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Billionaires Going Bonkers: Trying to Reboot Reform

From coast to coast, the billionaire-backed education reform project is back-pedaling, and there are signs of desperation showing up all over. At Education Nation there was little attention paid to the fractured fairytale that corporate reform has become, but the cracks are appearing everywhere now. At a recent conference of mayors, few would even utter the words "education reform."  In Los Angeles today, there has been a hastily organized rally in support of Superintendent John Deasy, who has coyly suggested he "might" resign. This rally was organized by the Gates-funded Educators for Excellence, Teach Plus, and Los Angeles' chapter of the United Way, which distinguished itself a few months ago by hosting a school reform summit on the eve of a school board election.

This minor furor temporarily takes attention away from the much more significant questions being raised about the billion dollars in construction funds that Los Angeles Unified has invested in iPads and related curricular materials, at Deasy's urging. Deasy has remained adamant in the face of the controversy, insisting that the iPads are a "civil rights issue."  Where have we heard that before?

In the state of New York, the on again off again Department of Education hearings were back on again, and Commissioner John King has apparently been instructed to actually allow the public to speak without interrupting and arguing with them, as he had done at his last outing in Poughkeepsie. He has still not found the nerve to schedule any hearings in New York city, however.

There seems to be a dawning awareness on the part of the backers of corporate reform that their project is in real trouble, and that this battle is unfolding on the ground, even if they command the corporate boardrooms.

In the affluent suburb of Douglas County, Colorado, ALEC-aligned school board candidates have been surprised by an effective grassroots campaign in favor of candidates who are far more supportive of public education. Colorado's Secretary of State, who is a candidate for Governor, has decided to "send in the cavalry," to support the right-wing candidates.   His website announces  "The Gessler campaign is taking the next several days to aid the GOTV for the conservative  school board candidates in Douglas County. If you would like to help we're looking for walkers! It pays $11 per hour! We must fight for conservative education reform. Our state demands it now "

Parent groups have called foul on this, and on the huge amounts of outside money pouring into the local school board race. More than 95% of the donations to these candidates have come from people and corporations outside the local area.

Earlier this month the Business Roundtable released a report entitled Taking Action on Education and Workplace Preparedness,  which urged business leaders to step up their role in supporting "reform." They declared "Priority #1: Fully Adopt and Implement the Common Core State Standards." Among the recommendations offered by the experts they interviewed:

  • The time is ripe for CEO leadership. The debate over U.S. education and workforce training reform is on "business turf," and as job creators, U.S. employers can help inform the agenda. Employers need to be involved at a higher level than in the past.
  • Disruptive times offer big opportunities for change. The still-recovering economy and need for fiscal discipline cry out for the business community to provide a vision for what skills will be necessary in the global and digital age. It is time to "reboot."
  • Higher education reforms need the same Business Roundtable energy that has been committed to K-12 education reform. U.S. higher education must become more efficient and better at serving the needs of students, and the Business Roundtable can help influence those changes.

The battle over the future of public education has been joined. The Business Roundtable, and billionaire-sponsored advocacy groups rallying support for reformers like John Deasy in Los Angeles, and paying for door to door campaigners in Douglas county, will press their case with the public, and in the media outlets they conveniently own. And those of us who challenge the corporate reform project will need to work that much harder to make sure our voices are heard.

What do you think about the latest efforts to promote corporate reform? How should those of us critical of the project respond?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

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