Corporate-Style Reform

In addition to budget cuts and school closures, students in Southwest Pennsylvania have experienced some of the most harmful effects of what has come to be called “corporate-style education reform.” This is an international, neo-liberal movement based on free-market ideology that seeks to apply business techniques from the private sector to public goods such as education. This is not a critique of corporations: rather, the problem lies in the misapplication of these techniques to children and schools (which are not widgets nor factories).

Corporate-style education reformers promote “accountability” through high-stakes-testing, competition, choice, “efficiencies” gained by mass school closures, the turnover of public schools to private charter operators, funneling public dollars to private and religious schools, and the weakening of collective bargaining agreements. Ironically, none of these “reforms” have actually improved public education. Rather, they have fattened the wallets of a few individuals and giant testing companies (such as Pearson), drained precious resources from public schools, labeled our public schools “failures,” and wreaked havoc with the lives of real students. Some of these ideas, such as competition and choice, are bedrocks of American culture, yet do not actually work well when applied to public goods and services.

Here are some of our posts on corporate-style reform in our region:

Vouchers & Tax Credit Programs
One of Governor Corbett’s top priorities when taking office was to introduce vouchers, which would take public money and send it to private and religious schools. The idea has not been popular with voters here (or around the country) and instead the PA legislature has created two “voucher-lite” tax credit/scholarship programs. This approach not hold up to scrutiny. In particular, vouchers and tax credit/scholarships are promoted as a way to “rescue” students from “failing public schools,” yet research shows that in cities with such programs, voucher students are performing no better (and sometimes worse) than their peers in public schools, while desperately needed resources are drained from public school districts. Vouchers were supposed to create competition and force public schools to get better, but that hasn’t happened, either.[i]

Charter Schools & Charter Reform
Pittsburgh has several high-quality charter schools that are non-profit, operated by a local board of directors, offer innovative programs, and compensate their staff fairly. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions to the rule in Pennsylvania, which has one of the poorest track records in the country for charter schools. Charter schools were meant to be “innovation labs” to test out new ideas and introduce those ideas into the traditional public school system. But that is not happening, and overall, students in charter schools are performing no better (and sometimes much worse) than students in traditional public schools. The best charter schools offer things such as small class sizes and rich art and music programs that all our students deserve. Problematically, charter tuition reimbursements for districts like Pittsburgh are causing a financial drain ($53 million in 2013-14 alone) making it impossible to deliver those very things to the majority of public school students. What’s more, we desperately need charter reform legislation that emphasizes accountability and transparency. And we need to find ways for the best charter schools to work collaboratively with school districts so that all students benefit.

Parent Trigger Laws

Teach for America

Who’s Behind Corporate-Style Reform?

[i]  Diane Ravitch, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (New York: Knopf, 2013). See esp. Chapter 19, “The Failure of Vouchers.”

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