March, 2011 Archives
by stuartbramhall in Feminism, Medical Censorship
As I blogged previously, the National Institutes of Health Women’s Health Initiative Study (launched in 1993-95) had to be shut down in 2002, when it became clear the women in the Premarin/Prempro arm of the study were experiencing an unacceptably high rate of breast cancer, strokes, heart disease, and dementia (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/03/25/wyeth-and-the-multibillion-dollar-menopause-industry/). The massive negative publicity this received caused seventy percent of American women to immediately stop their estrogen replacement therapy – resulting in a 7% reduction in new breast cancer cases over the next year.
Predictably, Wyeth’s response to all this negative publicity was to initiate a massive PR campaign discrediting the WHI study. They started with a letter to 500,000 doctors attacking the study, complaining that the women in the Premarin arm had other reasons for developing cancer – they were too old, too menopausal or weren’t checked for pre-existing heart disease (I find this ironic – in 2002 Wyeth was still aggressively promoting Premarin as a way to prevent heart disease). This was followed by articles attacking the study in various medical journals – articles published under the names of doctors specializing in women’s health which were actually ghost written by the company (see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9804/).
Many of the doctors were affiliated with the notorious Council on Hormone Education at University of Wisconsin (where 44 of the 64 doctors have financial ties to Wyeth) Wyeth founded in response to the 2002 WHI study. In 2006 the Council even began offering a continuing medical education course for doctors called “Quality of Life, Menopausal Changes and Hormonal Therapy” – heavily promoting estrogen replacement.
Consumers’ Only Protection Against Big Pharma
Wyeth’s massive campaign to discredit the 2002 WHI study, at the expense of tens of thousands who would start or continue estrogen replacement as a result of these misguided efforts, has clearly harmed their defense in the dozens or so of the 5000+ lawsuits that have made it through the courts.
Wyeth has yet to win a single lawsuit brought by women (or families of deceased women) who developed reproductive cancers as a result of taking Premarin or Prempro. Moreover there are still active information websites for affected women and/or families who have yet to file suit. If you or a loved one has developed breast, uterine or ovarian cancer as a result of taking Premarin or Prempro click here:
It’s Never Too Late to Stop Estrogen Replacement
Even more importantly, the WHI and subsequent studies all make it clear that even women who have been taking hormone replacement for years can still reduce their risk of cancer – if they stop now!
Moreover women can’t assume they reduce their risk of cancer by switching to plant-based or “natural” estrogens. Research strongly suggests that the estrogen itself – rather than it’s source – stimulates tumor growth.
by stuartbramhall in Feminism, Medical Censorship
Six Decades of False and Misleading Marketing
Estrogen, a hormone regulating the development and function of the female reproductive system, was first discovered in 1925. In the 1930s, the drug company Wyeth developed a process (viewed as barbaric by animal rights activists) to extract conjugated estrogens from the urine of pregnant mares. They patented their product as the drug Premarin (PREgnantMAresurINe), which first appeared on the market in 1942.
From the beginning Wyeth marketed Premarin, not for temporary relief of menopausal symptoms, but as a lifelong treatment to help all women maintain “healthy” estrogen levels in later life. Obviously this is nonsense, as a “healthy” or natural estrogen level in a post-menopausal woman is virtually zero.
1975: the First Study Linking Premarin with Cancer
The first study linking Premarin with increased uterine cancer appeared in 1975. It was replicated by other researchers in 1977 and 1979. These results were entirely consistent with the discovery of estrogen receptors in the early seventies and the finding that stimulating these receptors caused tumor growth in tissue culture and laboratory animals.
Wyeth responded to these worrisome studies by promoting a small 1980 study that taking progesterone, a second female hormone, reduced the risk of uterine cancer with estrogen replacement. Unfortunately most doctors fell for Wyeth’s slick PR campaign (the free pens, watches, clocks, lunches, trips to overseas conferences may have had something to do with it). They also overlooked the failure of 1980 study to look at the cancer rates in women who took no hormone replacement or to study the possible role of this combination in inducing other hormone sensitive cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, their success in selling doctors on the combination, led Wyeth to market a new drug Prempro, which combined Premarin with estrogens.
