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Education is big business

     The United States has the highest poverty rate in the developed world. It has the second highest poverty rate for children (23.1%) in the developed world beaten only by Romania. Sheldon Danziger, the director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan said:  “Among rich countries, the U.S. is exceptional,” he said. “We are exceptional in our tolerance of poverty.”

   In the last post, I documented how horrific poverty is for children's well being. How do we educate our children when almost 1/4th are dealing with poverty issues - poor health, terrible nutrition, sometimes horrible lives with homelessness and domestic violence, and meager preschool education? We don't. We have a bifurcated school system, one for the well to do richly funded with great results, and the other, usually in the inner cities or rural countryside, that is poorly funded with failing results. This story has not changed for decades. The reformers have changed. Once we had educational reformers who actually attempted to get better funding for low-income schools. Now we have educational reformers who pretend that it doesn't matter - children can be educated no matter their personal life story. If we focused on poverty, we could have better results in schools.

    There is a reason we don't focus on poverty rather than schools - because there is a great deal of money to be had in education. Not so much in poverty. Unfortunately, big business has entered the arena of elementary and secondary education and public schools will suffer greatly from it. Publishers, like Pearson Education with $7 billion in revenue and McGraw-Hill Education that comes in second with $2 billion in revenue, have a great deal at stake.

  There is even more money to be had in technology in the classroom - Tech giants (like Microsoft) dream to put hardware and the software in every classroom in America. Americans are under the mistaken belief that Microsoft, IBM and other technology giants are providing technology grants to schools for altruistic reasons.  We are led to believe that the Gates Foundation pours funding into our public schools because they care about preparing our young people for the future. On the contrary, IT in elementary and secondary education is big business, both hardware and software, and it is in every school system in the nation.

Foundations are also supporting charter schools, another money maker for investors. The Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation fund numerous charter school companies that make a great deal of money, not their teachers but their investors and management. Joanne Barkan in a revealing article in Dissent, Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools, points out that these three foundations are behind the recent draconian testing policies in most public schools and the rise of charter schools regardless of their quality.

The latest craze is online courses. For the first time online courses are now available in 48 out of 50 states for secondary education. The National Education Policy Center studied virtual schools throughout the country and reported " large virtual schools operated by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) now dominate this sector and are increasing their market share....School performance measures, for both full-time entirely virtual and full-time blended virtual schools, suggest that they are not as successful as traditional public schools"(NEPC). Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan University, who co-authored a report this year on virtual schools said it best - “The virtual schools are just much more ripe for corruption because [of] the profit margins” (Miron).

Given the money making intent of textbook publishers, tech companies, foundations and for profit educational organizations, it is very difficult to see how public schools will survive. One hope is that  many people have now awakened to the absurd demands on our public schools from these organizations. The Gates Foundation wanted smaller schools and then didn't. They wanted high stakes testing and then they didn't. What all of these organizations are guilty of besides greed is ignoring the elephant sitting in the middle of the decision makers room - poverty. The United States has the most poverty of any nation in the developed world. And if you don't think that poverty makes a significant difference in a child's life, you are either ignoring the research or you deliberately wish to not acknowledge the extent of poverty in this country and how it affect children. It is much easier to blame the schools.



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