A damning exposure of the assault on public education in the US

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/06/19/ravi-j19.html

eign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch (Alfred A. Knopf, Borzoi Books, 2013, 396 pp.)

If the World Socialist Web Site had not already coined the term “social counterrevolution,” it would be necessary to do so when surveying the fate of the American public school system.

A staggering change has swept over the United States.

The struggle for an equal and high quality educational system took center stage in American life for many decades. The historic Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the expansion of public education during the Great Society years and the dramatic increase in college accessibility after 1965 provided tremendous hope for the future in the minds of millions. The vast human potential to develop science, technology, art and culture was in the air.

While this phenomenon was bound up with a temporary retreat before the struggles of the working class and Cold War geopolitical considerations—and would soon face reversal alongside the US debacle in Vietnam—it was nevertheless a deeply felt aspiration throughout broad swathes of society.

Today, public education lies in tatters, an openly class-based system. Corporate vultures and their politicians are proceeding apace to cash in on the growing education marketplace. Sixty years after Brown, segregated schools have increasingly become the norm again, public school districts are being starved of funding and the costs of college have becoming an interminable nightmare for massively indebted students and their families.

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Diane Ravitch’s latest best-seller, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, takes a look at the terrible social retrogression in K-12 education. The volume updates her 2011 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and traces the “transformation of a movement for testing and accountability” into a drive for outright privatization of education spearheaded by the Obama administration.

The book is worth reading. A historian of education and a research professor at New York University, Ravitch has spent a lifetime studying and writing about the history of education in the US.

Her political biography, moreover, gives her particular insight into the attack on education. In the 1990s, she was a corporate “reform” and “school choice” advocate, serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush’s federal push for national educational standards. She served another seven years in the Clinton administration as a member of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal testing program. By the end of the decade, however, she famously rethought her views and repudiated the right-wing corporate “reform” outlook, vociferously denouncing her previous support to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

As a political insider as well as an academic, the author knows her subject matter well. At the same time, she refuses to draw any conclusions that interfere with her support to the trade union apparatus and the Democratic Party—and, above all, the capitalist profit system. This leads her to advance conformist “solutions,” which can go nowhere.

Reign of Error indicts the educational policies of every US president, Democrat and Republican, since Ronald Reagan and the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, the event associated with the launching of the corporate “reform” movement. She points to the perpetual renewal of a “narrative of crisis” in American schools and sees its most recent incarnation as a propaganda campaign by right-wing organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by major corporations, to destabilize and destroy public education in the interest of profit-making concerns.

Ravitch argues passionately, and corroborates with statistics, that the real problem in the American educational system is not test scores, teachers or curricula, but the terrible growth of poverty. Here she finds herself repeatedly attacking the political premises and politics of both the Republicans and Democrats, and specifically the Obama administration.

In the section “The Facts About the Achievement Gap,” for example, Ravitch rejects the administration’s claim that the “single most important” element in a child’s learning is their teacher, pointing to the well-known role of family income and education. She cites a recent Stanford study showing that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least 50 years, with the current gap 30-40 percent larger for children born in 2001 than for those born 25 years earlier. The study found that income gap is now twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. These types of statistics are rarely, if ever, found in the American media reports on the crisis of schools.

She reviews in detail other au courant fads and fallacies including “value-added metrics” for education, merit pay, the parent-trigger, the role of big data and the ever-malleable “declining test scores.”

The book is particularly pointed in detailing how the financial industry is cashing in on education. Not only does it not pull any punches when it comes to the Obama administration, she asserts that the opening up of the lucrative education market was the primary intention of Obama’s educational policy.

Ravitch quotes Joanne Weiss, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s chief of staff, previously the chief operating officer at NewSchools Venture Fund. She states that Obama’s signature education initiative Race to the Top (RTTT) “was designed to scale up entrepreneurial activity, to encourage the creation of new markets for both for-profit and nonprofit investors.”

She says this trend is escalating dramatically as a result of the widespread implementation (in line with RTTT requirements) of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This, she describes in a recent blog, amounted to “an educational coup” made possible by “the close relationship between the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration.” The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.

Reign of Error projects the cost of CCSS to cash-strapped states to be as much as a whopping $16 billion. Among the most well-heeled beneficiaries of the program are the mega-publishing/testing/curricula developer conglomerate Pearson and Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. (See the recent Washington Post article detailing both Gates’ bankrolling of the creation of CCSS and its marketing campaign, which cost $200 million alone. The article notes that the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association were major recipients of this funding).

