Two decades ago, in 1996, I published a book explaining how the various views of conservatives hung together. For example: What being against abortion has to do with owning guns, being against environmental regulation, being for the flat tax, etc. I did the corresponding analysis of liberal positions, showing that both have to do with opposite moral theories arising from opposite models of family life.
The third edition of “Moral Politics” has now been published by the University of Chicago Press, and the 2016 election has resulted in brisk sales. The reason is that it explains the logic behind all of Trump’s policies — and his cabinet appointments.
If you want to see the plan behind what Trump is doing, why people with certain moral values voted for him despite the lies, and how his views differ from yours, go to Amazon, Powell’s, or Diesel, and order Moral Politics, Third…
On this blog I wrote several articles about influence peddling and the role played by wealthy philanthropists such as Bill Gates, “former” politicians such as Jeb Bush, and reformists organization such as Achieve, The Fordham Foundation, and Teach for America.
Jeb!, the 11th Republican to announce a candidacy for President brought up somber deep inner reminders about education reformsters and how Jeb! is a poster child for politicians who have dipped their toes into schooling, and with that experiential knowledge, claim to know what is best for education.
Jeb! created an organization, The Foundation for Excellence in Education, and through it and the organization’s large sums of money and power, has used his influence as governor of Florida to peddle his Foundation’s ideas around the country.
One of his ideas is how online learning and related technologies can revitalize and improve education. To make this happen, Jeb!’s organization takes aim at state departments of education by peddling its ideas by trying to influence key state education officials.
In the next few posts I am going to republish several articles about this, and use Jeb!’s education organization as a case study about how groups like his are working to undermine the work of American teachers.
In this post I argue that politicians, lobbyists and corporate executives have worked together to peddle their influence in the name of educational reform. This triad of influence is dismantling public education one charter school, voucher, tax incentive, and law at a time.
In today’s culture, politicians and especially business leaders, have perpetuated the myth that academic achievement in a few subjects is the most important outcome of schooling, and that indeed, there is a huge gap between achievement of students in the United States and its counterparts in other industrialized nations. Furthermore, these same politicians and business leaders would have us believe that there is a serious decline in the supply of high-quality students from the beginning (the end of high school) to the end of the Science & Engineering “pipeline.” Both of these cases are myths—that U.S. students do not achieve at high levels, and that there is a serious shortage of high quality persons for science & engineering. They are perpetuated to fulfill the needs and desires of officials whose best interests are served by claiming such weaknesses in the American educational system (see Lowell & Salzman).
These myths are real, however. They are fodder for those looking to game the system.
Influence peddling is wide-spread in American education. Fear, money, and gaming dominate the system. I’ve organized this inquiry around four themes as shown in the tabs below. You’ll find two or more articles related to the highlighted theme.
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[restab title=”Fear Factor” active=”active”]Since the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, and a U.S. government report, A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, American education has been cast as a failing system, and if “reforms” were not put in place, the sky would fall. Although the sky hasn’t fallen, teachers and schools are envisioned as the cause of the mythical failure of American education.
The underlying and foundational reason that influence peddling is flourishing in education is the move toward the privatization of education. And the privatization of education is born out of assumptions that American education is a failed system, and that the only way to prove that the system is improving is show that it returning a profit to the taxpayers. When we begin to think of schools as a business, then test scores are a measure of profitability. Indeed, students of teachers who get high achievement scores are rewarded in the same way that employees earn bonuses. But when scores are low, it is analogous to a unprrofitable business, which might mean layoffs, store closings, and fired staff. Here are two articles that underscore this fear.
[restab title=”Gaming the System”]The drive to privatize education is a web of connections worked out by politicians and corporate executives with the support of some very prominent and not so prominent foundations and “not-for-profit” organizations that have cropped up spreading their spray over the public education landscape. The relationships and the overall web of connectivity has brought a lot of people together who have influenced state legislatures to the extent that they collectively are gaming not only public schools, but the citizens who pay the taxes to support local and neighborhood schools. This web shows very clearly how these organizations and people have figured out how to game the education system. In these articles, we show how politicians have learned to game the system to not only use laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but make use of the Tax Code to set up not-for-profit organizations that ask for money from around the country to support the bills that they support in their legislative bodies.
