Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How the Billionaire Boys Club Paved the Way for Betsy DeVos | Diane Ravitch's blog

How the Billionaire Boys Club Paved the Way for Betsy DeVos | Diane Ravitch's blog:

How the Billionaire Boys Club Paved the Way for Betsy DeVos

I wrote an article for the online version of the Chronicle of Philanthropy about how the big foundations paved the way for Betsy DeVos’ nihilistic campaign to privatize public education. I wanted it to be in a journal that foundations across the nation read. It is available only to subscribers.
Opinion: Blame Big Foundations for Assault on Public Education
By Diane Ravitch
President-elect Donald Trump has promised to reallocate $20 billion in federal funds to promote charter schools and private-school vouchers. He has selected Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos — who has long devoted her philanthropic efforts to advocating for charters and vouchers — as the next secretary of education. After the election, her American Federation for Children boasted of spending nearly $5 million on candidates that support school choice, not public schools.
Currently, 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit corporations, due in no small part to Ms. DeVos and her husband, Amway heir Dick DeVos. These schools represent a $1 billion industry that produces results no better than do public schools, according to a yearlong Detroit Free Press investigation. The DeVoses recently made $1.45 million in campaign contributions to Michigan lawmakers who blocked measures to hold charters accountable for performance or financial stability.
With Ms. DeVos in charge of federal education policy, the very future of public education in the United States is at risk. How did we reach this sorry state? Why should a keystone democratic institution be in jeopardy?
I hold foundations responsible.
Extremist Attacks
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation have promoted charter schools and school choice for the past decade. They laid the groundwork for extremist attacks on public schools. They legitimized taxpayer subsidies for privately managed charters and for “school choice,” which paved the way for vouchers. (Indeed, as foundations spawned thousands of charter schools in the past decade, nearly half of the states endorsed voucher programs.)
At least a dozen more foundations have joined the Big Three, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund.
For years these groups have argued that, one, public schools are “failing”; two, we must save poor children from these failing schools; three, they are failing because of bad teachers; four, anyone with a few weeks of training can teach as well, or better. It’s a simple, easily digestible narrative, and it’s wrong.
To begin with, our public schools are not failing. Where test scores are low, there is high poverty and concentrated racial segregation. Test scores in affluent and middle-income communities are high. The U.S. rank on international standardized tests has been consistent (and consistently average) since those tests began being offered in the 1960s, but the countries with higher scores never surpassed us economically.
The big foundations refused to recognize the limitations of standardized testing and its correlation with family income. Look at SAT scores: Students whose families have high incomes do best; those from impoverished families have the lowest scores. The foundations choose to ignore the root causes of low test scores and instead blame the teachers at schools in high-poverty areas.
Follow the Money
Major foundations put their philanthropic millions into three strategies:
They funded independently run charter schools, which are a form of privatization.
Some, notably the Gates Foundation, invested in evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores.
They gave many millions to Teach for America, which undermines the profession by leading young college graduates to think they can be good teachers with only five weeks of training.
Many of the philanthropists behind the foundations have also used their own money to underwrite political candidates and state referenda aimed at advancing charters and school choice. Bill Gates and his allies spent millions to pass a referendum in Washington State authorizing charter schools; it failed three times before winning in 2012 by 1 percent of the vote. After the state Supreme Court denied taxpayer funding to charters, on the grounds that they are not public schools because they are not overseen by elected school boards, three justices who joined the majority ruling faced electoral challengers bankrolled by Mr. Gates and his friends. (The incumbents easily won re-election.)
The Walton Family Foundation claims to have launched one-quarter of the charter schools in the District of Columbia. It has pledged to spend $200 million annually for at least the next five years on opening new charters. Individual family members have spent millions on pro-school choice candidates and ballot questions. This year they joined other out-of-state billionaires like Michael Bloomberg in contributing $26 million to support a Massachusetts referendum that would authorize a dozen new charters a year, indefinitely. It lost, 62 percent to 38 percent. Only 16 of the state’s 351 school districts voted “yes”; the “no vote” was strongest How the Billionaire Boys Club Paved the Way for Betsy DeVos | Diane Ravitch's blog:

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