Duncan Donuts with Arne!

Gingrich, Sharpton, and Duncan Do Education

Well put on a sundress and sing me a show song! Newt Gingrich, his pal the Reverend Al Sharpton and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are teaming up to push for the ‘reformation American education’. The ménage de trois will saddle up and begin a whirlwind tour starting at the end of September and they will be pushing Arne’s great Race to the Top and of course charter schools, the Trojan horse for the privatizers and the liquid center of the Great Race.

Interviewed on NBC’s Today show Friday the 14th of August, Gingrich and Sharpton spoke of bi-partisanship and “putting everyone’s hands on the table.” It might be a good idea to require that they be placed palms up, just to be safe. Gingrich even went so far as to call education a “civil rights issue” and echoed the familiar themes often heard about the need to prepare students for competition in a global capitalist world. Gingrich on civil rights? Education Secretary Arne Duncan is also joining forces with the dynamic duo to bankroll the new charters (he’s got ten billion to play with from various and sundry federal programs) and encourage and push cities to fix failing schools, or so he says. As if the cities had the money to even fix sidewalks, let alone schools. After almost thirty years of neglect, the cities, not to mention their mostly urban schools, centers of obedience training and tethered as they are to the carpet loom of rigid standardized testing, are literally falling apart. But don’t tell that to the Rat Pack. According to NewsMax:

The trio will visit Philadelphia, New Orleans and Baltimore later this year. They plan to add more stops as their tour progresses.

“These are cities that have real challenges but also tremendous hope and opportunity,” Duncan told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

Maybe Duncan will get the opportunity to meet with the FBI when he’s in Philly, where at least five Philadelphia-area charter schools are under investigation, their control of public funds, handling of financial accounting and managerial oversight have been criminally called into question. Federal authorities are right now adding investigative and legal resources to the criminal probe as this is being written. School Matters notes that:

People familiar with the matter say the list includes New Media Technology Charter School, with campuses in Germantown and Stenton; Germantown Settlement Charter School in Germantown; Northwood Academy in the Northeast; and Agora Cyber Charter School in Devon, which provides online instruction to 4,400 students statewide (School Matters, August 27, 2009).

The trio will eventually burrow its way into New Orleans, another pit stop on the whistle tour. There, disaster capitalism is boosting charter school CEO pay after decimating the teachers union, the way the ‘reform’ was designed. In New Orleans, disaster capitalism’s first educational reform experiment, corporate school mercenaries under the direction of autocrats Paul Pastorak and Paul Vallas (Arne’s old boss in Chicago), operate with little or no oversight and little community participation. CEO Principals hire and fire at will without any protections for teachers. Similar pay boosts for administrative personnel were just announced in Los Angeles where the school board handed over 250 charter schools to the “new providers”, in face of opposition from teachers and parents.

While the kids are uniformed and uninformed and the teacher’s shackled and harnessed to the inauthentic tests, according to the Times-Picayune CEO pay is rising:

At the top of the pay range sits veteran Kathy Riedlinger, head of Lusher Charter School, who earns $203,556, including a $5,000 yearly car allowance. Lafayette Charter School’s Mickey Landry, recruited from a prep school in a national search, is No.A2 at $186,000

At Ben Franklin High School, Principal Timothy Rusnak, also recruited nationally, earns $150,000 annually. And Jay Altman, chief executive of FirstLine Schools, earns $132,000 to oversee both S.J. Green and Arthur Ashe charter schools (Times Picayune, May 17, 2009).

This is the Wal Mart model of education, where teachers become ‘associates’ student become ‘consumers’, unions are despised and any effort to organize them immediately thwarted, and it unfortunately this reform seems to be spreading to almost every major city in the country and at incredible speed. Thanks to Arne Duncan.