Using Students for Politics and Influence Peddling. In this article, we show how politicians have learned to game the system to not only use laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but make use of the Tax Code to set up not-for-profit organizations that request money from around the country to support the bills that they support in their legislative bodies.
Why Don’t Our Elected Representatives Write Their Own Legislation? In this article, we show that ALEC, a national “bill-mill” is an “amazon” marketplace for state legislators looking for legislative bills.[/restab]
[restab title=”Money”]More than $700 billion is spent annually on public education in America, making education an investment and consumer market comparable to banking, energy, transportation, and retail. But just as important is the idea that education is being shaped by organizations and a few people with a lot of money. Here are two articles to offer some evidence for this.
Billions and Billions, and I am not Talking About Stars! I am talking about dollars, and how billionaires are influencing (science) education policy from the K-12 level to the U.S. Department of Education, and this is being done in an environment where the billionaires are demanding accountability from the recipients of its money, but do so without having to be held to any standards or accountability themselves.
Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy? In this article, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.[/restab]
[restab title=”Case Studies”]In this inquiry, we look at the Gates Foundation and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education as core examples of organizations that use power and money to influence educational change throughout the states, often in the interests of corporate affiliates.
Bush’s Education Foundation and Influence Peddling: Any Truth to it? The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials
The drive to privatize education is a web of connections worked out by politicians and corporate executives with the support of some very prominent and not so prominent foundations and “not-for-profit” organizations that have cropped up spreading their spray over the public education landscape. The relationships and the overall web of connectivity has brought a lot of people together who have influenced state legislatures to the extent that they collectively are gaming not only public schools, but the citizens who pay the taxes to support local and neighborhood schools.
What is your take on the nature of influence peddling in education?
The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) agenda has seven “reform” priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities. The seven reform categories (shown in Box 1) are elements of the corporate and foundation led privatization of public schools, as well as the accountability system based on Common Core Standards and High-Stakes testing. The reforms shown here are embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and the Race to the Top (RT3)
Box 1. Bush Reform Categories
Ccr: College and Career Readiness
Dl: Digital Learning
Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
K3r: K-3 Reading
Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
Sc: School Choice
Sa: Standards and Accountability
These categories of reform are focal points for the Bush foundation (ExcelinEd), and they have much financial resources, and lobbying connections to influence legislation around the country that is in the interest of “their reforms.” One of the chief areas of reform is digital learning.
In an earlier post, I described a report by Colin Woodard, on The Profit Motive Behind Maine’s Virtual Schools which implicated the Bush Foundation, ALEC, K12, Inc, and Connections Education. Woodard’s investigation won the George Polk Award for Education Reporting. In his research, Woodard found that the state was directly influenced by Bush himself, who saw Maine as a great place to apply his Foundation’s Digital Learning Now. I’ll discuss the Digital Learning Now program in more detail later this week. But for now, its important to note that Maine’s digital policy was taken directly from the Bush Foundation. The real problem emerges when we trace the principles of digital learning directly to companies that stand to make huge profits once the flood gates are opened.
Florida blogger, and educator Bob Sikes asked me in a tweet, who is Patricia Levesque’s husband? It turns out her husband is George Levesque, who holds the office of Florida General Council, which is responsible for providing legal advice to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and any Member, when in doubt about the applicability and interpretation of the House Code of Conduct or ethics laws, may ask advisory opinions from the House General Counsel. In one post he wondered How Involved are the Levesques in Protecting the Fresen’s Florida Charter School Empire? Ms. Levesque, who now heads the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and was Bush’s education advisory, also owns a lobbyist firm that represents many companies who have an interest in any Florida education legislation that is beneficial to their business. In this particular post, Bob Sikes shows how family relationships and their connections between government and private companies either borders on ethics violations, or is simply downright unlawful.
