As a kid I made annual trips to Oak Brook, IL in mid-November with my family to knock out the Christmas shopping. Oak Brook was home to the Fancy Mall. People of the suburbs understand the typography of malls; there is the standard mall against which others are judged, the Good mall (with a Banana Republic instead of a Gap), the Bad mall (read: patronized by black people and mostly Foot Locker derivatives) and then the Fancy Mall containing exotic and expensive stores unknown to peasants. Oak Brook was a logical location for Fanciness, being the global headquarters of McDonald's. It will not surprise you to learn that those McDonald's folks have some serious money. Accordingly, Oak Brook is crammed with seven-figure homes and the kind of high end retail and "corporate campuses" that wealth attracts.
The funny thing about Oak Brook to me – I was a perceptive little bastard, and greatly unpleasant to be around no doubt – was that for a place built on the fortunes of a fast food megacorporation, there didn't seem to be any fast food places. An eight year old, when picturing the World Headquarters of McDonald's, envisions the biggest Playland on Earth or perhaps a McDonald's with an eight lane drive-thru and seating for 1000. But It was just a bunch of well maintained if totally bland office buildings. There wasn't even a regular McDonald's in sight. In fact there were hardly any fast food restaurants at all.
The irony that I grew to understand with age is that upper-middle class people who have made great sums of money building the McDonald's empire are, almost without exception, people who would not be caught dead in a McDonald's. Nor would they consent to having one in their neighborhood, with its gaudy, plasticky exterior dragging down property values and attracting Undesirables. They don't eat that stuff and they would never feed it to their kids. There are no McDonald's restaurants in swanky neighborhoods for the same reason there are no car title loan places or drive-thru liquor stores – because these establishments were invented by the well-to-do as a means to screw poor people for profit. I often say half-jokingly that if you see a product, service, or social institution that is enthusiastically supported, but not used, by rich white people then it's a safe bet that it exists to screw you.
Which, in an analogy that probably makes sense only in my mind, brings us to the School Reform industry. Why is it that the very wealthy are so vocal these days about reforming public schools that they would never send their children to anyway? Why are they so enthusiastic about "charter schools" and for-profit education models when they and their kids continue to go to elite, expensive private schools? Do you think the CEO of Kaplan, now extracting money from the masses under the guise of "Kaplan University", is going to send his kids to Harvard or to the school run by the company that has made him so rich?
I'll believe that McDonald's thinks its products are healthy when I see some statistics about how often its white collar employees eat there. I'll believe that online schools, for-profit colleges, and charter schools are superior educational options when I see a university president or EduCorporation executive with a degree from one or with kids enrolled in one. A cynic might suggest that their tremendous enthusiasm for replacing traditional publicly funded education – which, to be certain, has plenty of problems – with privatized alternatives has less to do with academic excellence and more to do with money. They don't want to pay for public K-12 institutions and they want to figure out a way to line their own pockets with the money funneled toward higher education.
Education reformers are a mix of well intentioned if somewhat naive young people and hard, cynical predators who know a cash cow when they see one. Next time you encounter one, ask them where they went to school. More importantly, ask them where their kids are enrolled. More often than not, the names of expensive private schools and elite public schools will roll off their lips in much greater numbers than any of the bogus alternatives they hawk to their social inferiors. That, in a dramatic oversimplification, tells you everything you need to know about School Reform.