Rethinking Schools Charter school book is George Soros privatization propaganda

[Review: “Keeping the Promise? the debate over charter schools”, Edited by Leigh Dingerson, Barbara Miner, Bob Peterson, and Stephanie Walters (Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools Publications, 2008; 122 pp. $16.95)].

One of the first questions I ask when I pick up something to read is — who is behind it? That will tell you everything. Just like my father always said — when you’ve read one book by an author, you’ve read them all. All ten of the “campuses” of the Chicago International Charter “School” (CICS) are located in derelict Catholic Schools that are usually rented by the Chicago Board of Education from the Archdiocese of Chicago or from the Catholic religious orders that once ran the schools located in the buildings. The “Prairie Campus” (above, at 115th and Prairie on Chicago’s South Side) is more than 20 miles from the “Northtown Campus” (below right, at Peterson and Pulaski on Chicago’s Northwest Side), yet Chicago considers the two schools are “campuses” of one “Charter School” (CICS), which stretches from one end of Chicago to the other across ten separate buildings. In addition to promoting the “campus” fraud, Chicago also allows the CICS campuses, like the one above, to keep all of the religious symbols that were on the buildings during their earlier incarnations as parochial schools. In some places, CICS marketing obscures the fact that CICS is running publicly funded schools. At no location have Chicago school officials asked that the Roman Catholic religious symbols on CICS “campus” buildings be removed. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

I know when I pick up the Chicago Tribune or the Sun Times I’m going to read the news according to the views of our ruling class, the corporate creatures who run the world. They used their mainstream propaganda to sell us the war in Iraq, advocate for “free trade”, and tell us the Walmarts and Targets are beneficial for society — while unions are not. So when I was asked to review a book about charter schools entitled “Keeping the Promise? the debate over charter schools” (a new book by the periodical Rethinking Schools), my first question was: Who wrote it?

Or, better yet, “Who funded it?” The answer: George Soros.

George Soros is not just anybody, as a quick Google search will show. Let’s take a quick look at this billionaire oligarch — as the Russians call them — who has an operation called the “Open Society” and “The Center for Community Change” which helped to publish this “Rethinking Schools” charter school book.

I’ve had first hand journalistic experience with Soros and “Open Society”. The Open Society tried to bring American-style “democracy” to the former Soviet Union after the state collapsed in the early 1990s. I was a reporter in Moscow during this tumultuous period when gangster capitalism replaced the Communist state. This was a time when American consultants were running around Russia screaming to privatize everything — “The state is bad…” — cut social spending, give everything to private enterprise. The result was people lost everything: their jobs, their homes, their support systems — and those who still worked stopped getting paid. The average male life span plummeted to 57. The human wreckage from that Shock Doctrine privatization is still there.

George Soros was one of the biggest backers of this total disaster period when he himself was involved in privatization scams — including the sell-off of prime state property and natural resources going into the pockets of corrupt overnight billionaires who robbed the state clean. Soros and his American partners in crime told the Russians with a straight face that this is all good and his “Open Society” continued to extol the virtues of American democracy and capitalism. What then happened?

Soros was thrown out of Russia — with many Russians rightfully believing he’s a creature of the CIA — and privatization is now a dirty word in Russian (privakhizatsia — grab everything while you can), and the reactionary Mr. Putin took over and put the state back in business. But Soros hasn’t stopped, in fact he’s come home — and he paid to have this latest book on charter schools published.

“Keeping the Promise?” has a rather schizophrenic feel to it — which is the essence of neoliberalism. You have to make it appear that those at the top really want the best for the rest of us. The book begins with a philosophical ruse — “Any discussion of charter schools must ask not only whether charters promote a worthwhile vision of public education, but also whether they are faithful to their own promises. The essays in this book tell a story of what could be, but also what should not be.”

Wow — I’m sleepily going along with this as I read the introduction and think there actually is some merit to the idea of charter schools. The authors write that school reform is necessary to deal with the issue of overly bureacratic systems and rules, the need for quality teachers and systemwide reform, and the relationship of public schools to broader issues of social justice and democracy. I guess this is what Rethinking Schools focuses on — develop progressive community schools that can make a difference in children’s lives because there are a number of public schools failing miserably at this. “At the same time, progressives must guard against dismissing all alternatives to the traditional public school system.” The next three chapters then viciously attack charter schools. In New Orleans, the market system is failing the city’s neediest children. In Ohio private enterprisers — think Edison Schools gone beserk — have lobbied to further destory public schools and promote market-based charter schools through corruption. And in the nation’s capital, privatization has unleashed “experiments (that) have been unchecked by local officials and have harmed, perhaps irreparably, the D.C. public schools.”

