Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital (Part 2)

09/09/2011 10:42


Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital (Part 2)

The U.S. Case

John Bellamy Foster


Economic Stagnation and Attacks on Public Schools


What changed matters decisively for the worse was the onset of economic stagnation beginning with the 1974-75 recession, and continuing with a declining economic growth trend ever since. Real economic growth in the United States dropped, decade by decade, from the 1970s on, putting increasing pressure on education. Total government spending on K-12 education as a percentage of GDP had risen in the 1960s and early 1970s, reaching 4.1 percent in 1975, only to fall to 3.6 percent a decade later, in 1985. The percentage of public school revenue coming from local government plummeted from 53 percent in 1965 to 44 percent in 1985 due to a widespread property tax revolt. Consequently, funding became more centralized at the state level.24


Schools, meanwhile, were forced to cope with growing deficits from the larger society. The percentage of U.S. children living in poverty rose from 14.4 percent in 1973 to 22.7 percent in 1993; while the proportion of poor children living in extreme poverty—defined as half the official poverty rate—increased from around 30 percent in 1975 to over 40 percent in 1993. Rising numbers of increasingly impoverished children arrived in the public schools, bringing with them more pressing needs, leading to greater strains on limited school resources.25


The response to the deteriorating conditions of the schools in the neoliberal period, characterized by cuts in social spending, was greater emphasis on standards and assessments. Schools were put on a more corporate, market-driven basis and increasingly privatized through the introduction of various conservative school choice initiatives, including vouchers and charter schools. School-voucher initiatives arose with Milton Friedman’s proposal—most famously in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom—for the government to hand out vouchers to parents equal to their child’s share of public education funding, making it possible to send their children to the school of their choice. The main goal was to allow government funds to subsidize private education. This was a direct attack on public education. In contrast, charter schools, which are publicly financed but privately managed schools, no longer run by school districts but still technically public schools, constituted what was to become a more subtle approach to privatization, arising in the 1980s.26


In the 1980s, a powerful conservative political coalition, led by corporate interests, was organized against the public schools. Ronald Reagan sought to institute school vouchers, while frequently indicating his desire to abolish the U.S. Department of Education—established as a cabinet-level department during the Carter administration. Reagan appointed a National Commission on Education, which issued its report, A Nation at Risk, in 1983. Its message was that the U.S. education system was failing due to its own internal contradictions. (No mention was made of slowing economic growth, increasing inequality, growing poverty, etc.) In the words of A Nation at Risk: “If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves….We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”27


The Reagan administration, which initiated a huge Cold War military buildup while cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations, used the rhetoric of reducing the skyrocketing federal deficit to justify jettisoning federal support for schools—including a 50 percent cut in federal Title I funding for schools in low-income districts.28 The late 1980s and 1990s saw the first dramatic shifts toward more rigid standards, accountability, and assessment systems, backed up by coercive mechanisms, in states like Kentucky and Texas (the latter under Governor George W. Bush). This general approach to educational reform was pushed forward within the federal government in the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, and materialized as a major bipartisan national program for the transformation of elementary and secondary schooling in the presidency of George W. Bush.29


Three days after his inauguration in 2001, Bush unveiled his NCLB program. The NCLB legislation, signed into law on January 8, 2002, was hundreds of page long, but simple in conception, consisting of seven major components: (1) All states were to develop their own tests and three performance levels (basic, proficient, and advanced), with proficiency determined separately by each state. (2) In order to receive federal education funds, states were required to test students in grades three to eight annually for proficiency in reading and math, and to disaggregate the scores in terms of low-income status, race, ethnicity, disability status, and limited English proficiency. (3) Each state was to provide a timeline showing how 100 percent of their students would reach proficiency by 2014. (4) All schools and school districts were ordered to demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP) for every disaggregated subgroup toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency in 2014. (5) A school that did not achieve AYP for all subgroups would be subject to onerous penalties increasing in each successive year. In the fourth year, the school would be subject to “corrective action,” requiring curriculum changes, staff changes, or a longer school year. In the fifth year, a school still not making AYP would be ordered to “restructure.” (6) A school that was ordered to restructure was allowed five “options,” all amounting to essentially the same thing: (a) change to a charter school; (b) lay off the principal and staff and replace them with others; (c) hand over control of the school to private management; (d) relinquish control of the school to the state; or (e) “any other major restructuring of the school’s governance.” (Most schools and school districts forced to restructure chose the last, relatively undefined alternative, hoping to avoid the other options.) (7) All states were required to participate in the federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which, while having no consequences for schools and school districts, was meant to constitute an external check on state testing systems.


