"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Follow The Yellow Brick Road to The Wizard(s)

Since we started the week in the land of Oz, we thought we'd talk about another piece of advice Dorothy got: "Follow the yellow brick road," or in this case, the golden trail of money. He who has (or gives) the money, gets to dictate the terms of how that largess is used, and this truth still holds in the field of education. One group, Great Schools For America,  has decided to doggedly follow the money trail to see who is dictating the direction of education.  This is from their website:

Under the provisions of No Child Left Behind and through many organizations like the ones listed here, our public school system is being stealthily co-opted by America's elite. In 2009, Rahm Emanuel called it The Quiet Revolution. In his New York Times op-ed column, David Brooks, speaking of Arne Duncan, gushes over these education reform ideas, and quotes Jeb Bush as saying, “President Obama has been supporting a reform secretary, and this is deserving of Republican support.” When Jeb Bush suggests an Obama agenda deserving of Republican support, it's worth a second glance. And when President Obama praises Jeb Bush on education reform, something's rotten in the state of these United States. Education Watch is presented here to shed some light on “education reform” and the reformers. Today, the Quiet Revolution has become quite noisy.
GSFA has created an on-line database called Edwatch. Using information from the various organizations' websites and the publicly available financial information (e.g. IRS 990 Forms), GSFA hopes to show the connections between donors, policy, government funding and directives.  Their database currently has over 130 organizations with financial information going back to 2006,  and they are adding to the list and data daily.  A few examples of who they are watching:

  • Carnegie Learning, Inc.
  • Academy for Urban School Leadership
  • Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools
  • Battelle for Kids
  • Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession
  • Fordham Institute
  • Education Testing Service
  • National Academy Foundation
  • KIPP Academy

It is interesting to note that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was listed as a major donor to all of the above listed organizations.  KIPP Academy in particular has an impressive list of major donors as well.

The Walton Family Foundation, U.S. Department Of Education, Robertson Foundation, Rainwater Charitable Funds, NewSchools Venture Fund, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, The Broad Foundation, Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation

Here in St. Louis, KIPP boasts that, since opening in summer of 2009 with 90 5th grade students they advanced those students from the 8th percentile in Math and English to the 39th percentile in one year: a seemingly impressive accomplishment. That a private organization was able to take a group of kids with parents who took the time to apply to KIPP and supported their kids to attend school DURING THE SUMMER, where they received intensive often one-on-one teaching and increased their reading a math skills is perhaps not as impressive as it would appear on the surface. It should be noted that in the time frame referred to, St. Louis City school MAP averages were in the 20-25% range, even when looking solely at the Black subgroup. If the 90 students KIPP took in were truly performing in the 8th percentile, then they were a grossly neglected subset of the student body. KIPP did a great job with them, but something seems amiss in the whole story.

All these organizations can spend their money as they see fit, and they have a right to operate their education centers any way they choose. What Edwatch is doing is simply letting people know who is behind them. They will also begin to add information to their databases tracking what policy these backers are pushing for from the government and where government funding is being mingled with this private funding, because the public has a right to know where their tax dollars are going.  We also have a right to know who is really writing the rules that we all will be subject to in the future.

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