Follow the Money

I’m returning to my roots! Marx occasionally had it right. Along with Horace Mann, John Dewey et al.

This whole “new reform” movement in education is being fueled (the $$$$) by ordinary greed. Or second-hand greed—seeing a chance to destroy the political power of an already waning labor movement by undermining the two teacher unions. This is being done by fooling folks who mistakenly saw their own longtime critique of the public bureaucracy in the “radical” sounding idea charter schools. Afraid of being part of the “status quo” some genuine school-based reformers thus provided cover for a shift in power quite the opposite of what they had in mind. Most of those genuine school and educational people, including of course Ravitch, have been abandoning that ship and returning to their roots.

Having failed time after time with vouchers—direct public funding of private schools, the new reformers saw a way around it. Their instincts also suggested that history favors reforms that make repeal difficult, almost impossible. So the motto is: move fast and thoroughly.

Reading back about the fall of the Soviet Union, the big question was what would happen to all the state-owned enterprises. It seemed a tough puzzle. But before one could seriously think it through they were all sold off—to friends and allies with money. Deed done. While I write this the same thing is happening to our public schools. This was not the plan in Minnesota which began the charter movement with the best of intentions, Nor the idea of dear friends like Ted Sizer who started a great little school as a charter. Or even of Al Shanker who once proposed something he labeled charters—small schools under the initiative of a group of teachers who wanted to try out some of their very different ideas, entirely under the aegis of the public system. The ideas of those reformers when they used the term charters was much like what was done in District 4 in New York City in the 70s and 80s, and in Pilot Schools in Boston in the 90s where I started several small schools.

However, the idea of Charter Schools opened the eyes and ears of folks with quite different intentions. They saw that there was money to be made right and left and center. Buildings were “sold off” for nothing or nearly nothing. Public funds were used to start schools whose principals and leaders were paid a half million and more. Publishing companies and private tech companies saw $$$$$ everywhere. By the time we wake up to what is happening we will no longer have a public education system in reality. Some charters will be legit—truly serving public purposes with public money and boards made up of educators, community members, etc. But most will be in the hands of folks with no other connection to the schools they “serve”! Meanwhile… that their revolutionary ideas will have demonstrated no significant improvement in the situation facing America’s poor children in terms of test scores is just fine with them.

They did this with language resonating with the valiant words of “borrowed” from the civil rights movement. Except they seemed to have left out terms like “equal funding” or “integration.” They did it despite the cost in jobs to teachers of color, as the lowest performing schools were closed (where teachers of color tend to work), despite the cost to public unions which Martin Luther King Jr. died defending. And on and on. They did this by adopting noble words (mea culpa) like choice and autonomy and self-governance and small scale and on and on. They did this by playing with data to confuse our judgment.

Shame on us for being duped.

Yet, I still believe–how can I not?—that some, if not many, of those who have gone along meant well, and were not influenced in any way by their moneyed interests. Sure, it’s easier to believe what seems compatible with one’s other interests. I’ve done that. And then there are many many others who have simply been naive, confused or not paying close attention.

Enough. We must fight this back quickly before they’ve bought out the whole shebang.

Some resources and organizations helping in this fight:

The Network for Public Education

The Forum for Education and Democracy

Save Our Schools

14 Responses

  1. Well, Duh …

  2. Fourth, require that charters collaborate with the public schools and share whatever they learn.

  3. […] Deborah Meier, one of the great education thinkers of our time, says we were duped. […]

  4. Reblogged this on GFBrandenburg's Blog and commented:
    I hadn’t realized that Deborah Meier had herself started charter schools, and has turned completely opposed to the larger corporate educational ‘reform’ movement that has been profiting mightily off of those changes.
    This is a very significant article.

    • Actaully, none of her schools were charter schools. They were all within the regular public school system, although they were schools of choice.

      • And what that means is that Debra Meier is and has always been an incredible hypocrite. “Schools of choice”. Basically it means she told parents who didn’t like her educational vision to take a hike.Maybe not in those words but that was always the gist of it. And Debra Meier is no democrat. The vision that prevailed at her schools was very much her vision.

        I don’t really have a problem with any of that. What I do have a problem with is her not acknowledging what made her vision successful because she has her ideological blinders on. Socialism is dead Debra. Get over it. You are too old to be this foolish.

      • Your post shows your ignorance. Deborah Meier, nor anyone in her schools ever told parents to “take a hike” in those words or any others anywhere nearly like them, stated or implied. What is your evidence that she did? None of course, since it is a figment of your imagination. She was up front that her school did have a belief about how children learn. That ideology was and is based on centuries of study of how children and people learn grow and develop as well as a belief about a democratic purpose of education. If a parent was not comfortable with that form of education they might not want to send their child there, but she encouraged all parents and families that her schools were good for all children. And unlike many elite private schools, and some charter schools, they did not encourage children to leave if they were having trouble, but rather worked with the families to solve the issues together. It is only when and if all parties thought there was a school better suited to the child’s needs–something that rarely happened–that a suggestion might be made to send a child elsewhere.

