THE CORPORATE EDUCATION INVASION Part 1

ABSTRACT: Corporations covet public funding streams, especially large and consistent ones. A relatively recent example of a focused effort by corporations to capture public funding is evident in our public schools. These efforts have included an extensive public relations campaign aimed at convincing the public and elected officials that our public schools are failing. This is a standard corporate strategy: create a real or imagined crisis in a public service and push privatization as the solution.

This attack on our public schools is not only inaccurate, it diverts attention from the real issues underlying poor educational outcomes, which are poverty and inequality. Another key component of the PR strategy is to blame teachers for the supposed failure of our public schools. This undermines teachers and their unions, who are the most likely constituency that would stand up and oppose these privatization efforts.

The PR strategy has worked and privatized public education and testing are now multi-billion dollar corporate revenue streams. Charter schools, despite the promises of privatizers to produce better results, are no better on average than public schools with comparable populations of students.

Corporate efforts to profit off of public funding streams are not new. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex back in the 1950s. The flow of money to private corporations, privatization in the broad sense, threatens to distort public services, decisions, and spending, because the interests and priorities of the corporations receiving the public funds are different from those of the public.

FULL POST: Corporations covet public funding streams, especially large and consistent ones. A relatively recent example of a focused effort by corporations to capture public funding is evident in our public schools. Although corporations have long sold textbooks and other curriculum materials to public schools, a lucrative business with a large and reliable funding stream, recent efforts have focused on privatizing the actual delivery of education, as well as designing and implementing testing.

These efforts have included an extensive public relations campaign aimed at making the public receptive to privatized spending in these areas. A major focus of this public relations (PR) campaign has been to convince the public and elected officials that our public schools are failing, that alternatives are necessary, and that the private sector is by definition more effective and efficient than the public sector. This is a standard strategy straight out of the playbook of corporate America and their political allies: create a real or imagined crisis in a public service and push privatization as the solution. (For more on this strategy, see my blog post, “Find a crisis, demand privatization,” of 6/5/14 [https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2014/06/05/find-a-crisis-demand-privatization/].)

The PR campaign makes the case that our schools are failing by comparing US students to those from other countries. Although average scores indicate that US students perform worse than others, white children from well-off families do just fine in international comparisons. It is the gap between those students and less affluent and minority students that drags the average down. In actuality, a reliable nationwide test of student performance, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), finds that US students’ performance is at the highest level on record. [1] So this attack on our public schools is not only inaccurate, it diverts attention from the real issues underlying poor educational outcomes, which are poverty and inequality in the US.

A second component of the PR strategy is the assertion that standardized, high stakes testing is necessary to measure the performance of US students and to establish accountability for improving results. Although testing is presented as part of a “no child left behind” goal, the commitment and funding to improve schools and education (including preschool education) for the students identified as being behind has never materialized. Meanwhile, policies and the funding to address poverty and inequality more broadly are not even on the radar screen.

A final component of the PR strategy is to blame teachers for the supposed failure of our public schools. This again diverts attention from the real underlying issues of poverty and inequality in the US. It also undermines teachers and their unions, who are the most likely constituency that would stand up and oppose these privatization efforts. Undermining unions (and the bargaining power and rights of workers in general) is an overarching goal of large corporations, so this kills two birds with and one stone from their perspective.

The PR strategy has worked and privatized public education and testing are now multi-billion dollar corporate revenue streams. Testing alone is a $2.7 billion a year industry in the US and the new Common Core standards will grow the testing business further. Wall Street investors, including private equity and hedge fund managers, are investing in for-profit corporations in the student testing and charter school industries because they are seen as opportunities for high profits and growth.

Charter schools, despite the promises of privatizers to produce better results, are no better on average than public schools with comparable populations of students. Many of the charter schools that show good results achieve them by attracting motivated students from motivated families. And they also cull students along the way, forcing or pushing out students who aren’t performing well, thereby improving testing results and other statistics. They also typically serve fewer students with special needs and with English as a second language than the public schools. [2]

Corporate efforts to profit off of public funding streams are not new. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex back in the 1950s, when private corporations’ receipt of Defense Department funds was already distorting public policy making and spending. The corporate effort to tap into health care funding from Medicare and Medicaid is another example. For-profit prisons, water and sewer systems, and public education are more recent examples.

In all these cases, the flow of money to private corporations, privatization in the broad sense, threatens to distort public services, decisions, and spending, because the interests and priorities of the corporations receiving the public funds are different from those of the public. Most notably, the corporations are primarily interested in increased revenue and profit, while public goals such as quality and effectiveness of services, public health and safety, and equitable treatment of all service recipients, are typically secondary, at best, to the corporation. Furthermore, there is substantial evidence that private delivery of these services is NOT more effective or more efficient. Nonetheless, the advocates of privatization continue to assert that they are. (For more detail, see my previous posts on privatization, especially the ones on 10/16/12 and 10/23/12.)

[1]       Ravitch, D., 2/17/14, “Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools,” as reviewed by Featherstone, J., in The Nation

[2]       Ravitch, D., 2/17/14, see above

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2 comments

  1. I had never considered corporate involvement as aggressively shifting funding of education in a way that diverts our attention from the ‘real’ causes of the failure to better educate all of our nation’s children.
    Thank you, John

    1. Carolyn, Thanks for the feedback. I don’t think the corporate campaign to privatize and profit from education spending intended to divert attention from the true cases of failures in our school systems. However, by creating a “problem” that the corporations could profit from, that was the result. Although the testing identified kids, schools, and communities where educational outcomes were not good, a real effort to address to improve their outcomes has not occurred. I guess early education and poverty reduction aren’t on the corporations’ radar screens because they haven’t figured out how to profit from such efforts.

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