Urban schools as ATMs

Published on Monday, May 12, 2014

windowFrom the earliest days of the school privatization movement, urban schools have been a key battleground between public school supporters and powerful individuals and entities that see them as the means to an end.

That end, quite simply, is privatization – and profits.

How else to explain the tsunami of hedge fund money pouring into the “education reform” environment?  Everywhere you look, the hedge fund operators are making their move. 

In New Jersey, B4K (“Better Education for Kids”), the creation of two hedge fund operators, and Education Reform Now, headed by a roster of hedge fund folks, are currently bankrolling a candidate for mayor of Newark who owns a charter school and who supports the “One Newark” plan of reviled Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson, appointed by the Christie administration.  That plan calls for a dramatic expansion of charter schools and the turning over of city assets to private interests.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining the incessant drumbeat of denigration of urban schools from Christie himself, who likes to call them “failure factories.”

Never mind that Christie has underfunded the state’s public schools by more than $5 billion since taking office, with the deepest cuts in the budgets of the state’s most disadvantaged urban districts.

For Christie and his allies in the financial services world, the nation’s $600 billion public school “market” is viewed through one fundamental perspective: as a business opportunity.

And what better place is there than schools in struggling urban districts to create the beachhead for the coming invasion?

That’s why NJEA’s “Urban Success” media campaign is so important right now.  Last January, in his State of the State address, Christie told yet another bald-faced lie by saying only three graduates of Camden high schools were “college ready.”  NJEA fired back immediately with data from Christie’s own Department of Education showing that graduates of Camden’s five high schools had college attendance rates of between 34 and 100 percent.

NJEA then started talking to teachers in urban districts, who introduced us to students in Paterson, Jersey City, and Camden who are headed to college this fall – as are many of their fellow grads.

These students have succeeded against tall odds – far taller than those faced by more well-off suburban students with intact families, safer neighborhoods, modern schools, and way more in the way of resources.  Now, they are headed off to college where better lives are in their futures, given their already proven work habits.

The next time you hear Chris Christie disparage urban schools, students, and teachers, remember one thing: he only wants to use urban schools as ATMs for his well-heeled allies.

And in order to do that, he has to convince enough people that these “failure factories” aren’t worth our investment. 

Successful students in those public schools respectfully disagree.

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