        You also state that because her schools followed her ideology they were not democratic. That again makes no sense. Democracy does not mean lack of leadership. It means a lack of coercion. And it goes along with choice. If you understand her work (which clearly you do not), you would understand that she believed there should be a variety of schools for parents and staff to work in with different ideologies, not that all should follow her ideology. And within her school, she did not force her ideology on others, but either persuaded the others or did not. And she did not always get her way. She does acknowledge that there are trade-offs in the idea of neighborhood schools and schools of choice which can be difficult. Also that in an unequal society choices are not equal, which is why she has continued to argue and fight for changes outside of schools as well as inside them for a more equitable and fair distribution of resources and power, as democracy cannot function when resources and power are unequally distributed to the degree we currently see.

        Whether or not socialism is dead on not is certainly a matter of debate. However, even if we now have the triumph of the rich to oppress the poor through global corporate capitalism, that should certainly not be something to gloat about or to “get over” but rather something to work even harder to change. The triumph of greed as the main force of our world-wide economic system seems to me to destroy economic and political equality, spiritual and emotional health, and the environmental survival of the planet.

  5. Deborah, this is hard. Remember how Diane had to break openly with former allies when she stood up against the corporate reformers?

    I’m not sure the Forum for Education and Democracy can be counted as an asset anymore. Can you follow some money there for us, please? The Ford Foundation is listed as a funder (top of the list, in fact) on their Our Team page. Can you find out how much Ford is giving them?

    And I know you have worked a long time with fellow-convener Linda Darling-Hammond, but she still stumps for Pearson’s Common core tests, on the old “place at the table” argument. She writes:
    “I continue to try to work on this agenda with one of the two assessment consortia (Smarter Balanced) and with the Innovation Lab Network states, because I want to try to make what is happening as productive as it can be, and perhaps more instructionally helpful than it might otherwise be. ”

    Finally, The Coalition of Essential Schools and the Forum have merged. I have a bad feeling about this.

    Here is a Coalition of Essential Schools affiliate, the Great Schools Partnership, which is all over my building imposing a corporate teacher evaluation system on us (while they occasionally make vague reference to constructivism out of the other side of their mouths).

    A data-driven surveillance nightmare is what they’re really selling, though. Claiming our union had approved, they ordered us to submit multiple 3 minute walkthrough checklists on each other, and upload reports on them to our online corporate evaluation website. Meet iWalkthrough:

    Deborah, can you work to actually talk these people back over, where they may belong, or else at least expose their twisting and expropriation of progressive education vocabulary in the service of the corporate take over?


    In defending “against” the corporate take over “initiatives” — We must establish a Democratic (organization) in each school/district. The power to make decisions (about all aspects of schooling) must mirror the democratic frameworks we have established to maintain freedom and Democracy in our government. So! How do we go about moving toward this goal (i.e. independence)?

    Educators must conduct (site-based) action research, learn to apply theoretical constructs in their classrooms/schools, and keep their philosophy of education relevant. Practitioners must also continue to improve their instructional techniques (i.e. craft).

    I am in agreement with “most of the comments” posted on various Blogs about the “motives of corporate entities”! However, I believe that in many ways EDUCATORS have taken the “poor me” position. May I encourage all practitioners to fight for their freedom and for the PUBLIC SCHOOLS that have blessed our nation (with strong independent thinkers) for decades.

    Has anyone considered the significance of preparation (to fight)? I spent more than TEN years developing the means (i.e. mechanisms) required to “prepare” practitioners. However, I cannot force them to “prepare” for the battles ahead.

    I shall make a declarative statement to “BOTH” sides (i.e. public and private interests) — PREPARE TO DEFEND YOUR INTERESTS!
    Visit my Blog @
    Sample my books on educational reform/teacher training @


  7. Even “legit” charters have to –
    – take public property and money forever away from the public domain
    – lure better-off students and families and thus resources away from our true public schools that welcome all.
    – twist and contort our system of public education to fit the individual “vision” of acquistive charter operators, who are so egotistical they will blithely hurt students and families to preserve their corporation.
    -have the same strange Right-wingnut bed fellows.

    That’s the gist of it really, all of them are Corporations First and Foremost.

  8. How disappointing. Some fought so hard when you, Deborah, were given the chance to create options in New York City.

    Where is your criticism of the low time inequities in NYC involving elite magnet schools that are allowed to use admissions tests? Apparently that’s ok?

  9. Actually, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the vast majority of chartered public schools today (more than 2/3) are independent, not part of either a larger non-profit or a for-profit group.

  10. […] attention. Enough. We must fight this back quickly before they’ve bought out the whole shebang. Deborah Meier (Happy […]

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