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.
Earlier this month, Governor Bush talked with the editors of Education Next about the legacy of the Florida reforms, his support for the Common Core State Standards, and his vision for education in the United States. Education Next published the interview on its website here.
I responded to the article on their website, but my comment has not been published yet.
Here is what I wrote:
Mr. Bush’s analysis of his organization’s work is disingenuous. When he left office as governor of Florida he and his allies created the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a large bureaucratic organization to influence legislation around the country. The Foundation has become a major influence peddler enticing and supporting the privatization of public education.
Yet, Mr. Bush said this in the Education Next article:
“We need to end the government monopoly in education by transferring power from bureaucracies and unions to families. The era of defining public education as allegiance to centralized school districts must end.”
Isn’t interesting that Mr. Bush has 8 years as the head of the government of Florida to test out his ideas, but now he wants to disable government’s role in education. He claims the power will be transferred to parents, but that is a huge mistaken belief. The power transfer is from families to private companies and organizations whose goal is privatize schooling by the using taxpayer’s dime.
Bush is a huge backer of charter schools, especially those that exist in the “cloud,” as virtual schools. They have an elaborate scheme to influence states to move into these technology/virtual schools. But Bush’s Foundation was “exposed” in a series of investigative reporting by Colin Woodard. What was exposed was the profit motive behind the virtual schools that Bush’s group was pushing in Maine. You can read Mr. Woodard’s full report in the Portland Press Herald.
The Education Next interview with Jeb Bush is prelude to his run for the Presidency. Most of the motive behind his comments play into the hands of reformers who support the Common Core, the use of VAM scores to rate teachers, Virtual Schools, and high-stakes testing. When you read his comments, its obvious that he ignores or doesn’t want to hear what is the research on some of his pet projects, especially charters and virtual schools.
I liken Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Each group uses power, influence and money to influence legislation at the state level to support a conservative agenda.
Bush’s Education Foundation and Influence Peddling: Any Truth to It?
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 offer model legislation, rule-making ability, 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 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 show 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 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 intentions.
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 every one 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 2. 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 and not 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 for 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.
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?
Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools.
Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.
Some of the charter bills that have been passed will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA. Boston worked out a deal in the interests of corporate investors.
And in this election year, politicians use their place on charter schools to influence voters, and to partner with corporations who hope tp peddle their wares in the politician’s state or county. Just go an ask Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia.
In this inquiry, we’ll explore the underlying rationale for charter schools (the rationale has moved from one of true curriculum development by teachers, to a cash cow for charter management companies). When you look carefully at charter schools, they do not offer the kind of choice they claim in press releases and other public statements. For example, EmpowerED Georgia, an education advocate group, has identified 8 myths about charter schools. If you follow this link, you will find more details about the myths identified by Empowered Georgia. Here we’ve only identified the myth, and one fact that repudiates or questions charters.
One of the images that has always impressed is the graph showing the relationship between poverty concentration and SAT/ACT scores for charter schools in Texas (the red dots) and “regular” Texas public schools. It is clear that nearly all the charter schools (except for just a few) fall at the bottom of the graph, irrespective of poverty concentration.
Charter schools, in general, have consistently underperformed when compared to similar public schools. And when you see data as shown in Figure 1, you begin to realize that supporters of charter schools simply ignore such research, or have other purposes in mind for the establishment of charter schools.
What Should Parents Know About Charter Schools?
Following are some questions that might be considered in this inquiry. Is there evidence that charter schools don’t do as well as most public schools, and if so, why are so many politicians working so hard to turn so-called “failing public schools” over to charter school management companies?
Here are some questions to consider in this inquiry: