Obama’s privatization agenda: In defense of public education
August 29, 2012
When education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Hurricane Katrina a few years ago as “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans”—because it enabled the closure of most public schools and their replacement with charter schools—he was forced to apologize.
But Duncan himself—backed by his boss, Barack Obama—has unleashed another destructive storm of corporate-driven “education reform,” and it’s bearing down on Chicago, where Duncan once ran the public school system, setting the stage for what could be the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in 25 years.
Duncan and Co. have already wrecked public education in several cities. Detroit’s ravaged economy and declining population were as a pretext for an aggressive bipartisan assault that’s already led to the closure of 100 schools. Today, Detroit has two school systems—the Detroit Public Schools and a state-run Education Achievement Authority—that compete to attract students, with 35 percent of Detroit kids attending charter schools.
In Philadelphia, school authorities, backed by Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, are seeking to dismantle the entire school system, handing operations over to an array of nonprofit organizations, charter school management groups and academic institutions.
In Cleveland, another Democrat, Mayor Frank Jackson, worked with union-bashing Republican Gov. John Kasich to pass legislation funneling even more tax money to charters, giving them equal standing with traditional public schools.
In driving these changes, Duncan is making use of the Bush-era federal law known as No Child Left Behind, which ties federal funds to state and local school officials’ willingness to close or “turn around” schools that fail to improve test scores.
The Obama administration itself amped up the “school reform” agenda through its $4.3 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program. To have a chance at the money, state legislators had to pass new laws expanding charter schools and imposing harsh evaluation systems on teachers while weakening job security.
What all this amounts to is the end of universal public education as we’ve known it—a cornerstone of U.S. society, in the North anyway, since the 1850s.
If that sounds like an exaggeration or conspiracy theory, take it from Duncan himself. Once embarrassed at having cheered on a deadly catastrophe in a majority African American city, Duncan is now openly proud of post-Katrina education in New Orleans. “New Orleans is doing a fantastic job as far as improvement goes,” Duncan said of a citywhere, before Katrina, just 1.5 percent of students attended charter schools. Today, 80 percent do.
Remember that quote the next time someone says that you have to vote for Obama to stop Mitt Romney’s education agenda. As Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader wroteabout Romney’s program for education: “[I]n many respects, it reads like it could have been written by our very own union-busting, charter-school-loving Mayor Rahm Emanuel.” Emanuel, of course, was Obama’s chief of staff when the administration unleashed Race to the Top.