The earliest studies linking Premarin with breast cancer appeared in early 1980. As Nik Ismail points out in “Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gynaecological Cancers,” between 1975 and 1995, there were at least fifty studies linking estrogen replacement (also known as HRT) with breast and uterine cancer. Some were cross cultural studies revealing American women had more than ten times the incidence of breast cancer than Asian women, who don’t take estrogen replacement (see http://www.gfmer.ch/Books/bookmp/113.htm).
The Multibillion Dollar Wyeth Cover-up
Wyeth responded to the breast cancer studies with a new PR blitz. In addition to flooding doctors’ offices with literature claiming studies linking Premarin to cancer were “contradictory,” they promoted numerous company-funded studies allegedly showing that estrogen replacement prevents osteoporosis and hip fractures, dementia and heart disease. (Note: the role of estrogen replacement in reducing osteoporosis has been replicated in other studies, but so far, none of them control for long term fluoride ingestion or epidemic Vitamin D deficiency in elderly Americans – which both have a documented role in high US rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture).
The spin Wyeth gave doctors was that the effect of reducing cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes) – the most common cause of death in Americans – outweighed the somewhat lower risk of developing breast cancer. Predictably, the claim that Premarin and Prempro reduce elderly women;s risk of cardiovascular disease proved to be false. In fact this was one of the main reasons the WHI study was stopped: the women in the Premarin/Prempro arm of the study were developing significantly more heart attacks, strokes and dementia.
The marketing blitz aimed at doctors was accompanied by an even more powerful PR campaign in Harper’s Bazaar, the Ladies Home Journal and other women’s magazines, appealing to American women’s (largely manufactured) terror of aging by emphasizing the value of estrogen replacement in preserving sexual attractiveness by preventing the skin changes and vaginal drying associated with aging.
Wyeth Stock Soars
The result of Wyeth’s public relations effort was to make Premarin was the most commonly prescribed drug in the US in 1992. Yet by the mid-nineties, even the mainstream media was starting to take note of the preponderance of studies linking estrogen replacement to cancer. In 1995 this resulted in a Time magazine article (Wallis, C. “A Risky Elixir of Youth” Time. (26), 46-56, 1995), followed by a Tom Brokaw feature on NBC’s nightly news.
To be continued, with a description of the PR blitz Wyeth launched to counter the frightening results of the 2002 WHI study.
by stuartbramhall in Feminism, Medical Censorship
Historically 80% of Premarin and Prempro sales have occurred in the US. Even in the US, the cessation of menstruation is a non-event in 75% of women, producing no physical symptoms whatsoever. In fact, most languages and cultures have no word for menopause. In Chinese medicine, so-called menopausal symptoms are considered a manifestation of an underlying “imbalance” and disappear with a few days of herbal treatment. Even untreated, the hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and insomnia some women experience rarely last longer than a few months. In fact, many women report an overall improvement in their health and well-being when they stop having periods.
Senior Women are Honored in Non-Western Cultures
There are interesting cross cultural studies of the “menopause” phenomenon. Non-western cultures typically view the cessation of monthly cycles as a milestone signaling transition to the role of community elder. The Filipino women Berger and Wenzel studied in Women, Body and Society: Cross-cultural Differences in Menopause (http://www.ldb.org/menopaus.htm) were extremely pleased with their freedom from the inconvenience of menstruation. They saw it as an initiation into the joys of old age – better sex (estrogens produced during the menstrual cycle suppress libido – see below*), improved mood and energy and increase in productive time. However most of all they appreciated the new love and respect they enjoyed, as an elder, outside the family. I see this attitude here in New Zealand in the Maori culture, where senior women receive the title of “kuia” or “whaia” both designating immense esteem, prestige, and influence over community affairs.
