Last Sunday the NY Times ran an article in the fashion and style section, of all places, about the sexy new charter schools hedge fund managers are running courtesy of the education deform movement.
In the article we got to meet all kinds of hedge funders like John Petry, Joel Greenblatt and John Sabat and hear about how they have gotten "religion" and decided to embrace the charter school movement and help NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg privatize as many New York public schools as they can.
The Times says these self-described business mavericks and financial innovators, the same fellows who helped bring us wonderful and innovative financial products like collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that caused near financial systemic collapse last year, love the idea of bringing their MBA business ethics and management ideas to education.
By starting schools with non-unionized employees and adding long hours, extended school years and six day school weeks, these hedge fund managers are bringing a little bit of the 19th century to the 21st century, acting out their robber baron fantasies and getting acclaim in the corporate media for acting charitably to help educate kids. And the kicker is they get to do it with taxpayer-provided money and contributions they deduct off their own taxes come April 15th.
Gee, no wonder these guys like associating themselves with the charter school/privatization movement so much.
John Petry, a partner in Gotham Capital and a backer of the Harlem Success Academy, says he loves crunching numbers and reading spreadsheets of education statistics containing things like test scores, graduation rates, and teacher performance ratios. What he wants to see in his schools is what he want to see in his stock portfolios - increases every quarter in every area of data he looks at.
But Petry isn't interested in helping individuals (“helping the world one person at a time just isn’t for me," he told the Times), so if the charter school/privatization movement that he is helping build in New York City cannot be replicated in other cities, then "it’s not as meaningful to us."
Luckily for Petry and other education "reformers" like him, he's got plenty of people in the Obama administration who agree, so much so that in order to receive federal education funds as part of the Race to the Top portion of last year's stimulus package, states have to agree to lift caps on charter schools.
And also lucky for Petry he's got plenty of people in the press to carry water for charters. You might say that between the financial power the public school privatization movement has backing it, the allies it has in government to change laws to favor it and the jive talkers in the press it has to spread its propaganda, there is nothing we who are in favor of traditional public schools can do to stop it.
But one thing I did take from the article is this - unlike the actual educators in actual schools who do the actual teaching of actual students, these guys from the hedge funds aren't particularly interesting in individuals. As Petry told the Times, he doesn't give a shit about helping one person; it's got to be a movement or he's moving on.
So, as we do battle with the hedge fund managers and public school privatizers, let us keep in mind that while the charter school movement is sexy and "in" for them now, they will abandon it if and when they meet some strong and persistent resistance to replicating it nationwide or it becomes clear it's not as successful as they want it to be. These are not people with long attention spans and they've already told us they're mostly involved for the notoriety and attention, not for actually helping people. It's true that the privatization movement does advance their anti-union/pro-management agenda, but there are other ways for them to accomplish that agenda besides sitting on the boards of charter schools.
So if you're committed to the preservation of directly democratically controlled schools responsible for the future of every child within their jurisdiction, as Deborah Meier put it at Bridging Differences, we've got to stick together, fight them at every turn, expose their hypocrisies, and continue to reveal their phonied data that supposedly proves the pre-eminence of charters (like Little Gloria Vanderbilt's kid's 60 Minutes piece that "proved" the Harlem Children's Zone had bridged the test score gap between black and Latino students and white and Asian students when Aaron Pallas of Teacher's College showed that it proved no such thing.)
This won't be easy. Not when you're doing battle with Mayor Moneybags, President Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and scores of wealthy Bernie Madoff-types (I love the the "Voldemort" big industry star in the Times article who no one will name because he is, like so many others in the shady hedge fund business, obsessed with "secrecy') and the charter movement is grabbing the most motivated students, the best buildings, and the most resources it can from traditional public schools.
But we've got to do it. And maybe, just maybe, we can send the Voldemorts from the hedge fund industry on to other predatory opportunities and get back to the business of educating future voting citizens of this country and not the compliant corporate employees willing to work long hours for low wages the privatizers want us to create.