerting given that he has openly said he was mostly interested in the money. When he bought Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn based education tech company, he said

“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch. “Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”

The Center for Educational Innovation – Public Education Association(CEI-PEA): a New York City-based “nonprofit” organization. Under the Re-Start program initiated in NYC in 2011, CEI-PEA was one of the organizations chosen to take over management of a few under-performing schools. One of those schools is J.H.S 166 George Gershwin, which is being closed due to poor performance. As previously reported by The BQ Brew, their Board of Trustees is full of supporters of TFA, hedge fund executives and New York City's gentrifying elite.

inBloom: formerly known as Shared Learning Collaborative. New York is one of 9 states that will pilot inBloom’s technology. This is supposed to be a way of storing students personal learning needs and streamline information sharing for teachers, parents and administrators.

The concern is that students’ sensitive personal information will not only be stored on a database where security has not been established, but that that same info will be made available to third party companies. This will allow private corporations to access a school district’s student data so that the corporations will know what educational technology they can sell to specific schools. Parents have largely not been made aware of the change to the security of their children’s information.

Resistance, Never Futile:
Parents, Teachers and Communities Push Back

Despite the seemingly endless number of corporate-sponsored deformers attempting to co-opt the educational system, there are a number of true grassroots organizations out there that are fighting for students. They are made up of teachers, parents, and members of the community who are tired of being excluded from the main stream pseudo debate on students' futures.

Movement Of Rank and file Educators(MORE): http://morecaucusnyc.org/
MORE is the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers(UFT). They are working on fighting the single party representation that has had control of the UFT for decades, as well as fighting for social and community justice for both teachers and students. From their mission statement:

"8. We reject the corporate takeover of the public schools, and the wave of school closures in the city, which have particularly affected poor communities with high proportions of people of color.  We insist on a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools.  We seek to end the cuts to education which have led to increasing class sizes as well as inadequate social, health, guidance personnel and services.

9. The schools should be the people’s schools.  We stand for democratic governance and popular control of our school system that fully reflects the needs, aspirations and diversity of those who make up its parent and student body. Mayoral control, which is inherently undemocratic, must be abolished , and be replaced by an elected People’s Board of Education which represents the interests of teachers, students, parents, and community."

New York Collective of Radical Educators(NYCoRE): http://www.nycore.org/
is a group of public school educators who believe that the struggle for fair education does not end at the end of the school day and that the struggle is an integral part of education. They believe in organizing with parents and communities for social change.

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools(NY-GPS): http://www.nygps.org/
a true grassroots organization, NY-GPS has been very vocal about their opposition to Mayor Bloomberg's educational agenda. With vast community support, they are fighting for a moratorium on school closures and to get the word out to all New Yorkers about the corporate interests trying to buy their public schools.

Parent Voices NY: http://www.parentvoicesny.org/
is a group for parents who have been increasingly concerned with high-stakes testing in public schools. Their main purpose is to help parents organize against these tests and advocate for a more wholesome approach to educating our youth. Their site is a great tool to hook up with direct action groups city wide.

Class Size Matters: http://www.classsizematters.org/
is a group that advocates for smaller class sizes in NYC and nation wide. They provide information and links to studies on why smaller class size has been prove time and again to have a positive affect on student improvements.

United Opt Out: http://unitedoptout.com/
is a national movement to end corporate education reform. This is a group of parents, educators, students and activists who want to see the elimination of high stakes testing in public schools. Their site is a full of information on how to opt out of testing either on the individual level or school level. There is tons of information on direct actions in most areas of the US, and info on how to create your own opt out group if needed.

Diane Ravitch's Blog: http://dianeravitch.net/
while this is not a group you can join, Ms. Ravitch has been a great voice in the movement to protect public education in the US. Her blog is regularly updated with information from all over the country warning the public to be aware of what's going on in our schools. She is a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.

--Ava M Capote--