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DeVos’s “school choice” is Corporate Death Trap for Working Families, Educators

By: Nino Brown

On May 22, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave a speech in Indianapolis at a summit hosted by the right wing pro “school choice” lobbying group, the American Federation for Children. DeVos’s speech championed the Trump administration’s Federal Education Budget and its concomitant expansion of so-called “school choice” as the “most ambitious” in history.

AFC spokesman Tommy Schultz said of the Trump-DeVos education plan: “We see that this a really significant opportunity for her to lay out a vision for what she sees as educational choice going into the future for all 50 states.”

DeVos claimed that the Trump administration would be somehow “making history” in trying to transform the nation’s allegedly “closed and antiquated educational system.”

While there are transformations that need to be made within the education system, DeVos is not qualified to be making them. The policies she supports deepen the structural inequities that exist within public education as it stands. The kind of transformation DeVos and Trump speak of is a neoliberal transformation that would strengthen the hegemony of corporate control in education, deepen segregation, and destroy the teachers’ unions all across the nation.

Today’s mainstream “reformers” are reformers of the ruling class elite and the corporate interests they represent. While these ruling class mouthpieces speak of “reform” on the one hand, what they do in deed is deform the already existing structures in public education, causing them to collapse so private capital can “intervene” to “save education.”

Obama paved the path for Trump-DeVos

Billionaire and ultraright-wing creationist Betsy DeVos, with a track record of demonstrating sheer ignorance in matters of education, clearly does not know the recent history of the Obama administration’s neoliberal education policies.

In order to truly understand what DeVos and Trump’s plan for dismantling public education root and branch, we have to come to grips with the reality that their policies do not exist in a vacuum. The Trump administration’s education policy is in direct continuity with that of Obama’s.

Let’s recall that it was the Obama administration that allocated $4.3 billion from the 2009 “stimulus package” under the auspices of former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to implement the “Race to the Top” program.

Under the RTTT at least 30 states were coerced to compete for grants by making several pro-corporate “reforms.”

Already resource-strapped states and districts were pushed into implementing draconian policies such as tying teacher evaluations to standardized testing, raising or eliminating any caps on the expansion of charter school construction, shutting down “low-achieving” schools, claiming these schools are “turn around” schools when they become charter schools, and dismantling union power by inducing the mass turn over of veteran public school teachers and principals.

Under Obama public schools were faced with a full frontal assault. Unions were systematically undermined and forced to capitulate to these neoliberal reforms. Often times the pro-corporate charter school advocates and institutions claimed to be acting in the interest of Black and Latino students as part of their racist and capitalist plan to restructure education in this country to fit the needs of multinational corporations and bolster corporate hegemony in public education.

So DeVos is wrong. Trump’s plan is Obama’s plan. New boss meet the old boss. The main difference is the level of sheer ignorance of this regime in carrying out its wanton attack on public education and teacher’s unions.

“School Choice” = privatization, deregulation, and smashed unions

DeVos has spent the bulk of her political career as a proponent of so-called “school choice.” In her home state of Michigan where she led the Republican party offensive against enhanced public regulation of the collapsing Detroit Public Schools, she used her mass wealth to intervene and shut down the “Detroit Education Commission” which was a paltry attempt at greater oversight of Detroit’s underregulated and poorly performing charter schools.

Despite the devastation she imparted on Michigan, DeVos is dead set on expanding her privatization campaign. “School choice,” vouchers, and tax credits are the tip of her spear.

The veil of “school choice” may seem progressive to the untrained eye, but it is really a mask for the privatization of public education. The pushing of vouchers deceives the public into believing that more choice equals better outcomes. While the question of choice appears central to these education
deformers’ plans, the “choice” we have under this capitalist system is no real choice at all for working and oppressed people.

“School choice” will lead to a deepening of capitalist inequities. The already existing class divisions across races, gender, nationalities and abilities will come to the fore. “Middle class parents will add as much money as they can to their vouchers in order to get their kids into the best possible schools. The wealthy will spend whatever it takes to create an elite stratum of schools that insure their kids’ advantages. Lower-middle-class families will scour the system for decent schools they can afford; they’ll find that the more decent the school, the higher the demand for it, and the higher the price. And the poor? They will go to “government schools” – a term that market education reformers have long used to describe what everyone else calls public schools (Common Dreams).”

“According to studies of voucher programs in Wisconson, Indiana, Arizona, and Nevada most of the money from the programs goes to parents wealthy enough to already have their children enrolled in private schools. Voucher programs rarely provide enough money to enable poor minority children to get access to the best private schools. A new comprehensive study of vouchers finds evidence that vouchers don’t significantly improve student achievement. What they do pose is a greater likelihood that students who are the most costly and difficult to educate–low income kids and children with special needs–will be turned away or pushed out by private schools that are not obligated to serve all students. (Common Dreams).”

