Why is it that the wildly wealthy: Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Mark Zuckerberg, the Waltons even our own Rex Sinquefield, feel they are uniquely qualified to tell us how to run our school systems? The latest to join the chorus is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who told a meeting of charter school officials that the problem with public schools is that they lack “stable governance” which is what keeps them from getting better each year. Bill Gates spent billions on his small school program which produced no statistically significant improvement in student performance. Mark Zuckerberg spent millions in Newark NJ trying to fix their schools and had similar results. What gives Hasting’s the veritas to pontificate on public schools? He has invested in and is an adviser to the Rocketship Education charter school network, a network that has failed to deliver on its promises of performance and to the local community, so I guess that makes him as qualified as any of them.

What Hastings told the California Charter Schools Association in March was this (from the StopRockethship transcript of his speech),

And so the fundamental problem with school districts is not their fault, the fundamental problem is that they don’t get to control their boards and the importance of the charter school movement is to evolve America from a system where governance is constantly changing and you can’t do long term planning to a system of large non-profits…The most important thing is that they constantly get better every year they’re getting better because they have stable governance — they don’t have an elected school board.

The language itself is telling as to his thoughts about public schools. They are a  living breathing system, separate from the public. He says that the problem the Districts have is that They don’t control the local board. See how the District is some separate entity according to him that is shackled by randomly chosen people who direct it? He does not recognize the district as the creation of the local community who created it and who has every right to direct it.

Brett Bymaster fought Rocketship in San Jose, where they had plans to build a new school, and won. His lawsuit showed that Rocketship did not keep their promise of maintaining local school boards in their other California schools. He now runs StopRocketship.com.

Hastings complains that governance is constantly changing and this leads to a lack of long term planning. But such change in governance is exactly what this country was built on, citizen legislators who would take their turn at the helm, bring with them their personal experience to contribute to the debate and then go back home to their businesses when their turn was over. We were not set up to have a permanent ruling class who would certainly have the “stability” that Hastings seeks.

And if you look at our reality, we have legislators in DC who have had decades of “stability” and still can’t plan a budget for more than 9 months, after which they have to go for another debt ceiling increase.  Long terms do not automatically  mean better outcomes. We have tremendous stability in our bureaus and agencies, yet hardly anyone would tell you we are happy with the way they are running things, nor are we at all happy with the lack of accountability such long term professionals have with the public who pays their salaries.

If you go to StopRocketship’s website you will see a pop up that asks you to

Imagine a world where your child’s school was run by a giant out of state corporation; a world in which your elected school board was dissolved without a trace.

For many within the education reform movement this would be a dream come true. Their biggest challenge to the take over and total privatization of education is the fact that they have to keep coming back and convincing an ever changing landscape of local school boards that giving up control of their schools to these private corporations, run by the billionaire boys club, is the right thing to do for their district. These leaders have no track record of actually delivering on their promises, but they want all of us to trust that their business acumen translates well to the education field. There are many in the charter business who are unhappy with Hasting’s comments, but could that be because he tipped his hand too early about what the real goal is with charters and choice? It’s about private business making money from the public trough.

For those in New Orleans this is a nightmare reality. They lost their control over their  schools when the Recovery School District turned all their schools into charters. Private charters were supposed to be the savior for what ails public schools, yet their results don’t measure up to the hype unless you only look at selective charters. The folks in NOLA have B -F grade charters to choose from and an “efficient’ one-application system to get their child into a school.

Just this week, the RSD opened up to address the needs of parents who didn’t get their choice of school in the OneApp scenario. Parents were lined up for hours only to be told by an uninterested bureaucrat to come back tomorrow. Parents had called the process before OneApp “Slaves Pick Your Master School”, but now they face this instead.

I am in line to deal with my child’s OneApp situation. This is the first day that the process has been open. The line to speak to someone is literally around the corner. There is NO parking and tow trucks are here towing cars. This is a serious problem. There are only people of color in this monstrous line. Where are the white folks? Could it be that they have all gotten into the schools they requested?… They call it the “Public Fool” system, and right now…in this line, I feel like a fool.” (from Geaux Teacher)

Note that these parents are hoping to get their child into a charter graded B or C. There are charters rated D and F and some, who can’t take another day off to stand in line or who couldn’t find a parking space where they wouldn’t be ticketed, will be stuck in those schools. Those schools do not have a locally elected school board so it is only a matter of hope that they might improve and a mystery as to how their secretly appointed board will decide to change them.

Is this not the fate that Kansas City can look forward to after the CEE Trust is done with their recommendations and the state takes over the district?

Wake up folks. Those who think that school choice and charters will be their life boat when they are done with the public school system can have this future for their children.

StopRocketship correctly calls Reed Hastings plan an “end to democracy in education. It’s a plan that would transfer the one and only compulsory American institution into the exclusive hands of the 1%.”

 This is what choice really means. Nikki Radicalone said this,

Notice it’s eight years after Hurricane Katrina, and the schools in New Orleans are still low performing, even though the charter carpetbaggers swooped into to reform this broken system. School choice for school equals ‘No choice’ for African American students and poor families.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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