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September 15, 2015 - Going Global: Public-Private Partnerships in Education

Conceived and promoted by public-private partners, the Common Core State Standards and related false education reforms serve the aims of those partners. In fact, principled experts and activists have been communicating for some time that a deeply cronyistic relationship between business and government has corrupted and undermined education nationwide--facilitated, in large measure by centralization and standardization.

But It Turns Out We're Not Alone...

In many cases the businesses involved in these partnerships are multinational corporations. It should come as no surprise, then, that the push to control and profit from education doesn't stop at our borders.

In her essay "Another Brick in the Wall: Separating Parents from Their Children via Education Reforms and Technologies," Arkansas mother, activist, and radio host Karen Lamoreaux discusses, among other matters, the international reach of public-private involvement in education, noting that many of the same corporations cashing in on the educational travesties we see here in the U.S. stand to profit further via related efforts worldwide.

In a passage carefully documented for the book's readers, Lamoreaux asserts:

[L]ike the United States, [Bill] Gates entered into a cooperative agreement with UNESCO in 2004, in this case establishing Microsoft as a sanctioned non-governmental organization, or NGO. Gates personally initialed each item of the document, to fund and create a global education system.
     In 2002, the UN announced the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005-2014. The goal of this initiative, according to a variety of related materials, is “to integrate the values inherent in sustainable development into all aspects of learning to encourage changes in behavior that will enable a more viable and fairer society for everyone.” But what does fairer mean? And fairer to whom? It would seem the answer is special interests, not least multinational corporations. 
     Between 2004 and 2008, other notables—among them Intel, Cisco, Harvard University, and the World Bank—also entered into education agreements with UNESCO. These contracts are part of a new era of public-private partnership in education. The UNESCO agreements give private multinational corporations a great deal of influence on education policy worldwide, with little accountability to parents or taxpayers, all the while tapping a global market worth trillions of dollars. 

Think It's Just about Making Money...?

The opportunites for corporations and politicians directly or indirectly to profit financially from access to captive student audiences are considerable and alarming. However substantive evidence points to additional, troubling aims.

Even a cursory examination of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA)--the recent reauthorization and expansion of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act--makes two realities clear: 1) that business and government continue to supersede parents and children as education's new principal customers, and 2) public-private partnership is quickly stripping away the average person's ability and right to participate meaningfully in a truly representative government. In fact, the power of public-private partners to influence educational policy to a greater degree than parents (or even teachers), as well as their growing ability to dictate desired "outcomes" (i.e., the skills, attitudes, etc, to be achieved in student formation), functions as a powerful catalyst in achieving this major shift in governance. This shift is necessary, among other reasons, in facilitating the managed economic vision of the public-private partnership--to ensure that workers of the right sort are being delivered to a workforce pipeline shaped by essentially private aims. Toward such ends, local control of education hasn't just been undermined; it's been systematically gutted.

Lamoreaux has more to say on the workforce development trend in the U.S., how public-private partners are advancing it, and how it fits into a larger international framework:

In 2010, the same year in which the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) was adopted by 45 states, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined the education reform his annual speech to UNESCO...[outlining] a trajectory based on what he termed the Four Assurances of education reform...[including]: the use of college and career-ready standards and assessments, cradle to career data collection and tracking, teacher accountability, and addressing low performing schools...
     [E]ach state’s [Race to the Top] application had to include a proposal on how the Four Assurances...would be addressed as part of an aggressive reform initiative...
     [S]tates also entered into assessment agreements with one of two federally funded testing consortia. The assessments will measure adherence to the standards to ensure consistency of expectations and provide the reporting needed to conduct sound data analysis. The testing consortium memorandum of understanding (MOU) stipulates that the federal government and other education agencies or “researchers” have access to individual student data from the State Longitudinal Data System, or SLDS...
     SLDS...uses a P-20 model to mold and track what Duncan refers to in his UNESCO address and elsewhere as “human capital.” These databases serve to collect and share data on students, creating a student profile from preschool through age 20—“from the cradle to career,” as quoted...[in Duncan's] 2010 UNESCO address...
     Ostensibly, the idea has been to improve education using more accurate and comprehensive data on students, tracking order to tailor their education to meet the needs of the workforce...This data does not serve to enrich education academically or improve the achievement of students; rather, it sorts them, serving the agendas of multinational corporations and government entities.

In service to this agenda, and with growing frequency, students in school districts across the country receive not a well-rounded education but rather what amounts to technical skills training. Moreover, the training provided is increasingly only that deemed appropriate for jobs and tasks mapped out from increasingly younger ages. In fact, such mapping and decision-making has become the focus of a burgeoning number of career-tracking initiatives intended to operationalize planned and private markets in an ever more managed economy. Such efforts are heavily fueled by the personally identifiable student date culled from high-stakes standardized assessments, longitudinal studies, and a growing number of other sources.

And Remember, That's Just the U.S.

With related initiatives clearly underway in other nations, students across the globe are similarly being shortchanged of a solid educational foundation, limiting their ability to navigate nimbly, and successfully in a changing and uncertain world. As a result, they will frequently find themselves without the educational breadth and depth needed to achieve personal goals and dreams. Moreover, their opportunities to maintain or better their own position in life--never mind that of anyone else around them--are almost certainly being truncated.

So much for the claim that Common Core, economic development, workforce development--or whatever these same basic policy directions and packages are called in other nations--help to propel students, communities, or even nations out of difficult circumstances. In fact, educators, such as Ceresta Smith, have exposed the hollow nature of such assertions by showing how these "education reform" agendas have merely contributed to the further destabilization of challenged minority communities in the U.S.

Nevertheless, we're unfortunately seeing that workforce development schemes, operating at cross-purposes to self-governance and self-determination, get substantial buy-in from the federal all the way down to the local level. They are being deployed with relatively minimal resistance via the educational systems of Western, first-world countries, such as the U.S. One wonders how citizens in nations that yield far lower expectations of personal, civil, and constitutional freedom are being maneuvered and exploited.

In fact, we would do well to ponder and explore precisely this question. As public-private partners continue to leverage policy against average citizens here, there will be less and less need for those partners to pretend that our voices, personal aspirations, or civil and constitutional liberties--much less those of our children--matter.

So What Now...?

It's imperative that, together, we begin to actively brainstorm methods of short-circuiting the corrupt, cronyistic partnerships that are devastating not just education but the right of our children to decide their own futures. Opting children out of high-stakes assessments in order to deprive public-private partnership of the data it needs to drive its private agendas serves as an excellent first step. But at some point, a crackdown is likely. Federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others have already expressed that they're not interested in letting the wave of parent- and teacher-led opposition continue indefinitely.

Will we have thought through in advance what our next moves will be when the crackdown comes?

Will we already have begun to put additional useful strategies into play?

Our opposition has been looking ahead for some time already, thinking through contingencies in an effort to keep us permanently marginalized and on the defensive. If we aren't doing the same, if we don't start consistently thinking creatively and offensively, we will have no one but ourselves to blame when we're checkmated. 

One thing is certain: There is an urgent need to help people understand that workforce development initiatives are not nearly as helpful or benevolent as marketing spin would suggest, that they carry a significant cost to citizens, and that children both here and abroad are already beginning to pay the price. 


NOTE: We encourage readers to explore the rest of Karen Lamoreaux's essay in the complete edition of Common Ground on Common Core, available on our website in both print and digital editions.

It can also be found in Common Ground on Common Core, Volume 2, one of four mini essay collections compiled from the original book and available exclusively for Kindle on Amazon.

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