Education Post: A Sorry Attempt to Repackage Privatization as “Conversation”
There is a test-score-driven, privatizing war on public schools and on the teaching profession.
It is no secret that those chiefly financing the war stand above the chaos they create via their “philanthropy.” In short, they use their billions in order to promote their own ideal of American education privatization.
And it seems that they are able to enlist countless toadies to do their bidding.
In my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, I document the creators and supporters of this war and the twisted exchange of string-laden, “donated” money for abundant profiteering opportunities.
In chapter 23 of my book, I examine the “big three” foundations fueling the traditional public school funeral pyre: Broad, Gates, and Walton.
Allow me to offer a brief summary of their key “contributions.”
The Big Three in Busting Up That “Traditional Public School” Notion
Broad actively works to supplant school administrators who rise from the teaching ranks with those from the outside, who he assumes are “better leaders.” Broad trains its “superintendents” in a mystery curriculum; however, based upon the actions of such “superintendents”, it is not difficult to surmise that their objective is to replace traditionally trained classroom teachers with the “instant grits” version, temporary Teach for America (TFA) recruits– a transient, disposable work force especially useful in area with privately-run charters. Broad has pumped millions into TFA.
Walton also spends millions on TFA, and Walton is really into “school choice” (charters and vouchers. Walton has even purchased its own “education reform department” at the University of Arkansas– a “department” focused upon making certain that “choice” looks good before a public that does not realize that the financial backing of this “department” is biased toward a favorable charter-voucher image.
Walton likes “choice” and TFA so much because the Waltons believe in skimping as much as possible on that “bottom line.” TFA is a disposable work force– no health benefits; no retirement. And “choice” via under-regulated charters and vouchers means abolishing public funding in favor of a completely-profit-driven education enterprise. Who cares if it works– and who cares if “charter choice” is especially embroiled in scandal— just so long as there is the possibility of nurturing billionaire greed by not paying taxes to support public institutions.
When it comes to their own workers, Walmart purposely does not give workers full-time hours and actually show its employees how to apply for government assistance– the cheap way to preserve the Walton billions. And they despise unions. It is much easier to kick underpaid, under-scheduled employees around without their getting the idea that they might deserve full-time employment, a living wage and benefits.
Then there is Gates. Right now, billionaire Bill Gates’ major fetish is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which he is trying very hard to save– even via “CCSS curriculum hardwiring.” Gates is often asked for his opinions on American education– and his opinions are accorded the weight of fact because he is a billionaire. On occasion, the supposedly “research driven” Gates admits that he really doesn’t know if his “education stuff” will work until a decade in the lives of those used as Gates-education guinea pigs has been spent on the Gates education agenda.
So, there you have it, America– the three major “philanthropic” funders of an education agenda that suits their preferences.
And what appears to suit their preferences of late?
There’s a new nonprofit in town, boys and girls. It is called Education Post, and it has appointed itself the arbiter of “a new education conversation.”
The model of altruism, prudence and efficiency, these folks collected $12 million at start-up– to offer a blog— one with “glitches” upon launching, no doubt.
On September 1, 2014, it seems that “conversation” was being nixed via deletion of comments left on the site. However, on Facebook, Education Post assured commenters that the deletions were a “glitch”:
Some of you expressed concern about the deletion of some comments on this post. As we were launching the website, we had some issues with our comment moderation tool, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to recover a few of the comments left on this post. However, comments are working now and we invite you to continue to share your thoughts and questions.
It seems that the “glitch” is corrected. As of this writing, the Education Post “new conversation” article has 92 comments.
I sure hope it didn’t require them too many of those pro-privatizing, start-up millions to correct that comments section.
“Conversation” sure can be expensive. I know. I too have a blog, and I cannot tell you how many millions in donor cash I have blown through establishing and maintaining my own.
(Disclaimer for the slow of wit: I pay $100 per year for my blog so that I can avoid having advertisements, and I did not even have to start my own lucrative nonprofit to do so.)
But will this site actually foster genuine conversation on education issues?
I’m thinking– no.
Consider the funders of this delightful new venture: Broad, Walton, a “mystery donor” (oh, could it, could it possibly be Gates?? Nothing appears on the Gates grants search engine, but let us keep our eyes peeled), and Bloomberg Philanthropies– as in former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg— whose “mayoral control” of NYC education resulted in no “closing” of any “achievement gap.”