There is little doubt that the gang will be chauffeured to various charter schools and then scattered amongst rehearsed classrooms. Images of the three patting eight year old student heads while a smiling administrator and grinning teacher stand in the background will be cast to the public and perhaps one or all of the three ‘reformers’ can inquire of little Johnny or Maria or Shareka how they feel about the need to get an education in the rush to compete with China and India. The group might also take the opportunity to meet with some of the ‘strong players’ in the business of turning around schools, like Green Dot Public Schools in LA or Alliance Schools. We also mustn’t forget about the meetings with unions and their members in an effort to convince them they are drafting a future that includes the beleaguered teachers while the true intent of the Sicarios remains hidden under their garments.

Overshadowed by two wars, a corporate financed health care debate, economic crisis and swelling unemployment, social unrest and reality TV, a discussion of educational policy is virtually impossible under the current corporate media command. Unacceptable to most American citizens the current educational system is being radically disassembled like Legos in a pre-school play room. In its stead is being built a new corporate educational model. The water bag has burst, the EMO’s are like kids scrambling for candy under a broken piñata. It is truly astounding.

Duncan, of course, is spearheading the campaign to sell the charter school snake oil to the public. It’s like an old traveling medicine show equipped with elixirs and potions for every ailment but Duncan’s the guy with the bankroll, the go to guy. He has close ties to billionaires: Eli Broad, Gates, the Walton family and other philanthropic interests who have for years looked forward to this moment to step in and control the design and organizational structure of American education. Maybe while he’s in Los Angeles, where 250 schools were simply given over to “outside operators” he’ll find a little time away from his soap box tour to spend a few minutes at the Eli Broad Superintendents Academy that prepares non-educators like Duncan for Superintendent positions in urban schools while the Broad Foundation trains works side by side with ‘associates’ of skilled executives in various fields for leading urban school systems (School Administrator, August 2007). There, he can listen to the voices of experienced, proven leaders from business, military, civic and government sectors sharing ideas with their non-educator counterparts on how to privatize and reform education. Even Newt and Sharpton might enjoy the challenge.

The hyperbole and hypocrisy of Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is asking America to hand over its public school system to outside providers and non profit and for profit educational maintenance organizations (EMO’s) in an attempt to regiment education, clean up management and tie the whole mess to performance outcomes on NCLB under the euphemism Race to the Top. What about Duncan’s education successes in Chicago where he was CEO of schools. Shouldn’t we critically examine them to see if Arne is on the right track? It sure doesn’t seem like it; in Chicago Arne created more like a race to the bottom and the statistics are dismal.

In a report released in July of this year Titled “Still Left Behind,” and put out by Duncan’s former bosses, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, in Chicago public schools:

Half of the students drop out by high school, and of those who remain until 11th grade, 70% fail to meet state standards, the report says. In fact, “In the regular (non-magnet) neighborhood high schools, which serve the vast preponderance of students, almost no students are prepared to succeed in college.” The report directly challenges widespread claims by current and former CPS officials that local students have shown substantial progress over the last decade on standardized tests. For instance, it notes a 2006 letter from then schools CEO Arne Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, stating that the share of CPS students meeting or exceeding state standards had leapt 15 points in one year (”Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago Public Schools”).

Purporting to be gloomy and indeed it was, the Chicago Civic Committee actually seemed to relish the poor test results. It seems that even though Arne’s seven year tenure as CEO of Chicago schools did nothing for students even if you accept NCLB and the state mandated tests, the committee spokesman, Mr. Martin, did not hesitate to say he would not call the entire school-reform process a failure. Why? Largely because the ‘reform’ also sparked the formation of more charter and ‘innovative schools’, schools that according to the report perform better than CPS schools. Ah, and there we have it, the report is evidence of Arne’s success; Arne did do his job and he did it well, traditional schools fail in Chicago and charter schools gain fame. The public schools become secondary providers that struggle to compete with philanthropic and taxpayer subsidized charter schools, now the primary providers. The game isn’t even fair, the schools are being set up for failure by NCLB and its absurd assessment; they have no chance to compete with the new EMO’s anxious to kick down the barn door and register as many ‘subprime’ kids as they can for the monies they get. Take a look at the set-up and how it is supposed to work according to the conservative Hudson Institute.