Siphoning off taxpayer dollars for education alongside big business are, of course, the banks and hedge funds, which point to education as an “emerging market” worth an estimated $500 billion annually. Ravitch notes the existence of one such group, the Democrats for Education Reform. The organization is comprised of hedge fund managers who back the charter school movement and assorted “accountability” efforts. DFER’s first meeting in 2005 was addressed, Ravitch points out, by Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Indicative of its influence, the DFER recommended Arne Duncan—then the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools—for US Secretary of Education in the incoming administration.

Wall Street’s embrace of the charter school model is documented in Reign of Error, which examines the various ways that these unregulated entities create profit opportunities. Noting that the first federal government program to support charters was developed by President Bill Clinton, Ravitch points out they received $100 million in funding under George W. Bush, and expanded even further under Obama’s RTTT, a competition offering $4.3 billion in aid only to those states that lifted their caps on charters.

In addition to direct funding of charters, the federal government also now provides tax breaks to encourage banks and individuals to invest in charter school construction. For example, the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000 includes a credit allowing investors in charter school construction to collect a “safe and reliable return of 39% over seven years.” Real estate investment trusts have joined the bandwagon. Ravitch cites the statement of David Brain, head of the $3 billion Entertainment Properties Trust, pointing to the development of 500 charter schools a year as a “$2.5 billion opportunity.”

Ravitch details the growth of the for-profit model of charter school, now most dominant in Michigan, and the use of education management organizations (EMOs) to skim off large portions of taxpayers’ money even when the school is purportedly not-for-profit. At the time of writing the book there were about 200 different EMOs operating in 28 states. She emphasizes that charter schools are deregulated and free from most state laws other than those governing health and safety. In Louisiana, the author states, the deregulation is so extreme that even teacher certification is not required.

The chapter “Trouble in E-land” is a good look at the growth of virtual charter schools and the mushrooming of this, the most rapacious for-profit sector of education. She documents how “education technology companies, Wall Street equity funds, and school choice advocates combined to promote online schooling.”

In sum, Ravitch scathingly characterizes the net effect of NCLB and RTTT—of Bush and Obama—as a retrograde “redefinition” of the entire education landscape in the US. This is exactly on point. But what does she make of it?

Ravitch’s history and experience provide her with a certain insight, but they are also the source of her fatal limitation as a critic. She speaks to the rise of poverty, social inequality and the predations of the moneyed elite as the fundamental source of the problem but refuses to ever consider the root cause of these phenomena—the capitalist profit system.

The author says Reign of Error was intended to address the criticism that her previous volume was “short on answers.” To this point, she spends a significant amount of time making the case for such elemental necessities as prenatal care for every pregnant woman, universal high-quality preschool, universal immunizations, reduction of class sizes and ending poverty. But the clear message—despite her detailed enumeration of the bipartisan assault on education—is that “grassroots” pressure can bring forward the right bourgeois candidate to address these needs.

Such futile efforts have led her time and again to contradict the clear meaning of her own devastating exposures and to undermine their seriousness. Despite Obama’s full-throated embrace of corporate “reform” and his obvious opposition to all the above policies, Ravitch pressed him repeatedly to “change course”. She questioned “whether President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Congress will hear their [teachers’] message” about equitable funding of public schools and an end to high-stakes testing, as if the answer weren’t already clear. Reign of Error evinces her bitter disappointment that Obama “doubled down” on the now-infamous NCLB, enthusiastically validating vouchers, charters, privatization and CCSS. Yet she endorsed him for re-election in 2012—a fact conveniently omitted in the book .

The author’s record amounts to not just one, but a string of endorsements for the liberal “flavor of the day” capitalist politician …yesterday Obama, today New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or California Governor Jerry Brown. She never anticipates or takes responsibility for their inevitable attacks on education and the working class.

So why does Ravitch choose to wear political blinders? The author’s allegiance to the legacy of former American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker—who she favorably mentions several times in Reign of Error—speaks volumes about her politics. Shanker was a rabid anticommunist, notorious for his hardline support for the Vietnam War and CIA subversion campaigns around the world. His policies domestically, in line with the AFL-CIO in general, were just as pro-capitalist. In 1983, Shanker shocked teachers by endorsing A Nation at Risk.

Formerly a board member of the Albert Shanker Institute, Ravitch counts as her “good friend” AFT President Randi Weingarten, who recently travelled to Kiev, lending her support to the Western-backed fascist-led coup that installed an anti-Russian government in Ukraine. In the US, Weingarten, a fervent supporter of Obama and the Democrats, has collaborated with Gates and other enemies of public education while suppressing the struggles of teachers, parents and students against school closings and other attacks.

