Saturday, January 15, 2011

Closing public schools diminishes democracy, increases plutocracy

As the George W. Bush presidency showed, it's much easier to be a destroyer of things than a productive creator. Conversely there is some truth to the notion of "creative destruction" embodied in the theory of capitalism. But in order to have a true picture of the value of destruction it is imperative that we have an honest evaluation of what it is that is being destroyed. What other way would there be to judge whether the destruction of long-held assets is outweighed by the value of what replaces them?

In the case of public schools, education deformers are quick to call for the closing of so-called "underperforming" schools, which almost always happen to serve poor and minority students. When was the last time you heard that an affluent school, perhaps in Edina, Eden Prairie, or Hopkins was slated to be closed? Never that I can remember. Deformers such as the editorial writers at the Star Tribune are so anxious to destroy public education in the name of saving it that they don't even stop for one minute to consider what else might be destroyed in their rush to shutter public schools.

Only a blind ideologue or the ignorami at the Star Tribune would imagine that the only function of public schools is to help students pass standardized math and English tests. One thoughtful writer at, Christopher Lawrence, has nicely summarized the democratic values embodied at local public schools that are being destroyed by the education deformers:
Public schools have benefits beyond individual student achievement. As state institutions, they function as a conduit for the flow of money into poor communities. Public schools serve as community centers. Often, they are important employers in neighborhoods ravaged by unemployment and poverty.
They employ local residents as aides, custodians, and other staff. In most cases, local communities enjoy a remarkable degree of influence over their neighborhood schools, even the "failing" ones. Of course, public schools are notoriously inefficient and prone to a certain degree of graft and nepotism, but even this, ultimately, benefits the local community. In any case, this level of graft is chickenfeed compared to what goes on in many privately run charters.
The move to charters has severed the economic ties between poor communities and their schools. Instead of redistributing state funds to the community, school reform directs the money to privately owned charters, outside educational entrepreneurs and overpaid directors.
For example, in her book "Making Failure Pay," Jill Koyama points out that under NCLB legislation, failing schools are required to divert already scarce funds to private tutoring companies. When "failing" schools are closed and replaced by charters, the organic relations with the local community are severed and poor communities lose yet another source of support. The new schools answer to corporations, not the community.
In short, each public school closed equals a victory for plutocracy and a diminishment of democracy.

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