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Higher Ed, Corporate Reform Has Arrived: Featuring Maryland’s Nancy Grasmick

November 21, 2013

Though much of corporate reform focuses on the K-12 classroom, its well-financed, invasive influence certainly does not stop with the public high school. Imposing philanthropy and its fast friend, the business of education, also aim to control America’s college and university classrooms.

Higher education faculty, you are not out of the reformer’s reach.

Over the last several decades, there has been growing corporate/ free-market interest in higher education. These behind-the-scenes efforts– launched in large part by non-profits such as Achieve, Inc. and the Eli Broad Foundation, and further exacerbated in more recent years by legislative efforts launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and lobbying by corporations such as Pearson– have led to a tipping point in higher education.

Reform Conflict of Interest: Columbia’s Susan Furhman

One way to appreciate the full scale of the efforts to corporatize higher education is to acknowledge the relationships between those individuals who are placed within higher education and their lesser-known relationships with these “reform” initiatives.

A recent example is Susan Furhman, President of Columbia Teachers College. Her role as a member of the Board of Directors for Pearson has led many students and teachers at Columbia Teacher’s College to question whether or not her dubious relationships with Pearson are a conflict of interest with those of the university:

Students have also expressed their discontent with Fuhrman’s involvement with Pearson, the country’s largest for-profit education company and a champion of quantifiable assessment tools for instructors and courses. Fuhrman serves on Pearson’s board, and according to the investment research firm Morningstar, Fuhrman owned $272,088 in Pearson stock in May 2013.

Students said they are uncomfortable with Pearson’s profit-driven mentality, expressing concern that Fuhrman’s association with the company will lead Teachers College—and the many public schools it influences—toward a more rigid, less academically sound approach to education.

The students who wrote the letter, however, wrote that Fuhrman’s work with Pearson is a conflict of interest. They cited the University’s conflict of interest guidelines, which state that “where an officer has a significant personal interest in a transaction to which the University is a party… the officer is vulnerable to the charge that his or her influence within the University might be used to advance this private interest or benefit.” 

According to this New-York-based, Change the Stakes report, “[Furhman] is paid a substantial sum of money each year and, through stock ownership, directly benefits from Pearson contracts.  Surely Fuhrman’s tie to Pearson is an act of gross impropriety if not an illegal conflict of interest.”

The GREAT Act: Bypassing Traditional Colleges of Ed

This tipping point between private corporate interests and higher education is also evident in current legislation, such as the Growing Excellent Achievement Training (GREAT) Act introduced by Senators Barbara Mikulski, Mary Landrieu, and others.

Endorsed by corporate-invested “venture philanthropy” organizations like theNew Schools Venture Fund, this bill opens a floodgate of opportunity for “Achievement Training Academies” to replace traditional colleges of education. (Just look at the full list of reform organizations that have signed the GREAT document.)

And here we go with the worn-out “status quo” already:

Finally, and importantly, the GREAT Teachers and Principals Act is a voluntary program. Only those states that want to innovate and break with the status quo methods of preparing teachers and principals would apply for funds.  [Emphasis added.]

A GREAT opportunity to replace traditional teacher education with “alternatives.” Enter the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). By no coincidence, NCTQ is part of the GREAT Act bill legislating privately owned non-university teacher prep programs.

NCTQ: Blacklisting Traditional Teacher Training

An unaccredited 2000 creation of the Fordham Institute, NCTQ is known for its superficial “grading” of teacher training programs based upon institution artifacts (see the last page of their June 2013 report for admission of NCTQ’s artifact-based evaluation). NCTQ is little more than a corporate reform machine. NCTQ also operates a dual agenda: First, it maintains that traditional teacher training programs lack rigor. Consider this statement by NCTQ President Kate Walsh in a 2005 NCTQ press release:

Walsh concludes that, “Most states share neither the urgency nor the single-minded focus of the U.S. Congress in seeking to address the low academic standards required of American teachers, arguably the least rigorous among all developed nations.[Emphasis added.]

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Traditional teacher training in the US lacks rigor. So, what does NCTQ aside from passing judgment on colleges of education?

It offers its own teaching “certification” for purchase online. Using a questionable $5 million from former US Secretary of Education Rod Paige, NCTQ created the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), a vehicle for offering teacher “certification” via workbooks and quizbanks– thereby bypassing those terrible colleges of education.

Despite NCTQ’s corporate reform agenda– which includes criticizing traditional teacher training programs while offering a shallow online counterpart– some seemingly credible names in education applaud NCTQ.

NCTQ: Friend to Nancy Grasmick

Only “seemingly credible” names– for NCTQ is quietly ushering private interests and other corporate-linked organizations into public universities via such individuals. One such “quiet usher” is former Maryland School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, who is the focus of the rest of this post and who is quoted below in NCTQ’s 2005 press release:

“We all need to step up our efforts to strengthen our teaching forces, and unless we are prepared to wait 20 years for new standards to permeate current systems that would include modifying our expectations for veteran teachers,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools. “If we expect to move forward, all of our state plans must do more than sustain the status quo. We need to insist on requiring relevant, comprehensive professional development and coursework for those who make a career of teaching.” [Emphasis added.]