Far from opposing the corporate restructuring of public education Weingarten and the other highly paid executives who run the teachers unions only want to be included in the process. This is encapsulated in the AFT slogan, “School reform with us, not against us.”

Reign of Error whitewashes the betrayal of the Chicago teachers’ strike in 2012, ignoring the fact that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called off the struggle right at the point when it threatened to expand into a wider political movement against Obama’s war on public education. The betrayal paved the way for the shutting of scores of schools and the destruction of thousands of teachers’ jobs in Chicago, inspiring Democratic mayors in Philadelphia, Washington DC and other cities to follow suit.

In other words, Ravitch is aligned with the very same forces that are aiding and abetting the corporate-political attack on public education. A fervent opponent of socialism, she advances a perspective that is nothing more than a political trap to keep teachers and other workers tied to the Democratic Party, the trade unions and the profit system they serve.

Reign of Error fails to answer why the destruction of public education has become the consensus policy over the last three decades, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican occupies the White House.

The fact that this is the case—and moreover, that the attack on education is occurring around the globe—shows that the answer lies not simply in the decisions of this or that politician or political party but far more objective causes.

Under conditions of a decades-long economic decline and growth of unprecedented levels of social inequality, the corporate and financial elite sees the continued funding of public education—for a generation of young people who will be largely condemned to a future of unemployment, low-paying jobs and war—as an intolerable burden it will no longer bear.

The democratic and egalitarian principle embodied in public education—that every human being, regardless of socio-economic background, can learn and has the inalienable right to high-quality education—is incompatible with the staggering levels of social inequality produced by capitalism. The vast improvement of public education, the elimination of poverty and other social ills, will not be achieved by appealing to the powers-that-be but only through abolishing the profit system and freeing up the resources necessary to raise the material and cultural level of society as a whole.

That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from the damning exposures contained in this book.

Chicago Public Schools lays off 1,150 workers

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/06/27/chic-j27.html

In the latest attack on public education in the city of Chicago, Illinois, the city’s public school system is laying off more than one thousand workers, including teachers, teacher assistants and school staff.

Layoff notices were given to 550 teachers and 600 other workers Thursday. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) encouraged teachers to reapply for jobs elsewhere in the district, positions that typically receive lower pay.

The city has not revealed what schools or neighborhoods are affected by the latest round of layoffs. Most teachers were notified individually by phone that they have lost their positions. Additionally, three public schools have been slated for “turnaround” this year—a process in which all teachers and staff at a so-called “failing” school are laid off and the schools are turned over to a private management company. In 2014, 176 teachers and staff have lost jobs in “turnarounds.”

Even according to official reports, only 60 percent of laid-off teachers get rehired at CPS. Many teachers leave CPS to seek work in the suburbs. Many more have left the profession entirely. Nationwide, 300,000 teaching positions were eliminated between 2008 and 2013, with 11,000 layoffs in December 2013 alone.

CPS officially attributed the layoffs to declining school enrollments. The district uses the highest student-teacher ratio in the United States, at 31 students per classroom. One year ago, Chicago closed 50 schools, affecting the jobs of some 3,000 teachers, citing declining enrollment.

Overcrowding continues to be a problem. Far more than the 50 closed schools were impacted by the consolidation process, which contributed to serious classroom overcrowding problems and teacher overwork, in addition to forcing students to travel greater distances, some through dangerous neighborhoods, in order to get to school.

The Obama administration’s aggressive privatization of public schools, led in Chicago by former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, is extremely unpopular. At the same time, Democratic and Republican politicians have moved to slash city and state workers’ pensions as part of an overall attack on the working class.

The bipartisan plan to gut public education could not have moved forward in Chicago without the assistance of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The CTU cleared the path for a wave of school closings and teacher firings when it shut down the 2012 teachers’ strike, attempting to prevent a political fight with its allies in the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

As in other cities throughout the country, the institution of public education is under sustained attack, with teacher and staff layoffs accompanied by the shutting down of public schools and the opening up of charters. A legislative report this week noted that since 2011, the district has opened 33 new charter schools with seats for more than 23,000 students as it was closing publicly run schools for “underutilization.” The city has approved the development of seven new charters in 2014.

The layoffs announced yesterday are the fourth time in the past five years where more than 1,000 CPS employees lost their jobs in the summer. More layoffs may come before the fall as CPS principals finalize budgets for individual schools.

Detroit water shutoffs violate human rights

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/06/27/pers-j27.html

An agency of the United Nations issued a statement Wednesday condemning the shutoff of water to thousands of residents of the city of Detroit.

“Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,” the statement read. It was signed by three representatives of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: an anti-poverty advocate from Canada, and law professors from Colombia and the United States.

