This animated video by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore looks at school privatization through the eyes of little Timmy, a kindergartener who likes his public school.

Timmy gets a confusing lesson in corporate education reform, starting with the rightwing mantra: “Public schools have failed.”

“But I like my public school,” Timmy protests.

A top rightwing think tank has devoted more than $30 million to spread the message that public education is failing. According to a report by One Wisconsin Now, the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation is a major underwriter of this propaganda effort. Bradley spent millions on shoddy research, media punditry, and a lobbying campaign to promote the idea that public schools have failed and to push school vouchers and other privatization schemes as the “solution”.

Large, national charter-school chains have been major of the beneficiaries of the campaign to fix “failing” public schools. Among them, Rocketship––“a low-budget operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty,” according to a report by economist Gordon Lafer for the Economic Policy Institute.

Not all charter schools are bad. Some offer high-quality, alternative models classrooms that are enriching for kids. But over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a vehicle for privatizing public education, pushed by free-market foundations, big education-management companies, and profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public-education funds. 

Rocketship (see Barbara Miner's report from our new Save Our Schools issue) uses computer programs to teach children for a significant portion of the day, and eschews “extras” like school librarians, art, gym, and social studies, which further reduce staff costs. This combination of real teachers and online programs, dubbed “blended learning,” is the fastest-growing sector of the burgeoning charter school industry.

“The call for public schools to be replaced by such tech-heavy, teacher-light operations comes from some of the most powerful actors in local and national politics,” Lafer wrote in his report.

While privatizers and their advocates claim that charters and schemes like blended learning will increase students’ test scores, national research shows that charter schools, on average, perform no better than public schools.

Voucher school results are even worse. School vouchers where first launched in Milwaukee 25 years ago, allowing poor kids to use public education funds to cover tuition at private schools. Proponents imagined vouchers as a ticket out of poverty, and into mainline Catholic and Lutheran schools that would offer a better education and a safe environment. Instead, fly-by-night voucher academies have popped up in strip malls, corner stores, even an old car dealership.

Rocketship experienced high test-scores when it opened its first school in California in 2009. But those scores have rapidly declined, calling into question the lasting value of the schools’ test-prep focus, and prompting a painful self-examination chronicled in the Education Week article “Growing Pains for Rocketship’s Blended-Learning Juggernaut.”

Two of Rocketship’s five schools have fallen below state test-score goals. “Ironically, by Rocketship’s own standards, they would need to build another school nearby to compete with and replace their own failing schools,” the website Stop Rocketship notes.

More findings about Rocketship from the Economic Policy Institute:

• The “blended learning” model of education exemplified by the Rocketship chain of charter schools—often promoted by charter boosters—is predicated on paying minimal attention to anything but math and literacy, and even those subjects are taught by inexperienced teachers carrying out data-driven lesson plans relentlessly focused on test preparation. But evidence from Wisconsin, the country, and the world shows that students receive a better education from experienced teachers offering a broad curriculum that emphasizes curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as getting the right answers on standardized tests.

•  Blended-learning schools such as Rocketship are supported by investment banks, hedge funds, and venture capital firms that, in turn, aim to profit from both the construction and, especially, the digital software assigned to students. The very curricular model that Rocketship employs is shaped not simply by what is good for kids but also, in part, by what will generate profits for investors and fuel the company’s ambitious growth plans.

"Profitship" is now available in Spanish! For more on the state of public education in America and what activists are doing to save our schools, subscribe to The Progressive and get the digital version of our special December 2014/January 2015 issue on education.

