Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Death by a Thousand Cuts: Privatization in American Education

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Death by a Thousand Cuts
Privatization in education has been slow but steady. It’s already crippling many public schools.

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When champions of market-based reform in the United States look at public education, they see two separate activities — the government funds education and the government runs schools. The first is okay with them; the second is not. Reformers want to replace their bête noir — the “monopoly of government-run schools” — with freedom of choice in a competitive market dominated by privately run schools that get government subsidies. Public funding, private management — the four words sum up American-style privatization whether applied to airports, prisons, or elementary and secondary schools.
In the last twenty years, the “ed-reform” movement has assembled a mixed bag of players and policies, complicated by alliances of convenience and half-hidden agendas. Donald Trump’s election and his choice of zealot privatizer Betsy DeVos as US secretary of education bolstered reformers but has also made more Americans wary. What follows is a survey of the controversial movement — where it came from, how it grew, and what it has delivered so far to a nation deeply divided by race and class.

The Backstory in Brief
In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, consensus grew around an expansive vision of education in which government plays a far-reaching role: schooling should be government funded and administered, universal, and compulsory until a certain age. In a nation that was increasingly industrialized and home to new immigrants, citizens expected public schools to accomplish a great deal, including impart general knowledge and practical skills, prepare young people psychologically and socially for self-sufficient adult lives, educate for democratic citizenship, unify a diverse population, and create opportunity for upward mobility. Over time, many Americans came to regard public education as a mainstay of democracy.

The US constitution makes no mention of education, so the federal government had no specified role to play. Since the earliest days of the republic, local and state authorities shaped elementary and secondary (K-12) public education. Racial segregation in schools, which became the law in seventeen states and the norm almost everywhere else, was also a local and state matter. This did not change until 1954 when the US supreme court ruled that racially segregated public schools were “inherently unequal” and therefore unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka).
When the federal government stepped in to enforce school desegregation, it met with fierce resistance. After several years of minimal progress, federal authorities resorted to court-ordered desegregation plans, which they imposed on school districts across the country, not only in the South. For the first time, government at the highest level assumed a significant role in K-12 schooling. In the mid-1960s and 1970s, the federal role expanded to include protecting the civil rights of all students and offering financial assistance to public schools with high percentages of low-income students.
In the 1980s, the political climate shifted. An international renaissance of laissez-faire economics, updated as “neoliberalism,” challenged the dominant Keynesian model of regulated markets. Governments around the world began to act on a suite of neoliberal principles: competition and choice in the free market are the best organizing principles for most human activity because they produce greater efficiency and higher quality; the role of government is to provide a framework that allows the market to function freely; most other government activity merely clogs the system with bureaucracy and special interests. Ruling elites believed that implementing these principles would solve high Continue reading: Death by a Thousand Cuts



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