Parents, activists and educators who are against the so-called education-reform movement are forming a national coalition to combat what they perceive to be a corporate assault on education.
They thought it’d be wise to organize their fight on a more national level — especially since their opponents have a ton of money and resources at their disposal to orchestrate the dismantling of the traditional public school structure.
To get an idea of how much cash ed-reform supporters are willing to shell out to shape education policy, wealthy reformists poured nearly $4 million into elections involving three school board seats up for grabs in Los Angeles.
Our generous Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw $1 million into the mix to help get ed-reform-friendly candidates elected. Our former public schools chancellor, Joel Klein, who now heads media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s education technology company, Wireless Generation, donated an estimated $25,00-$50,000 to the campaign.
With this kind of money being dropped on a local school board election, corporate reform critics likely realized that it’s time for them to up the ante. They announced the formation of the Network for Public Education yesterday. Diane Ravitch, an education historian, and Leonie Haimson, an education advocate, were instrumental in the founding of the coalition and are two of the leading voices against education privatization in New York City.
“With all the billionaire cash trying to buy elections, we need to amass people power to ensure that individuals who care about preserving and strengthening our public schools are elected to positions of power,” Haimson, of Class Size Matters, said in a statement. “As the recent Los Angeles school board election shows, when we are organized we can overcome the forces of the privateers and the profiteers, intent on pillaging and dismantling our public schools.”
Results from the L.A. election came in yesterday, and despite the big money contributions from the likes of Bloomberg, Klein, Murdoch, the Walton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they only managed to secure one of the three seats for their favored candidates.
The wealthy contributors donated to the elections through Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s political action committee The Coalition for School Reform. The PAC pushed hard to unseat Steve Zimmer from the school board but he defeated its preferred candidate, Kate Anderson, by a narrow 52 to 48 percent.
Zimmer’s win in the face of big money is a big victory in the eyes of many, but he’s hardly a big opponent against ed-reform policies. He has supported policies inline with the movement in the past, but fell out of favor with the big-money players after he called for better oversight of L.A.’s charter schools and a moratorium on the opening of new ones until more research can be done to prove their effectiveness.
So, the election likely serves as more of a warning flag than a groundbreaking victory. And, the coalition still has a serious fight ahead of it.
“We believe in community-based reform, strengthening our schools instead of closing them, respecting our teachers and principals instead of berating them, educating our children instead of constantly testing them,” Ravitch said in a statement. “Our public schools are an essential democratic institution. We look forward to working with friends and allies in every state and school district who want to preserve and improve public education for future generations.”