You can read his posts on the Foundation for Excellent in Education here, and Jeb Bush here.
In the first graphic we have a display of how each state is affected by the Foundation for Excellence. The seven reform categories are plotted against each state. For instance, in Wyoming, one bill was passed in the Effective Teachers and Leaders (ETL) category. However, if you drop down to Virginia, five of the reform categories are represented. In fact, a total of 19 bills were in one or more ways influence by the Foundation. Florida, however, leads the way. As many as 95 education bills can be traced to the Bush reform categories.
The graphic in Figure 2 is an interactive map of the states and the District of Columbia. Here you will find how each state is influenced by the Foundation.
I’ll report later this week on Digital Learning Now (DLN), a Bush initiative that rates each state’s digital education against ten priorities developed by the Bush Foundation. Be in for an awakening.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is an organization founded in 2008 by Jeb Bush. After reading about Bush’s claims that American teens were falling behind in math and science, and listening to his most recent speech at the Heritage Institute, I decided to investigate ExcelinEd, to find out what it is up to, and the extent of its intrusion into the various state’s education policies. I also wanted to find out to what extent there is influence peddling going on, and any reports on the Foundation’s connections with private companies that sell products and services to public school systems.
According to the ExcelinEd website, the Foundation started out as a conservative group that now is bi-partisan and national in scope (according to them). The Foundation works with state and local governments and legislative bodies to provide model legislation, rule-making expertise, and implementation strategies related to its reform agenda. Does this remind you of the American Legislative Exchange Council? According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC is uses corporate money to influence state politicians by not only writing “model” bills, but by providing expertise, and convening conferences for state legislators to learn the ropes of the legislation that they will propose in their states.
The Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education does the same.
The Bush foundation agenda has seven priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities. The seven reform categories (shown in Box 1) are elements of the corporate and foundation led privatization of public schools, as well as the accountability system based on Common Core Standards and High-Stakes testing. The reforms shown here are embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Race to the Top. I’ve studied Georgia’s Race to the Top $400 million proposal and work plan; the state of Georgia’s education system is held in check by these categories of “reform.”
Box 1. Bush Reform Categories
Ccr: College and Career Readiness
Dl: Digital Learning
Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
K3r: K-3 Reading
Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
Sc: School Choice
Sa: Standards and Accountability
One of my first projects was to find out how much influence the Bush foundation has exerted on legislative efforts in each of the states and the District of Columbia. The Foundation website has a link to its State of Reform which takes you to an interactive map of the U.S. Clicking on any state map will take you to a page that will reveal which of the “reform categories” the Foundation has “had the opportunity to partner with reformers (in that state) to support development, adoption, and implementation of as many of the Bush reforms as possible.
So, the Foundation website provides evidence of its influence on legislation in each state.
To make sense of this data, I created an Excel chart that included the number of laws per reform category that the Foundation had a direct connection with lawmakers in each state. Counts of the number of laws per state by reform category were recorded. I interpreted the number of laws reported as an indicator of the degree of influence that the Bush foundation exerts on each of the states. In some states (including Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New York), there appeared to be no activity. But there were many states where the Foundation has made inroads by either providing model education reform bills for legislators to use and propose, or by providing consulting services to encourage the passage of bills that are congruent with the goals of the Foundation.
The degree of influence ranged from zero (0) to ninety-five (95). There are 18 states in which no education laws were passed based on any influence from the Bush foundation, while there were 16 states with some influence. The Foundation for Excellence in Education is moderately to extremely active in the remaining 18 states. It is clear from their own website that they are influencing legislation in these states that supports their intensions.
There is one state that stands out, and that of course is Florida. Florida, which is home to the Foundation, had an index influence score of 95. The Foundation influenced everyone of the reform categories in Florida as seen in Box 2. In fact, there was more influence peddling in Florida than in most of the remaining states combined.