The number of schools forced to restructure under NCLB soared year by year. In 2007-08 thirty-five hundred schools nationally were in the planning or implementation stages of restructuring, a jump of 50 percent from the year before. In 2010 the number of schools in the United States that failed to make AYP under NCLB rules had risen to a high of 38 percent, compared to 33 percent the year before.30


Although NCLB put new burdens and expectations on schools and teachers, total U.S. government spending on primary and secondary education as a percentage of GDP did not increase. It had risen in the 1990s, peaking at 4.2 percent in 2001 just as NCLB was unveiled, only to fall back again in the early NCLB years to 4.0 percent in 2006, below the 1975 level.31 The NCLB legislation represented a massive, unfunded mandate, forcing district-run public schools to take on huge additional costs without the means to do so. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, Colorado, and a former Vermont superintendent of schools, estimated that it would require a 20-35 percent increase in the current K-12 education budget nationally to fund NCLB. Instead, education funding increased only marginally—remaining flat or even diminishing, both as a share of GDP and as a share of civilian government spending.32


At the level of large urban school districts, the most celebrated attempt at NCLB-style school reform was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s school restructuring in New York City. Bloomberg, a billionaire, worth $18 billion, ranked the thirteenth richest individual in the United States in 2011, had made his billions through the development of a financial news media empire, Bloomberg LP.33 In his campaign literature, Bloomberg proclaimed that the schools were in a “state of emergency.” Upon his election to mayor, he immediately sought to transform K-12 education along corporate financial lines. Test scores in reading and math were the central focus; all other areas of the curriculum were deemphasized. Public schools that were determined to be failing were to be turned into charter schools. Yet, despite Bloomberg’s restructuring and privatization of schools, the federal NAEP tests indicated that students in New York City made no significant gains in either reading or mathematics from 2003 to 2007.34


Venture Philanthropy and Value-Added Education


Bloomberg was not alone among billionaires attracted to school reform in this period. In the twenty-first century era of monopoly-finance and information capital, the conviction arose in higher corporate circles that education could now be managed fully along scientific-technical and financial lines, making it possible to: (1) gain control of the labor process of teachers, (2) subordinate schooling to the creation of a more differentiated and routinized labor force, and (3) privatize public education (or as much of it as can be seized without meeting serious resistance). In the digital age, bureaucratization, tracking, and testing were seen to be feasible as never before. At the core of this process was the centralization of the labor process of teaching, so that all conception of how pedagogy was to be carried out would be removed from educators and controlled by higher authorities, in line with classic scientific management. Public schools were encouraged to devote an increasing share of their resources to “technology,” rather than teaching staff, within the context of an updated Taylorist scheme in which teachers were to be mere appendages to smart machines.


The utopian dream of scientifically managed education, that had failed to materialize completely in the twentieth century, finally seemed within reach under twenty-first century digital capitalism. “Due to technological advances,” Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education in the George H.W. Bush administration, observed, “many states and districts have the capacity to attribute the test scores of specific students to specific teachers and…many will use this information to hold teachers accountable for the rise or fall of their students’ scores.”35 The dominant language in the new conservative school reform movement became that of “value-added teaching,” and whether teachers had “‘added value’ to their students”—the new criterion for evaluating teacher performance and merit pay. Adding value, in this case, meant nothing more than increasing test scores, as a proxy for the growth of capital.36


Leadership in the twenty-first century corporate school reform movement—even preempting the role of government in this respect—has come from four big philanthropic foundations, headed by leading representatives of monopoly-finance, information and retail capital: (1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, (2) the Walton Family Foundation, (3) the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and (4) the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. These are widely characterized as a new type of foundation, known as “venture philanthropy” (a name taken from venture capitalism)—also called “philanthrocapitalism.”37 Venture philanthropies are commonly distinguished from more traditional foundations by their more aggressive, investment-oriented approach. Money is funneled directly into chosen projects largely eschewing traditional grant-making. A value-added approach is adopted, demanding quick returns based on businesslike criteria. Venture philanthropists are seen as especially aggressive in directly influencing government policy, despite their tax-free status.


