Thursday, December 29, 2016

Privatizing Education: An Important Step in School Reform - By E. Jeffrey Ludwig

Diane Ravitch, a guru of educational practice and philosophy, recently summarized many of the negatives of privatizing some or all of our public schools.  She attributes Trumpian enthusiasm for this to (1) the influence of the rich in the top 1% (she does not specify what they would hope to gain by this move on life's chessboard), (2) the influence of Pres. Obama with his Race to the Top moneys, (3) the initiatives of certain wealthy visionaries who anticipated both big profits and higher levels of student achievement, and (4) the influence of various wheeler-dealers who hoped to make a quick buck, even if it meant having the schools opened for only a short time, which would have been enough time to line their pockets (in other words, cynical exploitation of children and their real educational needs). 

She clearly states the shortcomings of the charter school/privatizing movement.  Although these issues need to be addressed if privatizing goes forward, as Donald Trump says he will do, they are hardly decisive reasons for not privatizing.  Ravitch indicates that financial rip-offs have taken place, teacher turnover has often been great owing to excessive demands on their time and energy, selectivity for admissions has enabled the charter and private schools to exclude some of the more difficult to teach students, and the vision of the common good is disrupted.

But what about the negatives in the public sector that have made the "school choice" movement seem increasingly attractive?  Ravitch addresses none of these.  For example, financial waste and corruption of billions of taxpayer dollars has much to do with the increased momentum of the privatizing movement.  Take the New York City schools.  Each school now has to have a financial report called a "Galaxy Report" online along with that school's testing statistics.  However, these reports are far from self-explanatory, and a citizen could understand them only with some exhaustive research, which the average parent of a school-age child has neither the time nor the inclination to do.  Therefore, these "reports" of school finances or school test results merely provide charades of transparency. 

Nobody is privy to actual shifts of funds by the principal from one line of the budget to another, nor are audits of the individual school's books, if indeed there are audits, ever made public.  This former teacher never once in over 20 years of teaching saw any audit of the funds of any high school published by the NYC Dept. of Education.  The assistant principals for organization in the high schools typically have never had even one accounting course in their years of education, yet they are often, along with the principals, the key players in superintending the revenue flow allocated to the school

School construction for the repair, renovation, and building of schools is to this observer a racketeering enterprise.  This writer in the 1990s taught in an NYC high school being renovated.  In 1988, the bid for the job when it started was $28 million, but by 1995, the "cost overrun" (laughable terminology) had the job at $97 million.  And when the job was completed, the roof still leaked, the tiles of the floors were scuffed and ugly after one year, and the doorknobs had been broken off or stolen from the doors of the music wing.  The high school was declared a failing school by N.Y. State and, under the brilliant leadership of Joel Klein, eliminated as a comprehensive high school and broken into three "academy schools."  A few short years later, these three schools were in turn declared failed, phased out, and replaced with four new schools.  This corrupt farce was in only one high school in our great metropolis.  Multiply this scenario by dozens of high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, and we can begin to see the true impetus for the charter and privatizing movement. 

Prof. Ravitch insists on seeing the privatizing movement as a scheme to make money by  individuals and corporations that already have too much money.  At the same time, she chooses to ignore the phenomenal profits of various educational corporations such as Houghton Mifflin, Cengage, and Pearson from their relationships with the public schools.  Add to this the College Board, which provides all the SAT and AP exams for the public schools, and the vast bureaucracies needed to run all the educational programs and to service the vast data collection that is at the heart of Common Core, and we see more than a little pecuniary stake in having "business as usual" in the public schools.  Robert Weissberg in his many books and articles as well as Bruce Deitrick Price, both frequent contributors to American Thinker, have documented how bogus and wasteful the programs supposed to improve education have actually been.

Yet there is another problem with the public schools that Prof. Ravitch fails to discern.  She expresses concern that privatizing will detract from the "common good" served by the public schools.  This observation begs the question – namely, what is the common good?  It is obvious to all discerning citizens that the public schools increasingly exist in a moral vacuum.  The Ten Commandments can no longer be displayed, prayer is prohibited under the false doctrine of "separation of church and state," and displays of creches, for example, at Christmastime are also not allowed.  Ironically, and as a well kept "open secret" at one high school where I taught, Muslim students were allowed to use classroom space for times of prayer.

One NYC high school for years had a Mr. and Ms. High School contest (school name omitted to protect the guilty), where the girls competed in bikinis and the boys got to flex their muscles while wearing jock straps or the smallest skivvies.  Additionally, the textbook in a sex ed class in that high school said that some people believe that you should wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse, and those few people who believe that way "should be tolerated."  Another page in the same book told the studious teens that while some believe that the size of the male organ is important, that is a mistaken belief in terms of sexual satisfaction.  It is rewarding to know that this kind of information is being made available in a college preparation curriculum.

Under the great progressive leadership of schools chancellor Joel Klein and NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leadership academy was set up to seek and train promising individuals for principalships.  One young woman in her twenties spoke to potential candidates and openly thanked her mother, who already was a principal in New York, for this wonderful opportunity.  She did not even realize that in doing so, she was admitting the nepotism that won her the spot as a principal despite almost no experience.  Another young man in his late twenties or early thirties, politically correct but also without much experience, was the principal of a middle school for social justice in the Bronx, one of the subdivisions of New York City.

Social justice has become a code word for the "cultural Marxist" agenda.  In another high school where this writer taught, the Star-Spangled Banner was never sung, but under the rubric of "social justice," a different song, "Lift Up Your Heart and Sing" was regularly sung.  It's referred to as "the black national anthem." 

Thus, just based on this anecdotal evidence about official school policies regarding sexual activity and sexual identity, about finding inexperienced but compliant, left-wing know-nothings for leadership positions, and about pandering to identity politics rather than the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of Almighty God, we must question Ravitch's assumption that the public schools are serving the common good.  The common good denotes not only unity, but an ideal of the moral and upright individual linked by mutual respect to others in an extensive, righteous, caring, responsible, freedom-loving, and unified community.  The failure of the public schools, especially in our cities, to do this is the key reason why we must support the privatization of our educational system.