"Privatization Will Benefit Only WallStreet"

"Privatization Will Benefit Only WallStreet" by sagesnow on flickr

This piece is cross-posted at B-Town Errant, Indiana’s new and most progressive anti-corporate magazine. Please check it out.

A few weeks after I criticized EdisonLearning’s invitation to Indiana, Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels have welcomed yet another Jeb Bush crony, Jonathan Hage, CEO of Florida-based for-profit education management company Charter Schools USA (CS USA), to possibly administrate our so-called “failing schools.” Although IDOE’s Dale Chu testifies that plenty of “drilling” took place in selecting the turnaround companies which have landed on the final list, Jeb Bush’s DNA is embedded in the deals.

Jeb Bush has hyped his anti-public school operations in Indiana for years now. In 2009, he spoke at the Bill Gates-Fordham Foundation sponsored Indiana Education Roundtable, whose representatives include Carol D’Amico, a former George W. Bush-appointed National Board for Education Sciences board member. This year, Jeb picked Tony Bennett to boss his D.C.-based corporate school reform group, Chiefs for Change, alongside former Edison Schools’ Chris Cerf (now New Jersey’s commissioner of education) who profited handsomely when the then-Florida governor bought out the company’s failing stock with teachers’ retirement funding, a maneuver sticking state pensioners to this day with a $182 million investment in a company out to destroy public education and unions.

And Jeb even endorsed Mitch Daniels for president.

Like Daniels (who followed George H.W. Bush to Eli Lilly), CS USA’s Jonathan Hage pals around with the Bush family. Hage speech-wrote for George H. W. Bush’s 1992 presidential campaign, later joining the 2004 Bush/Cheney National Steering Committee as an educational talking head. A former defense agent for the right-wing Heritage Foundation and past director of research for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, Hage helped develop Liberty City Charter School, the first charter in Florida, which was sponsored by Jeb and Miami Urban League’s T. Willard Fair. At Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education’s D.C. summit, Hage—the once-Green Beret officer—paneled “The War on Charter Schools: Combating the Emerging Threats to Public School Choice,” while Tony Bennett sat on the “Top Gun Teachers” panel with touters for anti-teacher seniority groups like Teach for America and Troops for Teachers.

The messaging at the conference was appropriate, since the Bush family knows a thing or two about profiting from war and bogus school reform slogans like the “International Education Arms Race.” After paying George H.W. to promote its defense, energy, and security industries, the Carlyle Group, a private equity investment firm, has branched out into the for-profit education business, funding SchoolNet, a data-driven decision software outfit recently acquired by Pearson, the educational mega-company, to offer services in Indiana and elsewhere. Pearson has made a killing off of grading standardized tests since NCLB was passed, and brother Neil Bush’s Ignite! Learning computer/projector educational company was handed almost $1 million from the Department of Education.

Since CS USA and/or EdisonLearning will be transforming Indiana’s “takeover schools” into drill camps for standardized testing, as National Education Policy Center’s (NEPC) Bill Mathis recently told the IndyStar, Pearson will profit, along with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who owns a $453 million stake in Pearson. And so will CTB McGraw-Hill, the Indiana ISTEP+ test grader who hired pizza delivery boys and hair stylists to grade Jeb Bush’s FCAT test for Florida students. In fact, the Bush family-McGraw-Hill cartel goes back to the 1930s.

Thanks to Jeb, CS USA operates most of its schools in Florida. At one point, the outfit was busy lassoing students in then-Governor George W. Bush’s Texas, but now has no charter schools left in the state. Little surprise Jeb is counting on Daniels and Bennett to sign off on Hage’s plan to profit from poor kids in Indianapolis and Gary, even though the NEPC found that only 37% of CS USA-managed schools in 2009 met adequate yearly progress.

CS USA, in fact, has “no experience in turning around low performing schools,” says Karen Miller, a longtime public school researcher and advocate, “and has focused on elementary charters,” not high schools, as the Indiana takeover plan calls for.

And don’t count on EdisonLearning pulling any miracles, either. The outfit has topped in scandals, schemes, and corruptions, and despite Edison’s ill-famed disposals of challenging students, the test scores at their schools have been embarrassingly low.

Journalist and activist Caroline Grannan notes that EdisonLearning was so unsuccessful at running schools, despite its grandiose promises, that the company’s “name is no longer mentioned when ‘school reform’ supporters talk about solutions for public education.”

Parents Across America and Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson echoes this sentiment. “Given the consistently poor results of its schools elsewhere in the country, it is astonishing that Edison Learning has been selected [for consideration] to operate schools in Indiana,” Haimson says. “The only plausible explanation is that the company was selected not on the basis of its record, but because of its political connections.”

With the state’s excessive cronyism, it’s a marvel the Indy-based GEO Foundation, too, didn’t make the list. Co-leader Nina Rees helped draft the Bush-Cheney transition team’s NCLB blueprint, led the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education when Daniels was Bush’s tax “slasher,” and once worked with the pro-voucher Institute for Justice now fighting for Daniels’ voucher scheme in court.

For Daniels and Bennett, though, it appears one Bush (and two for-profit school management companies) in the hand is enough in this round of plowing down Indiana public education. Expect more hands and handouts to come after Bennett announces, at month’s end, how many Indiana schools Edison and/or CS USA will steal in their competition with the Indy-based EdPower.