Monday, July 29, 2019

Mayor Pete Doesn't Get It (And If He Does, That's Even Worse)

In 2016, Hillary Clinton staked out what was supposed to be the safe territory on the charter school issue-- to be against for-profit charters, but in favor of non-profits. That qualified as enough of a break with the corporate Democrat orthodoxy that DFER felt the need to reassure wealthy donors that the Clinton's could be counted on to betray unions.

But a position that depends on distinguishing non-profits from for-profits at best shows some cynical poli-gamesmanship, and at worst reveals a lack of understanding of the issues. In 2016, a candidate might be excused for ignorance, but there's been plenty of education on the subject since, and no excuses left for candidates.

That's why it's a bit discouraging to find high-profile candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg resorting to this dodge.

The signs up until this point have not been good. Buttigieg has some time with McKinsey on his resume, and that consulting giant … well...McKinsey is one of the biggest management consulting firms in the world, and long intertwined with the education reform movement; Sir Michael Barber was a partner there before he went to run Pearson, and David Coleman worked as a consultant at McKinsey before he spearheaded the Common Core. McKinsey has also plucked some employees from the world of Eli Broad-- a McKinsey manager was in the first class of the Broad Academy. McKinsey actually pre-dated Broad in the practice of embedding their own people in the Los Angeles school district. They're fans of data-driven analytics baloney, and they are generally a good example of what Anand Giridharadas is talking about in Winner Take All-- the ways rich folks try to fix problems without actually inconveniencing themselves while still managing to profit from the "solution."

Reed "Elected School Boards Should Be Abolished" Hastings held a great fund raiser for Mayor Pete. And as she reported this morning (take a second to read this-- I'll wait), when Diane Ravitch reached sat down with the campaign to try to share a more balanced view of ed reform, she found herself facing a bunch of folks who came up through the corporate reform movement and who think that charter schools are just fine, thank you very much.

Buttigieg is one of the Democratic hopefuls who does not identify education as an issue on his website, nor does it crop up under other issues such as his Douglass Plan for investment and empowerment of Black America.

Buttigieg has said he opposes vouchers. He might also mentioned the use of public tax dollars for private schools that discriminate in ways that would be unlawful in a public school (Rebecca Klein at HuffPost correctly notes that the Indiana Catholic high school that Buttigieg graduated would not hire him today because he's gay). But he focused on economic reasons:

Unfortunately, these voucher programs tend to come at the expense of quality public education. They take dollars out of our public schools at the time when we know the schools don’t have enough resources going into them to begin with.

But the big disconnect here is that this exact reason applies to charter schools, whether they are for-profit or non-profit.

After all, at this point for-profit charter schools are legal almost nowhere in the country (that "only for-profits are bad" talking point has been useful at many levels of politics). But what is still legal in most states is having your non-profit charter school operated by a for-profit charter management organization. If you imagine that by only supporting non-profit charters you are somehow preventing the spectacle of corporate owners trying to make more money by short-changing students, you have a fertile imagination. The shell and shadow companies are where the real money is made, including the profits from renting the real estate and providing services like cleaning and cafeteria.

That non-profit charter, feeding all its incoming public tax dollars to private for-profit companies, is still governed by a simple principle-- every additional dollar spent on the students is one dollar less to go into a company bank account.

And even if the non-profit is good and pure and truly non-profit at every level, you have not changed the fact that it is draining resources from the public school where the majority of students study. You are still working from the same flawed premise-- that you can somehow run multiple school systems for the same money that, by Buttigieg's own admission, wasn't enough in the first place.

The Buttigieg campaign seems unlikely to improve in this area. They told Ravitch that they plan to reach out to John King, Jim Shelton and Randi Weingarten, and, well... King, you will recall succeeded Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. He founded the no-excuses Roxbury Prep, which the Buttigieg campaign thinks is an awesome school. In New York he was Commissioner of Education and pushed the crap out of Common Core and testing, and got so much push back at public meetings that he stopped attending until his bosses made him. Shelton had a leadership role at the Gates Foundation, worked for Arne Duncan in charge of innovation grants for Race to the Top, then ran the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In other words, Buttigieg would likely be a repeat of the Bush-Obama education program. He's said some salty things about Betsy DeVos, but beyond his dislike of vouchers, it's not clear just how different his education policy would be from hers.

It would be interesting to see what, exactly, his campaign believes is the critical difference between a school accepting a voucher and a non-profit charter school. Because depending on the state you're in, there's not a large enough space between the two to drive a bicycle, let alone a campaign van.

As I've said before, I don't expect to like the Democratic candidate for 2020, and I doubt that my distaste will affect my vote in the general election. But I still have to point out corporate reform baloney when I see it sliced, and it appears that the Buttigieg campaign is slicing it up nice and thick. There are several reasons to like Mayor Pete, but it doesn't look like education policy will be one of them.

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