The OCHCR concerns itself with gross violations of human rights, including torture, capital punishment, racial oppression and the abuse of women and children, as well as mass starvation, epidemics and the social consequences of flood, drought and other natural disasters. Most of its reports and statements deal with the impoverished countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is rare for this agency to issue a statement about conditions of daily life in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

That the social conditions in Detroit have become the subject of a declaration by a UN human rights panel, made in response to an appeal from various local organizations, is an expression of the staggering decay of social conditions in the city, once the center of American manufacturing.

The moves to shut off thousands of people from water is part of the bankruptcy and restructuring of Detroit, under the leadership of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began mass disconnection of water services from households more than two months behind on their bills—owing as little as $150.

More than 7,500 homes have been disconnected so far, and DWSD has set a goal of increasing the rate of disconnection to 3,000 customers per week. Ultimately, this could affect 150,000 customers, nearly half the households in the city, who have fallen behind on water bills under conditions of widespread poverty, unemployment, and cutbacks in food stamps, unemployment compensation and other forms of aid.

According to the water department, two-thirds of those cut off service pay their bills within 48 hours. This does not mean, as city officials claim, that these are people who would not, rather than could not, pay their bills. It only means that under threat of shutoff, money that would have gone to pay rent or utilities, buy food, or keep a car running to get to a low-paid job, went instead to keep the water on.

And that still leaves one-third of those shut off, unable even with a gun at their heads to get the money to restore their water service. What does it mean to live without running water in a modern society? You can’t take a shower, cook a meal, wash your hands or use the toilet. These conditions are extraordinarily dangerous from a public health standpoint, particularly for children, the elderly and the sick or disabled. Yet so acute is the economic and social crisis of American capitalism that tens of thousands of people in a major city now face such degrading conditions.

From a historical standpoint, the mass water shutoffs represent an unprecedented retrogression. Water and sewage service as a public utility was essential in the development of urban life in the 19th century and throughout the 20th century, banishing such diseases as cholera and dysentery, which once took thousands of lives every year.

Detroit symbolizes the long-term decline of American capitalism—and the ruthless avarice of the financial aristocracy that runs society. In the 1950s, workers in the Motor City had the highest standard of living of any in the world.

Today the city is in bankruptcy, ruled by a state-appointed financial overseer and a federal judge, with the public schools largely dismantled, pensions and health benefits for city workers gutted, and the assets of the city—from the paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts, to the sewage plant on the Detroit River, to the water department itself—being primed to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

As in Detroit, so in the rest of the country. Since the 2008 crisis, the ruling class, under the leadership of the Obama administration, has orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth—a policy mirrored in all the major capitalist countries. Every remaining social right of the working class is being eliminated—health care, public education, pensions, transportation and water. Mass unemployment and poverty are the norm.

The banks and financial institutions live a parasitic existence, amassing wealth on the basis of social misery. Just this week, the Commerce Department reported that the economic output fell at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter of this year—a sign of continuing, and indeed deepening, economic slump.

Yet the stock markets have continued their upward march, confident that the government will keep open the supply of cheap cash. Ever greater sums of wealth are simply funneled back into new speculative ventures, combined with an intensification of the wrecking operation targeting basic social infrastructure.

The consequences of these conditions are not hard to calculate. The ruling class has thoroughly discredited its own political rule, while exposing the historical bankruptcy of the social system, capitalism, upon which it rests.

Patrick Martin

John Boehner’s Lawsuit Is The First Step In A Republican Plot to Impeach Obama

from http://www.politicususa.com/2014/06/25/john-boehners-lawsuit-step-republican-plot-impeach-president-obama.html

"Capehart writes what everyone knows about the Republican plan to crush President Obama, “The plan all along has been to crash the Obama agenda and then climb on top of the wreckage and seize power. Not only are Republicans complicit in the “failures” they rail against, but they are also the reason the president has had to resort to executive action to get some things done. Even (George) Will agrees Obama is within his authority to do this. He just doesn’t like the degree to which he has done it.”"

rest at http://www.politicususa.com/2014/06/25/john-boehners-lawsuit-step-republican-plot-impeach-president-obama.html

A White Man In Hollywood Thinks Political Correctness Is Overrated

from http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/06/24/3452302/another-white-man-in-hollywood-thinks-political-correctness-is-overrated/

"How many times must we have the same conversation? How many different ways can we say that nobody — in this case a cis, straight, white male — has the right to minimize the experiences of historically oppressed communities? No, we will not “take a fucking joke and get over” racism, homophobia, and blatant misogyny, because institutionalized discrimination is still a reality. And the history of those words haven’t lost their meaning over time."

rest at http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/06/24/3452302/another-white-man-in-hollywood-thinks-political-correctness-is-overrated/

Obama Saves Students, Boehner Mad as Hell

from http://bluenationreview.com/obama-saves-students-boehner-mad-hell/

The presidential Pen and Phone strike again – this time, to help college graduates get ahead, or at least back to even.

