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Obama’s War on Public Education

May 27, 2010

From time to time, I like to touch on the ever-so-important issue of education here at the Third Rail. A very sad and rude awakening for the liberals who voted the savior, Barack Obama, into office is that Obama is continuing the war on public education that his war criminal predecessor enacted. Obama, the self-described “market guy,” somehow thinks the best to fix the American education system is to attack teachers, test-test-test, and let the wolves privatize. Hardly a recipe for egalitarian education.

Fortunately, there are still a few of us left in this country who know bullshit when it’s rammed down our throats, even when it’s washed down with a large warm glass of hope and change. One of those people is Gillian Russom, who recently wrote a brilliant piece, “Obama’s neoliberal agenda for education,” elucidating the larger economic policies of neo-liberalism with the Obama White House’s approach to education. Her construct of the “education shock doctrine” (channeling Naomi Klein) accurately captures how neo-liberals are utilizing this time of crisis and disaster to kill off public education once and for all – a dream the ruling elite have harbored for decades. She writes:

Emerging as the dominant ideology of rampant free-market capitalism in the 1980s (until the Great Recession brought massive state intervention back in play in order to bail out the financial sector), neoliberalism is a set of economic policies that emphasizes the minimization of state intervention in the economy, privatization of sectors of the economy once thought to be the domain of the public sector, deregulation of markets, slashing government spending, and promoting anti-union “flexible” labor policies making it easier for employers to depress wages and fire workers at will. In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein shows how times of crisis have been used as opportunities to push through these neoliberal policies. Klein emphasizes that neoliberal polices involved not only directly selling off public enterprises to private interests, but also governments taking on an increasingly close partnership with the private sector, which acts as a contractor that receives state funds in exchange for providing services.

While the evidence shows that increasing standards and testing, closing “failing” schools, replacing them with non-union charter schools, and making teachers work harder won’t actually bring up the skill levels of American children overall, that isn’t really the point. Business leaders are excited about education “reform” in general and charter schools in particular because they help to spot talent and recruit the cream of the working class that can be funneled into higher education and employment as technical personnel, frontline managers, and professionals. That’s why charter schools have the fulsome backing of foundations run by billionaires like Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, Los Angeles real estate magnate Eli Broad, and the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame. In an age of austerity, capital isn’t interested in shouldering the cost of fully funding public education for all. Instead, education is to be divided into distinct tiers, and access to it is to be rationed. Business accounting methods—in this case, test scores—are to be the criteria for making such decisions.

Among many other points in this excellent piece, she explains why Race to the Top is No Child Left Behind cont., how charter schools are trojan horses for breaking the backs of the teachers union and resegregating American schools, and what the privatization looks like on the ground in Los Angeles.

Some fun facts from Gillian’s piece:
● Last year budget cuts cost 40,000 teacher jobs
● This year, 66 percent of school districts across the country have cut more jobs, while 83 percent of districts project cuts for the 2010–2011 academic year.
● Kansas City’s school board has voted to shut down twenty-eight of the city’s sixty-one schools.
● In California, more than 23,000 teachers received pink slips in March, and students hoping to attend college are facing tuition increases of 20 percent at the California State University and 32 percent at the University of California.

Contra Russom’s piece, you can read this fawning article on charter schools, veiled attack on the teachers’ union included, in the neo-liberal rag known as the NYT.

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