The Female Body: a Reservoir of Aberrations
As Berger and Wenzel describe, western society’s medicalization of this totally natural life process stems in part from a stereotypical attitude American (mostly male) doctors have had toward the female body as a “reservoir of aberrations” which require constant treatment.” The most extreme example, of course, was the view in Victorian times that the spasms women experience during orgasm were indicative of dangerous pathology that could lead to insanity. The recommended treatment was to sedate them during intercourse.
The apparent male need to control the power of reproduction has also been seen in excessive and often harmful medical intervention during labor and delivery (which women rebelled against by creating the natural birth movement) and infant care. As late as the 1950s, the latter took the form of pressure to abandon breast feeding and demand feeding (i.e. when babies are hungry) for “scientific” formula feeding according to fixed timetables; scare mongering about mothers co-sleeping with babies (preferred practice in non-western cultures); and insistence that breastfed babies be weaned by 12 months (the World Health Organization recommends breast feeding, supplemented by solids, until age four).
Berger and Wenzel also note the strong association of western medicine with the military – with constant reference to “fighting” illness and to “battles” with cancer and other diseases.
America’s Aggressive Marketing of Youth
As Berger and Wenzel’s and other cross cultural studies note, attitudes in the US and other English speaking countries are also heavily influenced by a multibillion dollar PR industry that bombards women constantly with messages glorifying youth, thinness and sexual attractiveness – and engendering frank terror of gray hair, facial wrinkles, weight gain and cellulite. Aggressive marketing preys very effectively on the insecurities these messages create to sell billions of dollars of wrinkle removing creams and lotions, age concealing make-up, hair coloring, botox, diet products and programs and plastic surgery.
*Despite popular misconception, sexual drive in women isn’t regulated by the female hormone estrogen, but by testosterone (a male hormone) and oxytocin (a feel-good hormone in both men and women associated with social intimacy – and milk ejection in nursing women). Estrogen has a powerful suppressant effect on both hormones. Thus female libido is driven by a steep drop in estrogen levels in the middle of the menstrual cycle, which triggers ovulation. The result is an intense testosterone/oxytocin effect (and surge in libido) during the time of the month when a woman is most fertile.
To be continued with a discussion of Wyeth’s discovery and aggressive marketing of Premarin – despite its known cancer risks.
by stuartbramhall in Feminism, Medical Censorship
(this is the first of several posts regarding the “corporatization” of the US health care system – and its harmful effects on human health)
I have blogged previously about the ingenious – and deadly – strategy by pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests of inventing fictitious illnesses to market highly profitable drugs that allegedly “treat” them. The technical terms for this are “medicalizing” or “disease mongering.”
In May (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/05/24/marketing-serotonin-deficiency/), I wrote about so-called “serotonin deficiency syndrome,” the alleged cause of depression, which is used to promote the multibillion dollar serotonin reuptake inhibitor industry (with SSRIs like Prozac, Zololft and Paxil). In November (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/11/30/fluoride-the-new-lead/), I wrote about the even more dangerous “fluoride deficiency” syndrome, which has led dozens of American cities to mass medicate their residents with the industrial poison fluorosilicic acid, in the misguided belief that taking it internally prevents tooth decay (in spite of research showing that fluoride must be applied directly to teeth to strengthen enamel).
Dr Marcia Angell, in her 2004 The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It, also talks about “generalized anxiety disorder,” “erectile dysfunction,” “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” and “gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder (heartburn)” as examples of common complaints that drug companies have reinvented as chronic illnesses requiring lifelong treatment (see http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/171/12/1451).
Estrogen Deficiency Syndrome
The marketing of so-called “estrogen deficiency syndrome,” which is known as “menopause” in English-speaking countries (other cultures have no word for it) and Premarin and Prempro as “hormone replacement therapy (HRT)” has been far more lethal, in view of 30 years of research linking it to reproductive cancers. The number of premature deaths caused by inappropriate estrogen replacement is estimated in the millions.
