Thursday, November 1, 2007

Democrats? Independent?

My work focuses primarily on neoconservative and neoliberal think tanks and their influence on ed. policy. Recently I’ve been taking a closer look at think tanks/organizations that claim to represent "democrats" or to be “independent.”

I know that many of you are aware of the Heritage Foundation, of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute, all organizations understood by myself and a number of others to lean heavily to the political right. But have you heard of the Democrats for Educational Reform or the Education Sector? I warrant several of you have not, so this post will serve as a brief introduction. Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll detail how these organizations generate consent for corporate friendly school reform.

Democrats for Educational Reform

Two years ago, a group of education reformers in New York and Washington, DC got together to see if an all-Democratic group could help nudge our party to press for real education reform. We were disheartened by the widespread failure of the public school system to give poor kids in America an opportunity to compete in the modern world, and we were frightened by our own party’s unwillingness to take on powerful entrenched interests to help them.
I am not sure which entrenched interests they mean, but given that Joe Williams runs the organization, I understand the phrase to mean unions.

A quick message to union members nationwide, most democrats pander to you like conservatives to evangelicals. At the same time, if there are individuals visiting this site who think the unions support teachers, teaching, or democracy, I’ll need you to explain Randi Weingarten’s, president of the United Federation of Teachers, agreement to implement merit pay based on test scores, and while you are at it, I could do with an explanation of the NEA’s determination to reauthorize NCLB without significant changes to AYP or privatization initiatives...

From the “What we stand for” section of DFER’s website:

• We support policies which stimulate the creation of new, accountable public schools and which simultaneously close down failing schools.
• We support mechanisms that allow parents to select excellent schools for their children, and where education dollars follow each child to their school.
• We support governance structures which hold leaders responsible, while giving them the tools to effectuate change. We believe in empowering mayors to lead urban school districts, so that they can be held accountable by the electorate.
• We support clearly-articulated national standards and expectations for core subject areas, while allowing states and local districts to determine how best to make sure that all students are reaching those standards.

The Democrats for Educational Reform include, but are not limited to:

• Boykin Curry – Eagle Capital, co-founder of Girls Prep Charter School, NYC.
• Tony Davis - Anchorage Capital, board chair for Achievement First in Brooklyn.
• Charlie Ledley - Cornwall Capital, NYC, board member and treasurer of Harlem Village Academy and Leadership Village Academy Charter Schools.
• Sara Mead - New America Foundation, former analyst for Education Sector and the Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.
• John Petry - Gotham Capital, co-founder of Harlem Success Academy Charter School, NYC.
• Andrew Rotherham - Member, Virginia Board of Education, co-director, Education Sector, former White House education advisor to President Clinton, author of the blog,
• Whitney Tilson - T2 Partners and Tilson Funds, vice chairman of KIPP Academy Charter Schools in NYC, co-founder of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.
• Caprice Young - President of the California Charter Schools Association, former president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, and former assistant deputy mayor in Los Angeles.

These are the “democrats” for educational reform?

Is there a party speaking for democracy through education? If so, can you point me in that direction?

Education Sector

Founded in 2005 by Andrew J. Rotherham (former aid to Clinton and member of the Democrats for Educational Reform) and Thomas Toch, “Education Sector is an independent education think tank.” Claiming to be “nonpartisan” and “both a dependable source of sound thinking on policy and an honest broker of evidence in key education debates,” Education Sector produces both research and policy analysis and markets “outstanding work by the nation's most respected education analysts.” The “nonpartisan” and “independent” Education Sector’s Board of Directors, Research Advisory Board, and Non-Resident Fellows include individuals such as:

• Bruno V. Mano, a trustee of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and longtime advocate for charter schools;
• Ira A. Fishman, “a national leader in educational technology, [who] was special counsel to the Federal Communications Commission during the commission's crafting of the E-Rate program for schools and libraries . . . .He served as the first Chief Executive Officer of the Schools and Libraries Corporation, the non-profit organization created to administer the E-Rate program.” The E-Rate program was riddled with fraud and millions of tax dollars were wasted and stolen;
• Eric Hanushek and Paul T. Hill, both members of the Hoover Institute’s Koret Task Force;
• Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; and
• Various members of the Center for Reinventing Public Education, which “engages in research and analysis aimed at developing focused, effective, and accountable schools and the systems that support them.”

This list of individuals makes the following statement problematic at best and a flat-out lie at worst. I apologize for the long quote, but it speaks to the necessity for the creation of some body, some organization, active in both public and political spheres, working to negate “democratic” and/or “independent” propaganda.
Education policymaking in the United States suffers from a dearth of high-quality, independent analysis. Far too often, the quality of deliberation and decision-making on critical education issues is compromised by ideologically driven research and commentary. Important debates are dominated by the distorted claims and counterclaims of individuals and institutions with ideological or political agendas. Many policymakers and the public, as a result, simply don't trust much of the evidence put before them on key education questions. In a 2003 survey by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, a large majority of journalists covering education dismissed most education research as “ideologically motivated.” The journalists told surveyors that they “hunger for assistance from an objective, neutral source” in education debates. There is thus a tremendous need for a new, rigorously independent voice in education policymaking. Education Sector will be such a voice, an organization devoted to innovative solutions to the nation's most pressing educational problems, a source of sound thinking on education policy and an honest broker of evidence in key education debates in Washington and nationally. Education Sector will produce rigorous, independent research and analysis on a wide range of elementary-, secondary-, and higher-education topics. We will eschew the ideological orthodoxies that have polarized the national debate on so many education issues. We believe that public officials, journalists, business leaders, and the public at large will embrace education reform if they believe such reform is justified by solid, independent evidence. Education Sector will play a key role in producing such evidence and making it readily understandable to a broad audience of policymakers, the media, and other opinion-makers with the power to leverage meaningful change in American education.
Take a look again at the people running the Sector and explain to me how they can "eschew the ideological orthodoxies that have polarized the national debate on so many education issues."

The Education Sector is one of many, hundreds perhaps, organizations “producing evidence and making it readily understandable to a broad audience.” As this “evidence” is produced and distributed, where are we? And here I mean the we on this blog as well as the “we” in organizations such as AESA, followed by the “we” in academia who believe children, and this country, deserve more than what they've been fed for, well depending on who you ask, the last 200 some odd years.

At present organizations such as these dominate policy making. I’m interested in ending that dominance. Perhaps the problem is that we have not pushed ideology enough. The belief that education should serve democracy is an ideological position, is it not? Perhaps we need to do a better job of marketing that brand...

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