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The Big Enchilada (The real motive behind school "choice") [View All]

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Starry Messenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-17-10 09:57 PM
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The Big Enchilada (The real motive behind school "choice")
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This is a few years old, but I thought it was quite eyeopening.

The Big Enchilada

by Jonathan Kozol

Harper's Magazine Notebook (August 2007)

Loyal defenders of our nation's public schools have for decades ardently opposed the concept of "school vouchers" and other privatizing schemes that threaten to dismantle the democratic legacy of public education. In recent years, however, even as privatizing forces have made massive inroads into public schools, many of those who profess to believe in public education have been lulled into a puzzling passivity and silence on this issue. But the voucher movement has not gone away, and the threat it represents to democratic education is more dangerous than ever.

Privatizing advocates tend to employ a familiar set of strategies in their campaign to replace public education, which they deride as "Soviet" or "socialist" in nature, with a market system in which public dollars no longer go to public schools but are distributed directly to parents, who in theory will be free to spend the money at either a public school or a private institution. Recognizing as they do that vouchers have had little appeal to parents in suburban areas, where public schools are highly funded and the kids generally do well, voucher advocates focus instead on winning over parents of poor children in the inner-city schools, whom they promise to deliver from the clutches of a failing "state monopoly".


Advocates for vouchers nonetheless insist that any difficulties presented by self-selectivity will cease to be real problems once market mechanisms are in place. One of the most influential of these advocates, a skillful and politically sophisticated propagandist named John Chubb, dismisses any likelihood that parents who are overwhelmed by problems in their private lives may be incapable of making wise decisions - or, more important, that they may find it difficult to act on these decisions. "It is really hard for me to believe", Chubb once told the New York Times, that if vouchers were available to parents of poor children, "those people couldn't decide on what they prefer". He accused critics of voucher schemes of being condescending to the poor, of arguing, in essence, that poor parents are "too stupid" to select the schools they want their children to attend.

But Chubb, who is now a top executive at Edison Schools, one of the largest private education corporations, does not hesitate to contradict himself when speaking to a different kind of audience. One of the disadvantages of public schools, Chubb has said in a more candid statement he coauthored with another voucher advocate, Terry Moe, is that they "must take whoever walks in the door" and "do not have the luxury of being able to select" their students. By comparison, they note in the pages of a right-wing policy review unlikely to be seen by parents of poor children, under a voucher system a "constellation of ... different schools serving different kinds of students differently would probably emerge". And in a book advancing private education markets, Chubb and Moe have made the additional argument that schools "must be free to admit as many or as few students as they want, based on whatever criteria they think relevant - intelligence, interest, motivation, behavior, special needs".


Some years ago, a friend who works on Wall Street handed me a stock-market prospectus in which a group of analysts at an investment-banking firm known as Montgomery Securities~described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools. "The education industry", according to these analysts, "represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control" that "have either voluntarily opened" or, they note in pointed terms, have "been forced" to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, "the education industry represents the largest market opportunity" since health-care services were privatized during the 1970s. Referring to private education companies as "EMOs" ("Education Management Organizations"), they note that college education also offers some "attractive investment returns" for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. "The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers", which, they emphasize, "are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers". From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, "the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada".

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