In this case the culprit is a single company, Wyeth, who unlike Eli Lily (the manufacturer of Prozac, the first SSRI), managed to beat off competitors with their “me-too” drugs.
Hiding the Cancer Link from Doctors and the Public
In 1996, I supported a friend through the agony of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. In Marsha’s case, the pain and disfigurement of mastectomy, the agonizing nausea and malaise of chemotherapy was vastly compounded by extreme anger that no one – not her doctor, the FDA, nor Wyeth – had informed her that she was doubling her risk of breast cancer by taking Premarin.
Although the medical community (and Wyeth) have been aware of links between estrogen replacement and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer since the 1970s, the research was effectively concealed from public view – until the frightening results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study hit the front page in 2002. Between 1993 and 1995, the National Institutes of Health enrolled 161,809 women in the double blind WHI study. In 2002 the NHI shut down the study, originally scheduled to finish in 2005, when it became clear that the women taking HRT were experiencing a 26% increase in breast cancer (with the risk doubling after five years), a 41% increase in strokes and a 29% increase in heart disease (see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9804/).
5000+ Lawsuits Against Wyeth
Seventy percent of American women taking estrogen replacement in 2002 stopped when the NHI shut the WHI study down. This resulted in a 7% decrease in the first year alone of new breast cancer cases – a total of 14,000 women spared the agony of a potentially fatal breast cancer diagnosis (see http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9804/). The study findings have also resulted in 5000+ cancer lawsuits against Wyeth for misrepresenting earlier cancer research to doctors – and their failure to inform women of the significant cancer risks associated with HRT.
Marketing Eternal Youth
As revealed in internal documents uncovered in some of the initial lawsuits, Wyeth’s culpability goes far beyond neglecting to inform menopausal women of cancer risks. In fact they paint a very ugly picture of an aggressive public relations campaign to convince women and their doctors that estrogen replacement was the secret to eternal youth – by preventing age-related skin changes.
It was a win-win campaign. As a result of decades of marketing about the horrors of aging, which still sells billions of dollars of hair coloring, wrinkle removing creams, botox, diet products and plans, and plastic surgery, post menopausal women were terrified of losing their sexual attractiveness if they didn’t take estrogen. And because women’s health “experts” were recommending it in medical journals, doctors were more than happy to overlook increasing evidence that it caused cancer.
To be continued, with a discussion of the uniquely American concept of “menopause.”
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
I’ve been at WOMAD for the last three days collecting signatures on a Green Party petition opposing government plans to privatize four of New Zealand’s state owned energy companies. Most people sign – well aware of the sad and embarrassing results of earlier privatization exercises (including the bank and railroad that failed and had to be rescued by the government).
When people don’t sign, a common response is “I’m okay, thanks.” It doesn’t mean they disagree with the petition. What it means is that they’re making a clear choice not to involve themselves in the political process. Marxist psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich argues in the Mass Psychology of Fascism that disengaging from the political process is an active choice to a strong external authority. It relates to peoples’ lack confidence in their own ability to make responsible decisions.
Where Have I Heard This Before?
I used to get the same “I’m okay, thanks” during my 14 years as a single payer activist in Washington State. There this response had quite a different meaning. It was a typical reaction from union workers and professionals who had good health insurance through their employer and saw no reason to reform the health care system. They were also afraid any change might leave them worse off.
In fact, this attitude – and not insurance and drug company opposition – was the largest single obstacle we faced. People simply couldn’t grasp the extreme danger of allowing health insurance companies to corporatize health care – that once we allowed health care to become a profit-making commodity, insurance companies would jack premiums up exponentially while shifting medical costs were shifted back to patients . And that even people with good coverage would have no safety net if they lost their job or if they or family member developed a serious illness that required extensive treatment.
With the economic downtown, our predictions came true – as thousands of Washingtonians who rejected our single payer petition joined America’s 50 million uninsured.
