Saturday, April 21, 2012

ALEC: The Killer Corporate Arm of US Capitalism

ALEC: Controversial Policy Group Casts Long K-12 Shadow

By Andrew Ujifusa

In nearly 40 years of legislative advocacy, the American Legislative Exchange Council—a free-market, limited-government group now drawing intense scrutiny for its support of a controversial self-defense law—has had a significant influence in K-12 education through its model legislation and work with state lawmakers to promote such policies as private school vouchers and "parent trigger" laws.

"Education is one of the most important issues that we deal with in ALEC. ... We've been very busy in that field," said Indiana state Rep. David Frizzell, a Republican and the national chairman of the Washington-based group, which boasts some 2,000 state legislator members and nearly 300 corporate and nonprofit financial supporters.

Now, liberal-leaning groups and other opponents see a chance to trim its influence. Their opening: ALEC's role in promoting "Stand Your Ground" laws on self-defense, the center of debate after a Florida teenager's shooting death.

ALEC opponents argue that in education and other areas, the group undermines states' democratic process by letting corporate lobbyists vote on model legislation through vacation-type conferences attended by lawmakers who then use that legislation to shape their own bills.

"The ALEC method, or the ALEC game plan, literally turns these legislators into super-lobbyists," said Doug Clopp, the deputy director of programs for Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group for open government.

The reality is far different, according to Adam Peshek, the director of ALEC's education task force. He said a large part of ALEC's role is to be a policy clearinghouse, channeling ideas from a particular state or individual to other states, in legislative form. The group says close to 1,000 bills each year based at least in part on its model legislation are introduced in statehouses, and that an average of about 20 percent become law.

"We're pretty good at getting stuff on the cusp of when they're new and innovative ideas," said Mr. Peshek.

At the same time, ALEC officials argue it is just one policy group attempting to promote education policies that are especially popular in conservative and free-market circles.

Decades of Work

ALEC, which began in 1973, says it works to advance free-market policies that limit the role of government.

The group, which according to recent tax filings had about $7.2 million in revenues in 2011 and 35 employees, includes state legislators and representatives from various corporations that provide ALEC with funding, such as Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, AT&T, and Koch Cos. Public Sector.

The group is split into task forces co-chaired by public- and private-sector representatives that develop model legislation.

The education task force, for example, has as its public-sector chairman Georgia state Rep. David Casas, and as its private-sector chairwoman Mickey Revenaugh, a co-founder and executive vice president of Baltimore-based Connections Academy, which operates online classes in numerous states. Neither had responded to a request for comment as of press time.

Those task forces approve model legislation for lawmakers to use as they see fit in their states. The task forces meet as one, but the public-sector and private-sector members each have separate vote tallies for resolutions and model legislation.

Over the years, ALEC has crafted legislation on such policies as charter schools, alternative certification for teachers, parent-trigger laws, and vouchers for special-needs children. Those who have worked with ALEC highlight its role in prominent legislation, such as parent-trigger bills, but also say it is often difficult to ascribe a powerful policy idea or all of its progress in a particular state to just one group.

The group also publishes a "Report Card on American Education" that grades state education policies based on the strength of their charter school and home-schooling laws, as well as their policies about identifying and retaining effective teachers and whether they provide students with strong private-school-choice options.

The group's opponents take sharp aim at what they see as the outsize influence of its model legislation.

"From my perspective, the increased attention on ALEC is making it easier to share that story about ALEC's broader agenda, including its efforts to ... take money out of public schools and put it into private education corporations," said Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, based in Madison, Wis.

Her group's ALEC Exposed website lists 69 model education bills and resolutions dealing with issues including private tax-credit scholarships and virtual education.

Mr. Frizzell, ALEC's national chairman, rejects the idea that state lawmakers would be pressured to adopt the model legislation. "We never have a follow-up and say, 'Well, you've got to pass that' or anything like that," he said.

