Lately we've been hearing increasingly hysterical claims from "think tanks" (http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/time-end-monopoly-education), pundits
(http://www.edchoice.org/The-Friedmans/The-Friedmans-on-School-Choice/Milton-Friedman-on-Busting-the-School-Monopoly.aspx) and even presidential candidates about how our public schools
are “government -run, unionized, politicized monopolies’ that ‘trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system that nobody can escape'"
((http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/jeb-colludes-with-corporations-to-destroy-government-run-unionized-monopoly-schools). Sounds like scary stuff.
But before we call in the National Guard, let's be clear about one thing: anyone who thinks that our public schools are well organized enough to pull off a monopoly has never spent any significant time inside of a public school. Its not uncommon for the teachers who work in an elementary school to be unaware of what's happening in the middle school in their district, or for the math teachers in a high school to have any idea of what's happening down the hallway in the social studies department--let alone communicate well enough to organize a national education monopoly with consistent rules, regulations and standards.
Years ago when the then-new National Standards in Music had been out for a couple of years, I visited a middle school where we had placed a student teacher. The cooperating teacher was a wonderful musician and teacher, and happened to be a good friend of mine as well. I watched the co-op and his student teacher team-teach a terrific band rehearsal, full of inspirational teaching, artistic conducting and impressive creativity on the part of the students.
As the 3 of us were walking back to his office to debrief, I asked my friend a question: "How is your teaching different now because of the National Standards?" He turned and looked at me with a quizzical look on his face, and responded simply, "What National Standards?" Monopoly? I don't think so.
The simple truth is that public schools are a hot mess. We are disorganized, don't communicate particularly well, and do a terrible job of letting the public know what we do. That's mostly because the public schools are also incredibly active, vital and busy places, full of noise, excitement and creativity, where the adults are less concerned with issuing press releases and conducting feasibility studies than they are in working on projects, rehearsing plays, and helping children become happy, expressive, sensitive and curious human beings.
Now, if Mr. Friedman, the Cato Institute and Gov. Bush really want to see an educational monopoly in action, they need look no further than the multi-national testing conglomerate, Pearson,
Pearson, with headquarters in Great Britain, owns the publishing companies Scott Foresman, Penguin, Harcourt and Prentice Hall, setting text book prices, controlling content, and "franchising" the curriculum in thousands of K-12 schools and colleges across the country. Not content with merely controlling textbooks, Pearson also has their tentacles into familiar companies like Adobe, Longman, Wharton, Puffin and Allyn & Bacon, which allows them to exert an outsized influence on the size and scope of the educational enterprise in the US and abroad. Pearson's support for the Common Core State Standards, with generous support from "philanthropic" foundations like the Gates Foundation, practically assures that the tests that they produce will be closely "aligned" with the CCSS, all but guaranteeing that states will enter into agreements with Pearson to be the sole test provider for thousands of students each year. In New York State alone, Pearson's contracts total more than $32 million over the next 5 years.
But it doesn't stop there: Pearson also has the contract to produce, administer and score the edTPA, a new test for student teachers. And the company is the provider of standardized tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Millar Analogy Test, and the G.E.D. Pearson also owns some of the most popular and powerful student data management systems available for schools, like PowerSchool and SASI (http://teacherblog.typepad.com/newteacher/2012/11/on-the-rise-of-pearson-oh-and-following-the-money.html#sthash.JJaLJLM8.dpuf).
Pearson is well on their way to controlling virtually every aspect of American education, from preschool materials
(http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/course/Curriculum-in-Early-Childhood/91115347.page), to professional development for teachers (http://www.mypearsonpd.com), to online and virtual learning
products and services (http://home.pearsonhighered.com/what-we-do/online-learning.html).
If Mr. Friedman, Gov. Bush and friends are *really* concerned with monopolies, I suggest that they focus their gaze on Pearson, and leave the schools alone so our teachers can teach, and our children can learn.