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Fighting a Long-Term Battle “Reformers” are Persistent - Monday, October 31, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 32



Fighting a Long-Term Battle

"Reformers” are Persistent


            Paul Pastorek was once quoted in the Advocate commenting that it took seven years, in Texas, to accomplish the "reformer” goals.  In reality it took much longer.


            The Marc Tucker "Dear Hillary” letter of November 11, 1992 launched the billionaire-boys-club attempt to take over public K-12 education and to convert schools to profit centers for big business. Tucker suggested to the new First Lady a master plan to take over the entire U.S. education system so that it can serve national economic planning of the workforce.  Tucker, then president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, lays out a plan "to remold the entire American system” into "a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone,” coordinated by "a system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels” where curriculum and job matching will be handled by counselors accessing the integrated computer-based program.


            Are we there yet?


            We’re getting lots closer.  It started when President Clinton signed into law, in 1994, The Goals 2000 Act, the School to Work Act, and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  These laws establish the following mechanisms to restructure public schools that we are now all too familiar with.

1.       Bypass all elected officials on school boards and in state legislatures by making federal funds flow to the Governor and his appointees on workforce development boards.

2.      Use a computer database, a.k.a. "a labor market information system,” into which school personnel would scan all information about every school child and his family, identified by the child’s social security number, academic, medical, mental, psychological behavioral and interrogations by counselors.  The computerized data would be available to the school, the government and future employers.

3.      The "national Standards and national testing” would be needed to cement national control over tests, assessments, schools honors and rewards, financial aid, and the Certificate of Initial Mastery which is designed to replace the high school diploma.


The ambition plan that Tucker envisioned being initiated by then President-Elect Clinton was originally a German system designed to train children in specific jobs to serve the workforce and the global economy instead of to educate them.


Of course it is easy to see that the plan is coming to fruition.  Over the twenty years since kickoff, we have a federal funding which comprises only about 17 percent of Louisiana education funding serving as the tail that wags the dog.  We have a workforce commission instead of a Labor Department.  We have a computer database that uses social security numbers of children to track every aspect of their development.  We have now agreed to adopt national core standards and are in the process of developing the testing system revisions needed to measure progress.  Going one step further, that same database is being used to gauge performance of individual schools, districts, and even the state.  Now, we are progressing to the use of that test to evaluate individual teacher performance.


By starving local school budgets, the billionaire-boys-club (with some noteworthy girls included) has created the aura of school failure.  A cadre of elite businessmen has become hucksters that rail against performance shortcomings of public schools that they helped to create.  They aided in setting up and defining the grading system used to justify their claims of underperformance by local public schools.


Still another strategy for starving local public districts was started this year with BESE and the administration ramming through two virtual high school charters.  These two schools have temporary ceilings on enrollment, capped at 1,100 for one and 600 the other.  BESE has granted these schools $9,159 (The Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy in New Orleans) and $8,164 (Connections Academy – EBR) per pupil.  Research, reported in the Louisiana Boardmember magazine this fall, reveals that families can enroll students, on-line at the company website, by paying at most $6,030 to enroll in Connections Academy; or enrolling on line in K-12 Virtual Academy at a top tuition of $6,995.  These overcharges will provide a $1,500 per pupil profit cushion even while the advertised tuition provides a profit margin.


For the current school year, another $14 million has been diverted from local school budgets to cover the cost of tuition for these 1,700 virtual charter students. 


The success of their campaign can be seen all across America.  Using half-truths and "visions of sugar plum” silver bullet fixes (vouchers, tax credits, charter schools) they have sold Americans that great things are happening.


The Louisiana Governor accelerated his attack three budget years back.  In defunding K-12 education, he caused local schools to increase class size and eliminate support for teachers.

He also forced adding a pilot program of vouchers that consumed $10 million in the first year and another $18.5 million since.  In the nation’s longest running voucher program, Milwaukee, the public school systems of the city lost $645 per student per year.  That amounts to a 10 percent cut and that is the third largest K-12 budget cut in America.


            Indiana, under a new Republican Governor, created a new voucher system and 70 percent of vouchers went to students in Catholic schools.  Most were already there when the vouchers started…so it was not the at-risk children who benefited most.


            In New Orleans, according to an analysis by Leslie Jacobs (a leading proponent of change) students supported by the pilot vouchers have not achieved as much in student test improvement as the RSD direct run schools which are the worst performing in the state.


            What is following in the wake of voucher and charter expansion is a tiered system of education, increasingly segregated along economic and racial lines.


            Gov. Jindal sees his path to national prominence in following an education agenda developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  The real motivation  of ALEC is to enact into laws the dismantling of our public education system so that local governance surrenders power and local schools no longer provide for everyone equally, but instead introduce profit-driven schools that pass over those children who are hardest to educate.  Those at-risk and special needs children now populate the poorest schools in New Orleans.


            With 30 of the 115 schools graded F for 2011, the state Recovery School District (RSD) is not the raging success it is purported to be.  In fact, the average School Performance Score of the RSD was 66.7 ranking it 62nd of 63 school districts.


            Gov. Jindal has pronounced that education will be the first priority for his new administration.  After three years of drastic cuts to universities and colleges, and three years of giving the MFP only the basic increases needed to cover the growing student populations and not increased costs, his legacy of becoming the education governor will be an uphill climb.


            Not content with regaining the Governor’s office, Gov. Jindal spent a considerable part of his large campaign war chest to aid in selecting legislators and BESE members who will serve at his beck and call.  The idea of checks and balances is not one he recognizes.


            Gov.  Jindal needs to win just one of the three races for BESE to have a supermajority capable of naming his hand-picked State Superintendent.  Not qualified to be even a local superintendent, John White was a part of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failing education administration. White would replace Paul Pastorek to meet Gov. Jindal’s agenda.


            Mayor Bloomberg gave $100,000 to the campaign to elect the final three BESE members.  He is among a long list of out-of-state contributors to contribute, at the last reporting period, $235,010 to elect Kira Orange-Jones in the New Orleans area BESE election.  Bloomberg gave Orange-Jones $5,000 in addition to the above-mentioned donation.


            Having so many wealthy supporters the billionaires-boys-club can afford to wait a bit to recoup their investment.  After all, 15 percent of $8 billion is a healthy return for a few hundred thousand to elect dependable BESE members!


Don Whittinghill




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