The Gates Foundation, established by Bill Gates of Microsoft, had some $33 billion in assets in 2010, plus another $30 billion from financial capitalist Warren Buffet, spread out in annual contributions. In 2008 the Walton Foundation, representing the owners of Wal-Mart Stores, held $2 billion in assets. The Broad Foundation—directed by Eli Broad, a real estate and financial billionaire, who sold his business, SunAmerica, in 1999, to the later bankrupt-but-bailed-out-with-public-funds AIG for $18 billion—had assets in 2008 of $1.4 billion. While the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation—created by Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell—had assets in 2006 somewhat in excess of $1 billion.38


The direction taken by the Dell Foundation remains closely tied in its activities to Dell, which is one of the major technology companies marketing to public schools. The Dell Foundation works closely with the other three philanthrocapitalist foundations (the Gates and Broad foundations are among its biggest donors). It places special emphasis on “performance management”: an approach oriented to using information technology as the basis of accountability in the schools. This is directly connected to Dell’s own economic objectives in the educational market, since Dell is number two, after Apple, in the provision of technological hardware and infrastructure to K-12 schools. The Dell Foundation claims that it is helping urban schools to use “technology to gather, analyze and report information” for better school management.39 It is a strong backer of school choice, for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) in charter schools, and charter school real estate development.40


The Broad Foundation specializes in the training of an enormous new cadre of neoliberal capitalist education reformers, drawn primarily from outside education (recruiting professionals from business, law, the military, etc.). Its goal is to place them in upper management and school superintendent positions. The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems consists of two programs: the Broad Superintendents Academy, specifically aimed at training school superintendents and finding them positions in large cities; and the Broad Residency in Urban Education, set up to place its graduates in high-level managerial positions in school districts. The Broad Foundation expedites such placements by offering to supplement the salaries of its graduates in positions, making them more attractive to hard-pressed school boards and allowing them to hire at corporate levels. Hiring Broad graduates is also understood as a way in which school districts can make themselves eligible for additional Broad Foundation money. The Broad Institute for School Boards has as its specific mission the retraining of elected school board members across the country to get them to adopt the new corporate-management model for schools.41


In 2009 Broad Academy graduates, according to its Web site, filled 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings. The Broad foundation is a strong proponent of the privatization of education, and is particularly concerned with breaking teachers’ unions, establishing merit pay for teachers, and, in general, deprofessionalizing education, which it believes can now be run on pure business terms, proletarianizing the work force. In 2009 Eli Broad declared in a speech he gave in New York City, “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that. But what we do know about is management and governance.”42


The Broad Foundation promotes what Naomi Klein has called “the shock doctrine,” or a form of “disaster capitalism,” destroying the public education system in order to open it up for privatization.43 In April 2009, Seattle Education posted a guide to parents, “How to Tell if Your School is Infected by the Broad Virus,” on its Web site. Among the symptoms of the “Broad virus” listed were:


Schools in your district are suddenly closed….Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements….Sudden increase in the number of paid outside consultants. Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters….Weak math text adopted….Possibly weak language arts too….The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly teachers!…Excessive amounts of testing introduced and imposed on your kids….Your school board starts to show signs of the Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent….Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and his/her “Strategic Plan.” The Gates Foundation gives your district grants for technical things…and/or teacher “effectiveness” or studies on charter schools.44


The Walton Foundation reflects the outlook of Wal-Mart corporation, which has built its business on low-paid labor, virulent opposition to unions, and creating monopolistic power in the retail sector. The Walton Foundation’s emphasis is on breaking down, in every way possible, the public school monopoly of education through attacks on teachers’ unions, promotion of privately operated charters, school choice, etc. Ravitch notes: “As one reviews the contributions of the Walton Family Foundation, it is obvious that the family members seek to create, sustain, and promote alternatives to public education. Their agenda is choice, competition, and privatization.”45


In recent years, the Gates Foundation, by far the largest of these philanthrocapitalist foundations, has adopted an agenda very close to that of the Broad Foundation, and the two often operate jointly. Bill Gates has declared that there is no connection between teacher quality and such factors as certification, experience, and advanced degrees, or even extensive knowledge of the subject matter.46 The Gates Foundation has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the support of educational advocacy groups meant to pressure public policy, all aimed at restructuring public education, promoting charter schools, encouraging privatization, and breaking teachers’ unions. Thus, it has given millions of dollars to Teachers Plus, an organization that supports the restructuring of education, while arguing that the layoffs of teachers should be on the basis of assessments (test scores), rather than seniority rules, as the unions insist.47 The Gates Foundation also supports Teach for America, a program that recruits applicants straight out of college, puts them through a five-week boot camp, and sends them off to teach in low-income schools, usually for two or three years—without the benefit of teacher education, or a meaningful apprenticeship leading to professional certification.48


The Gates Foundation provided $90 million to finance Chicago’s Renaissance 2010, a “turnaround strategy” then headed by Chicago’s CEO of public schools Arne Duncan. Duncan’s Chicago shock doctrine initiative was aligned with the Gates Foundation funded report, The Turnaround Challenge. Duncan, now U.S. Secretary of Education, has called The Turnaround Challenge the “bible” of school restructuring, and has integrated it with official federal policy, making it the basis of Obama’s Race to the Top program for schools. In its 2009/2010 annual report, the Broad Foundation declared, “[T]he election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. Secretary of Education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.” Until February 2009, both Duncan and Obama’s former chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, were on the board of directors of the Broad Foundation’s education division.


Duncan, immediately upon taking office, proceeded to establish a director of philanthropic engagement within the Office of the Secretary of Education, declaring the Department of Education literally “open for business.” He packed the upper echelons of the department with Gates and Broad associates.49 Joanne Weiss, who directed the Race to the Top Competition in the Obama Administration and is now Duncan’s chief of staff, was formerly director of NewSchools Venture Fund—an education restructuring organization heavily financed by the Gates and Broad foundations.50


In Race to the Top, the Obama administration has offered additional major funding to a limited number of states (in the end, eleven states and the District of Columbia were declared winners), choosing only those that conformed to its restructuring goals with respect to testing, charters, privatization, and removing teacher tenure. During the selection process, the Gates Foundation reviewed the initial reform plans in every state, and picked its fifteen favorites, offering them each up to $250 million to hire consultants who would write proposals for Race to the Top. As a result, educators complained that Gates was choosing the winners and losers for the federal program. The Gates Foundation therefore changed its tactics and said it would offer the money to any states that met all of its eight criteria, one of which was restricting teacher tenure.


The central philosophy underlying the Gates Foundation’s Turnaround Challenge, which represents the semi-official policy of the Obama administration, is that “demographics need not determine destiny” or “school quality can overcome zipcode.”51 This argument, sometimes presented as the “No Excuses” philosophy is made again and again in the corporate-driven education movement.52 Flying in the face of the overwhelming results of four decades of education research—beginning in 1966 with the Coleman Report, which determined that when socioeconomic factors are controlled, “differences between schools account for only a small fraction of differences in pupil achievement”—conservative reformers now seek to place sole responsibility for “closing the achievement gap” on the schools themselves.


Indeed, conservative statistician William Sanders of the University of North Carolina, the leading proponent of “value added assessment” in schools, has declared flatly: “Of all the facts we study—class size, ethnicity, location, poverty—they all pale to triviality in the face of teacher effectiveness.” Such views might make sense if the issue were simply raising the average achievements of students, which is, of course, dependent on teachers. Instead, the issue is closing the gap between the differentials in average achievement of students from widely unequal class-race backgrounds (including students who are impoverished and homeless), which is to demand nearly the impossible of mere schools and teachers.53


Indeed, to adopt a conservative, “no excuses” philosophy toward the achievement gap is to close one’s eyes to the fundamental reality—child poverty. It is this, says David Berliner, professor of education at Arizona State University, which constitutes the “600-pound gorilla that most affects American education today.”54 As economist Richard Rothstein wrote in his Class and Schools:


The conclusion that the achievement gap is the fault of “failing schools”….is misleading and dangerous. It ignores how social class characteristics in a stratified society like ours may actually influence learning in schools….For nearly half a century, the association of social and economic disadvantage with a student achievement gap has been well known to economists, sociologists, and educators. Most, however, have avoided the obvious implication of this understanding—raising the achievement of lower-class children requires the amelioration of the social and economic conditions of their lives, not just school reform.55


Nevertheless, the new conservative education zeitgeist insists that these broader socioeconomic factors affecting the lives of schoolchildren can be safely set aside or ignored. Although it sometimes acknowledges that inequality, race discrimination, and poverty negatively impact school performance, these factors do not, we are told, in any way determine that performance. According to theory, it is thus possible to create schools that systematically erase these disadvantages of needy students. The real blockages to student achievement that should concern us, then, are ones for which schools themselves are responsible: lack of accountability and assessment, and poor teaching.56 Class inequality, child poverty, urban deterioration, racism, etc. are to be taken into account only in terms of a recycled 1960s “culture of poverty” philosophy in which poor and minority students are taught to take on “superior” white middle-class values/culture as a key to success.57 Reflecting a core capitalist belief, the Gates Foundation insists that schools can “uplift” all students without regard to whatever disadvantages they may bring with them.58


