Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Scorched Earth Education Policy (Charters, Watch Your Flank)

This is you should ignore the old admonition to not read the comments.

I converse with plenty of folks that I disagree with, both in the ed policy world and outside of it, and those conversations are largely civil, which sometimes distracts me from the fact that there are people out there who hate, hate, hate public education ("government schools") and the teachers who work there  ("union thugs").

I meet them, some days, on Twitter. On Facebook, there are groups that sprung up in the days of "Let's all get together and fight Common Core" that are now dominated by folks who rail daily against teachers and unions and public schools and how we should just burn it all down until there's nothing left but homeschooling and church schools (Christian ones, of course).

Of course, these days, you don't have to dig so deep to find these virulently anti-public-ed folks. Here's the Attorney General of the Freakin' United States of America, declaring that our country is under assault in an "organized destruction" of the foundational values of our society (by which he means the Judeo-Christian ones). And "ground zero" of the assault is US public schools. Attorney General Barr, the head law enforcement official of the United States of America has called out public schools as everything just short of "enemies of the people."

Meanwhile, the author of a new book about the Koch political empire tells us that what the Kochs want from public education is simple-- they want it to go away. Talking to Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider at the Have You Heard podcast, Christopher Leonard summed it up like this:

Here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

Barr's opinion is not exactly unique in the current administration where the State Department front page featured a speech from Secretary Pompeo about Christian leadership. And it's no secret that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is long focused on "kingdom gains." The government-run school system needs to be broken up, and a privatized system, built mostly of church-run schools, should be put in its place.

These are not fringe positions. There are plenty of people out there who agree with the Kochs or the theocrats or both, cognitive dissonance be damned.

With that in mind, I wonder if some reformsters aren't making the same mistake that Common Core supporters made.

Common Core fans like Jeb Bush thought they just had to worry about those damned liberals and lefties. They were shocked and surprised by the uproar on the right (an uproar so huge that progressive core opponents occasionally had to jump up and down and holler "Us too!") that they never quite recovered; they couldn't quite shift to their right flank fast enough.

Charter proponents have likewise focused on their left flank. They carefully cultivated alliances with card-carrying Democrats, ginned up DFER, and even now, keep trying to sell the idea that Real Democrats like charters. They are insistent that charters be called "public" charters because, doggonit, they are, too, public schools.

I'm wondering if they might not live to regret that. I wonder if they're not concentrating on the wrong flank.

The scorched earth crowd is not interested in tweaking public education. Folks like DeVos see charters as a nice stepping stone to the true goal, but no more. This, incidentally, is not really news. Charter fans stepped up to oppose DeVos's nomination, and charter fans are about the only group that DeVos attempted to make nice with when she took the office. But that truce seems unlikely to last.

The scorched earth crowd represents an alliance much like that which birthed the Tea Party-- religious conservatives and libertarian-ish money righties. While that's a hard alliance to hold together, on the matter of public schools, they're in agreement (even if it doesn't entirely make sense)-- public schools need to go. People are attached to them, so it's not possible to attack them head on. Some patience and rhetorical flourish is necessary. DeVos's "Education Freedom" proposal is a fine example-- it's about vouchers, not charters, and she's been quite clear that it's money that can be spent many ways, not just in a "school."

I don't find it at all difficult to imagine a future in which the scorched earth folks work to take down charter schools right along with the public system (the one that charters insist they're part of). If I were a scorched earth person, my plan would be first to split the funding stream into several streams (public this way, vouchers over there) and then just slowly pinch off the public stream. The techniques that we've already seen work just fine-- starve the schools, create a measure to show that they're failing, use their failure as justification for starving them further.

Charters, meanwhile, have been flipping through a stack of index cards looking for a justification that will work. They don't get superior academic results. They don't close the achievement gap. They don't create competition that makes everyone improve. These days they've settled on the argument that choice is the right thing to do in and of itself, but that argument serves vouchers far better than charters, which scorched earth folks can paint as just an appendage of those same damned gummint schools (hell, some of those charter teachers have even unionized).