Naomi Klein began her excellent book “The Shock Doctrine” in New Orleans where the Katrina disaster allowed the city and state to shut down the public school system, fire all the public school teachers and staff, destroy the United Teachers of New Orleans (one of the most powerful — and black-led — unions in the Deep South) and replace them with many non-unionized charter schools. The chapter on New Orleans in “Keeping the Promise?” is true to the spirit that charter schools are evil entities. “A market-based system where schools compete against each other, families and students are cast as consumers, and those who don’t make it in the ‘market’ are allowed to fall through the cracks.” Former Chicago International Charter School student Phillip Howard (above, standing in front of the CICS Northtown “campus”) spoke out forcefully about the lies of CICS in a Substance interview two years ago. Since then, CICS has continued to expand across Chicago, renting unused Catholic school buildings and expanding to become, at least of all of its “campuses” are combined, the largest public “school” in Illinois. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt

The author of the New Orleans chapter points out how the public schools have turned into a dumping ground, while charters employ cheaper young idealistic teachers with no classroom experience and millions of dollars are now being diverted out of state, to the corporate contractors hired to manage charter schools. (However, the New Olreans chapter ended on a rather dubious note to imply that the hiring of former CPS CEO Paul Vallas — a big proponent of charter schools and privatization — was a wise decision because Vallas is a “seasoned superintendent and has made significant strides.”)

The next chapter in “Keeping the Promise?” is about Ohio. It continues the all-out attack on charters where the author states what was sold to the public as an experimental innovation has turned into a privatization and for-profit dream come true thanks to the lobby efforts of well-connected entrepreneurs. The interesting example they give is about White Hat Management, which operates over 30 for-profit charters (I thought the Edison concept was dead after its stock price bottomed out during the dotcom bust) and is run by Akron businessman and lobbyist extraordinaire David Brennan. Brennan started his education entrepreneurial career by starting publicly funded, private voucher schools and then jumped into charters through donating enormous campaign contributions. (He gave $120,000 to the governor and in return got more than $400 million in Ohio taxpayer dollars.) While White Hat keeps a tight lid on its finances, the average teacher salaries were less than $35,000 a year in 2006-07, according to the Ohio Department of Education. (Again, to stay true to its roots, the chapter ends on a not-so-charter-pessimistic note: there are still a “handful” of highly respected community-based charter schools rising to the challenge.)

But with guns still ablazing, the book blasts into the next chapter firing away at the charter school system set up in our nation’s capital. Despite being able to kick out the bad students and use an enrollment process that allows some charters to filter out undesirable families, charters in D.C. have still not done better than the district’s schools on standardized tests. No charter schools there are required to give priority to neighborhood children, a big blow to democracy and an education for all in this fine nation. After you read these three highly critical chapters on charter schools, you get sucked into this book believing it’s on your side. Much like thinking super billionaire extraordinaire Bill Gates is saving the world by funding small schools here, AIDS research in Africa and environmental causes in Asia, you then stop and think for a moment. But the Gates Foundation earns its money by investing in the very system that is destroying the environment, enslaving its children to work in horrible sweatshop conditions and preventing generic life-saving drugs to enter the African continent.

Such is the case with this book and the whole concept of charter schools — how the heck can a lesson plan on community togetherness save a group of people ravaged by the horrors of poverty, crime and drugs? The answer to no jobs in the ghetto is not enrolling your child in a charter school with less experienced teachers, it’s changing the socio-economic system of the very people you want to help. Incredibly, nowhere do the authors in this book mention this fact. All they say, true to the Soros way, is that public education is in serious need of an overhaul — our capitalist exploitative system posing no problem whatsoever!

The book then ends the way it began — on an upbeat for charters. The Boston’s Pilot Schools chapter highlights the success of “a direct outgrowth of the charter movement, yet provide an alternative to the privatization efforts of many charter management organizations.”

The Pilot method, the author writes, requires school districts and teacher unions to give up historical control so that those who work in the schools can make the decisions. The teachers even still receive union salary, benefits and seniority, but are exempt from teacher union contract work rules (read: a plus for employers who can fire at will, a minus for teachers who can be unfairly dismissed by a questionable administrator). These pilot schools are very successful and innovative, the book reports. And a big caveat to teacher unions: “Ultimately (pilot school) growth calls into question the existence of school districts and teacher unions as we presently know them.”

The next chapter has a series of questions and answers from successful community-based progressive charter school operators. It can all be summed up in this statement: “Personally, I am pro-union and that was one of the hardest things for to accept coming to the charter school. I gave up the union so I could teach the way I want to teach.” Hmmm, I teach the way I want to, but I didn’t have to give up a significant amount of my salary, benefits and time to leave a public school and join a charter. My two big questions for charter schools are these:

If teaching is the most valuable and crucial component in the education of a child — especially the child who comes from a low-income environment — how can we expect charter schools to do better by compensating teachers less? The loss of a union ensures this.

And how can you say the charter school concept reforms education when by its nature it is undemocratic by not ensuring a school for the neighborhood or those with special needs, but rather for those more education savvy?

“Keeping the Promise” is a book charter school people should love and public school people should hate. How this effects the children and the community is important. But the most important point is not even addressed in this book — that schools represent a broken society that continues to see a widening gap between the haves and have nots. A new school run by a private for-profit or not-for-profit operator will not fix this. In fact, in many ways they’re making it worse. 