In their Winter 2008 issue of Education Next, the publication laid out in no uncertain terms the ‘game plan’ charter advocates are employing to takeover public education nationwide:

Here, in short, is one roadmap for chartering’s way forward: First, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider. The target should be 75%. Second, choose the target communities wisely. Each should begin with a solid charter base (at least 5 percent market share), a policy environment that will enable growth (fair funding, non-district authorizers, and no legislated caps), and a favorable political climate (friendly elected officials and editorial boards, a positive experience with charters to date, and unorganized opposition)… The solution is not an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system… Charter advocates should strive to have every urban public school be a charter (Smarick, 2008).

Sure, and there are all kinds of players and gamers just giddy with glee for the chance to burst into the burgeoning privatization of a $750 billion dollar educational industry as many call it. Take Entertainment Properties Inc., for example; this is a company known mostly for sinking its money into movie theaters and wineries. Guess what? They recently bought 22 locations from charter school operator Imagine Schools for about $170 million. The real estate investment trust acts as landlord, while Imagine operates the schools and is using the investment to expand its chain of 74 locations. As School Matters recently noted, Barry Sharp, chief financial officer for Arlington, Va.-based Imagine was quoted as saying:

They really are an effective source of long-term financing that we can rely on and enables us to do what we’re best at, which is running schools, and do what they’re best at, which is long-term real estate ownership. It’s a good fit. Focusing on large players who know how to operate schools, hire teachers and develop a curriculum provides the company a more dependable return (School Matters, September 12, 2009).

That’s what Arne, Sharpton and Gingrich will be really trying to accomplish as odd-bedfellows. When scrutinized under the financial lens of profits to be made and power to be had they aren’t really that odd at all. What these three men represent are public relation warriors in the final march to completely revolutionize public education by creating a new class of primary for-profit and non-profit providers beholden largely to mayoral control of cities and corporate control by Wall Street.

When you think about charter schools you are supposed to assume they are community based ‘small schools’ designed by committed parents and teachers. For the most part they are not. They are large institutional players with briefcases full of cash and a rolodex that would make a Hollywood agent blush with envy. The mom and pop charter schools that come to the public mind will never be able to compete with the large non-profit and for-profit driven EMOs. The focus is on large players, remember, the ‘made guys’?

Yet when the rubber hits the road and the trio finally makes their way across the expansive nation of ‘American exceptionalism’ and you tune into the rancid rhetoric of the trolips and strumpets, that’s not what you’ll hear. They’ll be in rare form to be sure, utilizing towering and lofty rhetoric clothed in the need to boost inauthentic test scores and how education is failing America in the 21st century. The language will resonate with themes about how “competition being good for raising all boats” is the answer to drop-out rates and underachievement and you’ll be treated to the hostile rhetoric that “teacher unions are greedy and their pay and performance must be tied to the NCLB state-based testing regime” — all in the name of the kids.

This was all confirmed when NPR had Gingrich and Sharpton on the air on September 12th and the puppeteering was as palpable as the reporting was pitiful. It’s the word ‘reform’; nobody bothers to ask what it means and what it would look like so sophists like Gingrich, Duncan and Sharpton don’t have to get into the muck of providing any details.

Never mind the facts, according to NewsMax the idea for the dog and pony show came from a meeting the three musketeers had with President Barack Obama in May 2009, while at the White House. How nice! If you think bipartisanship is working with the national health debate just wait until you see this new level of courtesanship in the name of our nation’s kids. And this ‘debate’ hasn’t really even started, if one was to watch the national news. Lost in the headlines of ‘deathers’, ‘tenthers’, ‘tea-baggers’ and ‘birthers’ are our nation’s urban children, usually Black and Latino whom are forced to attend dilapidated schools in ghettos dimmed by poverty and drop-out rates that call the whole notion of ‘schooling’ into question.