And Espinoza v. Montana is on the Supreme Court docket, a case that would shatter the wall between church and state in education. Why send a kid to a charter when you can go straight to a church school. That would become one more charter problem-- why would voucher fans stick with voucher lite when they can get the real thing?

Ultimately, scorched earth ed policy would involve choking the revenue stream for everybody, because one of the things they hate about public education is those damned taxes. In one version of the scorched earth education future, there are just tax credits-- wealthy patrons support their educational vendor of choice instead of paying taxes, and everyone else just scrapes by. As traditional tax revenue is choked off, charters get caught in the same vice as public school, with too little money to serve underserved communities. That's okay with the DeVos's and Kochs and other folks who, at heart, disagree with the notion of elevating the Lessers. Society works better when everyone accepts their proper place (that either God or economics have called them to) and all these socialist attempts to help people rise above their station are both expensive and against natural law. If some people end up getting little or no real education in this system, well, that's just too bad-- they shouldn't have chosen to be poor and powerless.

I've called charters the daylight savings time of ed reform, like trying to reposition on too-small blanket on a too-large bed, arguing about who gets covered instead of shopping for a bigger blanket. But the scorched earth folks approach is "I'll buy a blanket for my kids and you buy one for yours. We'll just use our personal resources and you use yours and we'll just keep that thieving, interfering gummint out of it. Good luck, and enjoy your freedom!"

Charter schools would end up on the wrong side of all of this if they fail to watch their right flanks. And all of the US suffers if the scorched earth education crowd manages any level of what they call success. But do not underestimate them; they are out there, and they are pissed.


Are State Takeovers A Useful Tool

Earlier this month, the 74 published an unusual article from  Ashley Jochim and Paul Hill, both of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Their argument is that state takeovers of school districts "remain a powerful tool."

What's exceptional about the piece is that it is loaded with evidence to the contrary. I mean, ordinarily I would have had to go hunt this stuff down myself, but it's right here in the piece. Tennessee, having pioneered the Achievement School District model for state school takeover and having proven thavte model doesn't actually work, is finally backing away from the whole idea. Ohio's state takeover law has created some real disasters, and the legislatures is wrestling with getting rid of it, but in the meantime, it has hit pause on takeovers. Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia-- the list of states getting out of the takeover biz is growing.

There's the culprit
The authors acknowledge all of that. They acknowledge some of the criticisms, including those from conservative and even reform-friendly writers like Jay Greene, saying that takeovers are just overreach by distant bureaucrats and have a lousy track record. Plus, folks object to how state takeovers often seem to be part of dismantling public education, which is apparently a lefty position (some say we need to figure out how rejecting a foundational institution in society became a "conservative" idea).

Also, they note that state takeovers "can carry steep political costs," as in the way that takeovers of mostly black districts invariably result in the stifling of black voices. And takeovers can suppress union vices as well, which I'm pretty sure some folks see as a feature and not a bug.

Despite all this, the authors argue that states should keep takeovers in their bag of tricks anyway.

Their evidence? Well, none, really. Their argument is that there were no takeovers in the 1990s and schools were "unable to shake persistent low performance." Well, no. First, we'd need to clear up what exactly their basis for writing off the nineties is, and second, correlation does not equal causation. Even if 90s schools were low-performing, I can think of a few gazillion other variables that might explain it. The Bush administration. Home Alone came out. Game Boy. MTV stopped showing videos. Grunge. Cheers ended. Sonic the Hedgehog.

So why are takeovers worth keeping in use? Well, um. The report from which this article is spun is really a compendium of interviews with ten state education chiefs, which may well reveal msome details of takeover stories, but are unlikely to find a state official who  will say, "This particular power should be taken away from me and my successors." It offers some thoughts about how to do it properly, calling takeovers an "important but limited tool.

