Corporate ‘Reform’ for Public Education


by Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh

The topic of education “reform” seems to be everywhere. As I read the many articles written on the subject, it is clear to see an organized attempt by corporate interests to hijack public education.

These efforts, initiated in large measure by Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of DC Public Schools, are now being referred to as “corporate education reform.” The primary tenets of this idea appear to be 1) that the main impediments to improving public schools are teachers’ unions because they rigidly defend bad teachers (despite facts and data provided to the contrary); 2) schools need to be run more like businesses; 3) educational experience is not required to be a teacher, principal or superintendent; and 4) that data-driven outcomes (i.e.: standardized testing) are the only means to improving public schools.

Even when hard numbers and facts indicate that teachers are being dismissed in cooperation with the teacher’s associations, that test scores are not being used in the top-performing countries, and that only one out of five charter schools does better than the traditional public school, the “corporate reformers” ignore the facts and continue to spew that which will benefit their agenda.

Michelle Rhee’s seductive, feel-good rhetoric has wreaked havoc on the public education system in DC and provided a misguided and simplified platform for the corporate reformers and policymakers to propagate. Her strategy includes top-down organizational structure, privatization and competition (or “school choice”). Public education has become a very profitable industry, indeed.

In the United States and in Utah, “school choice” has become the competitive element. Closing down “failing” schools is seen as something to celebrate and, according to some, provides the proof that reform is progressing. The realities are that the “school choice” options are not doing as well as our traditional public schools despite small class sizes and limited populations of “at-risk” children.

I have heard the phrase “people will vote with their feet” if their school is not successful. What about those children who have no advocate, no parents, no way to “vote with their feet”? These same children rely on their teachers as one of the most stable forces in their lives. Corporate reformers would add more chaos to the fragile situations of these children and disrupt their communities and support structure.

Poverty is the biggest indicator of school success or failure. Until we address this issue “head on” our public schools will be reduced to standardized testing factories whose sole purpose is not to educate the “whole child” but to pass a test. Is this what we want for our children?

True reform cannot be imposed but must include meaningful participation with the school community and must address the poverty, violence and dysfunction that plague too many of our children’s lives.


Two-Tiered Education

Date Posted: 5/13/2011 9:14:02 AM
Name: Richard

When certain parents "vote with their feet" our neighborhood schools will be severely weakened, if not destroyed altogether. Those students remaining will not receive what they need. Then, with a two-tiered system in place, Utah can then boast that they have as good an education system as Alabama and Mississippi had in the 1950's.

Improving Schools

Date Posted: 5/11/2011 1:20:42 AM
Name: Nancy

Improving schools is very complex. I have an interesting experience to share. My class has gotten very small since several former students have left my school for charter schools. Their parents were dissatisfied by the quality of education that their children have gotten, so they have chosen to take them out of my class. But the students who are left in the class have parents who are on drugs, in jail, or don't care about them--including the quality of education that they get in our title-1 school. But I am so grateful that I can focus on these precious children in our small class. I wasn't able to give them the attention they needed before. It is a blessing in disguise.

Business Model for Education fails

Date Posted: 4/27/2011 11:11:14 AM
Name: Tom

When a business wants to improve, it narrows its focus. When it does this, it is able to concentrate on the one thing that will make it succeed and exclude all the distractions. If a school only had one measure to determine if it succeeded, it would be easy but schools need to serve many needs. It may be easy to narrow the focus of a school to just reading and math and measure the success of students in meeting standards but will that student succeed in the real world. The problems our country faces in our global society need more then just reading and math test taking skills. We need students who not only can read and do math but know geography, languages, culture, history, science, art and a host of other skills. In otherwords instead of narrowing the focus of schools in a business model, we need to expand the scope of schools. Schools can't avoid the distractions of an expanding mission but have to embrace them in order for students to be prepared to live and work in a global society.

schools are businesses

Date Posted: 4/27/2011 9:30:35 AM
Name: Stuart

A business man was asked recently about his business and how he makes his money. he said he relied the best raw materials to make his product the best. He was asked what he would do if he got inferior raw materials. He said he would send them back because that would affect his product and his bottom line. This is the fundamental difference between business and schools. We can't send back the inferior product. We work with what we are given.


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