The F-word of Ed Reform — and its unholy alliance with right-wing union-busting

I came across this post that Sue wrote last year that I believe needs to see the light of day again as a reminder of just how far people will go who think that they know better than we do about how our children should be educated. And mind you, these folks are not educators and most, if not all, do not have children in public schools and yet they consider themselves the authorities on the subject of education. It’s amazing what money can buy.


There is a word for this kind of anti-democratic collaboration between business and government, but we haven’t used it much since the 1940s: fascism.” – Diane Ravitch


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Union-busting has traditionally been considered the blood sport of right-wing corporatists. But Democrats, including the current president, have joined the fray.

There is no greater example of bipartisan union-busting and attacks on middle and working class citizens right now than what’s being done in the name of “education reform.”

President Barack Obama - Why should teachers vote for him in 2012?

All the celebrity names of corporate ed reform are collaborating in this pile-on:  Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates and his foundation’s “ed reform” grantees. The Eli Broad-trained school superintendents are indoctrinated with this cut-throat corporation uber alles mindset. New Mayor Rahm Emanuel is squawking the same anti-labor dogma in Chicago (Emanuel backs crackdown on teachers, Chicago Sun-Times). And one of the key targets is teachers.

And yet, faithful Democrat activists blindly seem to think their own party has nothing to do with these efforts. I recently received this email from Bob Fertik,  at

Dear S.,

Are you outraged by the Republican class war against unions, teachers, and the entire middle class?

Yes, Bob, but I’m even more outraged by the Democrats’ complicity in it, including President Obama.

Though this may seem a Republican agenda, Democrats have done their bit to support these assaults on workers and middle class rights. For example, before new Republican Governor Snyder in Michigan recently signed into law a bill that gives the state treasurer the right to hand over unprecedented control of cities and school districts to “emergency financial managers,” the previous Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm, appointed a corporate Broad Foundation slash-and-privatizer Bob Bobb to financially manage and pillage  Detroit’s Public Schools.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

Wrote Rick Ungar in Union Busting: Michigan Style, Forbes March 9, 2011: While the nation has been focused on the contretemps in Wisconsin, the Badger State’s neighboring Wolverines have taken a more novel approach in the effort to defang its public employee unions.

A bill that is expected to pass the Michigan Senate today will give the state’s treasurer the ability to appoint emergency financial managers with broad powers to take over the operation of cities and school boards facing a financial crisis.

Not only can an emergency manager wipe out collective bargaining agreements, he or she can literally push aside duly elected city officials and prevent them from doing the job they were elected to do.

Clearly, this raises some questions of constitutionality and state overreach.

Today we have a Democratic president whose education policies target unions and workers. After all it’s Obama’s ed reforms, spearheaded by his basketball buddy and former Chicago School District “CEO” Arne Duncan, powered by the endless wallets of billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, that have taken aim at teachers, unions, seniority, job security, professionalism and teacher pay relentlessly these past few years. This assault has taken the form of promoting privately run, publicly funded charter schools, which are predominately non-union, handing out taxpayer favors of $50 million to enterprises like Teach for America, Inc., which sends fresh college grads with a scant five weeks’ training to do one of the most important jobs in our society, thus effectively deprofessionalizing the teaching profession. These “reformers” are pushing for “alternative certifications” of teachers,  no longer rewarding teachers with advanced degrees for their dedication and scholarship, and tethering teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, a discredited policy that stifles both teaching and learning.

Obama is a big cheerleader of charter schools (despite their checkered record)  and has tried to strong-arm states into allowing more of them through his “Race to the Top” bribery scheme (even though 83 percent of them perform no better than traditional public schools). Most charter schools specifically hire non-union teachers. In fact, many are staffed with short-term Teach for America novices instead. TFA, Inc. which sends young college grads with no background in education and no commitment to the field beyond a two year stint, is bankrolled by major corporations and the Obama government, using taxpayer money.

In the name of ed reform, teachers have been fired en masse for specious reasons (Michelle Rhee in D.C. was legally forced to rehire many of those she summarily defamed and dismissed), their collective bargaining rights threatened, a so-called newspaper of record, the L.A. Times has declared itself expert on evaluating the worth and skills of teachers and created a McCarthyite list of teacherstwice — publicly naming names of those it deems “ineffective” (possibly driving at least one beloved teacher to suicide). President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, has endorsed the L.A. Times‘ vile, ethically bankrupt efforts.