The Trump administration’s budget would cut upwards of $10.6 billion from the education budget. According to the Washington Post report on the cuts, they would be “eliminating at least 22 programs” which would include “$1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction.” The report continues, stating “The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction.”

Schools are sites of social reproduction and struggle. Educators in this new terrain are already under much duress to do their job to the best of their ability and are hobbled by cuts in vital resources needed to provide for the whole child. As a young educator of color myself, I know that working conditions are teaching conditions. It is hard enough to retain teachers of color let alone teachers in general and these cuts will only weaken the resolve of all educators. They also have the potential to spark mass resistance, depending on the level of organization of progressive forces inside teacher’s unions and in working class communities.

We are faced with “no choice” but to resist and rebel under this corporate assault on public education. That is the one “choice” our ruling class–the .01%–does not want us to make.

Resistance to DeVos is resistance to Trumpism, racism and corporate control

When DeVos was nominated to be the Education secretary many in the education justice movement criticized her for not having any experience in public education beyond promoting her “school choice” voucher privatization agenda. The ignorance of DeVos to not just public education but to basic U.S. history was revealing when she likened Historically Black Colleges to models of “school choice” she championed.

DeVos faced huge backlash from students, staff, and proponents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities for using them as a prop to advance her “school choice” agenda, falsely claiming that “they are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and great quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

DeVos must not know that HBCUs were not created out of a passion for so-called “school choice” but because they were the only institutions that would provide educational services for Black people in this nation. They were the byproducts and necessary institutions of Black self-determination in a white supremacist apartheid state known as Jim Crow.

In Indiana, a site of rapid expansion of private and charter schools, public school teachers are aware that the vague “school choice” language of DeVos and others is really just a assault on their profession and struggling urban school districts. As the president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association stated, “What we have is a voucher system that funds kids who are already going, by and large, to private schools anyway, and there is no data that is showing they are doing any better than public school counterparts.”

This is a pivotal point. No comprehensive studies have shown charter schools produce better results than public schools. In fact, most public schools outperform charters despite their unequal relationship to resources and opportunities. Moreover, charter schools in general are more selective and exclusionary than public schools and often reproduce the elitism of capitalist society. Ideologically this serves to train young people in neoliberal ideologies while robbing the state treasury of millions of dollars “in the name of the children” and even “progress” or “reform.”

But DeVos is not a lone warrior in this crusade against public education. She has allies in corporate America that seek to drink the blood of students, teachers, and parents in the working and middle classes. Aided by the likes of Exxon Mobil, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dell, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and other ruling class formations and personalities, education is being turned into a market to reap super profits in a time when the rate of capital accumulation on a national and international scale is slowing down.

The global free-marketization of education puts “schools, education management organizations, tutoring services, teacher training tests, curricula online classes, and franchises of branded universities” up for grabs. We know who is salivating to expand the already $2.5 trillion dollar global education market.

Education, which is largely seen as a public good, or a part of our “commons” is being turned into a instrument of capitalist “added value” seeking to transform this common good into a private good. Once it is a private good, competition between students and families will increase and sharpen as the global economy continues to restructure in the age of the technological revolution, leaving some students to join the growing ranks of low wage service work, languish in prison subjected to slave labor, or join the growing army of the unemployed.

This struggle cannot be limited to just Trump-DeVos, but they will remain the central figures of mass ire. In the same moment though, progressive educators, radical students and activist parents must deepen their understanding of the larger social context in which public education plays out. In order to truly transform our education system, how can we not transform the society that it exists in? While the reactionary forces in Washington continue their assault on public education and teachers’ unions, they run the risk of tapping into a mass spring of discontent and oppression of the millions of working class families on the other end of these oppressive social policies.

Key role of teachers’ unions

The teachers’ unions are one of the biggest unions still left in the U.S. They are one of the most concentrated and socially diverse sources of organized labor. They have the ability to spark a transformative movement in the larger labor movement because their social location is at the intersection of so many social classes, strata and layers. They stand as the nexus between the labor movement, working class and middle class communities, parents, students, and other social service workers. Due to their unique position and relatively large numbers compared to the rest of the organized labor movement, there remains much potential for dynamic social transformation should these various social groups converge with a clear program and sharp analysis of the problem we face today in education.

With the resistance of Detroit, Seattle, Boston and other teachers and their unions we should be hopeful about the prospects of mass struggle against this reactionary agenda. Students and educators from Puerto Rico to Chile are rebelling against corporate hegemony of “edu-business” and demanding free, public, democratic, and progressive education. As Brazilian Marxist pedagogue Paulo Freire taught, “Education does not change the world, education changes the people who then change the world.” We must be the initiators of this social change. Let’s turn this dangerous moment into an opportunity to unite, fight and win!

No to the Trump-DeVos agenda!

Students-Teachers-Parents unite against Corporate Education Reform!

Fully fund all public schools and let the people run them not the bosses
and bureaucrats!

WRB wants your feedback on this important article. This is YOUR world. Stand-up and be counted. It is time!

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