The Far Right’s favorite euphemism is “reform.”
Their notion of “reform” is the equivalent of “reforming” a criminal by executing him. Or since many on the Far Right (Ted Nugent, for certain) would applaud that analogy, it is the equivalent of running a chainsaw through the base of a shade tree in order to “save” it. Or, since many on the Far Right see nothing in a tree but lumber, I should probably simply give up on trying to find analogies and turn to examples.
They want to “reform” Social Security by making it a defined contribution program, rather than a defined benefit program—while, not coincidentally, putting trillions of dollars into the hands of the portfolio managers who will handle the retirement accounts.
They want to “reform” public and private pensions by simply eliminating the legal obligations to meet the commitments that they have contractually made to provide them.
They want to “reform” Medicare” by “allowing” seniors to try to find health insurance on their own and by providing a voucher that will cover less than half of the cost—all on their assurance that “market pressures” will prevent those costs from rising rapidly or arbitrarily.
And they want to “reform” public education by making it private.
Yo illustrate the benefits of privatization the self-appointed and mutually anointing “reformers” of public education naturally like to cite high-performing charter schools.
What they almost never point out is that the high-performing charters are not at all typical. First, they are almost always run by non-profit foundations whose primary purpose is education, not profits. Second, if you isolate the actual instructional costs per student, they are usually fairly expensive because a very large percentage of their revenues are actually allocated to instruction and students receive very intensive, hands-on educations, enhanced by the best technology and digital materials available.
In contrast to the high-performing charter schools, most charter schools are operated by for-profit corporations, whose skewed sense of the essence of what it means to provide a quality education is reflected in the fact that their school administrators (executives) earn two-and-a-half to three times what public school administrators earn (so two-and-a-half to three times already bloated salaries) and their teachers earn one-third to even one-half less than what public school teachers earn.
To the surprise of no one who is not deluded by ideology, teachers’ performance does not improve in inverse proportion to their compensation—any more than financial planners’ or any other category of workers’ performance would improve under that financial model.
And to the surprise of no one who is actually paying attention, the students in these schools aren’t doing any better than, and are often doing significantly worse than, their public-school counterparts on the standardized tests relentlessly promoted by the “reformers.”
But those failures aren’t spoken or written about as often or as pointedly as those of their public school counterparts. Messaging prevails over reality.
No one believes that “throwing more money at a problem” is typically a viable solution, in itself, to most problems. But the same people who most like to use that phrase in their condemnations of public education have not just been putting the brakes on increases in spending on the public schools. Rather, they have been relentlessly slashing that spending, gutting the financial resources necessary to operate at even a minimal level.
Several decades ago, in Michigan and Pennsylvania, lawmakers sought to insure equitable funding of all public schools, regardless of the differences in the tax bases of individual districts, and therefore shifted the primary funding sources for the schools from local property tax revenues to state funding, designating certain taxes as the revenue sources for the state subsidies to the school districts. Over the last decade and a half, the increasingly conservative legislatures in both states have steadily reduced the funding to the public schools, in good economic times and bad. And when large urban districts, most notably those in Detroit and Philadelphia, have faced very predictably ballooning deficits exacerbated by the Great Recession, those ideologically driven legislators most responsible for those deficits have slashed the funding even more dramatically and, then, with blatant hypocrisy–with what used to be called tremendous gall–have blamed the district administrators and school boards for “mismanagement.”
Please don’t rush to point out how inefficient and even corrupt some school districts have become, because if inefficiency and corruption were the primary measure for funding, then the corporate allocations—the disbursements to the “industrial” part of the “Military-industrial complex”– in the military budget, which constitutes the bulk of the defense budget, would have to be slashed to the bone. And, I am quite sure that if military personnel were unionized, personnel costs would be targeted for reduction instead of the corporate spending. Indeed, personnel costs are the first thing that is cut even now.
This shifting of blame is all very comparable to McDonald’s responding to complaints that it is not paying its employees a “living wage” by suggesting that the problem is actually that those employees don’t know how to budget their money and providing them with singularly unhelpful instructional videos on how to stretch their insufficient paychecks (first point of advice, to get a second job), instead of providing them with any wage increases.
But the main difference, of course, is that McDonald’s employees are responsible for preparing Big Macs and fries, whereas our schools are responsible for preparing our children for their future lives.