My Kids Are Okay, Thanks
Curiously I run into a similar response from parents who, frightened by the chaos in many public schools, have opted to enroll their kids in privately run charter schools. Their kids are doing fine, so they see no problem with the massive attack by Republicans and conservative Democrats on public school, teachers and teachers unions. In fact many of these parents argue that teachers should be sacked and schools closed if they don’t do a proper job of educating kids.
The problem, as with single payer movement, is convincing them that there’s an agenda behind the charter school movement – namely the privatization of education – spearheaded by people who don’t see education as a basic human right, but as a potential profit-making commodity. While their own children may have lucked out in securing free placement in a privately run charter school, their grandchildren and great grandchildren may not be so fortunate. Moreover if we allow our neighborhood public schools to close, they won’t have that option, either.
Once charter schools cease to be under public control, there’s absolutely nothing to stop the people who run them from charging fees and tuition, as occurs in many third world countries. It’s a pattern we see repeatedly, when neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank force debtor nations to privatize education in the name of “structural adjustment.” If we fail to defend the right to free public education, we will become like India and other third world countries where only children of well-off families learn to read.
The Dilemma of Being a Progressive Parent
I totally understand the dilemma parents face in ensuring their kids acquire a strong education to prepare them for college and a career. I faced it myself in deciding to keep my own daughter in public school, when I knew she would get a far better education at the private school Bill Gates attended. I could only make that decision by assuming an active role in her progress and school board campaigns and by making a big stink at PTSA and school board meetings when I saw wrongheaded decisions being made.
Liberal and progressive parents always walk a fine line between helping their kids prepare for their future and fighting (in view of global warming and the vicious attacks on the working class, democracy and civil liberties) to ensure that they even have a future. Nevertheless there are some very powerful people seeking to do away with the right to free public education. No matter what type of school our children attend, we need to support public schools and stand with teachers and other public services workers who are under attack.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
Of the last five presidents, Obama has clearly been the staunchest ally of the school privatization movement. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Our first black president has already clearly established his neoliberal credentials, in expanding Bush’s war on terror into Pakistan, Yemen and Libya and increasing his predecessor’s measly $700 billion in Wall Street bailouts to $12.5 trillion.
In addition to generous increases to charter school funding every year, the Obama administration also included a provision in the 2009 stimulus package forcing states to liberalize and/or expand their charter school programs or miss out in $100 billion in public school stimulus funding. Many states, which are already closing schools and laying off teachers, have a cap on charter school formation because they can’t afford further decreases in their public school budget. Many feel the failure of charter schools to improve achievement scores doesn’t justify establishing even more of them, given the additional cuts and sacrifices this would impose on public schools. Many, such as Ohio, have had serious problems (owing to lack of public oversight) with fraud and corruption in privately run charter schools. However, at present all states without legislation authorizing the formation of charter schools will have to pass it – and all those with funding caps will have to remove them – or miss out on badly needed stimulus funding.
Arne Duncan’s Record in Chicago
Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools to head the Dept of Education, suggests states will continue to be under enormous pressure to de-fund public schools – and that many more will close. While running Chicago schools, Duncan – in collaboration with Mayor Daley’s office and Chicago’s corporate elite – pursued an aggressive school privatization agenda. In 2004, this included an attempt to close 20 out of 22 schools in a low income minority neighborhood. The effort was clearly linked to the mayor’s and property developers efforts to “gentrify” the neighborhood – to force out minority residents and glam up their properties for re-sale to white upper middle class professionals. With all their neighborhood schools closing, low income residents would have no choice but to leave.
Fortunately militant protests by residents stopped the arbitrary school closures. However Duncan then preceded to implement a draconian decree under Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act ordering immediate closure (with no probationary period) of schools where students failed to pass standardized tests. Duncan also made it clear that these schools would immediately be turned over to private charter school operators funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates and WalMart family foundation).