But don’t worry, Arnie, Al and Newt will provide the needed answers and the suckling private sector will count the body bags of kids and do the math and accounting and set up an entire new non-profit, quasi profitized educational system – a national retail chain of charter schools started by noble entrepreneurs, free market fundamentalists, philanthro-capitalists and valiant non-profiteers who wish to assure the ‘kids’ are prepared for the challenges of global capitalism and the need to compete with India and China, as new economic engines of competition. Ask Bill Gates, he’s got his billions in play to “reform” education (see Tough Choices or Tough Times); so does the Walton Family and the Eli Broad Foundation, among other philanthropists looking to leverage their pirated loot to destroy teacher unions, impose merit pay on teachers and administrators, contract out good paying public jobs, lengthen the working day and entice starry eyed Teach for America recruits to be the new ‘associates’ in the whole new business arrangement where the average teacher lasts three years before leaving the profession.

Who pays for it all? You as the taxpayer will pay for the new retail educational chains with your tax monies that will be transferred from traditional public schools to the new EMO’s and the charters they will manage, many of the schools gussied up and going by such blue-blooded names as Academies or Preparatory Schools. This, we are told will help the traditional schools ‘compete’ – sound familiar? Only the words are false, the real idea as the Hudson Institute stated is to make the traditional public schools the secondary providers of education reducing the public sphere and turning over the primary provider role to the new ‘turnaround artists’, the business school grads like Arnie who never taught in a classroom or designed a lesson plan. Neo-liberalism is the economic theory and privatization is one of the first orders of the day, that and deregulation, concentration of power, surveillance and authoritarianism.

Sharpton the Sharpee

So what do the three stooges bring to the debate over education? Nothing, really. Sharpton commented on NBC:

The parents need to be challenged with the message of `no excuses (NewsMax, August 14, 2009).

No excuses for what, Al? As if poverty, Wall Street theft, deregulation of the ‘free market’, the privatization of almost every sphere of life, a lack of affordable and reliable health care, decimated public transportation, lack of a living wages, infant mortality rates creeping close to third world countries, devastated urban areas with increased incarceration rates, gentrification, foreclosures and jobs shipped overseas for cheap labor are working people’s fault? Kevin Phillips writes in his book Bad Money that after tax income per year for the lowest 20% of the population at the end of the 1970’s was $9,300, adjusted for inflation. At the end of the 1990’s it fell to $8,700 in inflation adjusted dollars. The middle class did no better, during the same period of time and using the same criteria they saw their income rise from $31,800 at the end of the 1970’s to $33,200 at the end of the 1990’s. Meanwhile during the same period and using the same after tax, inflation driven number, the highest 1% of the population saw their earnings rise from $256,000 to a whopping $644,000 during the same period (Bad Money). It is this top one percent that now wants to control, manage and design education for all the other Americans.

Foaming at the mouth about individualism and personal responsibility as the system grinds slowly to a halt and new tent cities are constructed weekly seems to sit well with the Reverend who reportedly earns $750,000 a year hosting a syndicated radio talk show and collects anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 per lecture and $2,000 per church sermon. On top of that, Sharpton does “consulting” work for corporations. Business is good, very good and now, bound to get even better with his new-found courtship and oath of Omerta.

Yet it’s important to remember that Sharpton recently had his own little “teachable moment” when it comes to ‘excuses’ and personal responsibility; last July the feds went after him for not paying his taxes. No-excuses, pull em’ up by your boot straps, Sharpton cut a deal with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to end a longstanding criminal probe of his finances that reportedly encompassed his personal fortune, his opportunistic and self-aggrandizing 2004 presidential campaign spending and the National Action Network, his so-called ‘advocacy’ group. Sharpton quickly cut the deal whining that he’d personally pay back $1 million, including $500,000 upfront, as part of the settlement. However that didn’t get him out of all the hot water. In March of this year, according to the New York Post, Sharpton also owed $884,669 to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, which was not part of the July settlement; this according to two liens covering years 2002 through 2006. $500,000 up front is a lot of money for a guy under criminal investigation for tax fraud; where would he get that kind of cash?

Sharpton Gets the Cash!

