August 16, 2013 | Paradoxes come in all different forms, but here’s one that perfectly fits this Gilded Age: The most significant lesson from the ongoing debate about American education has little to do with schools and everything to do with money. This lesson comes from a series of recent scandals that expose the financial motives of the leaders of the so-called education “reform” movement — the one that is trying to privatize public schools.
The first set of scandals engulfed Tony Bennett, the former Indiana school superintendent and much-vaunted poster boy for the privatization push. After voters in that state responded to his radical agenda by throwing him out of office, he was quickly hired to lead Florida’s education system. At the same time, his wife not-so-coincidentally landed a gig with the Florida-based Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company that not only has an obvious interest in Bennett privatizing Florida schools, but that also was previously awarded lucrative contracts by Bennett in Indiana.
Grotesque as it is to shroud such self-enriching graft in the veneer of helping children, the self-dealing controversy wasn’t Bennett’s most revealing scandal. That distinction goes to recent news that Bennett changed the grades of privately run charter schools on behalf of his financial backers. Indeed, as the Associated Press reported, “When it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature ‘A-F’ school grading system to improve the school’s marks.” Yet, the Associated Press also reported that just a year before, Bennett “declined to give two Indianapolis public schools the same flexibility.”
In response, the American Federation of Teachers is asking Indiana to release emails between Bennett and the education foundation run by former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., another prominent face of the “reform” movement. The union is requesting this correspondence because of another scandal, this one publicized by the Washington Post.
Under the headline “E-mails Link Bush Foundation, Corporations and Education Officials,” the newspaper earlier this year reported on correspondence showing the foundation carefully shaping its education “reform” agenda not around policies that would most help children, but around legislation that would most quickly expand the profit margins of its donors in the for-profit education industry. More…