Parent-Trigger Example

On a variety of education issues, ALEC has been either a prime policy influence or part of a constellation of groups pushing a particular policy agenda.

One idea that gained vital strength in part through ALEC's involvement, but which did not originate with the group, is parent-trigger legislation. Such laws typically allow a school to be restructured or turned into a charter facility if a certain percentage of student parents vote to do so.

The history of such laws also illustrates how an idea was cross-pollinated—from a veteran player in Democratic politics to conservative policy analysts, to ALEC, to state lawmakers, and finally to laws put on the books.

Bruno Behrend, the director of the Center for Transforming Education at the Heartland Institute, a conservative Chicago think tank, said Heartland first picked up the idea when Heartland's president and chief executive officer, Joseph Bast, met liberal activist Ben Austin in California in early 2010 and was captivated by Mr. Austin's description of the parent-trigger concept. (The law passed in California that year.)

Mr. Austin is the executive director of Parent Revolution, which pushes parent-trigger laws. (The group receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also helps support Education Week's coverage of parent-empowerment issues.)

"We loved the idea, that it was coming from someone on the progressive side of the aisle," said Mr. Behrend.

Mr. Bast brought the idea back to Heartland, which put together a policy proposal centered on a parent trigger. Heartland then presented the proposal to ALEC, which in turn created model legislation for a parent-trigger law, Mr. Behrend recalled. He said that model bill, sometimes with variations, ended up appearing in about 10 to 15 states.

Besides California, where the parent trigger originated, and Connecticut, which passed a law in early 2010, five states had passed parent-trigger laws in various forms between January 2011, when ALEC approved model parent-trigger legislation, and February of this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than 20 have considered such laws. (Louisiana subsequently adopted a parent-trigger in this month.)

"We hope that we were instrumental in getting legislation passed," Mr. Peshek said.

But the states that have passed such laws haven't necessarily used ALEC's language, or all of its proposals.

For example, the ALEC bill lists the options as converting the school into a charter or putting it under an education management organization, closing the school, or supplying students at a school with a tuition voucher. Some states where parent-trigger laws have passed, such as Indiana and Mississippi, only allow a conversion to a charter school, while others turn the school over to the state. Ohio's bill, which applies only to its Columbus schools, allows for "any other major restructuring."

Like the ALEC model bill, the parent-trigger laws on the books in Indiana and Texas don't require public hearings, while Mississippi follows the ALEC model in not specifically allowing a local school board any authority over how a school is changed.

On the other hand, The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported this month that a New Jersey parent-trigger bill from an ALEC member contained a provision that almost exactly mirrored ALEC's funding levels for vouchers, as well as the same timeline for the parents' requested conversion to be implemented.

Legislation on Choice

In Indiana, meanwhile, the latest charter school law, passed in 2011, shares some language with the "Next Generation Charter Schools Act," which is ALEC model legislation posted by the Washington-based Center for Education Reform on its website.

For example, the model bill outlines the creation of charter school authorizers such as the board of trustees of a two- or four-year institution of higher education, or a public charter school state board with members selected by the governor.

Both proposals are included in Indiana's 2011 charter law, which was co-sponsored by the chairman of the education committee of the state House, Rep. Robert Behning, a Republican.

"I am certain that some of that information from ALEC filtered into Indiana as well," Mr. Frizzell said, referring to its charter school and school choice polices.

But he denied that Behning simply introduced ALEC model bills as proposed legislation.

In terms of legislative genealogy, Florida can ultimately claim credit for about six or seven model ALEC bills on issues such as 3rd grade retention, alternative teaching certification, and virtual education, Mr. Peshek said. They followed in the footsteps of various K-12 measures under former Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, who pushes the same proposals through his own nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

ALEC's "report card" on education this year was written by staff members of Mr. Bush's foundation and the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank, while its foreword is by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

Mr. Frizzell argued it would be "silly" for pro-business lawmakers to introduce pro-business legislation without consulting businesses. But he also said that ALEC members representing education companies, such as Ms. Revenaugh's, did not have carte blanche concerning ALEC's education agenda, since ALEC's board of directors, consisting only of state legislators, has final say on model bills approved by task forces.

'Stand Your Ground'

ALEC has received a new level of exposure in recent weeks for its model "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which permits people to use force in self-defense if they have reason to believe they are being threatened, without a duty to retreat first. Such laws have become a central point of contention in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February.

Efforts by liberal groups such as Color of Change to force corporate backers of ALEC to withdraw support with threats of boycotts have been followed by decisions by numerous companies, such as Coca-Cola, Intuit, and McDonald's, to sever their ALEC ties.

Meanwhile, the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently provides grant money to ALEC, said it will not make future grants to the group, although it will not stop payment of its current $376,000 grant to help educate legislators on more "efficient" budget approaches and on evaluating teachers based on student achievement. The grant was given in November and runs for a year and 10 months.

Chris Williams, a Gates Foundation spokesman, did not say that ALEC's association with "Stand Your Ground" laws led directly to Gates' decision not to make future grants. "The environment ... is no longer conducive to working together," Mr. Williams said.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, which focuses on higher education achievement, has not decided if it will award future grants to ALEC, after awarding two grants totaling $595,000, including one that expires May 31, a spokeswoman said.

(The Gates and Lumina foundations also provide grant support for Education Week.)

Philosophical Partners

Regardless of its influence, ALEC is far from the only way to spread ideas from and between conservative policy shops.

Jonathan Butcher, the education director at the Goldwater Institute, noted that New Hampshire officials talked with the institute several times about implementing tax-credit scholarships.

In terms of other groups that influence policy, he cited the State Policy Network, an association of about 60 policy-research institutes and centers that push for "market-friendly public policy at the state and local levels." ALEC is also listed as one of dozens of separate "associate members" in the network.

But Ed Muir, a deputy director of research at the American Federation of Teachers, called ALEC the "spearpoint" of a larger conservative policy network. Combined with ALEC's position on immigration and taxes, Mr. Muir argued, "the macro effect is anti-child."

Paul Peterson, the director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, who is also editor-in-chief of Education Next, a journal that publishes research and opinion on education issues, said ALEC is ultimately just part of the "pluralist heaven" of the American political process.

Mr. Peterson, whose journal has published articles supporting school vouchers and charters, sees ALEC as part of a wide spectrum that includes teachers serving in state legislatures and the deep influence unions exert on some lawmakers.

"I don't see anything here that is not totally pervasive in American politics," Mr. Peterson said.

Denise Roth Barber, the managing director of the Helena, Mont.-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, said that "in a way, ALEC exists because of the vacuum of citizen involvement." The group also has some ideological counterweights, she said, among them the Progressive States Network, based in New York City.

But the deep pockets of ALEC's member corporations instill more fear among liberals, she said.

Controversy over the group continues—with some impact. On April 17, ALEC announced it would shutter its task force on public safety and elections, which had produced model "Stand Your Ground" legislation.

But speaking of a possible broader outcry against ALEC education priorities, Mr. Peshek, the group's education task force director, said: "The only thing we can do is keep going out there and keep doing what we're doing. I think it will go away."

Friday, April 20, 2012

In The Name of "AntiRacism," Horrible Racism Continues- Swedish Style

 The body screams every time someone slices a piece.
Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth (right) opened a party last Saturday by slicing a piece of this cake.
Faksimil: Pontus Raud/Youtube. Photo: Jenny Nell Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth (right) opened a party last Saturday by slicing a piece of this cake.

Shocking photos show Swedish Minister of Culture celebrating with ”n*g*er cake”

17 april 2012
STOCKHOLM (FRIA TIDER). A macabre scene with racist undertones took place on Saturday when Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth attended a tax funded party for the Stockholm cultural elite. The self-proclaimed "anti-racist" Liljeroth declared the party officially started by slicing a piece of a cake depicting a stereotypical African woman.