Even here in Washington, stealthy attempts to allow “alternately credentialed” teachers, eliminating seniority or weakening collective bargaining rights have slipped into numerous “ed reform” bills  (for example, HB 1443 –since renamed HB 2111  or HB 1546) – supported, I am sorry to say, by the feckless or misleading PTA leadership (not the members themselves, who are largely unaware of what’s going on in Olympia in their name), and organizations with names like “League of Education Voters” which is truly only in league with the Gates Foundation which funds it, along with its privatizing agenda.

In the realm of public education policy right now, in practice, there is no distinction between the anti-union, anti-worker policies of the Republicans and the Democrats. And there is no separation of corporation and state. The Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation – pro-privatizers both – lard the Department of Education with their former employees or members, and have not only Obama’s ear, but are apparently writing and dictating his education policy. The so-called Broad Prize for Education is kept in the Department of Education in D.C.. These billionaire reformers are also pushing for standardized testing that will lead to standardized and online curricula, or — Gates’ latest brainwave — “educational” computer games aligned with the Gates-backed “Common Core Standards” (Gates to help schools adopt common core standards, April 27, 2011 ). Great, just what our kids need — computer games at school, as well as home, to transfix them. All ed reform roads lead to software, it would seem.

The corporate ed reformers’ agenda has little to do with what’s best for our children and everything to do with what’s best for the business of education. And that’s why unions, to these corporate-obsessed ed reformers, are considered an obstacle. Experienced teachers with rights cost more and are more likely to stick up for themselves and their students.

Which leads us to another uncomfortable word: plutocracy.  Who elected Eli Broad and Bill Gates to dictate our nation’s education policy? No one. Yet, right now, national education policy is being dictated by those with the most money.

These are troubling times we live in. There are eerie parallels to other  disturbing times in history not that long ago. To quote  education historian Diane Ravitch: “There is a word for this kind of anti-democratic collaboration between business and government, but we haven’t used it much since the 1940s: fascism.”

Here are more thoughts from Dr. Ravitch on this anti-worker, anti-teacher fervor that is inflaming this nation:

The fight in Wisconsin now is whether public sector unions should have any power to bargain at all. The fight is not restricted to Wisconsin; it is taking place in many other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere. The battle has already been lost in other states.

I have been wondering if advocates of corporate school reform, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee will come to the aid of the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if President Obama and Secretary Duncan, who were quick to applaud the firing of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, will now step forward to support the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if Secretary Duncan, who only a few days earlier had led a much-publicized national conversation in Denver about the importance of collaboration between unions and management, will weigh in to support the teachers. I am ever hopeful, but will take care not to hold my breath. – “An Age of Hypocrisy.

A final thought: It’s difficult to imagine the teachers unions or teachers in general, once stalwart allies of Democrats (hence their targeting by Republicans, along with other non-conservative operations like Acorn and NPR) casting a single vote for Barack Obama in 2012.

President Obama cannot make the case that he has treated teachers much better than the Scott Walkers and Rick Snyders of the country. He and his minions have waged – or enabled and encouraged — a constant attack on teachers since he got into office. This will go down as one of the greatest disgraces of his presidency — that he carried water for this extreme right wing attack on some of the most important workers in this country: our teachers.

At this point, I believe Barack Obama can kiss the rank and file teachers’ vote goodbye. And that of many parents like myself who are appalled by his punitive and destructive education policies and his abrogation of  leadership to  billionaire barons  of real estate and software with zero expertise in education. Democrats need to wake up and demand true democracy from their leadership. Better yet, seek new leaders.

President Obama’s acrimony should instead be focused on those who are truly doing damage to our country and genuinely exacerbating the “achievement gap” (opportunity gap) that he and his reformers claim to care about – the Wall Street bankers and hedge funders whose schemes and greed have bankrupted our nation and the future of our children, 21 percent of whom already live in poverty.

But, of course, how likely is it he’ll do that, when he’s made many of these same people part of his administration.

–Sue p.


