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Education in the Marketplace: Voices of the People

Barbara D’Emilio
Date Published: 
April 01, 2007
    Around the US, communities are organizing against school privatization. Below, Barbara D’Emilio of the Save Our Schools Coalition in Washington, DC, brings us a first-hand report. The Save Our Schools Coalition is a group of parents, teachers, students, and community activists organizing against mayoral takeover of DC schools.

On a recent evening at a community space in Washington, DC, Mr. Perry, a single father with high blood pressure, came out in the snow to share his family’s plight. His powerful words were delivered as part of a community “shout-out” aimed at a mayor who proposes a fast-track corporate takeover of public schools. Mr. Perry’s two children have special needs and have been expelled from both public and charter schools. As he searches for alternative placements, this dedicated father has been threatened with jail because his children don’t attend school.

Another participant, a self-identified “alley dweller” in the 1950s, talked about the time when quality vocational education provided by the public schools prepared him for a job and a committed life as a defender of democracy. He now denounces the fact that young people are being thrown back into the alleys and destined to serve multiple jail sentences because they’re left without skills. Capitalism’s response to the Perry family and the youth on the street is to gain access to the over $350 billion dollars the government spends on education through privatization. The interests and untapped potential of these youth are inconsequential.

Privatization nationally

Privatization, the divestment of public services, agencies, and property to corporations in order to maximize profits, has resulted in what one activist calls the “new hustle—charter schools opening on every corner like liquor stores”. Under the guise of innovation, flexibility, autonomy, efficiency, and choice, Corporate America has opened over 4,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia that “process” over 1.5 million students, according to statistics from the Center for Educational Reform. The results portend the destruction of public education.

Consider the following:

  • Charters not only suck resources from under-funded public schools, but do not keep their promises of enhanced academic achievement. Dayton, Ohio, which has as many charter schools as the state of New Jersey, presents the worst case scenario. While taxpayers paid for dual school systems, traditional and charter, they got double the number of under performing schools.
  • Segregation has increased with the introduction of charter schools. In Michigan, according to the Education Policy Center, “racially segregated school buildings have increased by almost 50% to 431 schools statewide, primarily due to the opening of charter schools”. The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that in the state of Utah, charter schools increasingly serve wealthy, white students and leave minority students in under resourced traditional public schools.
  • Corporations have infiltrated all aspects of public education in preparation for charter proliferation. Eli Broad of the Broad Educational Foundation has invested $2 billion in training school superintendents, district governance personnel, and union leaders in corporate practices to facilitate operating schools as businesses. In addition, tax laws have been passed that allow billionaires to protect their money when it’s used for “philanthropy.”
  • Disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are being used to eradicate public schools as laws requiring public approval are waived to make the conversion of tradition public schools to charters easier. By the end of January, 2006, only 17 schools were open in New Orleans—three of them were public schools. In Washington, DC changes to the Home Rule Charter are being proposed to facilitate a mayoral takeover of the school system without citizen participation.

The profit-driven vision of the future is rapidly unfolding before our eyes. Theirs is a world where our children, our hope for the future, are deemed expendable and our basic human rights to food, housing, education, and health care are rendered commodities in the marketplace.

The future

The struggle against an undemocratic mayoral takeover of schools, exposing corporate malfeasance, or fighting to obtain the few concessions we have left is only one aspect of our work. But this will not be effective if we fail to recognize that a system in crisis that excludes us is our real problem. Capitalists know what they are fighting for and will stop at nothing to get it. It’s up to us to develop a clear vision that communicates what we are fighting for, not just what we are against.

It is incumbent upon us to collectively create democratic spaces in which all of us—especially those whose voices have been silenced—contribute to developing a vision for public education and the future that liberates the mind/spirit and provides us all with the knowledge and skills to create what is needed. Another world that operates in our interests in possible.

The Save Our Schools Coalition (SOS) recently held a Shout-Out against the proposed mayoral takeover of our public schools, giving people who are traditionally silenced an opportunity to voice their concerns and hopes for our city. SOS’s DC Metro Social Forum to be held on March 3rd will provide a space to more actively create a vision for DC. Check out their website and share your vision of education for the future:

Barbara D’Emilio is an activist with Save Our Schools and Project South in Washington, DC.