Saturday, April 11, 2009

NYC's Big Enchilada -- Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood

In August 2007, Jonathan Kozol wrote an article in Harper’s (“The Big Enchilada”) in which he cited a market prospectus, written by analysts at Montgomery Securities, describing the profit-making opportunities to be had in privatizing public education:

"The education industry", according to these analysts, "represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control" that "have either voluntarily opened" or, they note in pointed terms, have "been forced" to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, "the education industry represents the largest market opportunity" since health-care services were privatized during the 1970s. Referring to private education companies as "EMOs" ("Education Management Organizations"), they note that college education also offers some "attractive investment returns" for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. "The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers", which, they emphasize, "are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers". From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, "the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada".

With roughly one hundred privately-owned and managed charter schools already expected to be in operation by September, the “Big Enchilada” has moved yet one step closer to realization thanks to the privatization-minded Broad Foundatiion (which not coincidentally, and incestuously, counts among its board members both Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee and which has just taken on another Klein protégé, Garth Harries, in its 2009 Superintendents Academy class). The Foundation’s latest press release proudly trumpets its donation of $2.5 million to Brett Peiser’s Uncommon Schools and Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network to further their respective corporate goals of creating as many as 60 New York City-based charter schools between the two of them alone over the next five to ten years. (Uncommon Charter currently has six charters in operation under a variety of names – Excellence, Leadership Prep, Collegiate – with three more set to open later in 2009; Harlem Success has four charters in operation under the name Harlem Success).

Topping off this week of great charter school news comes reporting from Yoav Gonen in the New York Post that the DOE is making plans to create space within the next four years for 100,000 students in charter schools, about four times the number of such students today. That’s also triple the number of students expected to be attending charter schools this September, when the City’s number of such schools will grow to 99. At the same ratio, it would take some 300 charter schools to accommodate the targeted 100,000 students. The necessary space (and the students to fill it) will come at the expense of existing neighborhood public schools, effectively turning public assets over to private, for-profit business use at zero dollar rent.

In the Post article, an unnamed DOE spokeswoman is cited as responding to this report of planned charter school growth with a nonsensical argument that the City’s goal is merely 50,000 students in charter schools by 2012, but with “enough seats available to serve twice that amount.” At the same time class sizes are failing to reduce and many schools are being crammed to overflowing, does any sentient New Yorker honestly believe that the DOE would create enough charter school space for 50,000 more children and then leave it unfilled?

During which election cycle did the citizens of New York City vote to put 10% of its public school system in private hands? Is this a policy goal the citizenry favors? Has anybody asked them? Do they get any say in this process as massive public assets, accumulated over decades, are virtually gifted to private corporate interests? Do they know and approve of Mayor Bloomberg’s and Chancellor Klein’s plans to effectively turn the DOE into an outsourcer of their children’s education?

Ten percent down, ninety percent to go. Sounds uncomfortably like the future of the NYC public school system being mortgaged to private interests, with hardly a murmur from the vast majority of our publicly-elected officials. Maybe they just like Mexican food.

1 comment:

fmoccio said...

Response to “Big Enchilada” article

I agree with most of the sentiments about the detrimental effect of charter schools on public education as expressed in the article, “NYC's Big Enchilada -- Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood." But I would also like to point up some criticism of what I view as cynicism on the part of the author when he paints all elected officials as passive regarding the incipient presence of “privatization” of New York public schools.

The charter school and voucher system undermine the philosophical underpinning of equal access to education and the dictum of “an opportunity for all” that the early founders and proponents of public education sought. Inevitably, charter schools promote fragmentation of the community and parent involvement. They lead to disparate distribution and delivery of educational services, unequal access to quality education, and most importantly, a glaring lack of regulations and oversight. Many New Yorkers (and Americans) are currently coping with the economic fall out of nearly thirty years of inadequate governmental oversight in the financial markets and the private sector. Like a bad hang over the next day, the public is just waking up to the fact that decades of unchecked corporate greed is behind the ‘manufactured’ consent that "private" is good and "public" is bad. The latest transparency regarding Wall Street corruption does little to inspire confidence in the general public that applying “free market” principles to New York’s most precious commodity -- the public school system -- will improve quality.

But unlike the author suggests, legislative initiatives and reforms in Albany over the past few years have kept the interests of the “public” in the public school system. This past year, for instance, public hearings held in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn provided opportunities for citizens, parents, education advocates, unionists and teachers to air their concerns about improving the quality of New York’s public schools. In addition, by promoting bills that strengthen the public scrutiny of “on school grounds” parent meetings and parent-teacher associations, legislators have championed a “let the sun shine” approach to diffuse the possibility of back door deals that institute changes in our school system which privilege only the few.

Globalization also presents formidable challenges to maintain inclusion in public education. The growing number of school-age children of nationally diverse workers in New York necessitates a hands-on approach to emerging demographic trends in order to deliver effective outreach and reform. In prior centuries, the public school system provided the opportunity for the children of newcomers to attain the American Dream and to become business, labor, and political leaders in their own right. In order for the public school system to retain its metaphor in New York as the great “equalizer,” equal access to language learning for the school-age children of these newcomers is critical for today’s service sector economy.

Without public support, the New York public school system would collapse. Thus, vigilance over entrusted taxpayers’ money for public education is critical to its longevity and the protection and well-being of our children is not only of paramount importance to all parents but to our communities as well. In order to eradicate the possibility of corruption in public education, reforms in Albany provide for severe penalties for the fraudulent use of public funds by school administrators and/or teachers. Furthermore, recent efforts to ensure the safety of our children have been met by legislative reforms which require the automatic revocation of a teaching certificate held by a teacher convicted of a sex offense. In addition, ensuring children’s equal access to nutritional lunches is a guarantor that every child in New York will be given an opportunity to well-being and learning, regardless of income or social standing.

Finally, that old dictum that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never rung more true than for keeping New York’s public education system free of efforts to privatize and undermine equality of opportunity. When stakeholders, for example, parents, teachers, business and labor leaders are pro-active and when legislators act in the interest of strengthening public oversight and community control, the “Big Enchilada” may come to town but only as the hors d’oeuvre not the entrée.

Dr. Francine Moccio