Fast Focus: Follow the money

October 14, 2012 

Many of us have watched the film Waiting for Superman which casts the nascent charter school movement in an extremely positive light and many people have become charter school fans based on this film, however, there is much more to this story than this biased film tells, such as numbers and facts. One of the most thorough studies of charter schools has been done by CREDO, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, the essential conclusion of their research is that charter schools when compared to the public schools they replaced show improvement in only 17 percent of schools, failing in 37 percent and the remainder basically unchanged (an over 2 to 1 failure rate). Why would any of us vote for a plan that is statistically proven to be worse than the problem it purports to resolve? For anyone who may feel they have been misinformed by Waiting For Superman I highly recommend viewing the antithesis, The Inconvenient Truth in Waiting For Superman a 65-minute film accessible on line at http://gemnyc.org/our-film/.

In every state the most glaring problem with the public schools is the "racism" and classism that has been institutionalized into the funding mechanism whereby the most prosperous neighborhoods have the very best funded schools and the very best educated and performing teaching staffs and the poorer neighborhoods have the least funded schools with hand me down libraries, books and equipment, where idealistic young teachers burnout and leave the profession in disgust and frustration and poor performing teachers are sent to retire. All states are not created equally. The national average cost per student is roughly $13,000 per anum (around 18,000 in New York State), but in the 7 worst performing states (mostly in the southeast quadrant of our country) the student cost is $4,500 to $8,500 per anum. This system has worked very well in the past to maintain a large labor pool of undereducated, underemployed underclass and has served to keep the minimum wages depressed and has greatly aided the bottom line of industries needing entry level labor jobs such as the hospitality industry, corporate fast food outlets, non-union construction sites, domestics, lawn service, etc. These decisions do not occur in a vacuum. Only when every student in our country is funded equally can we tell ourselves this system is equal. If anyone truly wants to fix the public schools please know this is your starting point. The drive to wrest control of our public schools is not just a U.S. phenomena, in England its called academy schools, same game, different name.

It is instructive to chart the evolution of the four charter school amendments, where each new offering gets fine tuned in order to make it more palatable to the voting public, similar to how the various stadium initiatives were offered umpteen times, with tons of advertising propaganda, until many voters just rolled over and gave up. This election cycle the chief sales pitch mantra is that the 40 proposed charter schools will be "non-profit." If anyone believes "non-profit" means not profitable I strongly recommend a remedial tutorial in U.S. tax law. The exorbitant "management fees" charged by some of these "non-profits" should in and of itself give lie to the idea that they are not profitable. On the national stage it's even more revealing. Arni Duncan, who at the time was in charge of the Chicago Public Schools was given a blueprint for charter schools by the Commercial Club of Chicago. The Commercial Club's membership consists of area CEOs and members of the financial industry (not a teacher among them). When Arni Duncan moved to Washington D.C. as secretary of education he took the blueprint with him and has been working off of it ever since. He is nothing more than a corporate toady masquerading as a public servant. Now maybe all these people are just a bunch of altruistic, idealistic, latent pedagogists, or just maybe someone has noticed that that national funding for K-l2 is around $700 billion annually and see those dollars as a gold mine just fit for the harvesting, call me a cynic, but I'm betting on the latter. Why else would these people while supposedly looking for an answer to improving our public schools not be looking at the great models in northern Europe with the best student outcomes, low student/teacher ratios and many classes with teaching assistants to aid struggling students (remember Albert E. Einstein was written off as learning disabled as a child). How many minds does this system get away with destroying before we fix it.

For way too many decades now our corporate overlords have been removing from the commonweal virtually everything they could get their hands on that they could both privatize and profitize: HalliburtonKBR taking over all the ancillary and highly profitable services of war and making billions of dollars in Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the list is endless. JP Morgan Chase, who "manages" food and financial aid for the most impoverished amongst us, are making billions of dollars of profits in the process: while at the same time the House of Representatives, the U.S .Senate and the lobbyist and corporations that control them stay up nights attempting to design a way to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Enough!

Please remember the McCleary decision by the Washington State Supreme Court which gave the State of Washington until 2018 to adequately fund our public schools. Many people in our state are working diligently to improve our public schools, changing our model to charter schools is a very transparent canard. I can only hope the people of Washington can hold fast and reject the charter school movement a few more times at the polls until these people finally get the message. We all need to fight for great public schools. The teachers and their unions are hardly the problem. Washington public schools are not for sale. Vote no on amendment #1240, don't be charter fooled.

-- BILL WATKINS, Seattle

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