The report emphasizes that there has to be a local political base and an implementation oplan that involves lots of stakeholders. That is true-- the mess in Ohio is a fine example of how things go when takeovers are simply imposed by the state. But the Ohio examples illustrate an issue that the writers don't directly address-- your takeover law can't be dumb to begin with. The Ohio law (HB 70) puts one takeover czar in charge of every single aspect of running the school; he becomes the entire central office staff and the school board, and if he can also leap tall buildings in a single bound while taming unicorns, that would be good, too. Ohio's law is guaranteed to fail because A) it is imposed against the will of the local folks and B) it hinges on a person of superhuman expertise in every single aspect of running a school system. It could never be implemented well because you cannot implement a lousy law well.

The thing is, takeover laws tend to be lousy laws. The writers say "states cannot stand idly by while local districts struggle to meet the needs of students or taxpayers," but who is there in the state capital who knows more about how to run the East Egg school district that the people who live in East Egg and the professionals who work in those schools. I get it-- in some East Eggs the people don't appear to know enough. But who in the state capital knows more?

And is our premise in a takeover that the state does know how to run an awesome school district? And if so, why don't we just have them run all the school districts? Or are we saying that their expertise is only what's needed to turn a failing district into one that's good enough to get by- in which case, doesn't that indicate they aren't really up to the job? Because fixing a district in trouble is mostly a lot harder than running a district that's not in trouble. So why do we think the state has any of the expertise necessary to pull this off?

The writers also reveal one other aspect of takeovers by saying that it's good for the state to have that authority, even if they don't use it. In other words, state takeovers can serve as a motivational threat.

But states that abandon the tool "risk irrelevance." In other words, the writers (or their interviewees) don't envision the state's role as providing support or resources or otherwise partnering with local districts. Instead, it's more "Pay attention to me and treat me like I'm important or I will hit you with this stick." I'd suggest that if you have to resort to threats or otherwise force yourself into the relationship, you really are irrelevant.

Is there a role for the state? Sure. Enforce the law. For instance, stomp on districts that insist on segregating students and the providing non-white students with substandard resources. Provide districts with resources-- you could even ask them what they need, first. Be a partner. But this takeover nonsense hasn't worked, isn't working, and shows no signs of working in the future. Get some different tools.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Betsy DeVos, Polly Williams, Vouchers, And Selective Facts

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos kicked off her back to school tour at the Saint Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee a few weeks ago. This piece ran back then at Forbes, and I don't repost everything from there, but we've developed such goldfish memories under this administration, I'm going to trot this one out again here. Because we need to remember what the threat to public education is. 
The choice of location itself sent a message about what DeVos means by “freedom.” The school’s mission is “to disciple children for Christ, now and for all eternity, and to train them in excellence for their roles in their family, church, community, workplace and country,” and it is a longtime beneficiary of Wisconsin’s voucher program. Its core values are “Christ First, Biblical Discipleship, Sacrificial Love, and Radical Expectations.” It is not particularly unusual to find that a voucher-supported school is using public tax dollars in a private religious setting; in most voucher programs, the vast majority of taxpayers’ money is directed to religious schools
It’s not surprising that DeVos would support this. Years ago, she and her husband were clear that their hope for education was for “kingdom gain” and a return to the days when the church, and not the public school, was the center of the community.
Her speech on Monday is supportive of that vision, even as it elides some inconvenient facts.
Portions of the speech are simply allegations. She says that “too many students can’t read,” and she blames that on “the education cabal.” She discusses the average amount of money spent on students, but talking about averages in education finance is not very useful. As mathematician Ian Stewart observed, the average person has one breast and one testicle. The difference between per student spending in the richest and poorest districts in this country amounts to tens of thousands of dollars, and that gap is behind many of the educational issues in the U.S. Developing education policy based on average spending is as ineffective as permanently turning on the air conditioning in your home because the average annual temperature is 72.
DeVos says that administrative costs are eating up the money that should be spent on students, but school choice has not provided much of a solution to that problem. Research suggests that A) charters spend more on administrative costs than public schools and B) it may not matter.
DeVos invokes 8th grade NAEP scores as proof that public education “is not working,” yet there is ample reason to doubt that NAEP scores predict actual college readiness. She brings up the old issue of the mediocre US ranking on PISA scores, ignoring the fact that the US has always had mediocre PISA scores, seemingly without any dire national consequences.
DeVos also chose to invoke Annette “Polly” Williams, the mother of school choice in Wisconsin. The Democratic politician and activist wrote the first school choice legislation in the country (adopted in 1989) and became a popular speaker on the issue, particularly to conservative audiences.
But Williams became disenchanted with the school choice movement. Her original legislation did not include religious schools, but was expanded to do so five years later. Williams took to calling the voucher program a “Catholic movement.” She expressed displeasure with some of the folks, like Lamar Alexander and Bill Bennett, who swooped in to speak. She accused leaders of exploiting black and poor families, and of leaving poor families behind with the program expansion. 75% of voucher recipients were not escaping the public system, because they had never been in it. She was critical of education measures taken by Governor Scott Walker, whose supporters have included the DeVos family.
Williams told an interviewer, “Our intent was never to destroy the public schools.” When accused of drifting away from the movement, she would reply, “I haven’t changed. The people around me have changed.”
It’s an odd choice for DeVos to invoke Williams, who seems to have viewed folks like DeVos as having hijacked the charter movement. But DeVos seems determined to launch, or at least lay a foundation for, a national voucher program, and she’s going to paint a favorable picture with whatever brush she has handy.
Originally posted at Forbes.com

