In Chicago, a Battle Over School Closures Heats Up
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As her bread-and-butter approach--so successful in Detroit that the district has over 54,000 students enrolled in charter schools--the rhetoric of under-enrollment plays fast and loose with the truth. In fact, under-enrollment is often an outcome of the very same policies used to justify school closures.
Despite their differences in tactics, Brizard and Byrd-Bennett have a lot in common. For example, Brizard was a 2007 graduate of the Broad Superintendent Academy, were Byrd-Bennett served as Superintendent Executive Coach starting in March 2006.
In fact, the list of graduates from the Broad Superintendent Academy reads like a veritable Who's Who of urban-school district leaders--often enough, in districts under direct mayoral or state control. For his part, Robert Bobb graduated in 2005--current or past leaders with ties to the Broad Foundation program include New Orleans, Oakland, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Minneapolis and others. And the list expands exponentially when it includes individuals serving in other management capacities.
This overabundance of public school officials with connections to the Broad Foundation poses sharp questions about who is really running the public education in the U.S. More and more, the answer seems to increasingly involve the "philanthropic" foundations of three billionaires: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. There are other big-money foundations involved in what education reform expert Joanne Barkan calls "venture philanthropy," but these three are the main players.
Aside from their astronomical wealth, one common theme unifies these three foundations--a belief that schools should be run like businesses, not schools. This is most easily shown by the fact that Broad's Superintendent Academy and Residency in Urban Education programs recruit almost exclusively from people who are former business executives or who have earned MBAs.
By and large, district superintendents, high-level managers and charter school operators who graduate from these programs are not educators--and this is by design.
The result of private wealth and corporate values being injected into public education over the last decade has been an unprecedented lurch toward the privatization and corporatization of public schools. Unless it is confronted, the end result of this seismic shift could well be the wholesale takeover of public education by wealthy private interests.
But among students, parents, teachers and community members, some people are calling out this theft of our schools for what it is. The Chicago teachers' strike this past fall shows the extent to which ordinary people are willing to stand up and fight. The support and solidarity for teachers in September united individuals and communities across racial, socio-economic and geographic boundaries in a common defense of the right to public education.
This same spirit mobilized the diverse crowd that gathered in City Hall on November 2. As Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the protesters:
Our message is clear--we are not going to stand by and allow these fat cats to strip our schools of their resources and put people out of work in order to further line their pockets with our dollars. We want the mayor, the board and their politically connected billionaire friends to know that parents, teachers, students and the community are going to do whatever we can to save these schools and give our students the resources they need.