“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level.  These proposals include:

  • Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education
  • Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights
  • An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees
  • Closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters
  • Replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management
  • Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition
  • Increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff
  • Implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation

-Stan Karp
Director of the Secondary Education Reform Project, Education Law Center

Corporate Education Reform


Corporate Education Reform


Desegregation of Public Schools

For the first time, the highest level of government intervened in K-12 schooling when the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were “inherently unequal” and therefore unconstitutional. As a result, federal authorities imposed court-ordered desegregation on school districts across the country.


Elementary and Secondary Education Act

The federal role expanded to include protecting the civil rights of all students by offering financial assistance to public schools with high percentages of low-income students.



There was a shift in the political climate to that of neoliberalism which is an ideology and policy model that emphasizes the value of free market competition. [1]  In other words, a shift to the idea of transferring as much government activity as possible to the private sector, including education.

[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/neoliberalism

Milton Friedman

Ronald Reagan’s political advisor and member of Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board in 1981. Friedman championed the idea of taxpayer funded but privately-run schools. Funds in the form of a voucher to pay for what the government considers the minimum adequate education. Parents and guardians would then choose what education services to purchase on the free market. For Friedman the choices included private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools, and “some even” run by the government.


Charter Schools

Coinciding with the demand for better test scores and higher standards, in 1994, President Clinton signed the Improving America’s Schools Act which provided federal funds to create publicly funded, privately operated “charter schools.” They would have more autonomy than district (traditional) public and claimed to be more innovative.  The goal was “to increase the number of charter schools nationwide.”


New Market Tax Credit

One reason for the proliferation of charter schools was the result of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), established by President Bill Clinton in 2000.  The intent of the law was to serve as an incentive to have Banks and equity funds invest in charter schools in underserved areas. However, these investors can also take advantage of a very generous 39% tax credit which can be combined with other tax breaks without limits and doubles their investments over  a seven-year period.  Another incentive to invest in charter schools was the federally funded EB-5 program.  Foreign nationals were able to obtain a green card for themselves and family members through government-approved investments that create jobs. The only requirement for this “fifth employment-based preference” (EB-5) immigrant visa was to invest at least $5000,000 in a qualified development project which included charter schools.


No Child Left Behind

George W. Bush advanced both charter schools and vouchers. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a law that required states to create academic standards, annually test children in reading and math in grades three through eight (and once in high school) and hold districts and schools accountable for the results. States had to determine which students were proficient, identify schools where an insufficient number of students were proficient, ensure that specified measures were taken with regards to schools that failed to make “adequate yearly progress,” and set targets that ensured 100 percent of children would be proficient in reading and math by 2014.  Schools whose students failed to show progress over two years could face significant sanctions – including state takeovers or being made into private charter schools.


Race to the Top

President Barack Obama opposed school vouchers, but was responsible for a competitive grant program called Race to the Top. The rules stipulated that each competing state submit a public school reform plan, taking into account a long list of Department of Education (DOE) policies. States that scored highest on the DOE’s point system would win millions of dollars to implement their plans. DOE criteria included not limiting the growth of charter schools (some states had capped the number). States were also required to give charter schools free use of public facilities or help charters pay for facilities. Public school supporters fiercely opposed the measures because they diverted resources from already stretched-to-the-limit education budgets. But state governments were desperate for money from anywhere; all but four eventually entered the contest. Obama’s Race to the Top gave the entire charter school enterprise a substantial boost.


Current Administration

The United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. But the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos seeks to replace our public education system with one in which public funds are used to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for his or her child.  DeVos has pushed to privatize public education by shifting money from Title I—a program that gives additional funds to the country’s poorest school districts—to private-school choice and charter schools, which are often privately managed and not held accountable to taxpayers.

What is School Choice?

School choice allows public education funds to follow students to a public school, private school, charter school, home school, virtual school or any other learning environment parents choose for their kids. Discussions of choice can be confusing because “choice” involves so many different options.  However, when discussions of school choice do take place, they typically revolve around the following three main choices: public schools, private schools and charter schools.  Let’s take a look at how each of them are funded.

School Funding

Public schools – public educational institutions and are funded by taxes.  

Private schools – funded privately through tuition and charitable donations from current families, alumni, faculty, trustees, past parents, and friends of the school.

Charter schools – operated as private institutions, but still receive public funding.  

Types of School Choice

The reality is that “school choice” particularly in the case of vouchers and charters, redirect the flow of taxpayer dollars from public schools, into unaccountable private hands.  Let’s take a closer look at vouchers, charter schools and how they impact public education

How much would


District pay lose?

How is it connected?

Reforming public education has become a very profitable industry and has more to do with making a profit than it does about educating children.

“Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a very high-demand product. There’s 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools ... the industry’s growing about 12-14% a year. So it’s a high-growth, very stable, recession-resistant business. It’s a public payer, the state is the payer on this, uh, category, and uh, if you do business with states with solid treasuries. then it’s a very solid business.” 

David Brain, CEO, Entertainment Properties Trust

Corporate Reform Formula

The long-term goal is to privatize education, give complete autonomy to management companies rather than local school boards, and make schools accountable solely for their performance outcome measured, more often than not, by results on standardized tests.  It is these same tests that are used to “prove” schools are failing; to scapegoat teachers and kids rather than address the real issues that plague our public schools: inequity and lack of funding. 

“That’s the standard technique of privatization…defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” 
-Noam Chomsky

Create the fear that public schools are failing
(they are not)
gray plus sign with blue outline

Manipulate the cut scores of standardized assessments to “prove” schools are failing

grey equal sign with blue outline

Allow states to take over public schools and close/replace them with charter schools (follow the money)

why opt out 2020 poster
just the facts about opting out of nys assessments
Scroll to Top