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fake Slaughter And The Liberal Arts

The interwebs are abuzz with a video shown in some side room by some assortment of Trumpists at the American Priority gathering held at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. There are questions about who brought it, who showed it, and how it had already been kicking around the internet, but there's no question that the whole thing is pretty brutal.

In the clip, a bunch of faces and logos have been cyber-pasted, Job-Jab style, onto a fight scene from the movie The Kingsman. As altered, it shows Trump kicking, stabbing, choking, shooting, and blowing the brains out of various enemies, from press organizations like CNN and even the BBC News, to individuals such as Barack Obama and John McCain. It is brutal and ugly (yes, even more brutal and ugly than Kathy Grffin's beheaded Trump), but at this point it's not entirely clear whether this was sanctioned and arranged by anyone with official standing, or whether some pair of sixteen-year-olds got all worked up by their copies of Atlas Shrugged and went rogue.

Either way, it's ugly, and its ugliness is about to be parsed at great length. So that's not where I'm headed.

Where I'm headed starts here-- the clip that all the faces and logos were pasted on is a clip from a mainstream film, a film often billed as an action-comedy. The movie is five years old, and was a middling success at the time. Nobody called it awesome, nobody called it terrible. But that scene of graphic, relentless and brutal slaughter was always there. The context doesn't really help-- both our hero (Colin Firth-- don't look, Pride and Prejudice fans) and the other  people in the church are triggered by a cell phone signal designed by the villain to make folks turn homicidal. But the film doesn't play it for horror; instead, the church is packed with intolerant religious racists, so it's "okay" to kill them (when religious folks complain that Hollywood picks on them, this might be something they have in mind).

Anyway, it's brutal. And the overlap between this movie's audience and the people alarmed by the "Trump murders his enemies"video may not be great.

But why, I'm asking, is this clip suddenly beyond the pale?

The answer, I think, is that the original was "just a movie," and the people getting slaughtered weren't real humans, but just objects to be mowed down. And that, I'm afraid, tells us something about the mindset of the people who made the Trump video (and the people who are, quietly now, rather tickled by it)-- that for them, the press and the opponents of Fearless Leader are not real people.

That's not a surprise. We are wired, most of us, to treat other humans decently, and so, Step One in treating others poorly is to find a way to see them as less than human. "I treat most people well, but he is one of those [your favorite epithet here]." One of our measures of character is how broad our definition of "people" is, how far it extends before a baseline of "people are those who are just like me." Another way to understand a sociopath or narcissist is to think of him as someone who sees himself as the only actual real person in the world.

The Trump Massacre clip is shocking (and awful and odious and indefensible) because it moves us from the realm  of "Just a movie and not real people" into the real of talking about real people doing awful things to other realm people. Why we didn't get to that place with the original film  (and others like it) is something we really ought to talk about as a culture, someday.

For me, this whole "only some people are real people" thing is part of what got us a Trump Presidency in the first place.

Allllll of this is my Exhibit A in Why Education Should Be More Than Vocational Training.

We are increasingly hearing the call to make education into vocational training, to focus on getting students skills that pay. Nothing else matters-- just crank out more well-trained meat widgets for Wonder Corp.

But a good education should include some other non-vocational pieces of broader learning:

There are other people in the world who are not like you and who may even be really wrong about some things, but they are still people.

The world was not always the way that it is now, and it will not stay this way, either.

People who disagree with you are not an existential threat to your existence.

None of that can be reduced to a skill or measured with a multiple choice standardized test. All of it maters. I am not even at the moment arguing for tolerance. Just a simple "that person is also a person" and "given a different set of circumstances you might be in her place." The kind of thing that might result in recognizing a shared humanity with a person that you are certain is a huge dope.

And for the love of God, please let's not try to reduce this to a special "program." Let's be conscious and mindful of it while teaching. Let it be part of how we approach literature and history-- as a chance to see into the hearts and minds of people Not Like Us. We don't have to love them or think that they're anything but completely wrong. But we have to understand that there is more to humanity than just our own centered perspective. We have to understand that deliberately hurting someone we disagree with or disapprove of or even hate is just as wrong as trying to deliberately hurt a loved one. Education should widen a person's experience and mind enough to make that understanding possible or more likely.

The earth is covered with millions of people, all different, but all actually equally real. We need a better fantasy than imagining we can just blow away all the others who bother us, and that means imaginations educated well enough to grasp all those possibities.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

ICYMI: Quiet Sunday Edition (10/13)

It's a quiet day in these parts, but there is still some reading to do from the previous week. Here are some pieces you might want to catch up on. Don't forget to share--

The Walton Takeover of Public Education Continues

The Arkansas blog looks at what our favorite retail oligarchs are up to in their home state.

Five Signs Your Reform Has Become Another Education Fad 

Rick Hess at EdWeek makes a useful point.

When Parents Shop For Schools, Students Can Suffer

Yeah, it turns out that the brave new world of education choice doesn't work as smoothly as Reformsters hoped. The Boston Globe takes a look.

Vanquishing the Windigo: Standing Up to Marc Tucker and Digital Capitalism  

From Wrench in the Gears, some more connecting of various reform digital dots.

Racists in one of America's richest counties are freaking out over forced bussing  

Oh, this is just ugly and depressing. What century is it again? Mother Jones has the story from Maryland.

The biggest lie tech people tell themselves — and the rest of us    

Spoiler alert: it's that all of these bright new ideas and inventions are inevitable evolution. But evolution is a terrible metaphor for technology, and we don't have to do some of this stupid stuff, argues Rose Evelth at Vox. This might be the must-read of the week.

Texas and the portfolio model  

One more state wants to try this dumb idea. The Texas Tribune takes a look at how it's worked out in other places, and who's pushing it in the Lone Star State.

The DC Voucher Story Finds Its Way To The Silver Stream-- Sort Of 

Another inspiration ed reform movie will be coming out. The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has done the research and let's us know about the parts the filmmakers will leave out.

Nashville Elementary School Refuses To Provide ICE With Records  

ICE wanted to run a check on students at this predominantly brown elementary school. The school told them to go away. An encouraging story from WCPO.

Politics, Pregnancy, and Public Education

A thoughtful reflection by Nancy Flanagan, sparked by the Elizabeth Warren pregnancy flap, but reaching far beyond it.    

