Anne Laurie wrote yesterday about lobbyist Michelle Rhee’s latest media blitz to promote the privatization of public education. The word on the (lively!) pro-public education blogs is that Rhee is launching this blitz ahead of Frontline raising questions about whether the district she ran cheated on any of the many, many standardized tests she insists you purchase. Here, lobbyist Rhee has joined with Joel Klein to deliver another stern lecture on why we have to deregulate public education. Joel Klein was Mayor Bloomberg’s school reformer until Klein hit the revolving door between public employment and lucrative lobbying, and he now works for noted education specialist and corrupt plutocrat Rupert Murdoch.
I’m amused that we’ve decided to outsource education policy to a person who (allegedly) has some ethical issues regarding cheating on tests and another who works for the media owner who has created the least- informed audience in the country. Isn’t cheating on tests generally frowned upon in educational circles? I was a lousy student in high school- I didn’t like school and I didn’t work very hard-but I always prided myself on drawing the line at cheating. I was a juvenile delinquent, sure, but I had standards. As Michelle Rhee might say I had “no excuses.”
Worse than the ethical clouds and the plutocrat connections, however, is the failure of the national celebrity school reformers to mention this:
Increasingly, locally elected school officials are finding their districts competing against charter schools allied with big organizations with big money and their own ideas for students.
“It’s had a large impact on the growth of charter school reform,” said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who studies charter schools.
The number of education management organizations has exploded on the national scene — for-profit groups growing from five in 1995-96 to 99 in 2010-11 and nonprofit organizations growing from 48 in 1998 to 197 in 2010-11 — according to the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.
That report showed that 35 percent of all public charter schools in the nation were operated by education management organizations — both for-profit and nonprofit — enrolling 42 percent of the nation’s charter school students.
Mr. Miron said charter school growth plateaued around 2001-02 but got a significant boost from education management organizations.
Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Council and a state legislator when the charter school law was passed, said the Legislature didn’t envision “this idea of a national outfit deciding that there’s a business profit-making opportunity in Pennsylvania and they would come in and either help to establish a not-for-profit or find a not-for-profit.”
As education management organizations grew, they began to play a major role in fostering growth of charter schools, including encouraging the formation of some cyber charter schools which attract thousands of students.
“What we are having now is private control of public schools,” said Mr. Miron.
As a publicly traded company, K12 releases certain data for investors, including the fact that former financial analyst Ronald Packard, who founded K12 in 2000, served as CEO at a salary of $618,942 for fiscal year 2012. His total compensation was $3.96 million.
In Pennsylvania, the three charter schools that spent the most overall — all cyber charter schools — used education management organizations for at least some functions.
In Pennsylvania, there are efforts to pass legislation that would put charters under the same laws and regulations that apply to traditional districts and that aim to promote transparency and guard against conflicts of interest and ethical violations.
“I think charter schools are here to stay,” said Mr. Cowell. “They ought to be part of the public school menu, but charter schools also should be required to operate under the same rules that other public schools operate by around accountability for student performance and accountability for the use of taxpayer money.”
Education reformers never mention this part. They never mention profit. They never mention how incredibly lucrative school reform has become for the owners, executives and managers (although not the teachers or lower-level support employees). They must be aware of it. Privatization is happening all over the country; in Ohio, in Michigan, in Indiana, in Florida. Privatization is what follows immediately after reformers get done union busting and deregulating.
Rhee never addresses it, Bloomberg never addresses it, Arne Duncan and President Obama never address it and certainly the media personalities who promote school reform never ask about it. This is public money. Don’t school reformers have a duty to let people know they sold us “public school reform” and it’s now turned into privatization? I’ve actually looked for an opportunity to ask Arne Duncan about this, in person, but he doesn’t seem to come out to Ohio or meet with anyone not named “Gates” or “Broad”, so no help there. Perhaps I could impersonate a Wal Mart heir and get his attention that way. How are we NOT talking about where the public money goes? When people signed on to school reform, were they aware school reformers would be answering to shareholders rather than parents? Why is Rhee advocating more deregulation when we obviously can’t properly regulate the for-profits now?