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LETTERS / The Myth Behind Public School Failure & Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools

April 25, 2014. Dear Editor,

I am a retired science teacher from Watauga High School that decided to leave the profession early because of the way teachers are being treated by the politicians who are trying to destroy America’s public school system. It turns out that 2012, the year I left, experienced the largest exodus of teachers in the state’s history. I would like to submit the following:

Source: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/education-uprising/why-corporations-want-our-public-schools
Source: Yes! Magazine


Read a related article – The Myth Behind Public School FailureIn the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students – here or check out the Cliff Notes below.

For a quicker view, read the bullet-points below:

The Myth Behind Public School Failure – in bullet points

  • School teachers were iconic everyday heroes until the 1980’s.
  • Now we are told that bad-apple teachers and their unions are the problem.
  • We are told that teachers lack accountability and need more standardized tests.
  • We are also told that private charter schools are the solution.

The beginning of “reform” (How the Reagan Administration Flunked Math)

  • “Reform” began in 1980 when Milton Friedman (an economists) presented a series on PBS called Free to Choose.  In one episode he introduced the idea of using public vouchers for private schools.  (View episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Syp_jR4BNBk)
  • “To make the case for vouchers, free-market conservatives, corporate strategist, and opportunistic politicians looked for any way to build a myth that public schools were failing, that teachers (and of course their unions) were at fault, and that the cure was vouchers and privatization.”
  • “Armed with Friedman’s ideas, President Reagan began calling for vouchers.”
  • In 1983, “A Nation At Risk” report declared “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”
  • The report also said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
  • As it turns out “A Nation At Risk” was remarkably free of facts and good data.
  • Another report showed that the real reason for falling averages was due to the testing group getting larger each year.
  • In truth, standardized-test scores were going up for every group (race, rich, poor, etc).
  • As more and more students took the test each year, the overall national average went down.
  • “It wasn’t a teacher problem.  It was a statistical misread.”
  • But the other report was suppressed and was not released until 1993, and it was way under reported.
  • Meanwhile Reagan and Friedman began the now decades-long political sermon that all government services are bad and need to be privatized, from the post office to the public schools.
  • “Our schools are failing” became the slogan for those who wanted public-treasury vouchers to move money into private schools. “
  • Corporations recognize the huge profit potential in the privatization of schools.

The era of accountability

  • In 2001, “No Child Left Behind” enacted sweeping accountability measures on schools based on standardized testing.
  • It tied federal funding to public schools to student scores on standardized tests.
  • It also guaranteed millions in profits to testing companies like Pearson.
  • Pearson made $1 billion in 2012 selling textbooks and bubble tests.
  • In 2008, “Race To The Top” which provided federal money to the states that increased accountability on public schools with more standardized tests and that offered more incentives for more for-profit charter schools.
  • Corporate-funded reformers have insisted on more testing and more ways to quantify schools, teachers, and students.
  • For more than a dozen years, the “accountability movement” used questionable, even draconian, interpretations of standardized-test results to brand schools as failures, close them, and replace them with for-profit charter schools.


  • Also in 2012, Texas school boards kindled a revolt saying publicly that high-stakes exams are a “perversion.”
  • 875 Texas school districts representing more than 4.4 million students passed a resolution stating that tests were “strangling education.”
  • In 2013, Seattle’s Grafield High School refused to give their students MAP test.  It triggered a nationwide backlash to the “reform” that began with Friedman in the 80’s.
  • “At last, Americans from coast to coast have begun redefining the problem for what it really is:  not an education crisis but a manufactured catastrophe, a facet of what Naomi Klien called ‘disaster capitalism’.”
  • “Here is the formula: Underfund schools. Overcrowd classrooms.  Mandate standardized tests sold by private-sector firms that “prove” these schools as failures.  Blame teachers and their unions for awful test scores.  In the bargain, weaken those unions, the largest labor organization remaining in the United States  Push nonunion, profit-oriented charter schools and a solution. “
  • “Opportunities for plunder increase as schools go deeper into crisis.”

The reason for privatization

  • The federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education – “and the corporations want it.  That’s what’s happening.”
  • Privatization occurs  through charter schools and standardized testing, by breaking teacher’s unions, and by hiring temp workers with very little skills.
  • Rupert Murdoch (owner of News Corp/Fox News) says, “we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”
  • “The problem with education is not bad teachers making little Johnny into a dolt.  It’s about Johnny making big corporations a bundle – at the expense of the well-educated citizenry essential to democracy.”

Submitted by David R. Phillips

Former Watauga High Science Teacher

Now lives in Victoria, BC, Canada