Photos from the party at World Art Day have already been released on Facebook and are now going viral in social media.

The shocking photos show several established left-wing members of the Stockholm cultural elite watching and laughing as Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth slices a cake depicting a black African woman with minstrel-esque face.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was invited to open the festivities by performing a clitoridectomy on the cake, which she did by slicing off the part of the cake depicting female genitalia. She then proceeded to feed that part of the cake to a performance artist, done up in blackface, his head protruding through the table.
The events that unfolded at the party stand in stark contrast to Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth’s official political posititions. Publicly she advocates a strict hard-line approach against racism. When in 2010 the Swedish nationalist newspaper Nationell Idag managed to acquire enough subscribers to qualify for state-funded press subsidies she immediately took action to change the country’s press subsidy laws.

- It is distasteful to support extremist newspapers, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was quoted as saying in the government publication Riksdag & Departement, promising measures to deprive newspapers with ”racist” content of press subsidies.

- Although this is a question of freedom of expression, we dont want taxpayers’ money to support this form of media, she further noted.

Why government funds should be used to pay for cakes such as the one served last weekend, has yet to be explained by Liljeroth.

Crazy Talk: 'Racist Circumcision' Cake

Created 04/17/2012 

Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association, probably said it best when he described this incident to a Swedish paper as a "racist spectacle."

Sweden's minister of culture, Adelsohn Liljeroth, participated in an art installation that took place at Stockholm's Moderna Museet [12] in connection with World Art Day on April 15.

The Local reports that as part of the event, which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision, Liljeroth began cutting a large cake shaped like a black woman, symbolically starting at the clitoris, in a ceremony that has sparked outrage and prompted calls for her dismissal.

"According to the Moderna Museet, the 'cake party' was meant to problematize female circumcision, but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with 'black face' is unclear," Sabuni said in a statement. He went on to say that the mere fact that the minister participated in the event, which he argued was also marked by "cannibalistic" overtones, betrays her "incompetence and lack of judgment." "Her participation, as she laughs, drinks and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision," he added.

Liljeroth reportedly defended her actions, saying, "I understand quite well that this is provocative and that it was a rather bizarre situation."

"Bizarre" would be an understatement. You have to see -- and hear -- the footage of this horrifying "cake party" to believe it.

Afro-Swedish Artist Makode AJ Linde Claims His "Clitoridectomy Cake" is an AntiRacist Artwork!

This is supposedly an anti-racist work of art from the Afro-Swedish artist Makode AJ Linde. The installation was presented in connection with World Art Day, arranged by KRO and IAA at the Museum of Modern art in Sweden.
Here is an article in which Makode AJ Linde explains his art and the background to this artwork.

Controversial Afro-Swedish Artist Speaks, "It's a Disturbing Picture But It's Also a Disturbing Subject"

A photo of the Swedish minister feeding the artist some of the cake (image via via Facebook)

In the last few days, Afro-Swedish artist Makode Linde has learned the power of the viral web.

His controversial cake performance at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet has ricocheted around the world and has garnered reactions of all types from support of his edgy gesture to raise awareness about female genital mutilation to the denunciation of the artist and the Swedish culture minister pictured in the event photos as racists. Linde spoke to Hyperallergic about the controversy and he was happy to explain the context for the piece and how commenters have not wanted to delve deeper into the work and what it has to say.
Artist Makode Linde speaking to Al Jazeera via Skype (via

As one of the only Afro-Swedish artists it is perhaps no surprise that Linde has made race a central focus of his body of work. His Afromantics series, which began in 2004, totals roughly 700 sculptures. In Afromantics, his best known works, Linde paints black face on Western cultural icons. They are obviously about identity but with a shadowy sense of humor that feel discomforting in their absurdity. As one Swedish newspaper put it in 2009, “Linde Questions With Humor.”

