A Los Angeles school board race that pitted the billionaire-funded Coalition for School Reform against a respected incumbent ended in victory for the teachers union and its supporters.
Board member Steve Zimmer, with the backing of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, defeated Kate Anderson, a lawyer who sided with the corporate view on school reform espoused by the coalition.
The race attracted national attention because it was seen as a test of the effort by corporate power-brokers to run schools like businesses, a strategy that they and the media call "school reform."
Zimmer was outspent two to one and most of his receipts came in small donations from LA residents and local teachers. Before his election to the school board four years ago, Zimmer spent 17 years as a high school teacher in Los Angeles.
Such notables as Rupert Murdoch, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad and the Walmart family all chipped in hefty donations to defeat Zimmer.
But the voters rejected the bigwig's vision of reform, which is based on standardized tests, charter schools, union busting and teacher firings. This, supposedly, is what they call meritocracy.
According to Peter Dreier. the director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College, “Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to "teach to the test," and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests.”
And, sadly, there have been cases of teachers cheating by raising test scores to protect their jobs.
In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, historian Diane Ravitch calls the group behind the school reform coalition "The Billionaire Boys Club," an interconnected network of wealthy corporate leaders and philanthropists who've joined forces to promote market-driven school changes.
Zimmer's victory was due in part to the backlash against the billionaires bankrolling Anderson's campaign. The one million dollar donation from Bloomberg was particularly appalling to many voters.
During the campaign, Zimmer urged his supporters to resist the "takeover of the board and this assault on our democracy" by big money interests.
In his book, “The Twilight of the Elites.” political analyst Chris Hayes says that as income inequality has grown our response has been to put more and more weight on the education system to close the achievement gap, hoping that will somehow solve the problem.
Hayes says, “We ask the education system to expiate the sins of the rest of society and then condemn it when it doesn't prove up to the task.”
Oddly the only thing democrats and republicans can agree on is to fix the schools, but as long as the government is cutting back on funding this is just a fantasy.
And in spite of the millions already spent on programs like no child left behind and race to the top there is no hard evidence that our children are receiving a better education than they did 50 years ago.