McKinsey and Company Director D. Ronald Daniel, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former TFA international CEO and Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson, and former NYC Chancellor (and Bloomberg appointee) Dennis Walcott all sit on the Bloomberg board.
Now, this is the crew funding a so-called education “conversation.”
Unbridled confidence abounds.
And get this: The “organization leader” is Peter Cunningham– described by Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton as “the former communications guru for US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan”—
–the same Arne Duncan who pulled Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “waiver” from the ridiculous “goal” of “100 percent proficiency in English and math by 2014”– set by a former president who was himself a C student placed into Yale because his family attended for generations— and why??
Because Oklahoma dared to exercise its “state led” right to drop CCSS.
Who is holding Arne Duncan accountable for educating students? For imposing his federal will on state education systems? For declaring untested CCSS as superior to all other state standards?
No conversation there, Peter?
Cunningham is supposed to “moderate” a “conversation” that stops with any questioning of his “good friend Arne Duncan.” Consider this August 2013 HuffPost article in which Cunningham reveals exactly where he stands in the “education conversation.” In this piece, Cunningham prejudges education historian Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error— before it was published. In his corporate reform-dripping-agenda response to Ravitch’s as-of-then unpublished book, Cunningham decides that she cannot possibly be correct because she does not advocate that which he states works– without his providing any links to evidence that it does. But he is just sure he is right:
I understand that Dr. Ravitch is about to publish another book attacking education reform. She will go after my good friend Arne Duncan. She will attack alternative educational approaches such as charter schools — even if they are successful. She will attack well-meaning and hard-working organizations like Teach for America. She will attack foundations and organizations she disagrees with, regardless of the benefits they provide to educators. She will lump them all together as one big corporate conspiracy aimed at privatizing public education.
What she will not do is offer a realistic alternative that will ensure that poor and low-income children receive a high quality education. She will say that a big part of the problem is poverty — which no one disagrees with. She will call on America to invest more in fighting poverty, as if we have not spent tens of trillions of dollars fighting poverty since the New Deal and the Great Society and will spend tens of trillions more. She will even attack a president who started his career as a community organizer fighting poverty in low-income Chicago neighborhoods and whose core beliefs stem from his faith in education to provide a pathway out of poverty. Can’t remember the last president with a similar background. Worst of all, she will use poverty as an excuse to avoid any responsibility on the part of the federal government, states, districts, schools and educators — collectively — to somehow do a better job of educating poor kids. [Emphasis added.]
As it turns out, 52 of the 378 pages of Reign of Error are devoted to data graphs and source documentation– and 12 of its 33 chapters concern proposed solutions grounded in ensuring quality of life for children, particularly before they arrive at the classroom door.
All documented research– which Cunningham claims to want. But not really.
This is the guy who sees himself as The Guy to lead the “new” education conversation– based on “hard facts,” no doubt:
At Education Post, we want to foster a new education conversation — based on more hard facts and fewer unsupported opinions….
Unfortunately, the hardest fact of all is that his agenda has long been set, and there is nothing “new” about it. Other people also on board, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek, evidence the same pro-privatizing agenda as Cunningham. (Not much available on 2006 National Teacher of the Year, kindergarten teacher Kim Oliver-Burmin. However, she appears to be fine with CCSS— not surprising given that the Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by CCSS co-owner, the Council of Chief State School Officers.)
The Education Post site includes other names, but I’m thinking it’s pretty clear from the funders, and from Cunningham’s position on Duncan, and charters, and TFA, and from his endorsement of people like Villariagosa and Pastorek, that this “conversation” is nothing more than a front for edujunk.
That’s okay, though, because the edujunk is restricted to “three areas.”
Guess what these “areas” are?
“K12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools, and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students.”
So. Education Post wants to talk education, but only according to its own narrow interests.
Nothing about a well-rounded, non-test-driven (gasp!) education. Nothing about charter schemes and scandals related to shoddy regulation. Nothing about the systematic defunding of the community school. Nothing about how best to support teachers. And certainly nothing about combating the effects of poverty on the American public school classroom–even though “no one disagrees with” poverty as influencing the classroom.
I’ll be looking for those “high quality *test score driven* charter schools” in the land of the unicorns.
Eva has a growing, test-driven, hedge-funded charter empire in NYC– only her students can’t seem to test into elite high schools.
But I digress.