“Within my art I try to raise a discussion and awareness about black identity and the diversity of it,” Linde says. “The [recent] discussions [about my cake piece] have been mostly if I or the culture minister are racist or not. I think it is a shallow analysis of the work. It’s easy to take any image and put it in the wrong context.”

Linde’s cake was one of five artist cakes — the others were by Peter Johansson, Lisa Jonasson, Marianne Lindberg De Geer and Galleri Syster — that doubled as an art installation at an event last Sunday which marked the 75th anniversary of the Swedish Artists Federation at Stockholm’s Moderna Museeet. It was his first showing at the famed modern art museum and he decided to build on his Afromantics series, which he describes as taking “mass cultural symbols … and then I give them a new black life by giving them black face. In the process robbing them of their original identity.”

“You can’t see the identity of the individual representations when you see them all together in blackface,” he says about the usual reactions he gets when he exhibits a grouping of his Afromantics sculptures. “You rob them of something and you force them to be something else.”

The artist is happy with the Modern Museet performance, which he says “went off the exact way I wanted it.” He explains that the Swedish culture minister’s presence was only announced to the artist 20 minutes before the event began but he was supportive of the idea of her cutting his cake, which featured him as the head. He thinks the images of his work can stand alone but her presence added a powerful element. He doesn’t understand the fixation that commenters have on the white figures all around and he seems legitimately surprised by the aggressiveness of commenters towards the audience. “I think it is wrong to call it racist because they are white women and I’m the only black person there,” he says.
A view of the cake after party goers took a piece. (via the artist's Facebook page)

The whole incident raises questions about cultural identity and the internet. In Sweden, Linde says, the project was mostly understood in the art world context it was performed. “In Stockholm, where I am from, the art world knows [about my work]. Ninety-nine percent of my pieces have a anti-racist context,” he says. ”I’m the first one to admit that it’s a disturbing picture but it’s also a disturbing subject. One of the main roles of art is to talk about these things and make people confront them in themselves.”

He says he was conscious of how it was presented and he worked on figuring out ways that will allow more people to see the image and how it will be transmitted to a bigger audience. He doesn’t appear to have been prepared for the online outcry.

Linde made an active decision to change the form of a polite cake ceremony into one that would generate awareness and discussion. “I wanted to change the form of what was going on and scream, react and beg for mercy,” he says.

The cake was created based on African fertility symbolism and he thinks he was able to convey the strength of the emotions. “Some people actually get it when I explain and show my other work. People try to lecture me on the history of blackface, I’m very aware of where it comes from. People seem to think I am unaware of postcolonialism but I’m facing the issue every day,” he says. “I think this issue is very different when you live in Stockholm versus in New York. There aren’t that many Afro-Scandinavian artists and it is important that people talk about this.”

Linde doesn’t understand the reaction of the African Swedish National Association, which has asked the Swedish Culture Minister to resign. Linde says the group made no attempt to talk to him about the work and were very disinterested in what he had to say as an Afro-Swede. “I invited them to my studio to have a talk and show my art. They were not interested in having a dialogue with me,” he says. “When I met one person from the group [on another occasion] he said he was not interested. I asked him if he knew any Afro-Swedish artists, and he said ‘no,’ and then I asked ‘Why aren’t you interested in the one and only Afro-Swedish artist?’”
Some works form Linde's "Afromantics" series (via

Linde’s dilemma with the cultural group should sound familiar to anyone who is part of cultural community whose spokespeople are often the most conservative and socially rigid flag bearers of a community. Often these cultural groups represent a smaller swathe of their communities than they claim to and they consider any examination or challenge of their cultural traditions as an attack.
The artist says the performance made him feel very vulnerable but he also considers the cake a sculpture much like the other works in his Afromantics series. He doesn’t think the Swedish cultural minister should resign. “She did nothing wrong, she was cool and she went for it,” he says. “She is strongly opinionated against racism. She seemed aware the kind of attention this would generate.”
Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth released a strongly worded statement about the performance that clearly said, “Art must be allowed to provoke.” It goes on to say:
Our national cultural policy assumes that culture shall be an independent force based on the freedom of expression. Art must therefore be allowed room to provoke and pose uncomfortable questions. As I emphasised in my speech on Sunday, it is therefore imperative that we defend freedom of expression and freedom of art —even when it causes offence.
I am the first to agree that Makode Linde’s piece is highly provocative since it deliberately reflects a rasist [sic] stereotype. But the actual intent of the piece — and Makode Linde’s artistry — is to challenge the traditional image of racism, abuse and oppression through provocation. While the symbolism in the piece is despicable, it is unfortunate and highly regrettable that the presentation has been interpreted as an expression of racism by some. The artistic intent was the exact opposite.
In our interview, the artist sounded a little confused by the online outrage. “If people can get this upset from a woman cutting a cake, can’t they use that energy towards the real battle towards female genital multilation,” he says. “I do understand it is a serious subject and when you mix a serious subject with a light topic like cake people can get upset, but I like humor in my work because [the topics are] depressing and something I have to deal with everyday. People drop their defenses when they can joke about something.”

He also explained that he often infuses his work with a strain of Swedish humor that is very dark and cynical. “From my point of view this humor is a way to cope with horrible facts,” he says. “When I’m trying to tell my friends stories of horrible things I often use some humor to make it palatable.” He says Swedes, though he points out he doesn’t claim to speak for all Swedes, don’t like to take themselves too seriously.

Aside from the racial politics of his art work, Linde’s cake performance has also generated much needed debate about genital mutilation around the web. According to the World Health Organization, 100–140 million women have experienced female genital mutilation in the world and 92 million of those individuals are in Africa. The procedure is an arcane cultural relic that continues to emotionally and physically scar girls and young women.

What is lost on many commenters is that no matter what Linde has done, the acts of genital mutilation, which the piece was meant to highlight, are more grotesque than his performance could ever be. One New York Times article points out the gruesome realities:
“About 15 percent of those who undergo genital mutilation, mainly women in the Horn of Africa, suffer the most dangerous and extreme version, infibulation.
… All types of female circumcision have huge psychological and physical dangers. Some girls bleed to death during the operation, or die of tetanus or infection shortly after. But for infibulated women, the dangers are even greater. Many infibulated women suffer constant infections and other health problems because urine and blood back up. Their husbands must bring a knife to their wedding night to cut them open. Childbirth often is fatal for infibulated women and their babies, and their wounds make them much more vulnerable to the AIDS virus.”
Other commenters who have been critical of Linde’s performance also have a lack of understanding of Sweden and the cultural context in any discussion of the work. Sweden is over 95% “white” by American definitions of race, which means that almost any audience in Stockholm will be predominantly white so the image that is at the top of this article and being transmitted around the web is not out of the ordinarily for its racial make up. In our conversation, Linde also touches upon another issue that Americans don’t often discuss, the fact that their culture is often imposed on others and shapes their relationship to their local culture.

“If it is something that Americans take serious is postcolonialism and slavery and ‘not going there’ and making a bad joke about it. In Sweden, we don’t have the same slave trade history. But the same image of the slave dominates the images of Africans in Sweden but it is an imposed image from outside. That’s also true for black Americans but for Afro-Swedes we look at it as one more degree removed.”

“Black American culture dominates the image of black culture in Sweden but there aren’t that many similarities between Afro-Swedish culture and black American culture. I’m making a generalization but it’s a reality that our image in our own culture is being influenced by the world outside,” he says.

In a Skype interview with Al Jazeera Linde made a point that we all should remember when confronted with stark and disturbing images that are hard to register mentally and emotionally:
“The vastness of social media encourages misinterpretation when pulled out of its context.”
On the flip side, the vastness of social media can also raise awareness about an issue that continues to torture millions of people the world over. It’s a double-edged sword and one that Linde is fully aware of nowadays.

