Moving beyond resistance to privatization

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Moving beyond resistance to privatization

June 28, 2022

by Andrée Gacoin

What is the commercial mindset in public education? How do you see the commercial mindset in your school or district? What does privatization look like in your classroom? What does it mean to work together to resist the privatization of public education?

These are questions that 15 teachers, as well as invited guests from the Institute for Public Education, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Ed Access, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, engaged with as part of a day long think tank organised by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) . The “Think Tank” is a methodology used by the BCTF as a form of activist research. Following Jones (2018), activist research is a “framework for conducting collaborative research that makes explicit challenges to power through transformative action” (p. 27).  As such, the event aimed to create an interactive research space enabling dialogue and connection between teachers, academic or community stakeholders, and the union.

Resist…reclaim and rebuild

The Think Tank was structured to first identify key facets of privatization in British Columbia and then facilitate the development of strategies for action and resistance. The day’s conversations were interpreted in a visual mural, created by Sam Bradd of Drawing Change (see https://drawingchange.com/), a network of graphic recorders who listen, synthesize, and visually represent dialogue in real time.

The theoretical framing of the day was provided by Dr. Sam E. Abrams (2018), Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

Dr. Abrams offers a way to analyse how the “commercial mindset” underpins the privatization of education and allows private interests to drive the direction of public education. For Abrams, this mindset has four key dimensions. Firstly, the libertarian critique is premised on the need for small government and doing the “minimum” within public services. Secondly, the drive towards commercial profit allows business models to be introduced into the provision of public education services. Thirdly, a sense of crisis creates the need for solutions to “fix” public education. Finally, public services are mired in a bureaucratic pathology which opens the way for external “solutions” by private “experts.”

Through discussion, the participants in the Think Tank took the mindset offered by Dr. Abrams into the lived realities of lived realities of privatization within public education. Their insights are organized around the key facets of the commercial mindset, while recognizing that they are continually overlapping and building on one another.

As highlighted in this IPE Occasional Paper, participants in the Think Tank theorized and developed, from the perspectives of BC teachers, strategies not only to resist privatization, but also reclaim and rebuild public education.

 

Changing the narrative

As schools look toward post-pandemic recovery, teacher unions and researchers are at a crucial junction in the defense of public education. Schools are key public spaces of collective learning and community care for children and youth. Privatization, in contrast, privileges individual and financial interests and undermines education as a public good.

Privatisation discourses position teachers as passive providers educational services. The BCTF Think Tank on Privatization provided a space for teachers to speak back to that assumption, weaving together a theoretical understanding of privatisation with their lived realities in classrooms and schools. This allowed space for concrete, teacher-led recommendations and actions for political organising and advocacy.

More broadly, the interactive research space created through the Think Tank offers a unique model for how academic and union researchers can work collaboratively. Unions, and the teachers they represent, are often framed as “sources” of data. For instance, the BCTF is frequently approached to circulate surveys created by external researchers, or to help recruit teachers as participants for interviews or focus groups. The Think Tank as a form of activist research foregrounds the voices and experiences of teachers and facilitates a shift from research on teachers to research with teachers, working together to fight for education as an equitably delivered public good.

Dr. Andrée Gacoin is the Director of the Information, Research and International Solidarity Division at the BC Teachers’ Federation and an IPE/BC Fellow. Her research focuses on developing a unique, in-depth and contextualized exploration of education in BC from the perspective of teachers. Andrée is particularly interested in using research as advocacy to uphold and strengthen an inclusive public education system.

Occasional Paper Series

Occassional Paper #6     June 2022

Beyond Resistance to Privatization: Rebuilding and Reclaiming Public Education 

“As schools look toward post-pandemic recovery, teacher unions and researchers are at a crucial junction in the defense
of public education. Schools are key public spaces of collective learning and community care for children and youth. Privatization, in contrast, privileges individual and financial interests and undermines education as a public good.”

IPE/BC Fellow and BCTF Director of Information, Research and International Solidarity, Andrée Gacoin, reports on a think tank that focused on privatization  in public education and concluded that, beyond building awareness, what is needed is a clear articulation of what public education is for and why it is important.

