by Jon Greenbaum
My daughter came home from Wilson High School one afternoon and told me the new Superintendant, Jean Claude Brizard, had recommended that the students read The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman’s anecdotal tribute to the global expansion of the corporate world. The book is notorious for completely ignoring the structural and geopolitical causes of increasing global poverty. That was the first red flag. The next red flag was at a Parent Council meeting where the superintendent read a passage of a book. The book, written by a former military officer, offered us the advice that schools should be run more like businesses. I thought to myself, “Does he mean AIG, GM or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?”
On the American Association of School Administrators website Brizard recommends a third book, a business management guide entitled Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. The book was recommended to him by NYC Superintendent Joel Klein who currently is enjoying a 22% approval rating among parents. Brizard comments that the current teacher contract negotiation model is out of line with sound business management.
With Brizard eliminating over 200 teaching positions in the Rochester City Schools it is fair to start asking what his agenda is. We know that Brizard is a Broad Institute Fellow. He has talked publicly about consulting with other Broad (rhymes with “road”) Fellows. What is this Broad Institute and who is Eli Broad?
Billionaire Eli Broad is one of the wealthiest men on the planet. With Bill Gates Broad he funded and launched the Strong American Schools initiative, seeking to move Presidential candidates in the ’08 election to embrace national education standards (enforced with high stakes testing), merit pay and longer school days and years. Sure enough, these issues have been embraced by the Obama administration. The billionaires have put the public schools in their sights and they are pulling the trigger.
In The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools Steven Miller and Jack Gerson outline the corporate agenda for schools and identify the players.
According to Miller and Gerson, “The Broad Institute trains school superintendents, school boards and even union leaders in what they consider ‘appropriate corporate approaches.’ A central problem for corporate privatizers is the issue of governance, i.e. who has legal authority over the schools. Broad favors state take-overs (New Orleans, Washington DC, Oakland, Ca, St. Louis) or mayoral takeovers (Chicago, Pittsburg, attempted last year by Villaregosa in LA) to eliminate messy interference from the public.”
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Mayor Duffy only started to make noises about mayoral control after Brizard came to town.
The Gates Foundation also financed the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace Report entitled Tough Choices or Tough Times. Miller and Gerson report that the Commission is advocating for “(a) replacing public schools with what the report called “contract schools”, which would be charter schools writ large; (b) eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards—their role would be to write and sign the authorizing agreements for the “contract schools; (c) eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits; and (d) forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed (i.e., throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn 16).”
Miller and Gerson continue, “These measures, taken together, would effectively cripple public control of public education… They would leave education policy in the hands of a network of entrepreneurial think tanks, corporate entrepreneurs, and armies of lobbyists whose priorities are profiting from the already huge education market while cutting back on public funding for schools and students.”
The charter school movement, originally championed by progressive parents and teachers who sought to create innovative schools with more flexibility within the big bureaucratic system, is now being led by the corporate world. Charter schools are now big business.
Charter school initiatives have grown exponentially and with decidedly mixed results. Eli Broad got in on the action in Oakland after California seized the school district after it supposedly “could not pay off a state loan” according to Miller and Gerson. “After 4 years of state-appointed administrators, the district was further in debt than ever with little positive to show for it. In fact, the state takeover was virtually a hostile corporate take-over by billionaire Eli Broad, who hand-picked all important district personnel. Since the community had lost its voice, 42 of 98 schools have been closed, charterized or made into ‘small schools’… To support this effort, corporate forces came forward to raise more than $40 million for OUSD ‘to redesign the central office’ and refused to allocate even a penny of this money to the classroom. However, administrators are leaving the schools at an alarming rate, the highest in the state, despite the money.”
So far Brizard has followed the Broad management playbook, breaking up Franklin, decentralizing budgets to individual schools, laying off teachers and advocating for a longer school year and mayoral control. How far will Brizard follow Broad’s corporate lead?