There’s that “not maintaining the status quo” corporate reform signature language again. As does NCTQ’s Kate Walsh, Grasmick promotes corporate reform tenets, such as teacher evaluation based upon student test scores.

Furthermore, both Walsh and Grasmick endorse the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with Grasmick signing for Maryland schools to adopt CCSS as part of Race to the Top.

There is more Walsh-Grasmick overlap: NCTQ President Kate Walsh was listed as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education. Walsh does not mention her Maryland State Board membership in her NCTQ bio.

Through Grasmick’s promoting NCTQ and Walsh’s membership on the Maryland State Board of Education, there is a clear connection between Grasmick and Walsh– one that appears to have worked to Grasmick’s advantage following her time as Maryland state superintendent.

Nancy Grasmick: Corporate Reform Comes to Towson University

In March 2011, Grasmick announced her retirement after 20 years as Maryland’s state superintendent. In March 2012, Grasmick was appointed a Towson University Presidential Scholar for Innovation in Teacher and Leader Education. Her new job: To overhaul Towson’s teacher education program under the reform-friendly phrase of “strategic redesign.”

Grasmick’s salary of $89,000 is paid by “private contributions.”

To whom does one answer when one is paid “privately”?

To those doing the paying.

Apparently Grasmick is garnering additional philanthropic reformer money for her Towson revamp:

Edward St. John, a Baltimore developer and philanthropist, and Vince Talbert, a PayPal executive, have agreed to donate money for the overall program. St. John, a friend of Grasmick’s, is giving $300,000. [Emphasis added.]

I can’t imagine that the Towson teacher education faculty are comfortable with so much reformer cash readily available for remaking Towson into some purchased reformer image. Consider Talbert’s “image” of public education as a “monopoly”:

Vince Talbert, an active angel and promoter of Ed-Tech, reacted to the PG (Prince George’s) Board’s proposal (that the school system owns the work created by its teachers using school system resources) by focusing on the monopolistic nature of the K-12 industry. According to Vince, “this is just another case of the public school system putting up barriers to innovation to protect the status quo.” Vince continues, “public schools are the only industry I know where the supplier is a monopoly and the customer (payer) is a monopoly and they are the same entity.” As Vince rhetorically asks, “how do we expect our schools to improve when there is no mechanism to raise the bar?” As the students who attend and are supposed to benefit from our public school system investment, Vince concludes, “we need to demand that our elected officials break up these monopolies so that market forces will drive improvement.”  [Emphasis added.]

Whenever I read of “market forces driving improvement,” I cannot help but think of the 2008 stock market plunge resulting from the “market drive” of deregulation and corporate greed. And my mind goes farther back, to 2001 and the Enron scandal.

Business practices superimposed on public education must work since a businessman financing the effort believes it will. Never mind that business cannot seem to regulate itself.

Prior to Grasmick’s appointment, infamous reformer and former NCTQ advisory board member Michelle Rhee let slip about Grasmick’s desire to “reform” teacher training:

Several months after Nancy S. Grasmick left her job as state superintendent of schools, Michelle Rhee, the former schools chief in Washington, spoke in Baltimore and let a secret slip. She told the crowd at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that Grasmick had said she wanted her next job to be helping to revamp the way teachers are prepared for the profession. Rhee, a hard-line education reformer, was pleased that Grasmick might help improve the training that Rhee thinks is so lacking in teacher colleges. [Emphasis added.] If Rhee is “pleased” with Grasmick, then one need not doubt Grasmick’s reformer bent.

According to Towson’s teacher preparation website, its teacher preparation program is National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accredited. However, as of July 2013, NCATE has melded with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) to become the very reform-friendly Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Whether or not Towson actually “needs” reforming is irrelevant. Towson is in the reformer sights, and Grasmick has been placed there to make “reform” happen.

It looks like Towson is not able to escape the reform clutches. Note Grasmick’s August 2012 plan for Towson:

“The national model starts at Towson,” says Grasmick, former Maryland state superintendent of schools and a Towson alumna.

“We have a year-long program planned that puts faculty first in understanding the new best practices to be used to educate future generations of PreK-12 teachers in how to implement these new standards. They must have deep knowledge and understanding of the Common Core standards, national assessments, new teacher and principal evaluation systems, and the use of data for decision making.”

In 2010, Grasmick was already willing to consider grading teachers– and “tracking” student performance to teacher training programs:

[Grasmick] said Maryland has found that teachers who have had extensive in-classroom experience before they start teaching full time tend to stay on the job longer than their peers. She also said the state planned to use a new system to track student performance back to teachers and to the teaching schools that trained them. For now, she said, it would be “diagnostic,” a way to help teaching programs find the areas they need to improve. She said she might be interested in using student performance data in reaccreditation decisions, as Louisiana started to do last year.