As I reported in a three part series in Counterpunch and as was also reported in the New York Daily News by award winning investigative journalist, Juan Gonzalez in an article, entitled “Rev. Al Sharpton’s 500G link to education reform” Sharpton’s involvement in the new bipartisan march to charterized our nation’s schools could have been a script from a Hollywood movie – with its attention to financial wheeling and dealing, skilled manipulation, personal gain, payoffs through third party intermediaries, front groups, cronyism and rigged public relations campaigns and events designed to influence and manipulate public sentiment on matters of educational policy.

What Gonzalez was able to uncover is that Sharpton’s own organization, The National Action Network, was immediately paid $500,000 for Sharpton’s consent to endorse, involve and partner himself with Joel Klein to launch the new Education Equality Project, a group favoring New York charterization. The cash no doubt was timely as Sharpton had promised the government $500,000 down in the tax settlement deal, quite handy and timely to cut the deal with the prosecutors pursing the good Reverend. However, the story gets even more bizarre.

It appears that to avoid any publicity over the ‘pay for play’ payment that Sharpton received for his alliance with Joel Klein in erecting the new Education Equality Project (EEP), the $500,000 intended for Sharpton’s group was covertly funneled to Sharpton’s National Action Network by Plainfield Asset Management, LLC, a Connecticut hedge fund. As the story progressed, I asked myself: ‘Why was an asset management company chosen to make a payoff to Al Sharpton’s group?’ Perhaps the best motivation could be found in the fact that the former Chancellor of New York Schools, Harold Levy, is currently the managing director of Plainfield Asset Management and a registered lobbyist for the firm. If there are any students reading, “Have you learned anything yet?” The whole sordid affair is malodorous, but it is not surprising. It is all about public relations now, sophistry and propaganda of the first order and who best to convince the poor, Black and Latino working families that the new charter schools will be good for their kids?

Gingrich the predator

What’s the role of Gingrich in all this, you might ask? Besides his character as a throne sniffer and his proclivity for self-aggrandizement and self-promotion, Gingrich has a significant role in the whole scenario. To begin with he represents the Wall Street business interests and the entrepreneurs and philanthropists who pay him. William Gates Sr., for example, worked for Preston Gates, a big law firm and lobbying group that hired Jack Abramoff as a lobbyist. Abramoff is known to have had strong ties to Gingrich. At this point we do not have any idea if Gates Sr. or Bill Gates for that matter has any ties to Newt. But Gingrich brings more than just political and financial ties from his disgraceful see-saw days in Washington where he oversaw the gutting of educational funds. He also brings the managerial doublespeak that so charms the business community. He’ll invoke Peter Drucker rhetoric and speak to organizational inefficiencies and he’ll talk about cutting costs in education, managerial efficiencies, cost containment, outsourcing, measured outcomes, and the need for No Child Left Behind to assess the future of our nation’s children and of course, he’ll highlight the theory of failing teachers and their unions. Gingrich will be posing for the FOX news listeners, Ruppert Murdoch’s little curmudgeons and he’ll do a fine job of convincing them that the road is being paved with gold and the future of our children is bright with new competitive spirit.

Newt calls public schools a “monopoly of failure,” pinning the blame for the decline of public education at “departments of education, schools of education, and unionized bureaucracy.” He argues that people from any of his three culpable camps are inherently corrupted by their stake in the failed system, and that they will blindly defend that system to protect themselves at the expense of our nation’s children (“Newt Gingrich and Me: A Charged Moment at an Education Blogger Summit Dan Brown,” May 16, 2008 Huffington Post).

But wait, there are more concerns swelling in the neo-cortex of Gingrich. Newt has always been concerned about the liberalism inherent in teaching and the ‘liberal’ curriculum in general. He’s not alone for the Texas State Education Board is set to vote on the first draft of the proposed standards in “United States History Studies Since Reconstruction,” which removes any and all references to liberal politics, according to Chron.com an online news service. The new standards require students “to identify significant conservative organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.” The standards are expected to be adopted along party lines with all 10 Republicans voting in favor of the curriculum. But there’s more: One expert, David Barton, president of Wall Builders, recommended that “…the proper adjective for identifying U.S. values and processes should be “republican” rather than “democratic,” in the state’s textbooks (Chron.comHistory’s first draft: Newt Gingrich but no liberals: Textbooks being written for Texas students appear to lean to the right,” Gary Scharrer, August 20, 2009). Newt will be on hand to rail against the brainwashing of our kids and their ‘civil rights’ to an ‘objective’ education as all part of the big reform.

The Skilled Manipulators and the Hyperbole of Hypocrisy

When thinking about propaganda and its perpetrators, like Gingrich, Sharpton and Arne Duncan, it is important to understand that it is a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving a particular agenda; even if the message conveys true information it still may be partisan and fail to paint a complete picture of an issue or controversy. In their book Propaganda and Persuasion, Dr. Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell define propaganda as:

The deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.

It is clear that people skilled in the art of Machiavellianism, manipulation and propaganda want to influence the beliefs and behavior of others and they will resort to all kinds of mechanisms to do so. Understanding psychology people like Gingrich, Sharpton and Duncan have insight into what makes people vulnerable to manipulation and they use language and images to manage perceptions. As a result, they strive to appear before others in a way that associates themselves with power, authority, expertise and conventional morality. That’s why they’ll parade into communities and grab media headlines.

Key actors in the march towards educational privatization are well aware of this need to control information so when advocating sweeping educational changes such as charter schools or for-profit EMOs, they use ‘rational’ means only when such means can be used to create the appearance of objectivity and reasonability. The key, here, is to understand that the skilled manipulators are always trying to keep some information and some points of view from being given a fair hearing while at the same time promoting their own storyline for dissemination through the corporate dominated press. It is the same tired, shameless behavior we’ve seen when we focus on health care.

None for all and all for none: Ginning up the anti teacher anti public parent base

For those witnessing the health care or health insurance reform issue as it is playing out on the national landscape, they will not be surprised when they begin to see the ‘astro turf’ groups assembled around charter schools emerge, if they haven’t already. This is another reason Arne and the gang are riveted on visiting major cities for they want to be on hand to applaud and cheer on the ‘grass root’ efforts aimed at charterizing a way forward. They need to work on the talking points developed by think tanks and right wing pundits for dissemination to the hoi polloi.

In the case of educational policy analysis, one way to begin to think critically on issues such as charter schools is to rightly focus on the highly vocal educational think tanks that purport to be non-partisan and objective, but in reality are supported by huge economic interests. Within the corridors of these think tanks walk the researchers, scholars and intellectuals that produce research to justify neo-liberal public policies that support charter schools, vouchers and other privatization schemes. Thus, one critical task in the debate over charter schools today is undoubtedly to help people recognize how the wealthy and powerful often prey on the credulity, gullibility, and vulnerability of the poor or poorly schooled in advocating public policies that favor their interests while at the same time avoiding critical public scrutiny. This of course is disconcerting for advocates of public disclosure, public transparency and political democracy in general and surely unacceptable for informed decision making and democratic oversight and governance. Yet this ghastly governance goes on seemingly unabated each and every day; non-disclosure and non-transparency are now more norm than aberration, the media more stenographers than journalists. One of the most insidious and popular efforts in arranging consent generating activities is to start ‘grassroots front groups’, as we’ve seen in the health car town hall fiascos.

Take the group ‘Parent Union’. Steve Barr, the originator of Green Dot Public Schools, a non-profit EMO out of LA, started Parent Union in Los Angeles a few years ago and it’s now spread its reach to Oregon. Although it’s still too premature to conclude, The Parent Union, from what I can understand is not entirely separate from the Parent Revolution, another ‘reform education’ group. In fact, plausible inferences suggest that the Parent Revolution is just the Parent Union’s driving force. Ben Austin, who brought EMO Green Dot Public Schools in for the Locke High School “turnaround,” started the Parent Revolution (Austin, conveniently, is also a city attorney for Los Angeles). The organization seeks to dismantle traditional Los Angeles public schools by getting parents to organize petition drives to have the schools ‘decertified’. The organization boasts at its website:

watch our video and find out how you can transform your child’s school. If 51% of the parents at your school sign the petition demanding a better school, we will guarantee your child a great school, in your neighborhood within three years (Parent Revolution)

