The national debate around K-12 education is boiling to the surface again, with teachers striking and threatening to strike again this fall, and other education workers, parents and students demonstrating massive support for them. The underlying issue is whether the corporations or the people will dictate the future of our youth and our country.
Mickey McCoy, a retired Kentucky English teacher, summed it up in describing how Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is leading “a war on public education” in his state. He said Bevin “wants to replace public education with charter schools, charter schools that will pick and choose who they’re going to teach, who will not take the underprivileged kids. And if this is allowed to be funded in Kentucky or any state, we’re going to change this nation into a place of the haves and have-nots.”
Parents see education as the key to their children’s future. Teachers see teaching as a calling, as a way of inspiring kids and changing lives for the better. Students see education as a path to their dreams. But the corporations and billionaires who run our country have another, darker vision of education; in an era when it’s getting harder for corporations to find ways to make money, they want to privatize education as a source of profit. (The US education “market” is valued at $1.3 trillion.) And in a time when technology is reducing the number of workers needed, they also want a system that will train only the handful of workers they need. The corporations also want to train the young to be obedient, not to think critically, and to accept the destruction of democracy.
Typically, privatization of the schools has taken the form of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed. There has been a 278% increase in charter school enrollment since 2006. Today in New Orleans, which has been the model for those backing charter schools, there is only two non-charter schools left.
Some parents like charters, because they think their kids will get a better education from them. Promoters claim charters yield better test scores and graduation rates among students. But critics say the most objective statistics show public school students are doing better academically than charter school students. Critics also say charters tend to marginalize the poorest and most disadvantaged children, who are sometimes literally forced out of the schools.
The federal government has played a leading role in establishing charter schools as markets for corporations. States and school districts were compelled to create charter school markets in order to receive federal funds. The federal government alone has spent over $4 billion since 1990 to fund the charter school industry. The federal government also established and helped fund Common Core as the national basis for high-stakes testing, which unified a national K-12 education market.
Many teachers, parents and students have joined together to fight for a properly funded, publicly owned education system. In the end, the fight has to be waged at the national as well as the state and local level. We need the schools to be public, and the federal government must be made to guarantee quality education for all by providing national funding for publicly owned schools.
Modern technology can give us a world of freedom and abundance, if the people and not the corporations are making the decisions. We can educate our youth to think critically, value democracy, respect everyone’s rights, and be the builders of a new world, but we first have to take our education system away from the corporations. The fight is on to do this.