Box 2: Bush’s Florida Influence: Number of Laws per Reform Category
Ccr: College and Career Readiness—21
Dl: Digital Learning—10
Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders—9
K3r: K-3 Reading—16
Obf: Outcome-Based Funding—12
Sc: School Choice—20
Sa: Standards and Accountability—7
The influence of the Bush foundation in the states is shown in Figure 3. For most states, the influence exerted by the foundation falls within expected limits, but Florida is the exception, and is several standard deviations above the other states.
Although the graph paints a picture of evenness of influence throughout the country, don’t be fooled by these numbers.
All it takes is one case of influence peddling to call the organization out, and to expose them for what they are really trying to do. Digital learning and virtual schools is one of the areas that the Foundation of Excellence is eager to support and influence, because of the lucrative profits that will be realized if states pass laws that require students to take at least one online course to graduate, or offer the possibility of students opting for online courses rather than brick and mortar classes.
Virtual Schools in Maine–Poster Child for Influence Peddling?
In an investigative report, Colin Woodard published the story The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine. The Foundation for Excellence sponsors conferences for state officials in which presentations are made about the merits of the various reform efforts of the Foundation, especially virtual schools.
In 2012, according to the Woodard report, Maine’s education commissioner was paid to attend a three-day Foundation in Excellence conference in San Francisco. At that conference, Stephen Bowen, was introduced to two things that excited him:
Everything an educator needed to know about the merits of full-time virtual schools
The Foundation for Excellence in Education Digital Learning Now report card, grading each state on its efforts in digital learning (Graded from A – F)
Mr. Bowen, when shown the Digital Learning Now, 2012 report card, soon discovered that the state of Maine received an overall score of D+. Bowen’s goal was to improve digital access in Maine by deregulating online learning. According to Woodard’s article, Bowen was overwhelmed and didn’t have a staff to carry this out.
Not to worry.
He met Patricia Levesque, head of the foundation, although she is paid through her private foundation. It turns out she is paid as a lobbyist on behalf of online education companies. Woodard writes about how their meeting in San Francisco led to a partnership (a favorite word of the foundation). She writes:
Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.
I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.
Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.
“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.
“Let us help,” she responded.
So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.
The Woodard investigation revealed much of Maine’s digital education agenda was being guided (and written) in secret by companies that stood to gain from any actions that Maine took with regard to digital education. Here was a poster child for influence peddling. K12 Inc. (an online company), and Connections Education (a subsidiary of Pearson) were involved, and there was evidence that thousands of dollars were spent to create “independent” boards who would run the digital and virtual programs in Maine. Each of these companies not only influenced state legislators in Maine, they also contributed financial aid to the Foundation for Excellence and the American Legislative Exchange Council!
The actions in Maine by the Foundation for Excellence in Education overlapped with the action of ALEC. But here is how influence peddling works, as revealed by Woodard’s investigation. She says in her article:
The corporate chair of ALEC’s education committee was revealed to be Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education’s senior vice president of state relations, and members included K12, the International Association for K12 Online Learning, and Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Connections Education withdrew its membership in May.)
Bowen was also an ALEC member in March 2011, the month he was confirmed as commissioner, according to a second set of ALEC documents leaked to Common Cause and posted on their website earlier this summer. Bowen – then a senior adviser to LePage and the head of education initiatives for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center – served as a private sector member of ALEC’s education committee, where he worked alongside officials from K12, Connections and other interested companies evaluating and approving model bills – including one creating centralized state clearinghouses for the sale of online courses.
The leaked documents also showed that ALEC-sponsored digital education bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in recent years.
The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials. Is the Bush foundation nothing more than an arm or a subdivision of ALEC. Probably not. But it certainly behaves as if it received its training and marching orders from them.
What do you think? Is there any influence peddling of this sort going on in your neck of the woods? Please tell us about it.