8 thoughts on “The F-word of Ed Reform — and its unholy alliance with right-wing union-busting

  1. In my mid 20’s, during the 80’s, when I was cooking in fine dining places in Boston, I started to be ‘attracted’ to the ‘moderate’ blah blah business oriented approach of what was called the Democratic Leadership Council – (see Dukakis and Clinton).

    As a growed-up-on-welfare resident of Holyoke Ma who took the Peter Pan to Boston and B.C. in ’78 as a freshman, I KNEW plenty of people who had what they had and who got what they got because their familie$ dialed them into the right … everything. I also KNEW plenty of people who worked their butts off to get into those fancy schools and degrees and jobs. I also KNEW Ronnie Raygun and his buddies would be perfectly happy with all of us bottom 90%++ having the opportunity to be a serf at 1 Corp-0-plantation or another. I also KNEW how crappy life was on welfare and student loans.

    I thought that those fancy degreed and fancy titled and fancy credentialed and fancy paid frequently Ivy’d up “moderate” DLC hotshots were going to: 1. make community services work, so that people would have confidence in those services. (pst! google “Proposition 13, 1978”.) 2. Shove those right wing lies down the throats of the Corp-0-plantation bosses.

    I moved to Seattle in 1989, and year after year, compromise after compromise, THIS little nobody has been told over and over and over, by the fancy $ame $ocial cla$$ apologists living in the Beacon Hill, Newton, Queen Anne & Capitol Hill leafy neighborhoods.. why Joe Lieberman can wreck health care cuz of 60 votes and impeachment is off the table and I was against the war before I was for it and glass-steagal is wrecking amerikun freedom and NAFTA CAFTA WTFrackA wasn’t gonna wreck middle income jobs …

    and we have NO health security, NO income security WTO being able to replace your job if is a decent job, NO housing security (see job), NO retirement security (you think Mortgage Backed Security Collatorized Debt Obligations are going to be worth MORE than a box of kleenex in 20 years … ha ha ha)

    but we still have this fancy cla$$ telling us excuses.

    and now the SAME fancy parasite cla$$ is lined up on the side of Arne, sponging 6 figure a year salaries from all kinds of tax payer funded and billionaire funded astro-turfs –

    seriously – IF you think THOSE PEOPLE are on YOUR side or OUR side … keep voting for them.

    I’m done with the Lessor Of Two Evil (LOTE) FEAR – NewtMitt-PerryPalin …whatever.

    EITHER support 100% of a reasonable Democratic Party platform, OR

    NO Pennies,
    NO Dimes,
    NO Seconds of Time, AND
    NO Votes

    and plenty of bad mouthing.

    They vote for Lilly Ledbetter and Gay Marriage cuz with Die-On-Your-Plantation “Health” Care and “Retirement” – we’re all gonna be struggling for scraps.


  2. Funny, just last night I was watching a documentary about Pakistan’s government growing pains (putting it politely). As I listened to all the accounts of how elected officials were accused of collusion with commercial interests (with or without evidence), how the civilian leadership embraced universal education and military dictators have shut it down so that madrasas are the main avenue for learning, it occurred to me that none of it is so different from what is happening here in the US. Is it coincidence or is there a method in the madness? I don’t know.

  3. Wow! You wrote what I have been thinking and fearing. Sometimes I feel like I am alone and a bit paranoid in my feelings that billionaire bullies are out to destroy one of the crown jewels of our country–FACT based public education and that our president that I supported with so much hope is aiding and abetting this destruction.

    This is the best education site on the web.

    Why don’t the NEA and AFT have the courage to speak out like you have? Why do they keep acting like they and we are punching bags with no other purpose but to be hit and abused? Worse why don’t they defend teachers and public schools against the outrageous attacks of Arne Duncan–a man who has NEVER had the courage to teach a single day in a public school classroom. Why is he the expert with the answers when he knows nothing about the problems that teachers face?


    Calling all teachers to participate in a NON-UNION sponsored sick-out on 9-21-2011 to protest:

    –> federal meddling in public education
    –> public education profiteering
    –> excessive testing
    –> scripted and narrowed curricula
    –> gutting of arts, vocational education, science, and history
    –> wasteful bureaucracy
    –> incompetent and antagonistic administrators

    We demand local control and accountability for public education!

    Facebook page: National Teacher Sickout
    Twitter: follow teachersickout, #sickout

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