Thursday, October 22, 2015



By:  Sergio Flores

Public schools systems in America are being privatized. Some school districts have collapsed for the lack of funding, several hundreds of public schools have  being closed and turned into charter schools, and public school teachers are being disrespected, accused, and found guilty of the alleged failure in education, and reduced to commodities, all this at the altar of the free-market ideology. Despite their record of failure, corporate reformers keep promoting and imposing their neoliberal policies with little or no resistance from teachers associations. With the public school system in crisis, teachers associations’ leaders must become true public school and teachers advocates. For that reason, public school teachers must recognize the toxic neoliberalism and elect leaders who oppose such a destructive ideology.  If you are a teacher and want to see if your president, state council representative, or board member shares neoliberal values or attitudes, I invite you read the following and then ask them what they think and what they stand for. It is safe to say that if teachers elect leaders who favor neoliberalism, they are in fact cooperating in the privatization of public education.   

Neoliberalism started officially in the 1980’ and 1990’ and after a brutal experiment in the 1970’s Chile’s Pinochet. Their most important promoters Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher popularized and implanted the neoliberal ideology which basically demands small government and a free market.  Economists and corporations have kept neoliberalism in vogue for almost fifty years despite “policies that have led to slower growth, deeper inequality, greater insecurity, and environmental degradation all over the world.”
According to the neoliberal premises, corporate reformers took an interest in public education and started a campaign to privatize it.  At the beginning, they had been covertly privatizing America’s public school system under the disguised of “education reform.” With unwarranted arguments suggesting that public service education delivered by state institutions is of low quality, unresponsive to ‘clients,’ and is risk-averse, corporate reformers imported a series of ideas from the free-market theory and promoting them as sensible solutions to the alleged failure in public education. The first steps in their privatization process were subtle but effective.  As researchers Stephen J Ball and Deborah Youdell explain in 2008:
 In some instances, forms of privatization are explicitly pursued as effective solutions to the perceived inadequacies of public service education. However, in many cases the stated goals of policy are articulated in terms of  ‘choice’, ‘accountability’, ‘school improvement’ ‘devolution’, ‘contestability’ or ‘effectiveness’.  Such policies often are not articulated in terms of privatization but nonetheless draw on techniques and values from the private sector, introduce private sector participation and/or have the effect of making public education more like a business. (Hidden Privatization in Public Education)
Years passed and positive results did not materialize.  Yet, despite the lack of success in improving public education, corporate reformers continued with their free-market policies.  Years later, when NCLB was enacted, corporate reformers changed their approach. From covertly, they moved to overtly privatizing America’s public schools. After all, as it has happened with the neoliberalism itself, no one questioned or challenged the application of their premises, their goals, or means in the area of public education –it simply “made sense.” Consequently, when this neoliberal environment firmly set in, it allowed and validated corporate reformers and billionaires to singlehandedly attempt to privatize public schools with practically no opposition from teachers’ associations’ leaders. The last example came recently, when Eli Broad announced a plan to get 50% of children in public schools attending LAUSD in charter schools.  Without consulting or considering parents or teachers, Mr. Broad seems resolute in his privatizing plan. As Diane Ravitch explains:

Eli Broad has recruited Paul Pastorek, former state superintendent in Louisiana, to lead his effort to privatize the schools of 50% of the children now in public schools in Los Angeles. Pastorek oversaw the elimination of public education in Néw Orleans. He was also a member of Jeb Bush’s far-right “Chiefs for Change,” a group dedicated to high-stakes testing and privatization. In his new post, he will press for the elimination of many public schools.
One would think that the threat to lose hundreds of public schools by the largest school district in California would motivate teachers’ association’s leaders to organize a defense. But so far, leaders have not made any comments. Tragically, this teachers’ associations’ leaders’ idleness has been the norm. Over the years, in Los Angeles, California, as well as in many other cities across the United States –Detroit, Chicago, New York, and New Orleans, for instance—when the destructive forces of privatization have been unleashed, they have encountered very little resistance. Incredibly, and despite the horrendous decades-long record of Chile’s application of neoliberal policies, and the more than twenty years of failures in the United States, corporate reformers have remained unquestioned and unchallenged.