Occassional Paper #5      June 2022

COLA-lite: Ready’s Inflation Adjustment for Sea-to-Sky Bus Drivers

BC’s public sector unions are currently locked in negotiations with the province over new collective agreements covering much of BC’s public sector. A key area of contention across several tables – in health care, education, and the provincial public service – is the rising level of price inflation overtaking the provincial economy.   Researcher and IPE/BC Board member John Malcolmson reports on the impact of inflation and the need to adequately address the compensation of public sector workers.

Occasional Paper #4    April  2022 

Inflation, Bargaining and the Threat to Labour Peace in the Schools

Contract negotiations for public school teachers and support staff are underway with the backdrop of years of mandate-restricted bargaining and a current period of mounting inflation. What has been the impact of these restrictions on the salaries and wages of those working in BC’s public schools and on the dollars dedicated to public education in BC?  Why has BC’s spending on education as a percentage of GDP slid from 2.8% in 2001 to 1.7% in 2021?  Researcher and IPE/BC Board member, John Malcolmson, throughly examines these very timely questions in Occassional Paper #4.

This paper as orginally published on April 21, 2022 and was updated on September 10, 2022. 

Occasional Paper #3     August  2021 

COVID Crisis Impacting Board of Education Budgets

This paper examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Board of Education budgets in BC, specifically detailing the loss of revenue from the international student fees.  Implemented by the previous Liberal government and continued by the NDP, the practice of recruiting fee-paying international students to BC’s K-12 public schools to address funding gaps has been adopted by many school boards despite the dangers of relying on unstable funding. Researcher and IPE/BC Director John Malcolmson has examined the 2021/22 school district budgets, adopted by boards in June, and analyzed the significant impact of the loss of this revenue, overall and on a district-by-district basis.

 

Occasional Paper #2          February 2020

Education Funding Models in Canada: Patterns of Similarity and Details of Difference

This technical report summarizes how education funding is structured and distributed in each of the Canadian provinces. Political and social factors influencing public education and how it is funded include neo-liberal ideology, competition with other public services, and the impact of public school advocates. Education is the responsibility of provinces in Canada and the details of how funding is distributed vary according to province. However, there are some common questions and increasingly common patterns in the funding models. Equity is a central intention built into Canadian funding models, although the approaches are subject to contestation. Funding decisions have been increasingly centralized in provincial governments and away from school boards, with boards being eliminated in some provinces. Property taxes are becoming a decreasing source of funding, with provincial revenue from other taxation making up a greater proportion.

Occasional Paper #1      June 2018

The Many Faces of Privatization

Public funding for private schools may be the most obvious way public education in British Columbia is being privatized, but there are other less obvious privatizing strategies at work. This is a working paper for an IPE/BC workshop that offers analysis of 1) the common narratives that legitimize and promote privatization thus drawing the public into a manufactured consent of privatization and 2) specific contexts in which this privatization in manifest, such as personalized learning (especially with technology), choice programs, school fees and fund raising, business principles of school administration, corporate sponsorships, fee paying international student enrollment, and publicly funded private schools.

IPE/BC Submission for BC’S 2021 Budget Consultation

IPE/BC has submitted its recommendations to BC’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for the upcoming year’s budget. Our submission reflects IPE/BC’s basic values and focuses on the following:

  1. Recognizing that public education is in the public interest and a critical element of our democratic society.
  2. Focusing funding initiatives to support the most vulnerable students.
  3. Avoiding a return to austerity to be able to recover from the damage of previous austerity measures.
  4. Defunding private/independent schools.
  5. Planning to incorporate remedies for the climate crisis in all areas of public education.

You can read the submission here.

We welcome feedback in our efforts to support public education in BC.

New Publication: Education Funding Models in Canada

NEW PUBLICATION

IPE/BC is pleased to announce a new publication based on our Structure of Education Funding research project. This descriptive study focuses on how public education is funded in each of the provinces: Education Funding Models in Canada: Patterns of Similarity and Details of Difference.

The technical report begins with an analysis of general funding patterns and the elements that drive them. Equity is a central intention build into Canadian funding models, although how best to achieve this is the subject of contestation. Funding decisions have become increasingly centralized in provincial governments, resulting in a decline in the autonomy of school boards, with boards in some provinces being eliminated altogether. Property taxes are decreasing sources of funding with provincial revenue from other taxation making up a greater proportion. The report depicts how much funding is provided and how funding is distributed in each province, but does not evaluate the (in)adequacy of funding.

We found most provinces fund education on a per-student basis, and only the provinces with the smallest number of student have cost-based education funding. Funding for the inclusion of students with special needs is a source of particular contention in many provinces and currently two competing models exist: a model based on the identification of specific and individual student needs and one based on a statistical model estimating the likely prevalence of special needs within school districts. Both models are currently used, and discussions of their appropriateness are ongoing.

Half of the provinces directly fund private schools and three fund Catholic schools. Other forms of privatization within the public school system are increasingly common. Every province gives school boards and schools the right to fundraise using techniques such as international student tuition fees, revenue generating academies, and school building fundraising by parents and students.

IPE/BC appreciates any feedback on this technical report.

 

 

Public Subsidies to Private Schools in BC: 2019

IPE/BC monitors private school funding in BC each year and reports the findings to the public.

British Columbians have subsidized private schools with more than $2.5 billion over the last 7 years.

IPE/BC agrees with most British Columbians who believe this public funding to private schools needs to end.

This year’s taxpayer funded subsidy is projected to be $436 million.  That’s an increase of 39% since 2013-2014.

When adjusted for inflation, the increase in funding to private schools since 2000-2001 is 122.8% while for public schools the increase over those 19 years is only 15.9%.

With a public system still reeling from more than 15 years of cuts by the previous government, and students with special needs bearing the brunt of the underfunding, there is no excuse for funnelling billions of dollars to private schools. That money should be allocated to the public school system where it can help every child achieve their fullest potential.

Sources:

The data for 2013/14 to 2017/18: BC Ministry of Education, Independent Schools Enrolment and Funding Data, available at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/kindergarten-to-grade-12/independent-schools/enrollment_funding_summary.pdf

The data for 2018/19 (fiscal year): BC Ministry of Education, Budget 2018 Overview (February 2018)

The data for 2019/20 (fiscal year): BC Ministry of Education, Budget 2019 Overview (February 2019)

 

 

 

Public School Programs of Choice: Private School in the Public System?

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Public School Programs of Choice: Private school in the public system?

by Tara Ehrcke

The 21st century has, so far, seen the great up-ending of one of the most fundamental tenets of public education—that all children, regardless of background or socio-economic status, should be able to reach the same educational end goal. This concept of equality of outcome was intricately tied to the notion that society provided, or should provide, for social mobility. One could improve one’s station in life because public institutions, such as public education, were grounded in what we would now more commonly refer to as equity. The system, rather than doling out resources equally to all children, would rather apportion them so as to ensure that those starting with a disadvantage had the opportunity to catch up.

The neoliberal turn of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century has instead brought us back to the more basic and enduring features of capitalism. Institutions, rather than mitigating inequalities, are instead exacerbating them. Within schooling, this obviously takes shape clearly in the private versus public provision of schooling. But, even within the public school system, a great many features serve to further stratify children according to race, class and gender. We see aspects of private schools directly within public schools.

One such feature is school choice. “Choice” takes place in a variety of ways: the open catchment areas; allowing and increasing public funding of private schools; allowing school fees; and promoting niche schools and academies. With only limited opposition (from parents, teachers and school trustees) “choice” policies have changed the nature of BC’s public school system. The impact of these changes is that we are moving from a more comprehensive, equitable, neighbourhood and community oriented, publicly administered school system, towards a semi­private, stratified and segregated system in which precious limited resources are increasingly allocated to a privileged minority.

Parents can be easily swayed by these calls: How could school choice be a bad thing? How is wanting the best for my child making things worse for public education?

Teachers, administrators and school board trustees can similarly be entranced by school choice initiatives. They see opportunities to offer new and alternative programs that otherwise wouldn’t be supported. Or more likely, they see their existing programs cut and school choice policies the only method to try and maintain them. With fee structures, they see the chance to have properly funded programs. With dwindling support and resources from the basic Ministry budgets, these policies can appear to be the only way to keep such programs running.

But sometimes what seems or even is best for one child or one group of children is not best for all children. And what appears to be saving an individual program is in fact fundamentally changing the nature of the school system.

School choice exists in British Columbia in a variety of forms. All catchment boundaries are now open, or semi-open, allowing parents to register in a school outside their catchment area. French immersion, perhaps the longest running, largest, and most entrenched program of choice, is now commonly known as “the private system within public schools.” Immersion programs are notoriously unfriendly towards struggling learners. Children with challenges typically cannot receive special education services in French, and are often advised to switch back into the English stream.

