Sunday, May 25, 2008

Of the Education Trust and others

After Friday's entry by Jim Horn on Ed Trust's Amy Wilkins, and yesterday's entry by Philip Kovacs, I think I want to put in my two cents' worth on the discussion of philanthropy and education policy. I disagree with Education Trust on a number of policy issues, but I also disagree with Jim and Philip in their interpretation of Ed Trust and inside-the-Beltway institutional allies as illegitimate actors. I think that does not float as a concept, if for no other reason than my democratic assumption that everyone is a legitimate political actor. (Among other reasons to take this stance, there is the simple fact that since many inside-the-Beltway actors attempt to delegitimize teachers unions, it would be hypocritical of me to point out the legitimacy of teachers' perspectives and then try to undermine the right of others to push their POV.)

I think there can and should be some hard-nosed analysis of the major philanthropies currently active, but that's a little different from what I've read in the past few days. I don't agree with Stanley Fish on everything, but when I strongly disagree with something I see in the political sphere, my instinct is to academicize it. At AERA's retrospective on his 1988 book that analyzed 19th and early 20th century foundations, Jim Anderson demurred commentary on today's philanthropies. Leo Casey had the most recent shot at such an analysis a week ago, and that focused on the "seeing like a state" perspective of Ed Trust et al. I am not analyzing the philanthropies today but just pointing out some relevant questions that would be appropriate research topics.

  • What is the long-term strategy of the most active foundations such as Gates and Broad? While most folks focus on the national scene (see the links in Casey's blog entry), both foundations have spent millions trying to influence local school districts, but with somewhat different aims and tools. My impression: Gates uses its money as bait for districts to try the foundation's panacea du jour, from small schools to a certain high school curriculum to ... well, whatever strikes the foundation's key officers next year. On the other hand, Broad's strategy relies on creating a professional network of superintendents it has sponsored in multiple ways, from its chosen professional development to what I have heard is pushing its candidates in specific searches. I have good reason to conclude that the Broad Prize is the end of that process, and a promise to districts that they will be rewarded for picking Broad candidates for leadership.
  • What is the role of inside-the-Beltway organizations in those strategies? As Jim Anderson said this spring, you can't really know how the pieces all fit together unless you have access to the confidential documents (which he did for historical foundations). Yet you can probe around the edges of those roles for Education Trust and others. My impression: Since the DC-centered organizations have their own agendas, even if overlapping with the perspectives of foundation officers, this is less a matter of funding a specific agenda than with a type of philanthropic venture capital: seed a bunch of organizations with operating resources and see what they can do. That gives the funders an important reputational stake in the fortunes of their beneficiaries, but without necessarily a stake in the specific agendas of their beneficiaries. The recipients of aid can give reputational credit back to the funders if the recipients thrive. And even if they don't thrive, well, ...
  • What do the foundations' failures tell us about them? My impression: We can laugh at Ed in '08's ineffectiveness thus far, and at the collapse of the Gates small-schools initiative, but both efforts indicate serious persistence on the part of the sponsoring foundations. These are not necessarily nimble operations, but they have the depth of resources to invest heavily in strategies, even when individual strategies might well fail.
The Education Trust does not have any membership base and does not represent any constituency, but that has not stopped it from becoming an active player in Washington. Education Trust has used the Gates Foundation's support to build its operations, but its inside-the-Beltway legitimacy comes from the political work of Haycock and others and its ability to be at the table when the topic includes issues it cares about. From a stylistic standpoint, Wilkins' sharp comments (at 1:15) fit well with the type of cocksure attitudes on Capitol Hill that I discussed earlier this month on my own blog.


Jim Horn said...

Notwithstanding Sherman's contention, I am not in the business of limiting anyone's right to push his point of view, regardless of how ignorant or oppressive it might be. One of the great beauties of living in America is that everyone has a right (so far) to make a fool of himself. So even though my blog posts do have a magical power to stop Bill Gates and Eli Broad in their 60 million dollar tracks, I have decided to let them speak. No, go ahead, really.

What Bill Gates or Eli Broad must expect, however, are a few who actually have the audacity to look beneath the shoddy veneer of self-inflating and grandiose do-gooderism to suggest that there may be more to the story than a disinterested desire to use billions to buy the common good.

If you read the New York Times story from April 25, 2007, the picture that emerges is a very clear representation of a group aimed to achieve a specific education policy agenda, not a feel good dollar-stuffed beneficence directed toward starry-eyed educational idealists who are given the freedom to fail. Anything but.