A Few More Fotos from the NiggerCake/ClitoridectomyCake "Celebration"

Artist Makode Linde being fed "ClitCake" by Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth.

 Even Swedish Children watched this racist/sexist  fiasco.

 Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth Begins the ClitCake/NiggerCake Ceremony.

Sharing the NiggerCake/ClitCake with Fellow Elites.

AfroSwedish Artist Artist Makode Linde uses his own head for the NiggerCake/ClitCake and screams everytime the cake is cut.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Published on openDemocracy (

Who owns your child's school? The rise and rise of edu-business

Melissa Benn, 03rd April 2012

Faster than we recognise, schools are becoming profit centres. The buildings, the teaching, the cleaning, the exam results are all ways to make money. But who benefits? Not the poorest, argues Melissa Benn. About the author Melissa Benn is a writer and campaigner. Her latest book School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education is published by Verso.

Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney - known as BSix - has come up with an inventive new wheeze [8] to break down the inequalities of access to higher education. It has spent thousands of pounds creating a replica of an Oxford don's study down to the colours of walls, antique furnishings and polished wooden floors. The so-called Red Room has been built in order to familiarise underprivileged youngsters, who aspire to top universities, with the lush furnishings of privilege.

Age-old assumptions underlie the BSix initiative – namely, the perceived superiority of certain elite institutions, in both the secondary or higher education sector. But recent moves [9], a mere 30 miles away in Luton, Bedfordshire, more accurately indicate the new direction of our education system.

Here, the Barnfield Federation, a group that already runs a chain of academy schools, has declared an interest in running one or more for-profit further education colleges, taking advantage of a permissive clause in the 2011 Education Act. Surplus cash generated by the 'business' will be used to pay a dividend to shareholders.

Welcome to the rampant, and rapid, privatisation that now characterises the English education scene. As we move away from state provision of state education, the remnants of a universal comprehensive system are being dismantled and replaced by new providers at every level. Eton in the East End

To take one small example: private schools are increasingly encouraged (a process begun under New Labour) to set up, or take over, failing schools, often with mixed results. At the Isle of Sheppey academy, sponsored by Dulwich college, truancy figures were recently reported to be the fifth highest in the UK.

More recently, there has been sharp protest at plans [10] by Eton College and several other leading public schools, to run a super selective sixth form college, entitled the London Academy of Excellence, in London's East End. According to Eddie Playfair, head of nearby Newham College:

'The rhetoric is that this is a lifeboat coming to save the poor. A lot of effort will be wasted in competition which could be spent on improving education and sharing good practice and developing what students really need.'

Professor Stephen Ball of the Institute of Education, a leading authority on the steady march of 'edu-business', describes it as a 'ratchet process' in which each new government circular or Education Act has opened up a fresh business opportunity. As Ball told me when I interviewed him for my recent book School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education [11], there have been 35 such moments since 1988, each one encouraging the private sector to take over, and sell back to schools, a range of services, from meals to building improvements, to the examination system and inspection services. Over time, a plethora of bidders has become consolidated into a few, established, providers. The result is that, while during the 1990s there were 120 different companies involved in the inspection of schools, this had shrunk to seven by 2003. It has now dwindled to just three.

As Ball shrewdly observes, the term 'privatisation' does not do justice to the complex interconnection being formed between state and market. We are seeing a general "corporatisation" of schooling itself - covering everything from the importing of private sector management techniques to the dominance of entrepreneurial and aspirational narratives and values within the classroom.

Take Amey [12], typical of companies operating in the education world. It markets itself as a leading provider of "more effective and efficient public services". It employs more than 11,000 staff, works in more than 200 locations in the UK, trumpets a range of education related services, including ten major education partnerships. It boasts of contracts for services ranging from schools improvement and special educational needs to the delivery and management of new schools, encompassing cleaning, catering, janitorial, security and building and grounds maintenance. Philanthropy

However, the company's website does not make reference to Amey's ill-fated sponsorship of one of the early city academies, Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, one of the poorest areas of England, which opened in 2002. By 2008, only 12 per cent of its pupils were getting five good GCSEs and the company eventually withdrew from the school.