Yet another form of school choice is the Academy, or niche program. There are sports academies, and arts academies, but also academic academies such as International Baccalaureate programs, honours programs, and challenge programs. These specialty programs often have competitive enrolment processes, and often require the payment of school fees (typically $2000 – $5000, but as much as $17,000/year). Thus, they are available only to a small subset of students.

Data from the Vancouver School Board verifies the low number of students with an IEP, who are English Language Learners, or who are Aboriginal within the Vancouver Board school choice programs.

Source: VSB, Freedom of Information request number 2014­25

Research on school choice programs generally finds that access to choices varies in relation to socioeconomic status, and that choice tends to have the effect of stratifying along socioeconomic lines. Parents who have more social capital will exercise their rights to choose. They are the ones able to pay additional fees, drive across town, or wait in overnight line­ups. Often, they are simply the parents who know about the choices and the ways to access them.

When these parents access special schools and programs, they are choosing a demographic that matches their own, and thereby reducing the diversity of the schools and programs they have left.

Even the rather conservative Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) acknowledges what the research shows:

“School choice advocates often argue that the introduction of market mechanisms in education allows equal access to high quality schooling for all. Expanding school choice opportunities, it is said, would allow all students – including disadvantaged ones and the ones attending low performing schools – to opt for higher quality schools, as the introduction of choice in education can foster efficiency, spur innovation and raise quality overall. However, evidence does not support these perceptions, as choice and associated market mechanisms can enhance segregation.
…
Although parents may be concerned about equity and integration and may support their neighbourhood school, they seek at the same time the “best” education for their children… Parents with a better­ off background tend to avoid schools with a significant number of disadvantaged students and research suggests that parents prefer schools with populations ethnically similar to their own family… All these elements contribute to socio­economic segregation between schools.”

A genuinely public school system includes equal opportunity for all members of the public. Schooling must be common, collective and universal; equity must be a guiding principle.

To restore equity in public schools, we should focus on these goals:

  1. Advocate for fully funded comprehensive neighbourhood schools with a full range of programming at every school, available to every child
  2. Eliminate school choice policies including open catchments, niche schools/programs, program fees, and streaming
  3. Eliminate all private funding: subsidies to private schools, fundraising, corporate and other private donations, and school and program fees

A longer version of this article published in Our Schools, Our Selves is available here.

Tara Ehrcke is a high school math teacher in Victoria and Past President of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.

Monopoly Technology Platforms are Colonizing Education

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Monopoly Technology Platforms are Colonizing Education

By Larry Kuehn

The exposés of abuse by social media corporations like Google and Facebook have finally brought attention to the dangers of monopolies over our communications. The way these monopolies have been colonizing public education has, however, gone almost unnoticed. This is rampant privatization sneaking in as essential to “21st Century learning.”

The top five global capital corporations are technology platforms—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. Platforms are a host for a variety of services and uses. All of the big five platform corporations have become too large in a short period of time to have any significant competition outside of this group. They compete against one another, adding services to secure their monopoly by offering users everything they do online.

If a new service is developed that seems to be gaining users, or that competes with an element of their platform, it is purchased and integrated into the platform—avoiding new competitors. Alternatively, they use their massive resources to develop a comparable app and push the potential competitor aside.

Snicek, in Platform Capitalism, points out that the development of these monopolies “introduces new tendencies within capitalism that pose significant challenges to a post-capitalist future.” Building public cooperative platforms becomes an impossible dream.

No surprise—these platforms have moved to colonize education. Public education represents a big chunk of potential revenue. Just as importantly, schools are where one can find most of the future potential consumers and users of the platform services.

Colonization is a process where a significant force moves into an area and dominates. It takes over not only the production and resources, but imposes—often by stealth and power—the processes and approaches and even values of the social and cultural environment. And, dominate is what the monopoly platforms are on track to do in public education.

The most successful colonizer has been Google. A recent report indicates that Google’s G-Suite for Education is being used by half the teachers and students in the U.S. Canada is fast approaching the same level of use. It includes a range of free software tools that can be used by students and teachers—word processing, presentations, spread sheets and the like. G-Suite incorporates “Classroom,” an integrated learning management system that keeps track of grades, attendance and more. And, of course, YouTube is linked to student use.

New elements are added frequently. “Google Sites” is promoted for student e-portfolios, because “every student should publish for the world.” Google acquired Workbench, integrated with Google Classroom to give “lessons connected to a variety of ‘maker’ activities focused on STEM.” It is part of Google’s plan to “help schools and educators address their universal needs around education content.”

Google, rather than democratic public institutions, therefore shapes what is on offer. Google’s position as colonizer is strengthened by the hardware increasingly used in schools—the Google Chromebook. It is less expensive than other computers because much of what it needs to operate is supplied by Google in the cloud—operating software, applications and memory. No need to build those into the computer.  According to market reports, Chromebooks make up the majority of all computers sold to schools in the U.S. and are marketed globally.

However, one must have a gmail account to use these Google tools—so if a parent wants to protect the privacy of their child and refuses a gmail account that kid is left out while the rest of the class works away on their Chromebook and other Google tools. (See here the kind of consent form parents are asked to sign, giving Google access to acquire and store student information outside of Canada.)

Google has even taken up teaching “internet safety,” with a program aimed at reaching 5 million students. Its core is a game for students in Grades three to six to teach them to avoid “schemers, hackers and other bad actors.” However, as critics point out, it doesn’t talk about privacy concerns when users’ personal information and actions are tracked online. Google conveniently ignores its role as a “bad actor.”

A Swedish study of Google’s strategy concluded that “By making an implicit demarcation between two concepts (your) ‘data’ and (collected) ‘information’ Google can disguise the presence of a business model for online marketing and, at the same time, simulate the practices and ethics of a free public service institution.”

In “The Weaponization of Education Data,” Audrey Watters points out “the risk isn’t only hacking.  It’s amassing data in the first place. It’s profiling. It’s tracking. It’s surveilling.”

Google isn’t alone in the business of colonizing education and student data—just the most successful so far. One competitor is Microsoft 365 Education, with a promise of “empowering every student on the planet to achieve more” and that it will “unlock limitless learning.”

It’s not an accident that it is “Microsoft 365” that is being pushed. It offers a cloud-based software and cloud storage for your work. It is the new business model for Microsoft: they don’t sell you software, you rent it—and you keep paying for it. And your work isn’t saved on your own computer, so you have to keep up your subscription. Like Google, they are hoping that students will keep using their tools when they finish being students.

Microsoft is imitating much of what Google offers, but by charging for the service rather than trading it for data. It offers apps, educator training and STEM lessons “to enrich science, technology, engineering and math classes.” They offer “budget friendly” Windows 10 devices with licences for Microsoft 365 Education.

The other major tech corporations have programs as well. Apple, for example, was the first into education with the Apple IIe and the “Apple Classroom of Tomorrow” way back in the 1980s. More recently it depended on the ease of use of the iPad, despite its cost, to sell classroom sets along with Pearson curriculum in an ill-fated project with Los Angeles schools.

Venture capitalists are hoping to find the magic app that will make a fortune. The potential market is indicated by expenditure of hundreds of millions each year on developing new products. The “winners” are likely to be bought up by one of the major corporations—or find their product idea taken by the monopolies.

Not enough attention is paid by education authorities or researchers to the shaping and distortion of education that is possible—even likely—by this colonization of education by technology monopolies.

Larry Kuehn is an IPE/BC Fellow, IPE/BC director and Director of Research & Technology for the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. 

THINK TANK: Privatization and Public Education

On December 7th, IPE/BC (with the support of Your Education Matters) held a Think Tank to discuss the wide range of issues around privatization in public education in British Columbia. IPE/BC Fellows, teachers, researchers, and community leaders came together to consider what issues to address and how strategically to do so. Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, started the conversation with a keynote address, Anti-private and Pro-public Advocacy in K-12 education: Lessons from Alberta.

IPE/BC will be considering the many ideas generating in moving forward with its strategic goal of supporting the public in public education.

 

IPE/BC Fellows on privatization and distributed learning

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, Larry Kuehn and Liz Blackwood will be participating in a forum, Public Education: Championing Lasting Change,  sponsored by First Call and Your Education Matters.

Their presentation…

Privatization and Distributed Learning in BC: Impacts on Educational Opportunities for Special Needs Students

With parental dissatisfaction with learning opportunities for their special needs children many are turning to private, for-profit schools that offer education primarily through distance strategies. There is a conflation of issues here including privatization and the appropriateness of distributed learning strategies that need to be more public and better understood to facilitate change.