The Turnaround Challenge began by acknowledging the avalanche of schools needing restructuring under NCLB, which it projected as already reaching five thousand, or around 5 percent of all schools in the country by 2009-2010. The key problem, obviously, was that 35 percent of all students in the nation and two-thirds of minority students attended high poverty schools, which traditionally underperform. Poverty, the report claimed, constituted a significant hurdle to schools in closing the achievement gap, but need not be an insurmountable barrier. In very rare, if statistically insignificant, cases, as indicated in a series of scatter-diagram graphs, a few schools could be found that were both high poverty and high performance (HPHP). From the standpoint of The Turnaround Challenge, these HPHP schools were important because they disproved that poverty was an absolute barrier to school progress.


Such rare HPHP schools are generally assumed by the Gates Foundation to be charter schools, or “charter-like” schools, freed from school boards, traditional school curriculums, certified teachers, and teachers’ unions, and operating on more businesslike principles geared to high productivity/value-added. The answer would therefore seem obvious: “‘charterizing’ failing schools.” But since this option was not one that was readily chosen by schools or their school districts, it was necessary to get them to choose “the charter-related entry point” —or the “adoption of charter-like rules and authorities” in district-run schools. This, then, could “become the long-awaited vehicle for public schools to adapt to what appears to work in high-performing charters”—and therefore to be progressively charterized.59


The Obama administration has followed this Gates Foundation philosophy closely, promoting privately managed charter schools in opposition to district-run public schools, and trying to get district schools, at the very least, to take on charter-like characteristics. It has therefore threatened to restrict federal education funding for states with caps on the numbers of charter schools.60

Charter schools are nominally public schools, in that they depend on public funding and are required to admit any student. They operate under a “charter” or contract, which is a legal document, setting up some system of accountability, between the public agency that authorizes them and their operators. They are thus, in essence, contracted-out schools, operating independently of the elected school board and school district, and free of most regulations governing district-run public schools. Although charters can be started by virtually anyone (parents, teachers, community members, nonprofit organizations, or for-profit corporations), in practice, they have moved more in the direction of corporate-style management and domination by investment interests. This results from either the financial support and guidance of large private foundations, in the case of many nonprofit charter organizations, or from the schools being directly operated by for-profit EMOs.


Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans rapidly charterized its public schools. As Danny Weil explained in 2010 in “Disaster Capitalism: Revisiting the Charter Schooling and Privatization of Education in New Orleans,” “Within less than 19 months [following Katrina] most of the traditional public schools in New Orleans had been ‘charterized’ and not only were all public school teachers fired with lightening speed, but their collective bargaining gains were torn to shreds along with any existing contracts.” More than half of the students were enrolled in charterized schools by 2008, as compared to 2 percent at the time Katrina struck, with many of these schools run by for-profit EMOs.61


Barbara Miner, managing editor of Rethinking Schools, writes that, although the charter school movement had progressive roots, it has ended up appealing to those “wedded to a free-market, privatization agenda. In the past decade, these privatizers have come to dominate the charter school movement.”62 Or, as the distinguished educator Deborah Meier, author of In Schools We Trust, has stated: “The promise that charter schools offered us at their start was quickly abandoned as they morphed into large undifferentiated chain stores, ruled not by independent-minded ‘moms and pops’ the way we imagined, but by the most powerful billionaires on earth.”63


The Harlem charter schools celebrated in the 2010 anti-public school, anti-teachers’ union documentary film, Waiting for Superman, are run by a couple of charter umbrella organizations. One of these, the Success Charter Network, has a board of nine members, seven of whom are hedge fund and investment company managers; one, a managing partner at NewSchools Venture Fund (heavily funded by the Gates and Broad Foundations); and one, a representative of the Institute for Student Achievement (a corporate-sponsored non-profit specializing in school restructuring, receiving substantial funds from AT&T). There are no parents, teachers, or community members on this board. As the New York Times noted, hedge funds form the “epicenter” of the charter movement in New York.64 Financial capital is obviously attracted to charter schools, which are: (1) publicly financed, but privately managed and leveraged in strategic areas by big foundations; (2) mostly nonunion (and antiunion); (3) geared to testing, data collection, and technology; (4) generally open to a corporate model of organization; and (5) repositories of large funds, requiring financial management.


Charter schools, even if nonprofits, can play into private moneymaking strategies. As Miner writes: “There are those who will make money off of Harlem’s Children Zone” (the second of the two major charter organizations in Harlem celebrated in the film Waiting for Superman):


The organization had net assets of $194 million on its 2008 nonprofit tax report. Almost $15 million was in savings and temporary investments, and another $128 million was invested at a hedge fund. Given that most hedge funds operate on what is known as a 2-20 fee structure (a 2 percent management fee and a 20 percent take of any profits), some lucky hedge fund will make millions of dollars off of Harlem Children’s Zone in any given year.65


Despite all of the hype about charters as the vehicle for closing the achievement gap, the predicted educational gains have not materialized. The federal NAEP testing of students in 2003 indicated that charter school students showed no measurable improvement over public school students nationally, among students of similar racial/ethnic backgrounds; while, in the case of poor fourth-grade students, public schools outperformed charters schools in both reading and math.66 Thus, according to its own narrow standards of schooling, as measured by standardized tests, the charter school movement has been less than successful.


Philadelphia announced in 2009 that its charter schools were a failure. Although six of the twenty-eight privately managed elementary and middle schools had outperformed the district-run public schools, ten had underperformed in relation to the district-run schools. At least four of the charters were under federal criminal investigation for financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest, and nepotism. Managers of some Pennsylvania charters had created private companies to sell products to their charters.67


Even when charter schools have strong assessment scores, they are open to the charge that they do not enroll their fair share of the neediest students. A study in 2002-03 by Jack Buckley and Mark Schneider, the current and previous commissioners of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, showed that, of thirty-seven charters in Washington, D.C., special education students were underrepresented in twenty-four, while English-language learners were underrepresented in twenty-eight.68


The most celebrated charter school program is the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which has benefitted from a constant inflow of funds from the Gates, Walton, and Broad foundations. Like most successful charters, KIPP enrolls students by lottery, which tends to bring in only the more motivated, better students from families similarly motivated. KIPP schools are demanding and require that students spend 60 percent more time in school than they would in a traditional public school, in order to fulfill specific requirements. These heavy work-time demands drive out the more needy and lower-performing students, who end up back in the regular public schools. Research on KIPP schools in San Francisco in 2008 showed that 60 percent of the students who started a KIPP school in fifth grade were gone by the end of eighth grade. As Ravitch states: “Regular public schools must accept everyone who applies, including the students who leave KIPP schools. They can’t throw out the kids who do not work hard or the kids who have many absences or the kids who are disrespectful or the kids whose parents are absent or inattentive. They have to find ways to educate even those kids who don’t want to be there. That’s the dilemma of public education.”69


In New Orleans, the failure of charter schools to serve students with disabilities has resulted in a legal administrative complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, on behalf of 4,500 students with disabilities. The complaint charges New Orleans charter schools with systematically violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.70


Charter schools are characterized not only by high attrition on the part of their students, as in KIPP schools, but also by high attrition on the part of their teachers, who frequently vote against overwork and low pay with their feet. A study of charter schools nationally from 1997 to 2006 found that attrition among new charter school teachers is almost 40 percent annually, while charter school teachers as a whole leave at a rate of 25 percent a year, about double the public school teacher attrition rate.71 In general, charter school teachers receive lower pay than public school teachers, even without considering the better benefits of the latter. Research on Michigan public schools in 2001 found that the average yearly salary for charter school teachers was $31,185, as compared to $47,315 for regular public school teachers.72


A significant number of charter schools are run by EMOs. These for-profit companies operate charter schools with the goal of capital accumulation. Such firms have employed a number of strategies for increasing profits, starting with reducing labor costs. Charter schools are normally nonunionized, paying lower wages. Teachers who work there, like those provided by Teach for America, often do not have professional teacher education. EMOs are not required to participate in state retirement systems, and, while they hire at relatively competitive salary rates, benefits are slim and increases in salaries with seniority are less likely to occur. Class size is often larger. EMOs also commonly contract out to low-wage firms for support services and rely more heavily on parent volunteers. EMOs tend to reduce the extra services that children receive: school lunch programs, transportation, and extracurricular activities. They provide a more restricted curriculum, geared to basic-skills testing. All of these measures are considered standard ways of protecting the bottom line.73 A number of recent, high-profile studies have indicated that EMO-run charters are prone to higher levels of racial segregation.74