The Final Ranking of the Ten Most Wanted Enemies of Public Education Leadership
Here is my final ranking and commentary on the top ten enemies of public educational leaders and leadership programs in the U.S. Whether they are democrats or republicans makes little difference since they are all neo-liberal advocates or fellow travelers. In the words of Giroux (2004):
Similarly, neoliberal warriors argue that democratic values be subordinated to economic considerations, social issues be translated as private dilemmas, part-time labor replace full-time work, trade unions be weakened, and everybody be treated as a customer. Within this market-driven perspective, the exchange of capital takes precedence over social justice, the making of socially responsible citizens, and the building of democratic communities (p. 61).
The persons on my ten most wanted list of enemies of public education leadership embrace most if not all of the neo-liberal ideology.
- Eli Broad- Eli Broad’s millions are going towards a top-down corporate takeover of urban school systems. His promoted non-educators have no historical awareness of the field in which they work, are beholden to efficiency management tactics and simplistic economic models, discourage innovation and privatize formerly non-commodified public spheres while failing to bring about the dramatic improvements they advertise. The Broad approach proffers nothing new on all fronts because it assumes that everything that is necessary to be known to improve schools is already known, if not in education than in business. Broad’s superintendent and school board academies have never released their curriculum, never indicated what in traditional preparation programs is not necessary to know or who their “experts” are. Whereas most public university curricula is in fact public, available on their web pages in course syllabi and reading lists, the Broad approach eschews any such disclosures. Broad CEOs are called “gunslingers” and their record of success is spotty at best in urban settings (see Eisinger and Hula, 2008). Broad money is sloshed behind the scenes to elect or select candidates who “buy” the Broad corporate agenda in education (see Emery and Ohanian, 2004, pp.89-94). Broad’s enemies are teacher unions, school boards, and schools of education. What all three have in common is that they eschew corporate, top-down control required in the Broad business model.
- Arne Duncan-Arne Duncan, the 9th U.S. Secretary of Education, has shown he is a captive of the neo-liberal“ boxed” thinking about school improvement. He has proffered no new bold reforms. He is not an innovator but an orthodox administrator that has accepted the diagnosis and the solutions proffered by the Republican, right wing think tank pundits. He is busily implementing their agenda in Race to the Top which has found protests coming from the missing parent voice “…from the top down, often draconian policies put forward by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (Haimson & Woestehoff, 2010, p. 34). He has an advocate for more mayoral control of urban school systems which means the loss of the elected or appointed school board, a long time agenda of the neo-liberals ( Hechinger & Sataline, 2009, p. A12).
- Chester E. Finn, Jr.- Chester “Checker” Finn continues to push his long time neo-liberal ideology as President of the Thomas Fordham Institute supported by the Broad Foundation. He is fond of using corporate metaphors in his writing (Saltman, 2005, p.37). He has been a leading advocate of the privatization of education and was “co-founder of the education management organization Edison Project” (Kumashiro,2008, p.21). The Edison Project “currently manages schools and school districts in 19 states and the District of Columbia” (Kumashiro, 2008, p.18). He is long time critic of schools of education and the “liberal” policies embraced in them (see Finn, 1991).
- William J. Bennett- Bill Bennett is a Republican party stalwart with very deep ties to the neo-liberal education agenda. Bennett is a former board member of the Bradley Foundation which has been a long time opponent of affirmative action and welfare (Kumashiro, 2008, p. 12). He has been supported by the Heritage Foundation, the “mother” of all right-wing think tanks. He also co-owns a private company, K12, Inc. which “according to the federal Government Accountability Office, has improperly received millions of federal grant dollars from the U.S. Department of Education” (Kumashiro, 2008, p. 18).
- Frederick M. Hess- Currently the Director of Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Hess proffers the tried and true neo-liberal ideology in education: privatization, vouchers, non-educators in leadership roles; run schools like business or the military; alternative certification; anti teacher unions and schools of education. He is one of the reputed anonymous authors of the Thomas B. Fordham and Broad Foundation’s political broadside against educational leadership programs Better Leaders for America’s Schools: A Manifesto (2003).
- Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.- Lou Gerstner believes public education can be improved by the way he ran IBM. Gerstner wants to abolish all of the school districts in the nation which remain one of the few arenas where Americans exercise local control of anything. The abolition or marginalization of local school boards has also been advocated by Eli Broad and Chester Finn.
- Charles Murray- A eugenics elitist, Murray has helped propagate the dogma of racial superiority in education and to weaken the commitment of public opinion for the advancement of the poor and most vulnerable classes in the larger society. As Conason (2003) noted, “Speaking from the commanding heights of the American right, they informed the nation that blacks are destined to fail, that racial discrimination is logically and morally defensible as well as natural, and that the government should stop trying to enforce civil rights and help the black underclass” (p. 138). Murray’s work is an example “the new racism” within what Ansell (1997) has termed “the New Right worldview” where “the disproportionate failure of people of color to achieve social mobility speaks nothing of the justice of present social arrangements…but rather reflects the lack of merit or ability of people of color themselves” (p.111). Murray’s work is the epitome of the New Right worldview.
- David Horowitz- Horowitz is the only one on my list of the top ten enemies that I would call a member of the extreme right. He is a populist demagogue. Billig (1989) comments that, “extreme right groups attempt to play upon fears which indigenous members of the population might have about foreigners and immigrants” (p. 151). Extreme right groups also are fond of conspiracy theories and with Horowitz he proffers that it is a group of “dangerous professors”. A close examination of the actual views of those he identifies show they have espoused a wide range of views and that most often they represent perspectives which call into question current political views and actions of the Bush Administration.
- Arthur Levine-Arthur Levine portrays himself as a reformer but his “reforms” proffer nothing new and are a rehash of much of the internal change agenda within educational leadership that was already in the literature. The damage his report caused is simply to further detract from the legitimacy of leadership preparation at the university level and to offer encouragement for market based privatization outside of the university. Levine was in attendance at the 2002 Strategic Planning Retreat sponsored by the Broad Foundation (Emery and Ohanian, 2004, p.92). Levine is a fellow traveler on the neo-liberal road. His recommendation to abandon the Ed.D. in favor of an MBA ignores the long standing criticisms of the MBA and business school curricula as “a vague, shifting, rather formless subject” ( The Economist, 2004, p. 62). And the criticism that some of those taking educational leadership courses will never become school leaders is akin to a criticism of MBA courses by Peffer and Fong of the Academy of Management Learning and Education “that there was little evidence that getting an MBA had much effect on a graduate’s salary or career” (The Economist, 2004, p. 63).
- E.D. Hirsch, Jr.- A linguist whose efforts to capture the “core curriculum” are futile efforts to preserve white privilege in a burgeoning multi-racial and multi-cultural society. Hirsch’s “core curriculum” is a prime example of Bourdieu and Passeron’s (2000) “cultural arbitrary” being imposed by political power on the rest of a specific society. The school serves as the legitimizing agent of this form of “symbolic violence.”
In summarizing the agendas of the political right and left in America, Brian Barry (2005) saw tremendous success of the right because there is “a network of lavishly financed foundations, and the books and journals that they promote at enormous expense, have rationalized all the most mean-spirited impulses of affluent American whites” (p.233). Further he added, that “…the only honest case that can be made for the agenda of the right is that it suits the people who benefit from it nicely” (p. 234). The ideological agenda of the right as embodied in neo-liberalism continues its assault on American public education, its democratic institutions and its leaders and in programs that call their values and simplistic business models of schooling into question. The purpose of this paper was to identify the most significant figures and forces that are involved in that assault. Unfortunately, while the Obama administration has made noises about “breaking the mold” the agenda they are pursuing is the same old same old approach pursued by neo-liberals who have dominated Republican educational positions in the government and continue to do so through their think tanks and foundations (see Feulner & Needham, 2010).