The Role of the Corporate Media
It should also be no surprise that the corporate controlled media is beating the drums for the neoliberal agenda to privatize schools. As Danny Weil outlines in “Corporate School Hype and How It’s Managed,” NPR, CNN, PBS, 20/20 and Oprah Winfrey are all guilty of staging “informercials” promoting school privatization via the formation of charter schools as a solution to the “crisis” in public schools. No pro-public school advocates are invited to challenge the assertions presented, and there is no disclosure of ideological or financial (as in the case of controversial civil rights leader Al Sharpton) ties to right wing think tanks and school privatization proponents (see http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html).
*Danny Weil is the author of the groundbreaking 2009 expose The Charter School Movement. He has also published several eye opening chapters from the book in Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html and Dissident Voice http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/11/neo-liberalism-the-leveraging-of-charter-schools-with-public-and-private-funds/
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
Should We Allow Conservative Philanthropists to Run Our Schools?
A final source of charter school funding is the New Schools Venture Fund created in 1998, which hosts funding by conservative-leaning mega charities, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart family foundation.
Why do millionaires and billionaires donate hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools? Attorney and progressive education reformer Danny Weil (*see below) calls it priming the pump. Neoliberals have strong ideological reasons for seeking to dismantle traditional public education. They know that the charter school movement has the potential to capture billions of public education dollars for profit-oriented ventures. However owing to the low per pupil equivalents for disadvantaged students, new privately run charter schools are unlikely to succeed without outside support. And despite claims to the contrary, corporate donors know that “throwing money at schools” allows them to attract and retain the best teachers – and in the long run, improves student achievement.
Moreover in a number of cases, these donors have been invited to serve as board members on charter school chains with major governing responsibilities – offering them an extraordinary amount of power and control over curriculum, textbooks and potentially the ideological bent of the schools they oversee (e.g. whether they teach evolution or its fundamentalist Christian alternative Creative Design).
For-profit Companies: Circling Like Sharks
The massive growth in charter schools and the funding to support them has also led to a burgeoning industry that applies for and distributes grants, in addition to hundreds that sell “educational products and services.” And although technically all charter school financing schemes are non-profit – they generate a phenomenal number of for-profit contracts for companies marketing curriculum and textbooks, computers, software and administrative, clerical and security services.
One example is Ignite, an educational software company founded and run by the former president’s brother Neil Bush. It sells its wares to Florida charter schools, thanks to another brother, ex-governor Jeb Bush. (See http://progreso-weekly.com/2/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1592:evidence-that-bush-family-profits-from-florida-education&catid=43:this-aint-disneyland&Itemid=62)>
*Danny Weil is the author of the groundbreaking 2009 expose The Charter School Movement: a Reference Handbook. He has published several eye opening chapters from the book in Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html and Dissident Voice http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/11/neo-liberalism-the-leveraging-of-charter-schools-with-public-and-private-funds/
To be continued with a discussion of Obama’s pro-privatization agenda.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
“Charter schools were a movement, but now charter schools are an industry. They have lobbyists – they walk around in thousand-dollar suits, some of them.” - Dan Gaetz, Florida freshman senator (R) and former Okaloosa school superintendent (see http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/11/neo-liberalism-the-leveraging-of-charter-schools-with-public-and-private-funds/)
No Child Left Behind
George W. Bush was the first to authorize federal funding to stimulate charter school development in the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB also strengthened requirements that states implement minimum standards testing to be eligible for federal education funds. Unbeknown to most Americans, this policy was actually initiated by Clinton, although not stringently enforced. As attorney and progressive education reformer Danny Weil (*see below) points out, the true purpose of NCLB wasn’t really to improve the performance of low income minority students – or it would have made some effort to guarantee their school districts more equitable funding. Its main purpose was to use standardized tests to massively highly the poor performance of these schools – to further bolster support for the burgeoning school privatization movement.
Bush junior wisely left responsibility for school voucher programs to the states. Uptake of school vouchers by low income minority parents has been spotty. This is really no surprise, given that vouchers (limited to the “per pupil equivalent”) cover only a fraction of the tuition charged by private schools.
