by Shamus Cooke
September 28, 2010
Shamus Cooke is a social
service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In less than a week two billionaires have joined the anti-teacher
a group of ultra-wealthy individuals
hell-bent on destroying public education and teachers’ unions. The
newest members of the club are Oprah Winfrey and Facebook founder
Winfrey has used her show - twice in one week -
as a platform against public education. She first hosted billionaire Bill
Gates to discuss his "philanthropy" in education, as he promoted the new
anti-public education propaganda film Waiting for Superman.
Waiting for Superman is a "documentary" focused on the types of anti-teacher
school "reforms" desired by the Billionaires Club, who have used their
tremendous wealth to blackmail school districts and states to institute
For example, the
Facebook founder's donation of $100 million
to the Newark, New Jersey school district will almost certainly require -
according to The New York Times - that the school institute these reforms,
Bill Gates' donation of $100 million to
the Tampa Hillsborough County School District - and the $90 million to the
Memphis school district - had the same types of strings attached.
What are the conditions for receiving this "charity" of billionaires?
It's the same demands for receiving money from
the federal government under Obama's badly-named Race to the Top
creating more privately administered -
or for profit - Charter schools
connecting teacher's pay with student
test scores (merit pay)
undermining the seniority of teachers
other tricks to dis-empower teachers and
Diane Ravitch, a former corporate-school
reformer, has now dedicated her time to exposing the motives of the
super-rich and their new-found interest in "reforming" public education.
In her book
The Death and Life of the Great American School System,
Ravitch entitles a chapter “The Billionaires Boys Club.”
On the radio show Democracy Now! (below
Part 1 Video) Ravitch
summarized the chapter:
“The Billionaires Boys Club is a discussion
of how we’re in a new era of the [billionaire] foundations and their
relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States
had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the
other billionaire foundations - the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad
And these three foundations - Gates, Broad
and Walton - are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating
teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the U.S.
Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where
foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and
in fact are succeeding."
Leading Education Scholar Diane Ravitch
There are some key motives for billionaires to
jump in a coalition with this singular focus, none of them well meaning.
There are unknown billions in profits to
be made in privatizing public education, either in the private
administration of schools, curriculum companies, or wholly
for-profit schools. There has been much talk in the investor world
of this new "market.”
In addition, the New York Daily News
“Wealthy investors and major banks
have been making windfall profits by using a little-known
federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.
The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a
lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.”
(May 5, 2010)
The super-rich hate taxes. They would
rather not pay taxes towards public education when they could
instead invest their money in private schools and reap profits.
Billionaires hate unions (they didn't
become billionaires by paying union wages): The biggest obstacle
towards privatizing public education is the powerful teachers’
unions. Teacher unions are also the strongest segment of the labor
movement, and thus the most powerful grouping in the U.S. working
class, able to fight back most effectively against corporate school
reform— the billionaires’ natural enemies.
The super-rich attacked first in this battle
between teachers and billionaires.
The teachers must defend themselves. Shamefully,
certain segments of the teachers’ unions are having troubles labeling their
attackers as enemies.
For example, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT),
Randy Weingarten, sent a friendly invitation to
Bill Gates to address the AFT
convention, where Gates was allowed to deceive the teachers about the
intentions of his multi-billion dollar "investment" in "reforming"
Gates’ ideas about education - blaming teachers for everything - ignores
what most teachers already know: the main predictor for a student’s success
is social-economic background.
Rich students outperform poor students for many
different reasons: less stress, more resources, parental help, etc. Ignoring
this obvious fact exposes the billionaires’ profit motive behind their fake
Teachers must fight back. They cannot allow the media to frame the debate
with the ideas of the corporate think tanks and foundations. Teachers cannot
concede on the issues that help keep their unions powerful, such as
seniority; merit pay must be defeated for the same reasons.
If the teachers’ unions combined with other public sector unions, parent
associations, and the community at large to demand FULLY FUNDED PUBLIC
EDUCATION by TAXING THE RICH, the billionaires would find themselves without
Their money might then be put towards something