In the latest countermeasure to Congressional Republicans blocking his agenda, President Obama signed an executive order to lift the student-loan burden from about 5 million people, capping the debt repayments at ten percent of the borrower’s income.

The move is intended to eliminate one of the biggest drivers of personal bankruptcies and a drag on a sluggish economy.

In a brief White House ceremony, the president – flanked by several young people grappling with student loan debt as high as six figures – used the occasion to call out GOP hypocrisy when it comes to doling out financial breaks to the truly needy. The order, he said, will be paid for by closing personal and corporate tax loopholes backed by Republicans.

“It would be scandalous if we allowed those kinds of tax loopholes for the very, very fortunate to survive while students are having trouble just getting started in their lives,” the president said at the White House ceremony Tuesday. “If you’re a big oil company they’ll go to bat for you. If you’re a student, good luck.’

“Some of these Republicans in Congress seem to believe that just because some of the young people behind me need some help, that they’re not trying hard enough,” he said.

He’ll follow up on the order with a Q-and-A session on Tumblr tomorrow.

The order directs Education Secretary Arne Duncan to amend the department’s student-loan regulation for the payment ceiling. The White House wants the amendments to be enacted for borrowers by December 2015.

Though the executive order circumvents Congress, Obama has at least one Capitol Hill ally in this fight: Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Warren, a long-time consumer-rights champion and hero of progressives, is sponsoring a bill that would help student borrowers refinance their loans. Obama – who tapped Warren to set up the CFPB during his first term – endorsed the bill during the ceremony and alluded to it in his weekly national address.

White House aides say the president’s executive order will allow an additional 5 million borrowers with federal student loans to cap their monthly payments at 10 percent of their income. It also helps make college more affordable at a time when more jobs require a diploma just to get an interview.

Since the 1980s, the average tuition at a public four-year college has more than tripled, but family incomes are stagnant, according to a White House fact sheet. More students than ever are relying on loans to pay for college: 71 percent of undergraduates leave school an average of $29,400 in debt, starting their careers with payments that can eat up as much as a rent or mortgage payment.

While the executive order – and tag-teaming with Warren on a companion bill, due for a procedural vote this week – can have a financial impact on students, it also has political ramifications that perhaps Obama hopes can begin to reverse his underwater poll ratings.

By flexing some presidential muscle, Obama is pressuring Congress to pass this White House agenda item, signalling that his pen-and-phone strategy will continue to be an option, and hopefully expose GOP lawmakers as obstructionist.

rest at http://bluenationreview.com/obama-saves-students-boehner-mad-hell/

Obama To Endorse Elizabeth Warren’s Student Loan Proposal

from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/06/obama-elizabeth-warren-st_n_5461988.html

President Barack Obama on Monday will throw his support behind a new proposal to dramatically revamp the federal student loan program, according to the White House.

A bill proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would allow borrowers to potentially save thousands of dollars by giving them a chance to effectively pay off their high-rate existing loans in exchange for new loans that carry substantially lower interest rates.

The Obama administration initially was hesitant to fully embrace the bill because of disagreements over how to pay for it. But with mounting pressure from advocacy groups, and with a renewed political focus on issues confronting working families, the president has softened his opposition. Obama’s endorsement would be the latest recognition to date of the ascendance of Warren-style populism within the Democratic Party.

An administration official told The Huffington Post that Obama is expected to "call for passage of the refinancing bill" when it comes up for a vote, as it is scheduled to do next week.

Student groups and other organizations focusing on younger Americans enthusiastically support Warren’s bill, under which new interest rates would range from 3.86 percent for loans taken out by borrowers when they were undergraduates to 6.41 percent for parents who took out loans for their children’s college tuition, as well as for borrowers who took out loans to pay for graduate school.

The financial industry, perhaps not surprisingly, is less enamored with the proposal. The bill would allow borrowers to refinance loans owned by the private sector into new loans made by the Education Department. Paying off loans early deprives lenders of future interest income, causing paper losses.

Republicans appear to be dead set against enacting the proposal into law, but for different reasons. The Democrats proposed to offset the loss of future federal revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy — a pay-for idea that is anathema in conservative circles.

rest http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/06/obama-elizabeth-warren-st_n_5461988.html