What Do “Corporate” Education Reformers Really Want?
April 23, 2013 1 Comment
There’s a story about the current state of U.S. education policy in which the key actors are a cabal of wealthy businessmen who are plowing money into “reform” organizations so they can profit from the gutting of our public education system. It’s a story that’s detrimental to constructive debate because regardless of what you think about its veracity (I’m extremely skeptical), it elevates ad hominem attacks based on “for-profit” labels at the expense of actual policy critiques.
The good news is that we may finally have our best test case for determining how much truth there is to this story. The AFT is pushing a plan to divest teacher pensions from hedge funds managed by people who donate money to organizations whose agendas are not condoned by the union. This presumably poses a dilemma for hedge fund managers because it puts the goals of supporting education reform and maximizing profit in direct conflict. If hedge fund managers only care about profits, they’ll abstain from providing financial support to reform organizations in order to earn fees from managing teacher pensions. On the other hand, if managers support reform because they think the policies will help kids, they ought to be willing to sacrifice profits in order to continue pushing those policies. Thus, the way hedge fund managers react to the AFT’s initiative will reveal whether they support profit above all else, or whether they support reform for non-financial reasons, such as the belief that it will improve our schools.
So, will this prove to be a watershed moment in American education policy? Probably not. If the blacklisted managers do cave to the AFT, there will be lots of rhetoric about them always having been businessmen first and philanthropists second. On the other hand, if they do choose to sacrifice profits, you’ll probably hear that gutting public education is still part of a long game that will lead to an even greater financial windfall (something that’s completely at odds with the fact that hedge funds make most of their money from exorbitant management feeds.)
But even if in the end this is all accepted as proof of nothing, that should at least put a dent in the “for-profit” ad hominem attacks that are often mistaken for reasoned debate. If you’re unwilling to let actual profit-seeking behavior influence your opinion of “for-profit” motives, it’s a sign that you don’t deserve to be taken seriously.