Occupy Wall Street Moves to the Schoolyard

Published October 26, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street protest movement turned its attention towards education to “Occupy Sesame Street,” as one protestor cried, during a speech by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch at a school reform conference in San Francisco. 

Approximately 100 protestors banged drums and chanted slogans outside the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s (FEE’s) annual summit in October. The conference promoted reforms such as school choice and digital learning.

Demonstrators condemned these reforms as  a corporate takeover of U.S. schools, holding signs bearing slogans such as “Hey Murdoch! Our Schools are Not for Profit.” OWS protestors have also repeatedly rallied with teachers unions in New York City.

“The ‘tyranny’ [protestors] should be concerned with is the tyranny of the status quo,” said Matthew Ladner, an FEE senior fellow.

“These misguided people are trying to defend a system that watches helplessly as about a third of our students drop out of school,” he added. “Our Hispanic and black students who do stick it out graduate with an average level of academic achievement roughly comparable to the average eighth-grade Anglo.” 

Momentum Generates Pushback
More states implemented choice programs such as vouchers, education tax credits, online offerings, and charter school expansions in 2011 than in any previous year. With twelve states and Washington, DC implementing such laws in 2011, school choice is gaining significant momentum. 

That’s frightening school choice opponents. Condemnation of private, for-profit education providers has increased in intensity recently, popping up in states such as Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California. 

Although government engages the private sector on other critical social issues such as healthcare and energy, it does the opposite on education, an October 2011 American Enterprise Institute report noted.

“[Fear of] ‘corporatization’ is a poorly founded misconception,” said Russ Simnick, president of the Indiana Charter Schools Association. “It is designed to elicit a certain response from people with the underlying implication that somehow these schools are putting profit ahead of kids. Every school in America hires private businesses like textbook manufacturers and snow removal, and purchases computers from them.

“I work for a nonprofit, and I get a paycheck,” he continued. “Last I saw, schools pay real American dollars. If the school is getting results, does it really matter if the management organization is for-profit or not-for-profit? Absolutely not.” 

Research Supports Competition
Research rejects the notion that school choice and private providers hurt education, said Lance Izumi, director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. 

“The best research available overwhelmingly demonstrates that widespread competition from private schools, whether through vouchers or other school choice instruments, significantly improves the performance of public schools, which makes them better and stronger competitors,” Izumi said. “Sweden’s universal voucher system has improved its education because public school headmasters, referring to their private school competitors, now say, ‘If they can do it, so can we.'”

Other research indicates similar success. For example, more than 90 percent of students who receive a school voucher in Washington, DC’s program graduate, compared to 70 percent of their peers with similar characteristics. 

“When parents have the opportunity to choose a school that is in the best interest of their child, not only is that child’s life changed but the parents become more involved and engaged in their child’s educational experience,” said Virginia Walden Ford, founder of DC Parents for School Choice. “Disadvantaged children thrive in quality schools.”

News Corp. and Education
News Corp. has recently expanded into education by acquiring several technology startups and hiring personnel. It has contracted with public and private providers for services such as aggregating student test scores and tech-based curriculum. Murdoch’s speech focused on education reform’s transformative abilities for American students and the country’s future. 

“The front pages of the New York Times will tell you that technology’s promise has not yet been realized in terms of student performance,” Murdoch said. “Of course not. If we simply attached computers to leeches, medicine wouldn’t be any better today than it was in the 19th century, either. You don’t get change by plugging in computers to schools designed for the industrial age. You get it by deploying technology that rewrites the rules of the game.” 

Image by Peter Woodbridge.