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Charter schools, common core and the corporate coup in education

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 11:02 a.m. CDT

Although the recent court decision striking down tenure for public school teachers has been viewed from many angles on op-ed pages, as Mark Palko points out in the Washington Post (Vergara vs. California: Are the top 0.1 percent buying their version of education reform?” June 23), almost nobody’s paying attention to the fact that virtually the whole gamut of “public education reform” comes out of billionaire-funded think tanks.

David Coleman, who with the help of Gene Wilhoit formulated the “Common Core” curriculum, claims as his major qualification a background as management consultant at McKinsey & Company. He personifies, as Palko puts it elsewhere (“Being a management consultant who does not suffer fools is like being an EMT who faints at the sight of blood,” West Coast Stat Views, April 1), an education reform movement dominated by “Taylorism, MBA thinking and CEO worship.”

In yet another commentary (“Understanding McKinsey,” West Coast Stat Views, June 13), Palko says Coleman worked the Common Core movement in typical McKinsey fashion. McKinsey’s style is to provide expensive services that can be duplicated much more effectively in-house, to drive a wedge between senior management and everyone below them, and to convince the boys in the C-Suite that actual production workers are lazy incompetents who need to be micromanaged and downsized.

And that’s exactly the approach Coleman took to Common Core. Instead of building grassroots support, he approached the richest former CEO in America, Bill Gates, enlisting his help in selling it to the U.S. Department of Education and imposing it on school districts top-down. The Common Core approach starts with the assumption that rank-and-file teachers are an enemy to be threatened and micromanaged into shaping up, and flatters public school administrators into siding with  Common Core wonks against teachers.

Anyone familiar with Friedrich Hayek knows that imposing top-down decrees on those who actually work, ignoring their body of situation-based knowledge, is exactly the wrong thing to do. In fact, besides having almost no teachers in its membership, the committee that set the Common Core standards was made up overwhelmingly of standardized test designers.

The same billionaires, billionaire-funded foundations and government “educrats” behind Common Core are also behind the push for charter schools. The country’s highest saturation of charter schools is in New Orleans, where the post-Katrina vacuum gave corporate interests and real estate developers the opening they needed to ethnically cleanse and gentrify the city and corporatize taxpayer-funded services.

Sadly, charter schools are quite popular among many right-leaning libertarians, who inexplicably see them as more “free market” than plain vanilla public schools. Maybe it’s because they’re not union-friendly — as if the pointy-haired government bureaucrats in the school district administration offices were somehow closer to the taxpayer than the teachers actually teaching the taxpayers’ kids. Charter schools are funded by the same tax money as the regular public schools and exist as part of the same state educational monopoly, regulated by the same people.

If you want to know the philosophy behind the corporate education “reform” movement and where the needs and desires of the students themselves fit into it, you can’t do better than listening to the words of the “reformers” themselves. Coleman stated that “as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a darn about what you feel or what you think. … It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”

But it should come as no surprise that children are the raw material, not the clients. Both Common Core and charter schools were created to make the education system more effective at “educating children for the global economy,” grading and sorting them into the kind of input that most closely meets the needs of corporate HR departments.

Common Core and charter schools are just one aspect of a system in which the state counters the corporate economy’s tendency toward falling profits by subsidizing all its major inputs. In this case, it processes the entire human population of our society, at taxpayer expense, into obedient servants for corporate masters. Whatever you want to call that, it’s not a free market policy.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

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