Bill Gates had an idea. He was passionate about it, absolutely sure he had a winner. His idea? America’s high schools were too big . . .
That was Bill Gates’s grand idea. From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.
Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”
There was very little media coverage of this experiment gone terribly wrong. A billionaire had had an idea. Many thousands had danced to his tune. It hadn’t worked out. C’est la vie . . .
Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow. They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools.
None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools. In many cases, the charters produced worse outcomes. And the levels of racial segregation and isolation in charter schools were often scandalous. While originally conceived a way for teachers to seek new ways to reach the kids who were having the most difficult time, the charter school system instead ended up leaving behind the most disadvantaged youngsters.Sound a lot like what you've been hearing from the education profiteers here in Indiana? It gets better.
Few people would accuse Gates of acting out of greed. For other school reformers, however, a huge financial return has been the primary motivation. While schools and individual districts were being starved of resources, the system itself was viewed as a cash cow by so-called education entrepreneurs determined to make a killing . . .
Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they’re as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.” . . .
The former Florida governor Jeb Bush was another prominent figure in the front ranks of the corporate push for public education dollars. He hosted an education conference in San Francisco in the fall of 2011 at which Murdoch was the keynote speaker. In the audience were corporate executives, supporters of market-oriented education and elected officials responsible for the laws and policies that regulate corporate access to public education dollars. Using his allies and contacts from his days in the Florida statehouse and his relationship with two former presidents, Bush was tireless in his promotion of the corporate education agenda. With Bob Wise, the former West Virginia governor, he started an organization called Digital Learning Now!, which took on the task of persuading state legislators to make it easier for companies to get public funding for virtual schools and for the installation of virtual classrooms in brick-and-mortar schools.
In June 2010 Bush gave the commencement speech to graduates of a huge, for-profit virtual school in Columbus, Ohio, called the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Bush used the occasion to extol the virtues of online learning, but in fact the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was a particularly poor example. Mother Jones examined the school’s track record: “In 2010, barely half of its third graders scored proficient or better on state reading tests, and only 49 percent scored proficient in math, compared with state averages of 80 percent and 82 percent, respectively. ECOT’s graduation rate has never exceeded 40 percent.”The amount of money in play is breathtaking. And the fiascos it has wrought put a spotlight on America’s class divide and the damage that members of the elite, with their money and their power and their often misguided but unshakable belief in their talents and their virtue, are inflicting on the less financially fortunate.
Those who are genuinely interested in improving the quality of education for all American youngsters are faced with two fundamental questions: First, how long can school systems continue to pursue market-based reforms that have failed year after demoralizing year to improve the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged children? And second, why should a small group of America’s richest individuals, families, and foundations be allowed to exercise such overwhelming—and often such toxic—influence over the ways in which public school students are taught?In case you haven't noticed what's happening in the IPS school board elections as of late, just follow the large sums of money suddenly flowing into the hands of the candidates backed by these corporate elites who are seeking to profiteer at the expense of public education. The out-of-state education profiteers are pouring money into the campaigns of their puppet school board candidates who now pretty much control the IPS board.