“Vote to let us destroy publicly owned schools (that allow access to all) so that we can skim profits from educating only the most well-adjusted students at taxpayer expense.”
How do you think that would go over? It wouldn’t. That’s why we hear a much more subtle, carefully staged argument.
Instead, so-called “education reformers” argue that education should be more like business that values competition as a good concept. By accepting competition, they contend, all schools will become better.
Their argument is that business grows and innovates because of competition and so should education. That may be true about a few businesses in unique cases. But, they argue this as a concept. Does that pass the smell test? Let’s see.
Concept or Just Reality?
The problem with educators valuing, accepting, and even participating in competition “like business does”, is that real businesses hate competition and do everything they can to eliminate it.
Groups like ALEC and The Chamber of Commerce want us to accept competition as a concept when business itself only reluctantly accepts it as a reality.
Business Hates Competition
Businesses do not accept and promote competition as a concept unless they see that argument as a strategy they can use to edge other competitors out of a market.
Let’s look at one example: The Waldons, who own Wal-Mart, have set up a huge foundation to fund promotion of “school choice” and competition for tax dollars between for-profit schools and publicly owned schools. The blog OkEducationTruths has a very good exposure of local Oklahoma entanglements in this effort.
Supposedly, they are all for the concept of competition, and that should apply to the “school business”, too. But they don’t actually believe in the concept of competition independent of their plan to dominate markets.
Let’s look at the history of how Wal-Mart dominated business in Arkansas and Oklahoma before they spread out into the rest of the U.S.
They made the same arguments from a concept of competition when they were going to one small town after another in Arkansas and Oklahoma in the 1970s and 1980s. When local businesses objected, they said that their presence would strengthen all businesses by healthy competition. So why not build next door to existing businesses and compete? They didn’t. Very intentionally, they didn’t.
In fact, their strategy was to carefully select a new spot for their stores on the main highway into town to head off traffic to the rest of their competition. Then they took temporary losses to under-price items that were being sold by existing businesses in that town to siphon off customers.
Eventually the existing businesses were not strengthened by the Wal-Mart corporation that supposedly held the concept that competition was good. They were destroyed.
The Fine Print
David Cay Johnson’s book, The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind* is instructive on this matter. He carefully shows how over the last 50 years, corporations have continued to move steadily toward monopoly, and very often with the federal government’s help. Why? For the same reason that trusts and monopolies first grew (with federal government help) in the late 1800s: to eliminate competition. He says,
Nothing is more hated by big business than competition. In a competitive market with many suppliers of a good or service, the consumer shops for the best deal. That drives prices down.
And no business wants to be in an environment for long where competition continues to drive prices down. That’s why eventually Republican President Teddy Roosevelt had so much support from the public for his “trustbusting” campaign. Prices were going up without any prohibition. It was the natural outcome of a “free market” that had been so heavily promoted by big business after the Civil War.
Johnson goes on to say:
Simply calling a market “free” does not produce any gains; when we let one firm or a few firms capture the market, they can compete to raise prices rather than lower them.
Easily, that’s what could happen if we allow a falsehood to be promoted as a concept about public education and competition. There will not be co-existence, just exclusive for-profit schools destroying publicly owned open schools.
A question that should be asked often: When will the Waldons set up a foundation to promote competition for their Wal-Mart stores? It hasn’t happened yet. And it won’t.
For-Profit Schools = Corporate Culture of No Competition
For-profit schools operate out of a corporate business mindset, which means that they will do everything they can to eliminate their competition, which are publicly owned schools and even private locally owned new school start-ups.
Like Wal-Mart’s campaign to take over small town business in Arkansas and Oklahoma, “competition” is being promoted as a good concept that we should all accept. And like Wal-Mart of the early days, the only real agenda now is just to gain a foothold to eliminate a system of publicly owned, democratically controlled schools. They will destroy what they see as the competition. The current system stands in the way of their making maximum profits.
They want to present themselves as being altruistic and concerned with the Public Good by using terms like “school choice” and “parent empowerment”. But the current system of publicly owned schools is already based on that. It is, in fact, an extraordinarily efficient system that has little, if any overlap of services.
“School Choice” Won’t Always Mean School Choice
The same business-funded organizations that promote “school choice”, such as ALEC and The Chamber of Commerce also promote constantly lowering taxes. If taxes are lowered and not raised, competing for tax dollars will be a zero-sum game. It will eventually mean no choices. The outcome will be just for-profit schools with fewer options. But no choices is what they complain that we have now, completely ignoring the open transfer policies that publicly owned schools have.
Just as Wal-Mart said that they could/would co-exist with the local businesses in small towns in Arkansas and Oklahoma, for-profit schools won’t do anything to promote co-existence with publicly owned schools.
They only want us to believe in co-existence until they are in a position to be the sole deliverer of education at our expense and for their profit.
*Johnston, David Cay (2012-09-18). The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind (p. 259). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.