The following piece is by Michael Holzman. I have worked with Michael over the past eight years in his role as a researcher for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which I chair. To me, Michael's most amazing research has been on how Black Boys are given "Half the Chance" or half of the opportunities of their white counterparts. His most recent book is Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie, forthcoming.
How has it come to this? In their recent, much publicized, report from the Council on Foreign Relations, Joel Klein of the Murdoch organization and Condoleezza Rice of the Hoover Institution would have us believe that the purpose of American education is to better educate the military. It is difficult to think of a precedent for this astonishing view. Sparta? Prussia? Nazi Germany? Even Imperial Rome thought that the purpose of education is to produce good citizens, capable of contributing to their civilization and public life.
But no: "With the support of the federal government and industry partners, states should expand the Common Core State Standards, ensuring that students are mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard the country's national security." Nothing is said concerning the skills and knowledge necessary to lead a better, more humane life.
The report does make important points concerning the underfunding of public education and the wide disparities in its quality. However, in regard to funding of public education, as the Report's dissenters (Stephen Walt, Carole Artigiani, Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten) point out,
"[E]ven though key recommendations, such as raising teacher quality, cannot be realized without additional public investment, the report offers only a bland statement that 'increased spending may well be justifiable.' It then declares that 'money alone is not the answer,' creating the unfortunate impression that the Task Force is trying to solve an alleged national security threat on the cheap."
In regard to funding disparities, according to the report, "There are large differences in the levels of funding allocated to schools. This means that the resources dedicated to educating a student are different from school to school, district to district, and state to state . . . the United States spends less to educate needy students than it does to educate well-off students." This could be construed as advocating for federalization of public education funding or, at least, for the equalization of school funding across districts and states, presumably by federal legislation. If this is what Klein and Rice mean, one could only congratulate them on their bold vision.
But they probably do not mean that.
One might defend Klein and Rice by claiming that they are not entirely sincere in advocating militarization of the raison d'être of education, just as they are probably not advocating the federalization of school funding.
That said, it is clear that the main purpose of the report, which is sincere enough, is to build support for privatizing public education. As the report's dissenters have pointed out, the report ignores evidence that voucher programs and charter schools are not as, or no more, effective than public schools and, nonetheless, advocates the diversion of public funds to the private hands of those benefiting from voucher schemes and to charter school entrepreneurs. Qui bono?, as the Romans would ask. Not the children. Not even, in all probability, the Army.