Make no mistake, the on-going efforts to change the face of education in this country from public to private is supported by DEEP pockets, VERY DEEP pockets. At the forefront is the Walton Family Foundation who joined the battle to see more vouchers and charter schools years ago. (In 2014, Jim Walton contributed $150,000 to the Alabama Federation for Children in an effort to elect legislators friendly to the pro-privatization cause. This may well have been the single largest contribution made in the 2014 election cycle.)
Cashing in on Kids is a website that describes itself as giving “the facts about for-profit education in America.” This site now has an excellent report posted about the Walton Family Foundation juggernaut. Take a few minutes to look it over. You will see that, in spite of what some in Alabama want you to believe, charter schools and money have a lot in common.
Here are some excerpts:
How did an idea that promised small-scale innovation as a way to improve the education outcomes of disadvantaged children become a massive industry of more than 6,000 schools, spending upward of $20 billion from taxpayers a year, despite demonstrating no significant academic gains for students?
A significant share of the blame lies at the feet of the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), the Arkansas-based philanthropic arm of the family that brought us Wal-Mart.
the Walton Family Foundation ($164 million in education grants in 2013) stands out because of its uncompromisingly ideological approach to public education and its strong support for policy advocacy in line with that approach.
Under the guise of “choice” to improve schools for low-income children, WFF has supported the unregulated growth of a privatized education industry— quantity over quality, and “freedom” over regulation. It’s been lucrative for some, but a disaster for many of the nation’s most vulnerable students and school districts.
The foundation’s stated mission is to infuse public education with competitive pressure through school choice. The theory is based in retail: If consumers have options, they will choose either higher quality or cheaper products. Merchants who can’t compete will go out of business, opening up space for new entrepreneurs to enter.
The foundation is the largest private funder of charter school start-ups, having spent more than $355 million since 1997 on charter launches. In a news release dated Feb. 5, 2014, Mark Sternberg, the foundation’s director of Systemic K-12 Education Reform reported that the foundation has kick-started more than 1,500 schools, approximately one out of four charters in the country. Over the last five years, the foundation has spent between $63 million and $73 million annually to fuel new charter openings.
At best, it appears that some charter schools perform very well, but that the majority perform no better, or even significantly worse than neighboring traditional public schools.
If, according to the CREDO report, 17 out of 100 charter schools improve student outcomes, but 37 actually worsen outcomes, then the rapid expansion of the sector is creating more poorly performing schools than high-quality schools.
Of the five states (Arizona, Florida, Ohio, California and Texas) that opened the greatest number of charter schools in the first 10 years of chartering, four posted negative student achievement results while the fifth (California) showed no significant difference between charter and traditional public school performance.