Saturday, October 12, 2019

KY: Pushing Old Charter Myths In A New Market

Kentucky has spent a bunch of time in charter limbo--there is a charter law on the books, but the legislature wouldn't fund it and local districts are (shocker) unwilling to share their aready-meager funding.

So Kentucky remains a fresh market, and charter advocates are still trying to gin up some public support, which lends itself to a sort of Greatest Hits tour of failed charter school arguments.

Take this op-ed from the Lexington Herald-Leader: "If public schools aren’t performing, why not give charter schools a chance?" It's by Ronald Vissing, a Lexington marketing consultant and political activist (he helped push through bills that allow Kentucky voters to recall property taxes). For folks in Kentucky, these pitches may sound new. They aren't. Vissing has helpfully numbered his alleged myths, so here we go:

First: the myth that charters can be "for profit."

Of course, if the law says the school can't be for profit, that settles... well, nothing actually. Vissing says that since charters can't charge tuition, "it's hard to see how a public [sic] charter school can make a profit." Oh, honey. By cutting costs, of course-- one of the reasons that many people don't love the idea of charter schools. The means of profiting from charters are legion; real estate business, fat contracts for charter management organizations. Vissing anticipates the argument that authorizers might enter into secret contracts, and Kentucky has some procedural and transparency laws in place for that, but one good question for Kentuckians to ask is who is supposed to enforce that law, and how. Bottom line: charters can be better than printing money.

Second: the myth that charters will cherry pick the best students.

Vissing says this could never happen, because the law says no entrance exam and no sorting according to race, religion, disability, English Language Learner status. And then if there are too many applicants, they can only use a lottery to sort. I do not know if Vissing has failed to do his homework or he just hopes the readers don't know stuff. From marketing (Look at this brochure- does this happy group of students look like you'd belong?) to paperwork and application processes, there are ways to increase the likelihood that you'll have the student body you want. Also popular: "We are happy to accept students like your child here, but you should be aware that we have absolutely no programs designed to help with this particular disability, nor do we plan to. But hey-- you can still send your child here. Totally your chice."

Third: the myth that charters have less qualified teachers.

Well, Vissing just punts here. His argument is that certified teachers aren't anything special. Private and parochial teachers aren't certified and they "outperform certified teachers." Vissing offers no explanation of what "outperform" means, exactly. But he also wants you to know that charters can fire any teachers at any time for any reason "without the burdensome process of multiple hearings and appeals" aka "due process." He does not mention that this E Z Fire feature means that teachers can be fired for fun reasons like "insisted on sticking up for your child" or "refusing to date her boss." Of course, Kentucky's a Right To Work state, so teachers already have problems.

Vissing has given up counting, but I reckon this is fourth: whattabout specialty schools?

He specifically cites Carter G Woodson Academy, a small (191 students) males-only school serving a mostly poor, almost entirely black student population. It has dress codes, its own curriculum, college prep focus. What's the difference, says Vissing. I'll go with "the academy is owned and operated by the taxpayers, and charter schools aren't.

Finally: some public schools stink.

So why not give parents a choice. I would say because parents don't want a choice as much as they want a non-stinky school. Vissing cites a local school that came up low on Kentucky's ridiculous 5 star school rating program. Those parents would like to send children to a good school. Why, I wonder for the gazillionth time, wouldn't we try to make the school not suck? The old argument is that students can't wait, that it takes too long to change a school, yet somehow we're proposing that a school can be go from nonexistent to awesome in the same short time.

Bonus round: charter schools are not public.

Kentucky charter advocates have gotten the memo to call charter schools "public charters schools." They are not. Public schools are owned by te public, operated by elected representatives of the public, are completely transparent to the public, and serve all of the public.

Kentuckians, do not be snookered by these mythical myths and the charter advocates who push them. You're a fresh market; at a minimum, you deserve a fresh sales pitch.


Friday, October 11, 2019

California Is Burning: One More Argument Against Privatizing Education

California is burning, even as California is dark, its people trying to survive a manmade nightmare.