Worldwide, the education market is estimated to be worth more than £100 billion. It has increasingly attracted the interest of philanthropic billionaires, such as Bill and Melinda Gates in the United States, and, here in the UK, Arpad Busson, the London-based French financier who founded ARK, one of the more successful educational chains in England.

Education has also attracted the interest of multinational corporations such as Pearsons, owners of the Financial Times and the Penguin Group, and of Rupert Murdoch's global empire, News International. Pearson Education employs around 37,000 people and is based in more than 60 countries. This company recently bought up educational businesses in Brazil, India and the US. It has contracts with five English academies for textbooks, as well as providing pupil assessments, teacher training and software. Pearson has also expressed interest in the new boom area of English education - helping to run new free schools and academies.

Since coming to power in 2010, the Coalition has accelerated the break-up of state education, and encouraged a range of semi-private providers to enter the system. Free schools were initially presented by Tory ministers as a form of parent power, but most of the new schools are in fact being run by an eclectic mix of charitable and third-sector organisations, religious groups, and, increasingly, private providers and the rapidly expanding academy chains.

Take Oasis [13], one of the largest academy chains, with 14 academies already open and more in development. As Henry Stewart reports on the Local Schools Network [14] website, between 2006 and 2010, the revenue received from government by the Oasis chain grew from £3 million to £70 million. The revenue of ARK [15], which runs 11 academies in London, Birmingham and Portsmouth, increased from £3 million to £117.5 million. In 2009-10, the income of E-ACT [16], another academy sponsor, grew from £15.5 million to £60 million. Its head, Sir Bruce Liddington, former Schools Commissioner, was reportedly paid more than £280,000 a year, in the last year when accounts were available. (The finances of these chains are no longer published.) All these groups are highly regarded by government in policy debates and have considerable influence on the development of government thinking and practice in education. The views of local authorities, on the other hand, are largely ignored. Profit centres

The idea of 'for profit' schools is now widely discussed in the media and various policy arenas. In Spring 2011, the Adam Smith Institute [17] proposed the introduction of for-profit free schools, claiming it the only solution to dealing with a rapidly expanding primary age population. In January 2012 Policy Exchange [18] came up with the more emollient sounding 'John Lewis' or social enterprise model, in which key stakeholders share the profits: the origins of the Luton sixth form college proposal mentioned above.

The economic logic of privatisation is clear: with drastic cuts in public spending, forced on government by the bankers' crisis in 2008, putting public services out to market appears to save the tax payer, while enabling shareholders to earn a share of the profits. What it does not do is ensure equitable provision.

Proponents argue that it is the poor who will ultimately benefit from such changes. Bill Gates told the 2008 World Economic Forum that this was 'creative capitalism, an approach where governments, businesses, and non-profits work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world's inequities.'

Professor Ball notes wryly of this approach in a forthcoming article in FORUM [19], (Vol 54, No 1, 2012): 'Here, then, profit becomes a force for good, at exactly the same time as it brought the western financial system to the brink of collapse.'

How these policy developments will promote the interests of poorer children remains questionable. An independent analysis [20] of 23 of the 24 free schools that opened their doors in September 2011 revealed that these schools had a significantly lower percentage of children on free school meals (a good indication of deprivation) than neighbouring schools. And recent analysis by the Local Schools Network [21], featured in The Observer [22] and now confirmed by researchers at the House of Commons, has shown that the much-trumpeted sponsored academies do less well in terms of results than the relentlessly traduced community schools serving similarly disadvantaged populations.

Given the relentless drive to privatisation of our schools by the current Coalition government, their poor performance remains a surprisingly well-kept secret.


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Created 04/03/2012 - 07:18