This is how Green Dot managed to pull off a hostile takeover of Locke High School in Los Angeles, where Duncan and the crew can view the dismal test scores that came out last week, one year after the takeover by Green Dot. Chapters of Parent Revolution are popping up all over the state of California and in the Northwest. Some parents are concerned about what happens after getting the 51%, but what to worry, with the plethora of EMO’s like Barr’s and the candied promises of the managerial elite the gullible have found their answers. The Revolution is funded at least in part by billionaire Eli Broad, but Service Employee International Uunion (SEIU) is also chipping in, making for another set of interesting bedfellows and a discouraging platform for the future. Los Angeles is a mess and doesn’t promise to get better any time soon.

Marco Petruzzi, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Dot, is also the head of the Venice chapter of the Parent Union and although there is nothing to indicate he’s getting paid for his work with the parent organization, he’s certainly getting paid by Green Dot. How much? Hard to say for he became CEO in 2008 and the IRS 990 forms for Green Dot only run through 2007. Prior to joining Green Dot, according to their website, Marco founded ‘r3 school solutions’, an organization that provided management and administrative services to charter management organizations, another burgeoning business. Prior to founding r3 school solutions, he was a Partner at Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm. Marco has fifteen years of consulting experience working with top management of major international groups in corporate and product-market strategy, channel management, pricing strategy, commercial organization, operations, R&D management and supply chain management assignments, in the USA, South America, and Europe. Marco also worked at McKinsey & Co. and for Enichem Americas, a petrochemical trading company based in New York (Green Dot Website).

When the LA takeover of 250 schools was passed by a 6-1 vote on the resolution on August 25, 2009, Austin told the Parent Revolution afterwards:

We made history today. All of us are living together in a revolutionary moment. Big, scary, good, revolutionary change is happening right now, and we get to be part of it. We have parents standing together alongside the President of the United States calling for a revolution. That’s exciting. But there are two reasons for us to temper our joy, just a little bit.

First, because we haven’t done anything yet. This resolution — and all the great Parent Revolution organizing in East Los Angeles, Venice, and elsewhere — won’t mean a thing until we transform our first school, and begin the process of giving our children the education they need and the future they deserve. Until we transform that first school and help that first student, we have done nothing. The defenders of the status quo didn’t expect us to move so quickly. Maybe they underestimated us and were caught a little flat-footed. But they aren’t anymore. They now know what we can do, so we must do more. We have to work even harder to actually implement this resolution with parents all across Los Angeles.

Second, we need to be gracious winners. Because our opponents aren’t bad people. They care about kids too. I’ve consumed a tremendous amount of wine with A.J. Duffy and know him to be a smart, funny, nice person. The problem isn’t the people, it’s the system itself. More often than not, if we can change the system, we can work with the people. Even though major elements of organized labor opposed us today, there isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t ultimately be on the same side (Parent Revolution, September 9, 2009 http://www.parentrevolution.org/).

The Gingrich, Sharpton and Duncan show is certainly aimed at influencing and providing gravitas to the new parent insurgents intent on turning their children’s futures over to Wall Street CEO’s and concerned philanthropists and entrepreneurs. They’ll be egged on by the grey-haired and grotesque Gingrich, the lithe and goofy Arne Duncan and the ‘people’s champion and advocate, the Reverend Al Sharpton. Expect to see the three stage managers thronged by eager and justly frustrated parents talking about the platform for education as a ‘civil rights issue’ while fist bumping with the disillusioned and those devastated by more than thirty years of extinction economics.