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Comments

It is wonderful to experience such a creative medium for deconstructing the impacts of corporations on public schools. This is my 14th year as a public educator and we need to blow the whistle on corporate abuses including the profit grabbing that has attacked our communities. I think it is a mistake to 'batch' blended learning into corporate learning. Blended just means that kids are utilizing innovative tech tools to further their understanding of a concept. Indeed, your method of creating a cartoon video is blended and surely a more powerful way to connect your ideas to the learner. Teachers who are fighting to avoid blended learning models are similar to journalists who fought 10 years ago to preserve the old methods of news print. It can be hard to adapt, but we must meet this generation where they 'are at'...as digital natives. Out with the corporations but keep the blended learning models!
The Profit-ship video is hilarious but, sadly accurate. Diane Ravitch's blog had a link..
BLENDED education is really BENDING education in the direction of privatization. There has been a long time conspiracy to abolish public education and establish a system which would reflect the belief of a recent presidential candidate: "You are entitled to be best education that you can afford." Unhappily the Obama administration and the hatchet man, Duncan, have contributed to the privatization effort by attacks on tenure and teacher unions, advancing merit pay, pushing vouchers and charter schools and emphasizing standardized testing which detracts from time to teach. If the privateers succeed, we will have schools advancing a corporate agenda, teachers who are scared hirelings, and a system where profits are the bottom line.
Yeah. I've heard the arguments for and against Rocketship. My experience as a public school teacher, and a former community news reporter and columnist for The Orange County Register, gives me this advantage. You can take or leave this opinion: I've been to Rocketship. I've been impressed at some things. Not impressed at others. If you really want to stop the Rocketship invasion of our public school dollars, then public education as we know it has to change. And that's the Rocketship advantage. In my former profession, it was my fortunate or unfortunate experience to hear a lot of PR statements. When PBS observed that some students in the computer lab at a Rocketship school weren't engaged in that type of learning, the PR machine at Rocketship did something rare. It agreed and said they were going to try a different strategy. In other words, they could have said they were going to work with those CHILDREN who are not paying attention and not the PROGRAM. Instead, they said they were going to change their program. That’s unique among PR strategies. The point is this. Rocketship has the flexibility to explore ways of curriculum delivery, which is the ENTIRE point. Blended leaning? Look at this webpage. It's all over this site. However, public education is clueless and so was my education hero Diana Ravitch in her book The Reign of Error. Public schools can't fix poverty if they can't give students 21st Century skills and attitudes to build their future course out of poverty. And that's what's missing from Diana's book and fully present at Rocketship. A new way of curriculum delivery. For Rocketship, they better learn the lesson of public schools. You can't autocrat your way to sustainable growth. Want a clue how to do this? Read Ed Catmull's book Creativity Inc. Success comes from listening to your people and leaving you ego at the door. You build on failure, welcome it, expect it, learn from it. For the other side, lawsuits are not a sustainable strategy, Big money will always win in the end. Trust me. I've covered a couple court cases. However, creating new strategies for delivering curriculum is the way to save public schools. I've been to Rocketship. I was impressed. You can feel the energy there in your gut. Discipline is firm but friendly. Goals are clear. Parents are all over that place and are messiahs of message for Rocketship. The computer lab may not be the best for teaching, but it allows teachers to do small group instruction which is best. I could have told them the 100-student room strategy would have failed. I saw a 60-student fourth grade room at a Rocketship school with yawning kids with aids learning up against the walls while direct instruction bored the kids to death. Direct instruction works better with small groups. However, I saw this strategy work with older students at Flex Academy in downtown San Francisco. Okay. Now for a blatant plug. If you'd like to hear of a new way of doing curriculum delivery, email me at tjones221@mac.com. My school district in Buena Park has heard the call and has given me the chance to use a blended model method of learning, part Rocketship (Chromebooks, flexible classrooms), part Flex Academy, (small group instruction, data-driven instruction) and Flip Your Classroom (instructional videos online and created by students). Totally blended learning. The instructional design project is called "Meaningful Mass Repetition" and is funded by Pacific Star Analytics, a start up education company located in Long Beach and headed by Dr. Janet Young, a dedicated education professor at El Camino College in LA County. The program is based on The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, (Richard E. Mayer) which has been influential in modern knowledge acquisition, which draws from Cognitive Load Theory, (John Sweller) and Questions Sequences in the Classroom, (Robert Marzano) In my humble opinion, Marzano has nailed it. His book is probably the best blue-print so far to teach Common Core State Standards. Delivered in a multimedia format, it’s awesome! Arguments about corporate profits, et. al ring shallow for me, even though I'm as liberal as can be. Bridging the Achievement gap? As in the Hokey Pokey, that's what it's all about. Rocketship is scoring in this strategy, even if they are temporarily falling on their face. BTW. As a former Timmy, I'm happier in my classroom than I was in a traditional classroom. Oh. My students are too. Come to my school and ask them. But don't sit there and think you can sue your way out of your Rocketship problem. Try my way. Tim Jones - tjones221@mac.com

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The United States is the only nation in the world that sentences children to life in prison without parole.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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