BARD COLLEGE 100 Days Initiative
Book Talk by Author Samuel E. Abrams on
Education and the Commercial Mindset
A critical examination of role of business in K-12 education – in US and abroad
Thursday, April 6th 2017
Bitó Auditorium – RKC 103. Bard College
Abrams is the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He was previously a high school teacher of economics and history for eighteen years. At his talk at Bard, he will discuss the divergent paths taken by education policymakers in Chile, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. Abrams will pay particular attention to the evolution of vouchers and charter schools in the United States and to President Trump’s plans to support their growth.
America’s commitment to public schooling once seemed unshakable. But today the movement to privatize K–12 education is stronger than ever. A veteran teacher and administrator, Samuel Abrams examines the rise of market forces in public education and reveals how a commercial mindset has taken over.
For decades, Milton Friedman and his disciples contended that private markets could deliver better schooling than governments. In the 1990s, this belief was put to the test by Edison Schools and other for-profit educational management organizations (EMOs). Edison grew rapidly, running schools in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and many other cities across the country. Yet disappointing academic and financial outcomes soon pushed the company and its competitors to the margins. The focus of EMOs on efficiency and results nevertheless found expression in federal policy with No Child Left Behind in 2002 and Race to the Top in 2009. The new ethos also defined nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs) like KIPP that surfaced in the wake of EMOs and flourished. But the dependence of CMOs on philanthropists, tireless teachers, and students capable of abiding by rigid expectations limits their reach.
Abrams argues that while the commercial mindset sidesteps fundamental challenges, public schools should adopt lessons from the business world. Citing foreign practices, he recommends raising teacher salaries to attract and retain talent, conferring more autonomy on educators to build ownership, and employing sampling techniques rather than universal assessments to gauge student progress.
- On The Rick Smith Show, listen to Samuel Abrams discuss the forces seeking to privatize education and the rise of billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump administration nominee for Secretary of Education
- Read Abrams’s Los Angeles Times essay offering five ideas from private business that school reformers should seriously consider instead of charter schools and vouchers
- Read a Washington Post interview with Abrams on the education privatization movement and why he thinks mandatory high-stakes testing should be replaced with high-quality sampling
- Read an excerpt from Education and the Commercial Mindset at Stanford Social Innovation Review