A Witness to Destroying Schools
Book Review

Jordan, Joel

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/05/2014
Year Published:  2014  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20440

Book Review of "Schoolhouse Shams: Myths and Misinformation in School Reform" by Peter Downs.



Schoolhouse Shams by Peter Downs continues the exposure of corporate-led school reform by dissecting and systematically demolishing the top ten arguments -- or shams -- that these "reformers" use to make their case, including the efficacy of high stakes testing, the focus on teaching reading skills, and the wastefulness of public versus privatized services.

What's unique about Down's study is not so much the conclusions themselves, cogent as they are, but the way he gets there. Downs is not a professional researcher but a parent activist, with both labor and business experience, who served for several years on the St. Louis school board where he observed first-hand the destructive effects of school 'reform."

Particularly notable in this regard is Down's analysis of privatization of public services -- both inside and outside of public education -- from municipal trash pickup, to school building and grounds maintenance and food services, to publicly funded charter schools.

While not dismissing privatization outright under certain (un­specified) circumstances, Downs argues -- with an extensive analysis of outsourcing in St. Louis and other cities and school districts -- that privatizing public services in practice has almost always contradicted claims that it costs less and provides better services.
He shows that without adequate public monitoring, which is almost always the case, privatized services inevitably result in higher cost, lower quality services, often accompanied by fraud and abuse. Downs attributes this to the tendency of for-profit companies to increase management costs while at the same time reducing labor and other costs, leading to lower quality.

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