According to the Washington Post article, Cunningham “feels that people are just screaming across the aisle.” But he is wrong. There is not just screaming. There is genuine loss to those not bought off via the privatizing dollar. There are career teachers being supplanted by temporary TFAers. There is hyper-focus on test scores at the expense of actual education. There are school closures based upon capricious school letter grade formulas and idiotic standardized test cut scores. There is charter fraud that now warrants FBI investigation. There is federal enforcement of CCSS. And all of it is not happening to talking eduheads like Peter Cunningham.
The Silver Lining
Yes, here we go again with yet another astroturfer. Yes, he is trying to promote a fraudulent “voice of reason” that chips as soon as current classroom teaching reality touches it.
Nevertheless, this is a lining, and I do believe it has some silver to it.
If major privatizing philanthropists are trying to feign a “conversation” about education issues that they have no plans on changing (reread Cunningham’s dismissal of Ravitch and Reign of Error if you are tempted to believe otherwise), then they must be desperate to appear “reasonable” to the public.
According to the CCSS MOU “national policy forum” section, national organizations were supposed to sell CCSS to the public. Those national groups were to include teachers unions. But the sale has been a flop. Both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) tried to sell the “75 percent of teachers approve of CCSS” line based upon survey results indicating that approximately 50 percent of teachers approved with reservation. Genuine, unreserved teacher “approval” of CCSS would have been a major selling point before the public. Since that “overwhelming teacher approval” is nonexistent (and since increasing public rejection has found its way into statehouses nationwide), principal CCSS funder Gates is involved in creating teacher “approval” via “other” teacher groups.
In this corporate-reform-promoting atmosphere, it is not so difficult to find groups willing to accept buckets of money in exchange for supporting a privatizing education agenda– even groups that slap on a “teacher-ish” label.
Regarding a $43 million privatizing-reform, USDOE-originated PR initiative called the Reform Support Network (RSN), curriculum consultant Laura Chapman notes the following in a September 1, 2014, post on Ravitch’s blog:
One of the “other” [PR] strategies is enlisting “teacher voice groups.” A “teacher voice group” is RSNs name for a non-union advocacy collective that depends on funding from private foundations favoring pay-for-performance.
Five voice groups are mentioned by name.
All have received major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Teach Plus ($9.5 million), Center for Teacher Quality ($6.3 million), Hope Street Group ($4.7 million), Educators for Excellence ($3.9 million), and Teachers United ($942, 000). Other foundations are supporting these groups.
For example, Teach Plus receives “partner” grants from eight other foundations (including the Broad, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Joyce) and several major investment firms.
These groups are building out, state-by-state, in an effort to control conversations about “what teachers want.” They are amplifiers of the wishes of the billionaires who fund them. [Emphasis added.]
RSN’s efforts to “control conversations” sure sounds a lot like this “new conversation *initiative*,” Education Post and its declared goal to “converse” about CCSS, charters, and teacher and school “accountability”– nothing more than yet another privatizing philanthropy mouthpiece.
And– big surprise– this RSN comes to us straight from Cunningham’s “good friend Arne Duncan.”
In response to Chapman’s post, in the comments section, City University of New York (CUNY) professor Ira Shor observes:
Gates funded both teacher unions to promote the common core but both are not able to sell it on full power. Weingarten and Roekel were only able to prevent growing teacher opposition to CCSS from consolidating into a movement that might sweep AFT/NEA into a fighting stance. Because the union leaders aren’t able to sell CCSS to their own members, they are falling back to plan B, which is to stifle organized opposition by teachers to it. This means that Gates and his fellow billionaires must create fake teacher org’s to stand in for the actual teacher union leaders; the fake teacher org’s have to provide a bogus “voice of teachers” to cover that spot in the selling of CCSS/PARCC to the nation. Internal opposition to CCSS has limited how far Weingarten and Roekel were able to go in marketing Gates’s plans. [Emphasis added.]
There sure are a lot of individuals and organizations attempting to “control” the American public education “conversation.” But it must be exhausting to put so much effort into faking stakeholder support for that which the stakeholders are becoming increasingly aware of as fraudulent all the way around.
Try as they may, the privatizers are not able to silence the genuine conversation centered upon increasing public rejection of this entire spectrum of sham “reform.” So, my colleagues and fellow friends of traditional public education, as they continue to try, stay vigilant, and keep talking outside of prescribed limits.
Like my writing? Read my newly-released ed “reform” whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education
NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE.