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Neoliberal Education Restructuring

Dangers and Opportunities of the Present Crisis

Pauline Lipman (plipman [at] is an education activist and professor of educational policy studies at University of Illinois at Chicago. Her latest book is The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City (2011).

Jammed into a thundering crowd of thousands of chanting people in Madison, Wisconsin, it looks like a dam has broken. The new Wisconsin Tea Party governor brazenly accelerated what has been a bipartisan agenda to undermine public education and weaken teacher and other public employee unions. His “budget repair bill”—an assault on public employee unions, schools, and low-income health care—was met with immediate, massive, determined resistance that began with a walkout by Madison public school teachers.

Over three weeks, thousands of teachers, social workers, firefighters, and public and private sector workers of every stripe have demonstrated in communities across the state and piled into busses headed to the state capital. Protesters occupied the capital building for more than two weeks. Two of the rallies were estimated at over one hundred thousand people. There were many signs, such as “Recall Walker,” “If you can read this, thank a teacher,” and “Stop the War on Workers,” but also something more: handmade signs saying “This is Class War” and “End Corporate Greed.” A young woman at the rally on March 11 after the state legislature passed the governor’s union-busting bill, held up a placard proclaiming, “Teacher by Day, Freedom Fighter by Night.”

As I write this, in March 2011, a sleeping giant is stirring. The broad U.S. working class has absorbed blow after blow, concessions and job losses one after the other, stagnating wages for thirty years, and two wars costing trillions of dollars. The greatest capitalist crisis since the Great Depression brought a trillion-dollar bailout of the biggest banks and investment houses, the loss of ten million homes to foreclosure by the banks, and 10 percent official unemployment. A broad process of structural adjustment is under way to make the working and middle classes pay for the crisis created by Wall Street. But recent attempts at the state level to impose austerity measures may be just too much for people to take. The attack on public workers and sell-off of public assets—from schools, to municipal utilities, to bridges and roads—may go too far. This is a watershed moment.

Despite somewhat different tactics, both the Republicans and the Democrats, as parties of Wall Street, aim to impose austerity on the working class in order to deal with the fiscal crisis of the state. The aim is to cut domestic programs and public services, and teacher unions are a prime target. Merit pay for teachers and union “flexibility” is a part of the Obama administration’s education program. From this perspective, compliant union officials are a means to instruct teachers and other public employees to make concessions “voluntarily.” This approach was articulated by a Wisconsin public official who defended teacher and other public unions’ right to exist because unions have been a means to negotiate concessions in wages and benefits peacefully. But some ideologically driven Republican legislators want to go further to make deep cuts in the education budget and break teacher unions and organized labor entirely. This would eliminate the remaining organized working-class resistance against the attempt to make workers pay for the crisis, and would undermine a key support for the Democratic Party.

In Wisconsin, union responses to the Tea Party agenda were mixed. Despite the fact that their own data show real earnings for Wisconsin teachers declined by 2.3 percent over the last decade,1 the leadership of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and some other unions gave in to Walker’s demand for financial concessions early on. They drew the line, however, at automatic union dues collection and the right to bargain collectively over working conditions such as class size, that affect children’s learning. Their slogan was “It’s not about the money, it’s about our rights [to bargain collectively].” Other labor organizations, notably the South Central Federation of Labor in Wisconsin and the National Nurses United, put the blame on Wall Street and called for closing corporate tax loopholes. The nurses union said, “Working people did not create the recession or the budgetary crisis facing federal, state and local governments—and there can be NO more concessions, period.”2

There is a long and complex road ahead with no clear outcome. But education is the frontline in class warfare by the rich against the working class. The assault on public education, teachers, and their unions has been evolving over the past thirty years as part of the neoliberal restructuring of the global capitalist economy, but the current crisis of capitalism has accelerated this assault.3 Education has been a key sector in the neoliberalization of social policy and the neoliberal political economy of cities. The resistance to these policies has been broad at classroom and school levels and in a growing movement of education activists allied with parents and students. Education, for those in power, plays a key role in social reproduction of the labor force and in ideological legitimation of the social order. Those who, conversely, have seen education as a way to strengthen democratic participation in society and human liberation have always contested these goals. There is a rich history of people of color, women, workers, educators, and social movements fighting for democratic, inclusive, liberatory education. The crisis and the accelerated assault on teachers and public education are sharpening the contest over the right to public education and the role of education in society.

