Since former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's Education Summit was held this year in nearby Boston on October 17-18, I decided to attend as a columnist for The New American magazine. All of that was neatly stated on my badge. But I doubt that anyone at this annual Summit of the Foundation for Excellence in Education was familiar with The New American. Most of the attendees were born after Why Johnny Can't Read was published 58 years ago. They know nothing of the reading wars or the rise of the progressive education movement. Their interest is in the new lucrative opportunities that education "reform" is providing with charter schools, private schools and colleges, vouchers, online education, and Common Core curriculum development. Public education is financed by billions of taxpayer dollars, and the new reformers are finding creative opportunities to share in that never-ending cash flow. They all know that American public education is an awful mess, but have no burning interest in finding out why. Poorly trained teachers and unions seem to be the generally accepted causes of why the system has failed so miserably. Jeb Bush spoke passionately about the system's failures, the dropout problem, and the functional illiteracy of the students. But he gave no hint that the dumbing down of American education has anything to do with a deliberate plan. That's conspiracy theory and conspiracy theories are non-starters.
The aim of this new breed of reformer is to find solutions and not dwell on blame. That is why the atmosphere at the Summit was so distinctly positive. The movement now has the financial support of the nation's wealthiest foundations: Carnegie, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Walton Family Foundation, GE Foundation, and others. Everybody wants to improve education. Thus the attendees were not parents trying to get their kids into charter schools. They were mainly investors and entrepreneurs who see gold in the charter school movement. Charter schools are private schools financed by the taxpayer. So there is less risk for the charter school entrepreneur. New private schools and colleges also provide money-making opportunities. Unfortunately, these business types know virtually nothing about education. That is why they are easily taken in by dreams of digital technology doing the educating. The newest book that expresses that optimistic philosophy is Ron Packard's Education Transformation, which tells of "how K-12 online learning is bringing the greatest change to education in 100 years." Jeb Bush has endorsed the book. He says on its jacket: "Online and digital learning have begun to change the way schools and our education system work.... Thanks to technology, every student can receive a personalized, high quality education." Indeed, one of the Strategy Sessions was entitled: "A Customized Education: Extreme Choices Through Digital Learning." A description of the Session stated: "Educational choice is evolving beyond simple options between traditional public schools and alternatives such as charter and private schools. The next generation of choice introduces innovative ways for students to enroll in the best individual courses from a variety of sources."
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