Detecting the disinformation and dissembling the diatribe

Those of us interested in a democratic debate regarding charter schools, educational reform, privatization, teacher unions, authentic assessment, creative and relevant curriculum and the host of concerns that are currently considered ‘hot bed’ issues within the arena of education want and deserve a public discussion that includes equal coverage of dissenting as well as dominant points of view as they pertain to these controversies. We also do not wish to be seen as feckless fools who can be dominated by verbal rhetoric and propagandists. However, in our current hyper-media environment, controlled as it is by powerful corporate interests bundled up into think tanks, people now need to learn how to detect when some one is trying to manipulate them into believing or doing what they would not believe or do had they access to more information or further reasoning from dissenting points of view. Therefore, in order to assure a healthy debate on issues such as charter schools and educational policy, it is necessary to publicly disclose situations wherein people of wealth and power are manipulating people with little wealth and power, and specifically how the use of language and imagery is used to accomplish these ends. But don’t tell that to Duncan and his conspiratorial counterparts.

In the case of educational policy, one way to begin to think critically on issues such as charter schools is to focus on the highly vocal educational think tanks that purport to be non-partisan and objective, but in reality are supported by huge economic interests. Within the corridors of these think tanks walk the researchers, scholars and intellectuals that produce research to justify neo-liberal public policies that support charter schools, vouchers and other privatization schemes. Thus, one critical task in the debate over charter schools today is undoubtedly to help people recognize how the wealthy and powerful often prey on the credulity, gullibility, and vulnerability of the poor or poorly schooled in advocating public policies that favor their interests while at the same time avoiding critical public scrutiny. This of course is disconcerting for advocates of public disclosure, public transparency and political democracy in general and surely unacceptable for informed decision making and democratic oversight and governance. Yet it goes on seemingly unabated each and every day; non-disclosure and non-transparency are now more norm than aberration.

The Duncan, Gingrich and Sharpton alliance is only the latest in what can only be called disinformation and therefore really a callous disregard for democracy, working people, their communities and the disasters they face. For it is the economic disasters of the last thirty years of neoliberal economic theory and practice that has allowed the Chicago Boys to seize the national debate on everything from health care to education. And although President Obama has stated his opposition to dummied down standardized testing, his advisors and oafs like Duncan, Sharpton and Gingrich continue to forge policy and occupy the geographical debate over education. They have something very different in mind. They need No Child Left Behind not just for the fact that more and more schools are scheduled to fail under the rubric of its testing gallows, but because no NCLB will be one of the chief standards used to measure the performance of the new charter schools, and after all, isn’t that the point?

‘Duncan donuts’ with Arne will prove to be a memorable experience for all concerned with education, from the carpeted cubicles of Wall Street to the disastrous reality of main-street. The only real issue is whether the national media coverage will give a fair hearing to those who have other ideas for preserving and reforming America’s troubled educational systems, ideas that embrace education, participatory democracy and schooling as a moral value, not simply as factories for the manufacture of human products to compete with China. But if the health care debacle is any indication of what may lie in store for the public, look for the skilled manipulators like Duncan, Sharpton and Gingrich to weave tall tales even Paul Bunyan couldn’t hold a candle to and look for the corporate sock puppet press to be the willing stenographers for power they were hired to speak for.

Danny Weil is a junior college teacher at Allan Hancock College in California where he teaches philosophy. He is a former kindergarten, first grade, and second grade teacher who has written a great deal on education. Read other articles by Danny.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Richard Oxman said on September 19th, 2009 at 10:11am #

    Richard Martin Oxman

  2. bozh said on September 19th, 2009 at 11:15am #

    Uncle sam does not just need/want young men to serve his interests buried or on surface thousands of miles away; he now wants the kids to swear greater allegience to him; oops, uncle.
    And the best way to achieve that is, of course, via education, movies, tv, etc. tnx

  3. Annie Ladysmith said on September 20th, 2009 at 4:18pm #

    Newt Gingrich is an idiot, a mind controled fool. He also is a Bildeberger, and we know the intellectual level is a bit low in this group (Carter, Paul Martin, Harper, Bush the kid, Obama ,on and on), they get brainwashed by the smarter ones in that group, and it isn’t hardwork. And besides have you seen any of these kids, completely BRAIN-DEAD on Ritalin, and soul-scalped to boot. What could any of these kids learn?? Maybe to kill, and that my be the point.