In this article, I review the neoliberal project to restructure education, particularly its relationship to neoliberal urban development, and responses to it. I discuss implications of privatization and austerity measures for public education and its function in social reproduction. I argue that this crisis is a moment of danger but also opportunity, not only to defend public education, but also to reshape it as part of the struggle for a new social order based on human liberation.

Neoliberal Restructuring of Public Education

When President Obama appointed Arne Duncan, former-CEO of Chicago Public Schools, to head the U.S. Department of Education in 2008, he signaled an intention to accelerate a neoliberal education program that has been unfolding over the past two decades. This agenda calls for expanding education markets and employing market principles across school systems. It features mayoral control of school districts, closing “failing” public schools or handing them over to corporate-style “turnaround” organizations, expanding school “choice” and privately run but publicly funded charter schools, weakening teacher unions, and enforcing top-down accountability and incentivized performance targets on schools, classrooms, and teachers (e.g., merit pay based on students’ standardized test scores). To spur this agenda, the Obama administration offered cash-strapped states $4.35 billion in federal stimulus dollars to “reform” their school systems. Competition for these “Race to the Top” funds favored states that passed legislation to enable education markets.

Race to the Top, although originating in U.S. government, is actually part of a global neoliberal thrust toward the commodification of all realms of existence. In a new round of accumulation by dispossession, liberalization of trade has opened up education, along with other public sectors, to capital accumulation, and particularly to penetration of the education sectors of the periphery (e.g., Latin America, parts of Asia, Africa). Under the Global Agreement on Trade in Services, all aspects of education and education services are subject to global trade.4 The result is the global marketing of schooling from primary school through higher education. Schools, education management organizations, tutoring services, teacher training, tests, curricula online classes, and franchises of branded universities are now part of a global education market. Education markets are one facet of the neoliberal strategy to manage the structural crisis of capitalism by opening the public sector to capital accumulation. The roughly $2.5 trillion global market in education is a rich new arena for capital investment.5

In the United States, charter schools are a vehicle to commodify and marketize education. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated. They eliminate democratic governance, and, although they may be run by nonprofit community organizations or groups of teachers or parents, the market favors scaling up franchises of charter school management organizations or contracting out to for-profit education management organizations that get management fees to run schools and education programs.6 For example, EdisonLearning, a transnational for-profit management organization, claims it serves nearly one-half million students in twenty-five states in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Dubai.7

The market mechanisms and business management discourses and practices that are saturating public education in the United States are all too familiar to teachers and students worldwide. Globally, nations are restructuring their education systems for “human capital” development to prepare students for new types of work and labor relations.8 This policy agenda has been aggressively pushed by transnational organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Objectives and performance targets are the order of the day, and testing is a prominent mechanism to steer curriculum and instruction to meet these goals efficiently and effectively.

In the United States, the neoliberal restructuring of education is deeply racialized. It is centered particularly on urban African American, Latino, and other communities of color, where public schools, subject to being closed or privatized, are driven by a minimalist curriculum of preparing for standardized tests. The cultural politics of race is also central to constructing consent for this agenda. As Stephen Haymes argues, the “concepts ‘public’ and ‘private’ are racialized metaphors. Private is equated with being ‘good’ and ‘white’ and public with being ‘bad’ and ‘Black.’”9 Disinvesting in public schools, closing them, and opening privately operated charter schools in African-American and Latino communities is facilitated by a racist discourse that pathologizes these communities and their public institutions. But “failing” schools are the product of a legacy of educational, economic, and social inequities experienced by African Americans, Latinos/as, and Native Americans.10 Schools serving these communities continue to face deeply inequitable opportunities to learn, including unequal funding, curriculum, educational resources, facilities, and teacher experience. High stakes accountability has often compounded these inequities by narrowing the curriculum to test preparation—producing an exodus of some of the strongest teachers from schools in low-income communities of color.11

Neoliberalization of public education is also an ideological project, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, to “change the soul,” redefining the purpose of education and what it means to teach, learn, and participate in schooling. Tensions between democratic purposes of education and education to serve the needs of the workforce are longstanding. But in the neoliberal framework, teaching is driven by standardized tests and performance outcomes; principals are managers, and school superintendents are CEOs; and learning equals performance on the tests with teachers, students, and parents held responsible for “failure.” Education, which is properly seen as a public good, is being converted into a private good, an investment one makes in one’s child or oneself to “add value” in order better to compete in the labor market. It is no longer seen as part of the larger end of promoting individual and social development, but is merely the means to rise above others. Democratic participation in local schools is rearticulated to individual “empowerment” of education consumers—as parents compete for slots in an array of charter and specialty schools. In Chicago, twelve thousand parents and students attended the 2010 “High School Fair” sponsored by Chicago Public Schools, and six thousand attended the “New Schools Expo” of charter and school choice options. The political significance of this neoliberal shift stretches beyond schools to legitimize marketing the public sector, particularly in cities, and to infuse market ideologies into everyday life.

New Orleans–Feasting on Tragedy12

Nowhere did the rollback of social welfare policies and public institutions occur with greater force than in hurricane-devastated New Orleans. In the words of George Lipsitz, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina ushered in an orgy of “legalized looting to enable corporations to profit from the misfortunes of poor people.”13 Education was at the leading edge. The state at all levels, in alliance with local and national capital and neoliberal think tanks, took advantage of the chaos wreaked by Katrina and the exodus of low-income working-class African Americans from the city to dismantle their public schools. This was a strategic move to exclude low-income African Americans from the city altogether. They not only had no homes to return to, they had no schools. Before Katrina hit in August 2005, there were sixty-three thousand students in New Orleans public schools; about twenty-four thousand began classes there in the fall of 2008.14

Just weeks after the hurricane, the state of Louisiana took over one hundred public schools and began turning over millions of dollars of taxpayer money to private organizations to run them. The state dismissed all forty-five hundred public school teachers, broke the city’s powerful black-led teachers’ union, and dismantled the school system’s administrative infrastructure.15 Right-wing foundations quickly issued reports calling for vouchers, and President Bush proposed $1.9 billion for K-12 students with $488 million targeted for vouchers to be used in schools anywhere in the country. An influential report by the Urban Institute hailed New Orleans as an opportunity for a grand experiment to decentralize and privatize the public school system through vouchers and charter schools.16 Less than a month after the hurricane devastated the city, the U.S. Department of Education gave the state of Louisiana $20.9 million to reopen existing charter schools and open new ones, and nine months later, the department gave the state an additional $23.9 million for new charter schools, most in New Orleans. Prior to Katrina, there were five charter schools in the city. After the hurricane, the state took over most of the schools and established the Recovery School District, an open arena for charter schools. Of the fifty-five schools opened in New Orleans in 2006-2007, thirty-one were public charter schools.17 In 2010, out of eighty-eight public schools in New Orleans, sixty-one were charters run by a variety of operators.18 The pro-market Fordham Foundation judged New Orleans the best city in the United States for charter school expansion.19 All this was done by government fiat guided by think tanks such as the Urban Institute, and backed by corporate foundations such as the Gates Foundation. Excluded were the working-class African American and Latino/a parents, students, teachers, and community members, many of whom had been literally excluded from the city itself by redevelopment policies that made it impossible to return.20

It would be hard to deny that New Orleans’s schools were in bad shape before the hurricane. In 1997 per-pupil school funding was 16 percent lower than the average of poorly funded urban districts nationally.21 The New Orleans situation reflects a long-term pattern of disinvestment in inner-city areas, beginning with cuts in federal funding to cities in the 1980s, followed by the shift to an entrepreneurial model of urban governance that prioritizes attracting private investment, tourism, and real estate investment.22 Today charter schools in New Orleans are part of creating a “good business climate” in a “revitalized” (gentrified) whiter New Orleans.

Chicago–Disinvestment, Privatization, and Gentrification

Chicago is another exemplar of the logic of disinvestment and privatization that is playing out in urban school districts.23 Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 education plan was carried out in partnership with the state and the Commercial Club of Chicago, an organization of the powerful corporate and financial interests in the city. The object was to close public schools and expand charter schools. It has become a national model enshrined in the propagandistic claim of “the Chicago Miracle.” Across African-American communities, the mayoral-appointed school board has closed schools on the grounds of low achievement. Others, particularly in gentrifying Latino/a communities, have been closed for low enrollment, despite evidence to the contrary. The board has replaced neighborhood schools with charter schools or selective enrollment schools that most neighborhood children are unable to attend. School closings have resulted in increased mobility, spikes in violence, and neighborhood instability as children are transferred to schools out of their neighborhoods.24 Moreover, Renaissance 2010 has not increased educational opportunities for most students, with 80 percent of displaced students attending schools no better than the ones that were closed.25

This policy eliminates schools that are anchors in their communities, contributing to further disinvestment. In gentrifying areas, closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with schools branded for the middle class facilitates the displacement of working-class families. Chicago, like New Orleans, is an example of the intertwining of education policy and neoliberal urban development. Real estate development is a pivotal sector in urban economies, and closing neighborhood public schools in disinvested areas to open up elite, selective-enrollment public schools or prestigious charter schools is part of the neoliberal restructuring of urban space.26 This nexus of education policy and real estate development is located in the spatial logics of capital—the physical location of production facilities, the built environment of cities, and places of consumption are devalued and selectively rebuilt in order to establish a “new locational grid” for capital accumulation.27 In other disinvested, low-income neighborhoods, students attending under-resourced and struggling public schools are a ready consumer base for the proliferation of charter schools, particularly large charter school chains that target these areas.

In response, parents, teachers, and students are challenging school closings and market solutions, and are demanding democratic participation and community-driven processes to improve public schools and increase resources. In fall 2010, parents at an elementary school in a Mexican immigrant community in Chicago occupied a school field house for forty-three days to force the school board to agree to construct a school library. In 2001 parents in another working-class Mexican neighborhood were compelled to conduct a nineteen-day hunger strike to get a new high school in their community, after the school board had used funds allocated for their school to build two state-of-the-art, selective-enrollment high schools in gentrifying areas of the city. Both of these actions followed years of petitioning the mayor-appointed board of education with no results. Organized resistance to neoliberal policies has prevented some school closings and, most significantly, also spawned a progressive caucus that won the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, the third largest teachers’ union local in the country.

The “Good Sense” in Neoliberal Education Policy

Yet some measures to reign in teacher unions have support on the ground, as teachers and parents have gravitated to privately run charter schools and vouchers. Certainly venture philanthropists (such as the Gates and Fordham Foundations), charter school operators, business federations (such as Chicago’s Commercial Club), and politicians of both parties have deployed enormous economic, political, and symbolic resources to promote education markets and performance pay for teachers as the only alternative to struggling neighborhood public schools and “bad” teaching.28 They have raised the cap on charter school expansion, funded charter school ventures, and established policies like those in New Orleans and Chicago to expand education markets. However, neoliberal policies are not simply imposed from above. They also materialize through the actions of parents and teachers navigating a disinvested, degraded, and often racist public school system. Looked at this way, neoliberalism is a process that works its way into the discourses and practices of schools, through the actions of not only elites, but also marginalized and oppressed people acting in conditions not of their own making.

Tom Pedroni demonstrates this in his study of African-American parents’ participation in the Milwaukee voucher movement.29 Pedroni interprets the participation of African-American parents in the voucher program against a background of prolonged struggles and failures to win a modicum of educational equity and respect for their children and themselves as public school parents. Pedroni argues that, for these parents, the identity of educational consumer offers greater dignity and agency than that of citizen-supplicant to an unresponsive and racist public school system that has never fully included African-American children. Like charter school parents and teachers I interviewed in Chicago, Pedroni proposes that parents see themselves as education consumers in the face of a post-welfare state that offers no real alternative.30 Drawing on Gramsci’s theory of “good sense” in the ideological construction of hegemonic social alliances, this insight is an opening to reframe the struggle to defend public education by drawing on the real concerns of parents who ally themselves with education markets.

There is no point in romanticizing public schools (or other welfare state institutions). While they have provided free universal education and spaces where people can make claims for justice, and are sometimes empowering and liberating, they have historically been saturated with inequalities and exclusions.31 The benefits the white middle class has had from public schools have often been allowed it to ignore a thoroughly inequitable public school system. Critical education scholars have long criticized public schools for reproducing a stratified labor force and the dispositions and ideologies that support capitalism, racism, and gender oppression. Exclusionary, paternalistic, disrespectful, even brutal treatment of African American, Latino/a, and other people of color and women at the hands of public housing authorities, public hospitals, the police and judicial systems, public welfare agencies, elected officials, city agencies, and schools make existing public institutions deeply problematic places. And teacher union leaders have too often failed to take up progressive causes and ally themselves with working-class parents and communities of color.32

Understanding the appeal of charter schools, choice, and teacher accountability is essential to build alliances not only to defend public education in this period but to develop a program for democratic and just public schools, as well. Resisting predatory neoliberal policies requires acknowledging and grappling with the exclusions and inequities of public institutions.33 This raises the questions: What of public education do we wish to defend; what must be reconstructed, and how can it fulfill its democratic potential?34

Structural Adjustment and Education

As the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-08 hit, the Bush and Obama administrations, in league with Wall Street, moved swiftly to socialize the losses of investors through massive taxpayer funded bailouts. This was followed by furloughs (wages cuts) for public workers and worker concessions in the bailed-out private sector (e.g., auto) under the rationale that “there is no alternative” and “we all have to sacrifice.”

As the crisis continues to reverberate, states and municipalities face fiscal crises of monumental proportions. The loss of tax revenues combined with government losses in the financial markets have thrown state budgets across the country into massive debt. Public worker pension funds, health insurance benefits, and funding for public services are in real trouble. At the time of this writing, California has a projected budget deficit of $28 billion over the next eighteen months.35 Instead of raising taxes on the rich and corporations, state governments are selling off public assets and imposing austerity measures on the poor, workers, and the middle class, with public-sector workers an immediate target. The state of California is instituting draconian cuts in education, health, and programs for youth and the elderly. This scenario is repeated in state legislatures and city halls across the country. In Wisconsin, Walker pushed through $100 million in tax cuts to corporations, while his bill would cut over $800 million for education alone.36 The broad working class is expected to endure repeated reductions in wages, pensions, and hard-won benefits, drastic cuts in public services, and further loss of personal assets, particularly homes, while municipal services and infrastructure such as bridges and roads are sold off to investors.

City governments are particularly hard hit by the crisis because of their reliance on real estate taxes, housing markets, and investments in financial markets. Urban school districts have already laid off thousands of teachers, increased class sizes, pushed to reduce teacher pensions, and cut out music, gym, kindergarten, bilingual programs, after-school and youth programs, and more. These austerity measures are certain to hit hardest those least able to bear them, low-income schools of color, where these are the very programs that offer some hope.37

Dangers and Opportunities of the Present Moment

Social austerity ultimately creates contradictions for capital as well. As capital continues to flow into the inflated financial sector at the expense of the productive sector, and as the state pays for the crisis with cuts in education and general social welfare, there is an unfolding crisis of social reproduction.38 Public education plays an important role in the reproduction of the labor force, political legitimation, and social stability. The problem with franchising and contracting out schools to an assortment of private operators is that the state has less control over these functions of schools. Inflated class sizes, cuts in education programs, and teachers’ eroding salaries and working conditions can only degrade public education, particularly in low-income schools. This will exacerbate an already two-tiered education system. Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb (a graduate of the Broad Foundation’s Superintendent Academy) has proposed closing half the district’s schools and putting up to sixty students in a classroom.39

Under Governor Walker’s plan, two thousand Wisconsin teachers and school staff would lose their jobs, and the average teacher would lose $5500 to $7000 in net compensation. The average 2011 teacher salary in Wisconsin is $50,627.40 According to a new report by the OECD (Paine & Schleicher, 2011), the pay, working conditions, and qualifications of U.S. teachers are already low in comparison with those of teachers in other advanced economies.41 From the standpoint of capital, serious disinvestment in public education has consequences for the preparation of its workforce. It also has implications for social stability, with more students in affected schools dropping out. The security state is a looming presence in this scenario.

Wisconsin foreshadows the political cost of undermining the living standards and expectations of those who have come to be defined as “middle class,” such as teachers. The Tea Party agenda is laying bare the capitalist offensive against the working class. A twenty-foot long banner proclaiming, “Tax the Rich” hung from the third floor of the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda throughout the people’s occupation. With leaflets and treatises plastering the walls of the capitol, rallies filled with home-made placards, and hours of conversation between unlikely allies, the three-week-long Wisconsin occupation and rallies were a giant democratic political forum. And this was replicated in town squares throughout the state. For many, this was their first political protest.

The results of this politicization are yet to be seen, but the budget bills themselves are making connections for people between cuts in education and the assault on teacher unions with those of other public- and private-sector workers and farmers. Legions of firefighters and their families from towns around the state marched militantly through the capitol building, fists pumping the air as they chanted, “The workers united will never be defeated.”

In addition to slashing state aid to public schools by nearly $834 million, Walker has proposed sweeping changes to Medicaid-funded programs including BadgerCare, which provides health coverage to low-income Wisconsin families, and a $96 million cut in aid to local governments, including cities, towns, and counties. At the rally of over one hundred thousand on March 12, farmers, in a show of “Farm Labor Unity,” drove their tractors to Madison for a “tractorcade” around the capitol building. Roughly eleven thousand farmers receive BadgerCare. This is a compelling moment to connect attacks on education to the capitalist crisis, particularly the parasitic financialization, war spending, and tax cuts for the rich that have looted the public coffers, bankrupted states, and threaten our schools. This is, moreover, an opportunity to expose the crisis-ridden logic of capitalism itself and to engage in serious discussion about the world we wish to see.

The Potential of an Education Movement

In the past few years, a multifaceted education movement in and outside classrooms has emerged against neoliberal education restructuring and in resistance to racism, gender and heterosexist oppression, and militarization of schools. Liberatory education projects and social-justice-oriented schools have sprouted up in cracks in the public system. There are freedom schools and popular education projects outside public schools, and community-based youth activist organizations across the country. The immigrant rights movement and organized opposition to the criminalization of youth through the “school to prison pipeline” have begun to link political and educational issues. Organizations of activist teachers and community educators in a number of cities have joined together to form national networks. (The Education for Liberation Network and Teacher Activist Groups are examples.) These groups have joined parents and students in community coalitions to stop school closings and privatization, prevent mayoral takeovers of urban school districts, defend undocumented students, and challenge high-stakes testing. With the victory of a progressive caucus to lead the Chicago Teachers Union, there is also a significant progressive force in the heart of the American Federation of Teachers. Although there is some overlap, these various streams are not yet organized around a coherent program or analysis of the problem.42

The outpouring of teachers and other workers against union busting and austerity budgets has changed the terrain. Thousands of people who have never attended a protest before are in the streets and engaged politically. So far, this motion is mainly defensive, and some are willing to make concessions to help capitalism extricate itself from the crisis.43 On the one hand, there is the possibility that the protests will be subsumed by the electoral politics of the Democratic Party, much like the current focus in Wisconsin on recalling Republican legislators, or diverted to scapegoating people of color and immigrants. On the other hand, the challenge to taken-for-granted living standards opens a space to see social arrangements differently. This is a moment that can reveal the systemic connections between the bailout of Wall Street and social privations, a moment to connect attacks on workers with other social struggles—particularly to see the common threads between wars for domination, oppression of people of color, and the unfolding austerity regime.44

Buried in Governor Walker’s proposed 2012-2013 budget is a measure to repeal access to in-state tuition for undocumented students and eliminate Food Share benefits (food stamps) for documented (“legal”)immigrants.45 How Wisconsin’s majority white teachers, union members, and farmers will respond will be important. Bridging deep divisions along lines of race, ethnicity, and immigrant status, and challenging racial oppression are central to building a counter-hegemonic alliance with the power to defeat austerity measures and move toward a proactive politics that challenges capitalism itself. Although it is only now coalescing, a movement that links education with immigrant rights and other social struggles can play an important role in teacher unions and in student community, and parent organizations.

In classrooms, critical educators are positioned to help young people understand why their schools are under attack and to “connect the dots” to the structural crisis of capitalism. Revitalized teacher unions are in a strategic position to insist that Wall Street pay for the crisis. Although the U.S. context is different, there is much to learn from social movement teacher unionism outside the United States (e.g., in Oaxaca, Honduras, and South Africa) and its central role in social struggles for democracy, against neoliberalism, and for social liberation.46 This is a moment not simply to defend the public education we have, but to advocate for a just, inclusive, democratic, humanizing education that prefigures the society we wish to have—one premised not on exploitation but on the full development of human beings in social solidarity.47


  1. “Wisconsin teacher pay drops to lowest level in 50 years,” Wisconsin Education Association Council, February 16, 2011,
  2. National Nurses Association,
  3. Mary Compton and Lois Weiner, The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and Their Unions (New York: Palgrave, 2008).
  4. See Susan Robertson, Xavier Bonal, and Roger Dale, “GATS and the Education Service Industry,” Comparative Education Review 33, no. 3 (2002).
  5. See, for example, industry investors: Ron Perkinson, “Trends in Global Higher Education…the Changing Landscape,” Presentation to IFC International Investment Forum for Private Higher Education, February 2-3, 2006; and Apollo Global,
  6. For a discussion of management and fee arrangements of the education management industry, see Janelle T. Scott and Catherine C. DiMartin, “Hibridized, Franchised, Duplicated, and Replicated: Charter Schools and Management Organizations,” in The Charter School Experiment, Christopher A. Lubienski and Peter C. Weitzel, eds. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2010).
  7. EdisonLearning, EdisonLearning also offers an “achievement services portfolio,” “drop-out services,” and internet education.
  8. Rizvi and Lingard, Globalizing Education Policy.
  9. Stephen N. Haymes, Race, Culture and the City (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 20.
  10. Gloria Ladson-Billings, “From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt,” Educational Researcher 35, no. 7 (2006): 3-12.
  11. Pauline Lipman, High Stakes Education (New York: Routledge, 2004).
  12. Democracy Now! co-host, Juan Gonzalez used this term to describe the corporate looting of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, September 9, 2005.
  13. George Lipsitz, “Learning from New Orleans,” Cultural Anthropology 21, no. 3: 451–68, quotation on 452.
  14. Leigh Dingerson, “New Orleans Schools 3 Years Later,” Center for Community Change (August 26, 2008),
  15. Kenneth Saltman, Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2007).
  16. Paul Hill and Jane Hannaway, “The Future of Public Education in New Orleans after Katrina,” Urban Institute, Washington, DC, 2006.
  17. Maria Alexander, “Reinventing a broken wheel?: The Fight to Reclaim Public Education in New Orleans,” Social Policy 37 (2007): 18-23.
  18. Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, “After Katrina, How Charter Schools Helped Recast New Orleans Education,” Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2010,
  19. Frederick M. Hess, Stafford Palmieri, and Janie Scull, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform,” Thomas B. Fordham Institute, August, 2010.
  20. Kristen L. Buras, Jim Randels, Kalamuya Salaam, and Students at the Center, Eds., Pedagogy, Policy, and the Privatized City (New York: Teachers College Press, 2010).
  21. Saltman, Capitalizing on Disaster, 22.
  22. Jason Hackworth, The Neoliberal City (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007).
  23. Pauline Lipman, The New Political Economy of Urban Education (New York: Routledge, 2011).
  24. Jitu Brown, Eric Gutstein, and Pauline Lipman, “The Chicago Success Story: Myth or Reality?” Rethinking Schools 23 no. 3 (2009).
  25. J. Gwynne and Marisa de la Torre, When Schools Close (Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research, 2009).
  26. See Lipman, The New Political Economy of Urban Education.
  27. Neil Brenner and Nik Theodore, “Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism,’” Antipode, 34, no. 3 (2002): 349–79.
  28. Lipman, The New Political Economy of Urban Education.
  29. Thomas Pedroni, Market Movements: African American Involvement in School Voucher Reform (New York: Routledge, 2007).
  30. Lipman, The New Political Economy of Urban Education, 100-119.
  31. See Michael W. Apple, Ideology and Curriculum, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004).
  32. See, for example, Lois Weiner, “Albert Shanker’s Legacy,” Contemporary Education 69 no. 4 (1998): 196-202.
  33. Pedroni, Market Movements.
  34. See Thomas Pedroni, “Whose Public?” paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, 2009.
  35. Gus Lubin, “California’s Deficit Jumps To $28 Billion As Tax Deal Rips Away Vital Income,” Business Insider, December. 9, 2010,
  36. Meredith Clark, “Wisconsin Teachers, Students Face Uncertain Future,” The Nation, March 2, 2011.
  37. Accessible and affordable quality public higher education in the United States is also being dismantled.
  38. John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).
  39. Zenobia Jeffries, “State Okays ‘End of DPS,’” Michigan Citizen, January 14, 2011
  40. Computed from Average Salary Report for Teachers 2010-2011, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,
  41. Steven L. Paine and Andreas Schleicher, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” McGraw Hill Research Foundations, 2010.
  42. A counter-discourse to neoliberal accountability and privatization has emerged in civil rights and community organizing groups. See “Civil Rights Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” (2010, July 26), Also Communities for Excellent Public Schools, Our Communities Left Behind (July 28, 2010),
  43. See Samir Amin, “The Trajectory of Historical Capitalism and Marxism’s Tricontinental Vocation,” Monthly Review 62, no. 9 (February 2011): 1-18.
  44. Ibid.
  45. “Governor Walker’s State Budget Also Targets Immigrant Workers and Students,” Voces de la Frontera,
  46. Compton and Weiner, The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and Their Unions.
  47. Michael A. Lebowitz, Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-first Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).
2011, Volume 63, Issue 03 (July-August)
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