“Throwing Money” at Charter Schools
The low per pupil equivalent – which ironically highlights progressives’ claims of serious underfunding – has also been a major problem for the charter school movement. According to the Education Policy Studies Laboratory (http://www.lwvny.org/advocacy/education/charter_sch_bib032307.pdf), no charter school is likely to succeed without substantial for-profit or non-profit funding to supplement meager per pupil funding limits. What I find even more ironic, in view of the conservative rallying cry of not “throwing money” at public schools, is the vast amounts of private sector money being invested in supposedly public charter schools.
Make no mistake, charter schools are big business. Large charter school chains like Green Dot, KIPP, Alliance Schools and YES Prep Public Schools are quickly squeezing out their community-based competitors. Moreover, owing to generous support from the US Department of Education, the non-governmental financing sector for charter schools has grown leaps and bonds. Presently 25 private, non-profit organizations collectively provide over $600 million in direct financial support to charter schools. In addition, Standard and Poor and Moody’s list over 70 rated charter school bonds totaling over $1 billion issued in various states.
These private funding sources leverage a variety of federal monies to supplement low state and local “per pupil equivalents.” In addition to Title I funding, the US Department of Education has awarded $50 million of grants through two programs administered by the Office of Innovation and Improvement: the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program and the State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grants Program. In addition there are four federal programs other administered by other federal agencies that charter schools can access for their facilities needs: the Public Assistance Grant Program (administered by FEMA), the New Markets Tax Credit Program and the Qualified Zone Academy Bond Program (both administered by the US Treasury), and Community Programs (administered by the Department of Agriculture).
*Danny Weil is the author of the groundbreaking 2009 expose The Charter School Movement: a Reference Handbook. He has published several eye opening chapters in Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html and Dissident Voice http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/11/neo-liberalism-the-leveraging-of-charter-schools-with-public-and-private-funds/
To be continued, with a discussion of the role of conservative philanthropists like Bill Gates in the school privatization movement.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
The Neoliberal Goal to Privatize All Public Services
Neoliberal Republicans and Tea Partiers (and now Barack Obama and Department of Education director Arne Duncan) give lip service to improving achievement levels for students in inner city schools. However instead of improving funding to these struggling schools, the one intervention supported by statistical research, they continue to aggressively shift education funding from public schools to private charter schools – despite the Stanford study showing that charter programs don’t improve achievement levels (see previous blog). In my mind, this is totally consistent with what I believe is their real agenda – namely privatizing public education.
Neoliberalism seeks to privatize all public services (education, social security, water, prisons, public transportation, welfare services) – leaving a bare bones government with a strictly security and military role. Neoliberals argue that public provision of these services is inefficient and wasteful – problems that can only be corrected by subjecting them to free market competition. But as we have seen in the case of prison, water, and welfare privatization, there are always windfall profits for businesses and corporations when billions of public, taxpayer dollars are transferred to private hands.
Milton Friedman: the Father of School Privatization
Milton Friedman, the father of neoliberal economics, is also the father of the school privatization movement. He initially envisioned (in 1955) using a school voucher system to incrementally privatize public schools. Under such a system a student receives a voucher valued at the “per pupil equivalent” (i.e. the amount the government would pay for their public education – when the first voucher programs started in the 1990s, this was between $2,000-3,000). The child’s parent then applies the voucher towards the $10,000-20,000 private school tuition.
Shortly after his election in 1980, Ronald Reagan and his secretary of education William Bennett (who coined the term “throwing money at schools”) began an unprecedented and far reaching attack on teachers, teachers unions and school district bureaucracy. Bennett liked to refer to school boards and school districts as “the blob.” One of the goals of school privatization is to replace democratically elected school boards – accountable to both parents and the public – with a more efficient corporate-like board, which meets in secret and isn’t open to public scrutiny or freedom of information.