Despite Grasmick’s reform push in the Towson College of Education, in June 2013, NCTQ gave Towson’s teacher prep program one and a half out of four stars. The low rating surely serves as a convenient reminder of the “need” for increasingly more of that “broad overhaul” of Towson teacher prep.

(An aside: In the same report– a report in which NCTQ berates schools for insufficient teacher preparation– NCTQ praises Teach for America (TFA) for its use of auditions for acceptance into its five weeks of teacher “training” for temporary teaching stints. TFA sits on the new accreditation body, CAEP.)

Higher education, corporate reform has come for you.

Grasmick’s actions continue to underscore the corporate reform stronghold at Towson. In 2013, Towson’s College of Education entered into a contract with College Board for professional development and for assistance with Towson’s National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) UTeach students. The common link between College Board and UTeach is David Coleman, who is credited as being “architect” of CCSS but who has no classroom teaching experience. After “designing” CCSS, Coleman became president of College Board. Grasmick and Coleman also both sit on the NMSI board.

Reform is propagating itself at Towson. May Towson fight back.

Grasmick: The Once and Forever Reformer

There is much more that I could write regarding Nancy Grasmick and her corporate reform associations. However, this post is long enough, and my point that higher education is not out of reach of the corporate reform arm is well documented. Nevertheless, for those wishing to delve deeper into Grasmick’s extensive reform involvements, I have included s much here: Additional Notes on Grasmick.

Higher education, please believe that you are in this corporate reform fight along with those of us in the public school classroom. Though this post highlights the intention of privatization to insert its agenda into teacher training programs through the likes of Grasmick, know that other university programs could well be on the reformers’ list for “philanthropic-enabled disruption.”

Don’t be caught unawares. Become actively involved in combating your own reformer-intended demise.

12 Comments
  1. James Miller permalink

    thank you.i have been working(researching) on this for sometime.this helps a lot.by the way ,i think you are  work is out standing. jam,ph.d

  2. Both informative and disconcerting. Thank you for all of your efforts to do the research AND write your findings in such a way that is easy to read.

  3. I’m not surprised. But I also have to write that you reap what you sow. The colleges and universities spawned the likes of our rapacious laissez-faire market, social darwinistic, winner-take-all ne’er do wells who worship greed. The ed schools happily signed on (as in intellectual whores) to enable the completion of the destruction of public schools, just as they enabled the start of the demolition in the early 20th century with the original robber barons. Now their Frankenstein’s monster has returned to the castle.

    Robert Maynard Hutchins warned about this day back as early as his inaugural presidential speech at the University of Chicago in 1930 and steadily thereafter. He warned how the lack of a Western core curriculum at the heart of undergraduate education in a democratic society, which had been replaced by a growing smorgasbord of market-driven electives, would only leave students intellectually alienated, fragmented, and prone to the sort of nihilistic attitudes we have today. He was ignored and ridiculed. Now we see he was right.

  4. Thank you Mercedes for another excellent analysis (and to Anita Hoge for the additional links).

    Here is a collection documenting the methodological flaws of the NCTQ “Teacher Prep Review” and its failure to meet basic standards for research: http://bit.ly/res_eval

    Now let’s connect dots to pending policy issues: EdTrust has recently released a report with recommendations for Federal oversight of Teacher Ed Programs: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/25/report-discusses-best-practices-evaluating-teacher-preparation-programs

    That’s interesting… the Gates-funded EdTrust report has based its recommendations on the Gates-funded NCTQ ‘study’…

    …and look, the first author of the EdTrust report is a TFA Corps Member and former Assistant to the Executive Director of TFA…

    …add to this the rapid expansion of corporate charter schools: http://www.stoprocketship.com/profit-potential/ ….

    ….and recent legislation that allows for TFA recruits with only 5 weeks of training to be deemed (cough) “highly qualified”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/16/the-debt-deals-gift-to-teach-for-america-yes-tfa/

    …and what do we have? The perfect storm of ed reform. Now tie that all with a bow of Teach.org, a site for recruiting new teachers recently pitched by the Dept. of Ed with TFA as its “Featured Partner” and NCTQ as among its (cough) “Knowledge Partners”.

    Mercedes, you’ll see that many of the strongest arguments made in the NCTQ-Discredited page above come from your analyses. Thanks again for your good work and keep the posts coming.

  5. I appreciate your posting as well. I have witnessed firsthand the exchange of money and job positions between corporations and nearby universities. Where I live for example, ACT.org has strong ties with a nearby college of education–too strong of ties. If you look really closely at my location, you can see the spawning occurring regarding large groups of master and doctoral students. Thanks again for you insight.

  6. Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    Corporate “reform” comes to higher ed: a post from last November but still timely. So where are we now but further into the belly of the beast?

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