 When the destructive NCLB was enacted around 2002, a new paradigm was imposed with no debate or consult to parents and teachers. Its premises, means, and goals for public education came from the free-market ideology. For the first time in history, millions of unsuspecting teachers were being judged with an arbitrary and flawed accountability system, and in some cases unfairly exposed in the media.  Incredibly, to this day, and notwithstanding the unfair criticism of teachers, the predictably systematic underfunding of schools, and the impossible demands on teachers, there has not been any serious effort --in writing or in action-- from any NEA or CTA leader to organize an opposition to the application of those ideological premises, values, and norms.  
Instead of a relief from the neoliberal ideas of NCLB, when President Obama was elected, more draconian measures were brought in the form of Race to the Top. What happened to the NEA representative assemblies in those years? With hundreds of thousands of public schools jobs lost, and hundreds of thousands more living and working in demoralizing conditions is impossible to consider that those leaders were unaware of the unjustified privatization that had been going on.  Yet, no campaign, intention, or plan came out of any assembly to fight the unwarranted privatization of our public school system. No leader brought any proposal to stop, or fight charter schools, merit pay, or VAM. Neither there have been any NEA’s or CTA leaders’ calls for members to defend themselves and others against the capricious firing of thousands of educators, or the unfair closing of hundreds of schools.  As  Stan Karp explains:
The two national teachers’ unions, the AFT and the NEA, have had mostly weak and defensive responses to the policy attacks of the past few years. But they are being pressed by both their members and by reality to develop more effective responses. This pressure includes the election of activist teacher leaders like Karen Lewis in Chicago ( and Bob Peterson in Milwaukee ( Years of failing to effectively mobilize their membership or develop effective responses to school failure in poor communities have taken a big toll on the ability of our unions to lead the charge in defending public education.
But even more strangely is to find no record of leaders questioning or challenging the neoliberal mantras --competition, choice, teachers as incompetent, selfish, and culprit of the poor state of public education.  Indeed, is as if leaders do not even know about teachers reaching record levels of demoralization. 
Public school systems have been struggling or even collapsing in the past ten years because of these flawed, failing, and even destructive reforms. Yet, NEA and CTA leaders are still "working" with corporate reformers on yet another idea: CCSS. With that record, anyone can see the consistent pattern of leaders going along with the corporate reforms. Undoubtedly, in any one of those assemblies, leaders could have proposed an antiprivatization defense of public education. But despite the teachers’ despair and the destruction of even complete school districts, that defense never even started.
This last NEA-RA assembly in Orlando, Florida provided disturbing evidence that leaders have no quarrel with the neoliberal ideology: Lily Eskelsen boldly explained to the assembly that NEA was a combination of union and association; she did it to please the free-market advocates, no doubt. On top of that, the assembly voted not to use the word "union" in official papers!  Could anyone not conclude that NEA leaders have free-market proclivities?  This suspicion claims for an investigation. NEA and CTA leaders consistently taking decisions that go along with the free-market reformers' plan, as when they commit to promote CCSS for Bill Gates, is a most serious issue indeed!
If teachers want to save public education, it is imperative that they acknowledge the influence of the neoliberal ideology in public school affairs and do something about it. This is no longer a matter of politics or ideology, but a pragmatic issue.  The record of free market based policies is of failure. Continuing in this direction means the privatization of our public schools. The first and most effective step teachers must take to save their schools is to elect leaders who openly opposed neoliberal policies.
Who wins, who loses, who cares?
In solidarity

Sergio Flores 

1 comment:

  1. The same is true in the AFT. See these articles and many more at the Defend Public Education ! blog

    The Broad Foundation the Unions

    Turning "Collaboration" Into a Bad Word

    Randi Weingarten: Sleight of Hand Artist - Part 2


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