Thursday, March 9, 2017

Media Consensus on ‘Failing Schools’ Paved Way for DeVos | By Molly Knefel | Common Dreams

Media Consensus on ‘Failing Schools’ Paved Way for DeVos | By Molly Knefel | Common Dreams:

Media Consensus on ‘Failing Schools’ Paved Way for DeVos

The nomination of billionaire voucher enthusiast Betsy DeVos for secretary of Education comes after nearly two decades of a largely bipartisan consensus around “education reform.” That consensus, repeated for years in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, posits, first and foremost, that public schools are failing.
They are, the narrative goes, especially failing the nation’s most vulnerable students. That failure is presented, by education reformers and corporate media pundits alike, not as a result of inequality or poverty or resource scarcity, but of public education itself. The solution, pioneered by pro-privatization reformers and repeated by newspapers since the George W. Bush years, sounds both innocuous and innovative: school choice.
As a result of the uncritical consensus around school choice, major papers like the Times and the Post are unable to report on an extremist figure like DeVos—whose pro-voucher and pro-charter advocacy fits comfortably within the school-choice ethos—without ceding even more ground to the corporate education reform movement. “School choice” is not as value-neutral as it sounds: It is a buzzword not only for the expansion of charter schools and vouchers, but for the divestment of public funds away from public education and into the private sector.
The spectrum of opinions on DeVos presented in corporate media range from skepticism to enthusiasm, but school choice itself is unquestioned. The basic premise of education reform—that privatization is the solution—is taken as a given when papers repeatedly use the language of corporate reform. This leaves them questioning only the extent of that privatization, by way of charters or vouchers or both.
Even where coverage of DeVos has been critical—and much of it has, especially since her confirmation hearing—major papers parrot the language of corporate ed reformers. From the New York Times (1/12/17):
But school choice means different things to different people. Many educators and groups that support charter schools—which are public—do not support vouchers, which steer public money away from public schools by giving families money to spend on private school tuition.
That charter schools are “public” is a talking point put forward by the charter sector. Oversight of charter school performance varies widely state by state. They are run by non-profit organizations and sometimes for-profit companies. Their employees do not have the same rights as public-sector employees. They do not serve proportionate numbers of students with disabilities. They suspend black students at four times the rate of white students, and suspend students with disabilities at rates 2–3 times higher than their non-disabled peers, as the Times itself reported last year (3/16/16).
For the Times to repeat the claim that charter schools are public is an ideological choice, one that erases what makes public schools “public”—particularly, their requirement to serve all students. So-called “public charter schools” may be free, but they aren’t public institutions in terms of funding, employment, regulation or the populations they serve.
Ed reformers and their mouthpieces in corporate media present school choice as the great equalizer. “The only people who do not enjoy this right are those who are too poor to move out of neighborhoods where public schools are failing,” wrote Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt (1/1/17). He suggested that the federal government should Media Consensus on ‘Failing Schools’ Paved Way for DeVos | By Molly Knefel | Common Dreams:

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