Bill Gates Goes to Community College
Ohanian Comment: We should all follow Adam Bessie's example and call newspaper press releases masquerading as articles for what they are--Gates Foundation-funded Press Releases.
by Adam Bessie
Taxpayers are down on their luck Vegas gamblers, who have made a "bad bet" on the community college students across the country who have dropped out as freshmen, according to the opening lines of a San Francisco Chronicle report. Now that the public grows weary of reading the ills of Bad Schools, community colleges are the new public institution bogeyman, wasting billions in taxpayer money, standing in the way of much needed economic growth, and not being held to account for their slothful ways.
Forget the Casino Capitalists.
ItÃ¢€™s the community colleges that have destroyed our economy -- and need to pay.
"Colleges need to be held more accountable for studentsÃ¢€™ success," lead author of the American Institutes for Research study Hidden Costs of Community College Mark Schneider told reporters, in a quote cited in the SF Chronicle, and repeated across the corporate media. "They should be rewarded for doing the job and penalized for not doing it."
As a community college English instructor who works with "remedial" first year students, I can't dispute the report's findings that first year students drop out -- and often in staggering numbers. And further, I can't dispute the amount of money that taxpayers -- myself included -- are paying to invest in these students who may drop out, and never earn a degree or certificate. But what I do dispute is Schneider's misguided conclusion -- one that has been readily adopted by the corporate media, by President Obama's administration, and is now practically a commonplace belief -- that a studentÃ¢€™s success (and failure) is caused by schools, and by the teachers themselves.
If only I had that power, then Gerald -- a 19-year old who just timed out of foster care, and became homeless during the 5th week of my class -- might have finished his second essay instead of disappearing; and with this power I could have compelled Jamie, who prioritized working 40 hours a week to support her two boys, to keep up with her textbook and pass my college reading course.
This is not to say that our efforts don't matter, that motivated, dedicated, and skilled professors aren't critical to Gerald and JamieÃ¢€™s success -- but, in a time when our budgets for full-time professors, for support services like tutoring and counseling -- critical to student success Ã¢€“ have been gutted, and when 1/6 of the country lives in poverty, it seems absurd to believe that colleges should be held to account, by themselves, for the ills of society.
If anything is hidden, it's not the costs of students dropping out of community college, but the powerful political influence guiding the conclusions of this report: while the SF Chronicle describes AIR as "non-partisan," the reporter neglects to mention the study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has poured millions upon millions of dollars to diminish the importance of out-of-school factors (like poverty), and impose just the sort of corporate style rewards Schneider acclaims (as prominent scholar Diane Ravitch demonstrates at length in The Death and Life of the Great American School System and reporter Joanne Barkan documents in Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.) And thus, this SF Chronicle article is essentially a press release by the Gates Foundation, hidden under the veneer of objective research, and objective reporting.
Unfortunately, the SF Chronicle's shallow investigation is not a reporting mistake, nor an isolated incident, as a recent New York Times report suggests: the Gates Foundation has invested millions to create a corporate media echo chamber which makes it seem as if public schools are in a state of crisis, and free-market discipline is the only viable solution. The Gates Foundation, as the NYT study found, has spent $78,000,000 on education advocacy, which includes not only sympathetic studies, but pundits, AstroTurf organizations, and think-tank advocates -- and "few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter [these] advocates. . . .realize they are underwritten by the foundation."  The Gates' PR blitz that the SF Chronicle (and countless other papers across the country today) was caught up in continues to expand the dangerous education reform Bubble, one that leads readers to buy into a myth: that our upbringing, that our social class, that our society doesn't matter.
"If the history of other education reforms is a prologue to the future, many of the innovations that the nation is now pursuing will likely prove to be ineffective," the report concludes. And on this count, AIR is right: unless we pop The Bubble, unless we admit that our student's struggles outside the classroom affect their success in it, our students -- and all of us -- will continue to pay.
 For a thorough discussion and extensive sources on the Gates FoundationsÃ¢€™ efforts manage the education reform debate, see: Huff, M. and Bessie, A. et al. (2011) "Framing the Messengers: Junk Food News and News Abuse for Dummies," pp. 183-228. Chapter 3 in Mickey Huff,Censored 2012: Sourcebook for the Media Revolution. New York: Seven Stories Press.