From the Times piece:

"Eli Broad and Bill Gates, two of the most important philanthropists in American public education, have pumped more than $2 billion into improving schools. But now, dissatisfied with the pace of change, they are joining forces for a $60 million foray into politics in an effort to vault education high onto the agenda of the 2008 presidential race.
. . . .
The project will not endorse candidates — indeed, it is illegal to do so as a charitable group — but will instead focus on three main areas: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures. . . ."

National standards, tests, and pay for test scores--sounds pretty specific to me. On top of this $60 million devoted to buy the political influence needed to complete the mission (the ED 08 fest is just one event in the campaign), are other projects, of course, Ed Trust being one of the beneficiaries of the dynamic duo's largesse. There is, too, Achieve, Inc., which is in charge of shoving the American Diploma Project state by state, which consists of a re-writing of a one-size-fits-all high school curriculum built on more math, science, and end of course exit exams for all.

Of course, there is, too, the on-going Broad project to funnel millions to Green Dot Schools, Inc. in order to legitimize efforts to charterize LAUSD and to gain a foothold in NYC.

And speaking of charters, the small schools venture of Gates has not gone away, but rather, morphed into the charter school phenom of rote learning chain gangs like KIPP. The small schools "philosophy" helped make such a model acceptable in some circles.

Yes, Jim Anderson at AERA did not take the bait on the question related to the great white philanthropists of this current era, even though the similarities between this Gilded Age and the one of the late 19th Century that spawned the black industrial model of education are unmistakable. When Carnegie, Eastman, TR, Grant, and most other leaders at the turn of the last century embraced the Hampton Model and industrial education as the solution to the "negro problem," it was from a highly-developed self-aggrandizing sense of the common good wedded to a blindness to their own virulent racism.

Those who believe today that the WORK HARD, BE NICE educational philosophy of KIPP is today's solution for a uniform and uniformed black and brown education, or for those who view corporate curriculum writing for public schools as a good thing, and for those who believe cheap charter schools with reduced services, marginally-certified teachers, and no libraries or teachers' unions are what the poor deserve, well, I say, speak on, speak up, speak loudly. Let your voices ring out, but please, please, do not try to hide behind the pretense and feel-gooderism of helping those who can't help themselves. Call it what it is: social control and the protection of privilege. Or you can't call it that, don't blame me for doing it for you.

philip said...

Are the journals edited by the esteemed members of this blog "legitimate"?

If so, what makes them so?

If not, why should I bother trying to publish in them? What makes
Educational Theory, EPAA, or Educational Culture different (more legit?) than THE TRUST's journal? Or Fordham's?

If THE TRUST is busy misrepresenting, stretching, avoiding, and redirecting, shouldn't we be informing the public and its representatives
about each?

I suppose i'm still suffering from naive idealism, but i have a vision of scholars as public intellectuals, engaging publicly in pursuit of truth(s).

Am I wrong?

Jim Horn said...

The last sentence of the previous comment should read:

Or IF you cant call it that, don't blame me for doing it for you.

Anonymous said...

So how exactly do dollars that public schools get from the Broad and Gates foundations promote "social control and the protection of privilege"? This claim is kind of far-fetched, except perhaps to a kind of black-helicopter mentality.

Jim Horn said...

Put your name up here, Dr. Anonymous, and we can talk.

Anonymous said...

My name really is Dr. Anomymous. What gave me away?

You don't have to talk. Just point to evidence that the Broad and Gates foundations have had deleterious effects on the public schools involved in their programs.

A. G. Rud said...

As a cofounder of this blog, I would like to suggest to the others on the roster that we block anonymous comments. Craig, could you look into this if others agree? What do others think? I also don't want anonymous comments, having had my fill of that on my own blog last year. I fully agree with Jim and others who have requested names.

philip said...

i'm not sure there's anyway to stop anonymous comments, unless we vet comments before they appear...

Anonymous said...

Maybe commenters/questioners would would be more willing to give their names if the posters would pay them the respect of addressing their concerns instead of hijacking the conversation into other areas, or pretending that asking for clarification anonymously is somehow illegitimate.

Aaron Schutz said...

My 2 cents is that anonymous comments are fine. The issue should be with about the content of comments. And I guess I feel like there's been some overly negative feeling towards Dr. Anonymous's questions.

I think we want to welcome people who are willing to take the time to ask critical questions, whether we feel like answering them or not (we may not).

Dr. Anonymous, are you the same Dr. Anonymous from Open Left? If so, welcome. Your comments have struck me as thoughtful over there.

Oh, and as to the "Ed Links" question, this blog is meant to be broader than just "policy" to get at general issues relating to the foundations of education. The posters on the blog had a discussion and agreed that it was useful to keep posting them, so I'll continue to do so. But I can see why they may seem a bit out of place if you come to this for education policy writ fairly narrowly.

Anonymous said...