Reagan accompanied his public attack on teachers and public schools with a simultaneous 50% cut in federal Title I funding for schools in low income districts. His attempt to push voucher legislation through Congress failed, owing to concerns that vouchers subsidizing tuition at private religious schools violated constitutional separation of church and state provisions. At this point Reagan backtracked, promoting school choice via the creation of privately run “charter” schools, subsidized with state, local and federal education funds.
Right Wing Think Tanks Behind the Charter School Movement
Bush senior restored Reagan’s cuts to Title 1, though he promoted the concept of school choice and the development of voucher programs on a state-by-state basis. It was right wing philanthropists and their corporate funding think tanks who provided most of the momentum behind the charter school movement when the first charter school opened in 1991. The long list of conservative think tanks involved includes the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Black America’s Political Action Committee, the Cato Institute, Center for the study of Popular Cultures, the Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and the Hoover Institution. (See http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html).
To be continued, with a discussion of the billions of dollars of private funding going to charter schools – and why.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, The Global Economic Crisis, Things That Aren't What They Seem
(As a child and adolescent psychiatrist for 30+ years – and a teacher for two years before that – I have special reason to be concerned by the recent attack on teachers unions and public education in general.)
Given increasing school closures and teacher layoffs in many states, moves by Congress and state legislation to cut education still further are extremely worrying. The crusade to privatize public education – by Wall Street, Congress and even the White House – means that these schools are very unlikely to reopen as public schools. What’s far more likely is federal arm twisting, as occurred in New Orleans following Katrina, to reopen them as privately run charter schools.
The Crusade to Privatize Education
We have to be clear here: Republicans and Tea Partiers aren’t cutting education simply to balance the budget and provide tax cuts for their wealthy supporters. They have a far more ominous agenda – namely a 30 year campaign to privatize public education, just as prisons, water, warfare, welfare and other public services are being privatized. The school privatization movement (aka the charter school movement) is no longer a movement, but a Big Business. Predictably Obama, as in the case of the Wall Street bank bailouts and the corporate welfare to health insurance and drug companies under ObamaCare, has come down on the side of Big Business. At present teachers unions are Americans’ last line of defense in the war against public education. Moreover with the concerted attack on teachers in many state capitals, millions of American children are at great peril of losing public education as a basic democratic right.
Ignoring the Research
The so-called education reform debate is centered, as always, around low performing, mainly minority students in inner city schools. Traditionally public education has been funded by local government through property taxes. It seems logical that children in wealthy districts who attend small classes with well-paid teachers would have higher achievement levels than students in poor school districts with understaffed schools and limited access to textbooks and other resources. Unsurprisingly more than fifty years of research bear this out. Nevertheless educators and political leaders who try increase funding to poor school districts are demonized for “throwing money” at the problem.”
The other research neoliberal conservatives like to ignore relates to the most cost effective approach to educational reform – one that doesn’t require additional funding – namely the wide scale adoption of peer teaching/tutoring protocols, in which students themselves become part of the teaching team. Twenty years of peer reviewed research demonstrates that this is the most economical and easiest type of reform to implement, as well as vastly more effective in improving achievement than computer-assisted instruction, reduced class size, extended school days and other perks promised by many charter schools. (I blog about this, providing links to teachers manuals and outcome studies, at http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/24/update-on-peer-teachingtutoring/)
Meanwhile the track record of charter schools in improvement student achievement scores is pretty dismal compared to the hype. In 2009 the Stanford University center for Research on Educational Outcomes released the exhaustive study Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States (see http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html). Here are some of the results of this investigation into 2,403 charter schools in 16 states:
- 46% of students had math gains indistinguishable to public school students
- 17% of students showed significant gains compared to public school students
- 37% showed significantly lower gains than public school students
Overall math learning in charter schools lagged by .03 standard deviations behind math learning in public schools.
Overall reading gains in charter school students lagged .01 standard deviations behind public school students.
Black and Hispanic students (the ones specifically targeted by the charter school movement) did significantly worse in both reading and math compared to public school students.
To be continued.