From Diane Ravitch: Koch Brothers "Educational Pluralism"

This is a shocking development: The infamous billionaire Koch brothers have a plan to disrupt American education, beginning with five states.

Their goal is to break up the public education system and enable public funding to flow to every kind of school, whether religious, private, homeschooling, for-profit, anything and everything. They call it “educational pluralism.” At the Koch Conference last year (700 people who paid $100,000 to attend), they declared that K-12 schooling was “the lowest hanging fruit,” and they planned to enter the field to disrupt public schools. Their ally Betsy DeVos paved the way.

The Koch brothers are living proof that this country needs a new tax structure to disrupt their billions, which they use to destroy whatever belongs to the public.

The Washington Post reports:

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The donor network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch will launch a new organization next month to focus on changing K-12 education as we know it.

The effort will begin as a pilot project focused on five states with a combined school-age population of 16 million kids, but officials said Monday that they aren’t ready to identify them yet because they’re still finalizing partnerships with some of the country’s leading educational organizations.

The still-unnamed entity purportedly plans to focus on three buckets: changing public policy to address “the root causes” of failing schools, developing new technologies to promote individualized learning, and investing in teachers and classrooms.

The announcement came Monday at the end of a three-day seminar where 634 donors who have each committed to contribute at least $100,000 annually to Koch-linked groups gathered under palm trees at a luxury resort in the Coachella Valley.

The Koch team is modeling its amped-up education efforts on its successful overhaul of the criminal justice system, which began in friendly states before moving to the federal level. In that case, Koch World sought out unlikely allies and played the long game for years before any big legislation passed.

In the past, most conversations about education at these twice-annual Koch confabs have quickly turned into bashing teachers unions. So it was notable when Brian Hooks, the chairman of the Koch network, went out of his way to praise teachers and acknowledge that many have been picketing recently.

“For too long, this issue has been framed unnecessarily as us vs. them, public vs. private, teacher vs. student, parent vs. administrator,” Hooks told a ballroom of donors. “The teachers who have expressed frustration in the past several months are good people. I mean, they’re teachers. We all remember the positive impact that a teacher or several teachers have had on our lives. They’re expressing legitimate concerns. But the current approach means that nobody wins, so they need better options.”

Hooks recognizes that many will question their motives, but he said the goal is to “really shake things up” by “coming alongside concerned teachers” to “find a better way.” Teachers union leaders, who are closely aligned with the Democratic Party, have accused the Koch groups of trying to undermine traditional public schools. Koch and his allies say the system is broken and requires wholesale changes. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a longtime ally of the network.

“This is a tough one, no doubt,” Hooks said. “It’s a challenge that a whole lot of people look at and say is impossible. But we see a tremendous opportunity to unite people to help ensure that every kid has the opportunity to succeed.”

Philanthropist Stacy Hock of Austin, a major Koch donor who has been funding education efforts at the state level in Texas for years, says that traditional forms of classroom instruction encourage “soul-crushing” conformity, and she has emerged as an outspoken advocate of “personalized learning.”

“Families are getting more and more comfortable with experimenting and taking risks,” she said on the sidelines of the meeting. “Education should be getting way, way better and way, way cheaper, but the opposite is happening.”

Hock said the new Koch initiative, as it ramps up, will identify what’s working at the local level and push for those things to be replicated elsewhere. “What we’re seeing all across the country are little flames,” she said. “What I don’t yet know is how to throw gasoline on all those flames....

-- Previewing their K-12 push, Koch strategists pointed to research being conducted with their financial support by Ashley Berner at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Education Policy. Her main interest is expanding what she calls “educational pluralism,” which is when the government funds all types of schools, including explicitly religious ones, but does not necessarily run them.

“Berner points to examples such as the Netherlands, which funds 36 different types of schools, from Islamic to Jewish Orthodox to socialist,” the Charles Koch Foundation notes in a summary of her work. “Alberta, Canada, funds homeschooling along with Inuit, Jewish, and secular schools. In Australia, the central government is the nation’s top funder of independent schools. Other countries with plural school systems include Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Sweden.”

“It’s the democratic norm around the world. In pluralism, choice and accountability are two sides of the same coin,” said Berner, who wrote a book in 2017 called “Pluralism and American Public Education: No One Way to School.” “We’ve got to start supporting politicians who are willing to make compromises. Americans are tired of the battles between charters and district schools; these take up too much energy and resources. A pluralistic system doesn’t pit entire sectors against one another.”


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