PG&E, never America's most favorite utility behemoth, has made a hash of things. To save a buck here and there, the power company cut back on some necessary maintenance, but that-- plus a dry season-- has led to almost a dozen catastrophic fires, which have been followed by some hefty lawsuits, which has now been followed by the company shutting off the power for millions of residents (including folks dependent on medical equipment).

2017: This image always gets me because I was once right there
on that exact piece of road.
This is, to repeat, not some kind of unforeseeable disaster, but a systematic program by corporate chiefs to do less maintenance so that they could make more money.

And it's not like this is an isolated incident.

Let me pause for a moment to say that I don't hate capitalism. There are some things that it's very good at, and I'm not ready to throw it out. But if left unattended in the hand so of scruple-impaired men, it can start to do some Very Bad Things.

Take the Boeing 737 Max. The plane crashed multiple times dues to features that were par of a  concentrated effort to cut corners. It was a management problem, not an engineering problem. But it is now looking like it will be a hard one to come back from (not unlike the difficulty in coming back for the people the planes killed).

But if nobody's careful, the engineers will ultimately lose. 

Steve Jobs is just one of the people to have laid out how this happens. The basic sequence looks like this. Acme Widget Company starts with a new idea for how to make a better widget. It enters the market, and through excellence in design, it captures a hefty market share. The widget engineers run the company. But eventually that only gets so much of the widget market, so the company starts hiring high-powered marketing guys to increase market share or grow the market into new places. Now the sales department runs the company. One other critical event occurs-- the company goes public and with that changes its purpose. It no longer exists to make and sell widgets; it now exists to maximize stockholder value. So now the company calls on Beanus Maximus-- the bean counters who can find new ways to squeeze money out of the company. Cut wages. Cut staff. Cut benefits. Cut materials costs. Cut procedures, even safety procedures. And keep doing it, because it's never good enough to do as good a job as you did yesterday.

And so Beanus Maximus cuts and trims and cuts some more and giant jets slam into the ground and California burns in the dark.

That's not all. The "retail apocalypse" that has taken down stores like Sears and Toys R Us is not simply about bricks being outplayed by amazon.com. It's about manager and hedge fundies and private equity firms strip mining all the value out of the chains, until they are too broke to maintain a level of quality and service, until they are too hollowed out to be limber and competitive. 

Call it late stage capitalism or a moral and ethical crisis of management. Call it what you like, but ask yourself if it belongs anywhere near institutions that are entrusted with the public good. Privatizing things like water and parking have not worked out well for many municipalities for precisely this reason-- the companies involved are run from a world away and see nothing but a spread sheet. 

Is there a solution? I don't know, and I think about this a lot as I've watched my own small county suffer from the effects. Make every CEO live within ten miles of the widget factory he runs, because I think the biggest problem with the wealth gap is that it has allowed the super-rich movers and shakers to turn the meat widgets and worker bees into abstractions, not real live humans. 

Every time I hear someone say that schools would work better if they were spurred by free market competition, I want to ask, "Have you actually seen what that kind of competition is doing to the country lately?" It is not excellent that companies have figured out how to get away with paying less-than-living wages. It is not excellent that most citizens live one health crisis away from financial ruin.  It is not excellent to come up with a really elegant system that chews up human beings. And it is especially not excellent that the Acme Widget Company ends up creating neither good-paying jobs nor top quality widgets. 

I don't want to see these kinds of forces turned loose in the world of education, nor do I want to see education shackled and twisted to work in service to these forces, reduced to nothing more than human capital production. 

I know that I will hear from some of my more progressive friends-- capitalism is inherently evil and awful and all you can do is hope to get rid of it. Personally, I'm not there yet. It doesn't have to be this way, and there are certainly companies where it isn't. But in its current state, it doesn't belong anywhere near schools-- particularly when it's been brought there by the same Beanus Maximus hedge fundies that are making a hash out of everything else, blithely cutting corners and making excuses while planes slam into the ground and California burns in the dark.