Corporate Control of Higher Ed

In ALEC’s recent annual meetings, one of their key agenda was entitled: ‘Doing Less with Much Less and Getting More: Transforming American Higher Education”   (see University Ventures Fund white paper, below, for a mirror slogan)

At the time of this event (in 2015) Lindsay Russel Dexter was the director of the Task Force on Education and Workforce Development at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Now she is Senior Director of Policy and Eastern Idaho Field Officer for the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The current chair of the ALEC task force is Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute. ALEC has made it very clear they have an agenda to “Overhaul Teacher Preparation” (See AmericaNext)

Lumina Foundation’s (a member of ALEC) influence on the Wisconsin University system illustrates how steps 1-3 in blog Part I work in ALEC’s favor:

It is a vicious cycle – with ALEC and Lumina Foundation at the center. ALEC pushes legislation and policy which imposes draconian cuts to public higher education funding. Lumina lends financial and policy support to the agenda – and positions itself to step in with a “Four Step Plan” to fill the void. Lumina offers a brilliant talking point – “follow our plan, and more people will get college degrees, which means more people will get jobs…because (as everyone knows) people with degrees get hired more than people without.”

For a full list of bills sponsored by ALEC that affect higher education see ALECExposed.


NCTQ is funded by organizations that promote a corporate-influenced school reform agenda.  It uses weak and shaky “data” to rank Colleges of Institutions and creates a “Consumers Guide” That first headline from US News in blog Part I is a promotional gimmick for NCTQ’s evaluation. Funny enough, the second headline in Part I of this blog, a story from NPR, also promotes NCTQ’s “study.” Manufactured crisis. NCTQ reports are promoted loudly by ALEC, who uses the reports as “data” to forward their agenda.  One of NCTQ’s largest funders is The Smith Richardson Foundation which is financed by the Vicks Vaporub fortune. The Foundation became active in supporting conservative causes in 1973 when R. Richardson Randolph became its president.

Not surprisingly, as shared in a study by Jack Hassard: “Only 2.5% of the participants in the review were teacher educators–active professors out there doing teacher education. The NCTQ was stacked with corporate executives, foundation executives, and employees of NCTQ. It was far from representing the field of teacher education.”

Relay Graduate School

According to Laura Chapman:

Relay “Graduate School of Education” is not a real graduate school of any kind. It has been accredited in a few states to award “master’s degrees” even though it has no one on its faculty with a doctorate, engages in no research, has no library, and has no relationship to the advancement of knowledge in education. It was created by charter operators to teach future charter teachers how to control classes and how to raise test scores. Its “faculty” consists of charter teachers, mostly from Teach for America,” 

Relay Graduate Schools partner with charter schools, the darling agenda of ALEC to privatize public schools. Their corporate sponsors (including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) ARE ALSO LARGELY members of ALEC (i.e Walton and Robertson Foundations).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is one of the biggest funders of the K12 education reform movement (via Common Core and charters)  has created another non profit, this one focused on higher education, and an eye toward online “solutions.”  Check out their partners, which includes a host of organizations directly tied to for profit privately managed firms associated with ALEC.  For example, one partner, Education Commission of the States (ECS): Closely examine the funders and partners of ECS. The list includes:

General Electric, State Farm, Amplify, Pearson, Verizon, Corinthean, Meta Metrics, Renaissance Learning, Lumina, and Walton. Each of these corporations are members of ALEC and serve ALEC’s agenda. In fact, the vast majority of their partners are members of ALEC or have politicians or CEO’s with direct ties to ALEC.  There are 17 corporate partners for ECS. Out of the 17, 11 are directly tied to ALEC. The remaining six are either indirectly connected by related partnerships (funding other organizations that are in ALEC) or that support and profit from ALEC model legislation.

While Colleges of education have been squeezed out by policy from working with low income schools (CAEP requirements) Relay Graduate and Bill Gates will be there as your College of Education “alternative”.

University Ventures Fund

University Ventures Fund (limited partnership) is a private equity fund federal exemption 506b

founded in 2011.On their “About” page:

Their “carefully selected investor base “will reap huge profits on market-leading returns while playing a positive and sustainable role in the transformation of higher education.”

The fund, whose two biggest investors are the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG and the University of Texas Investment Management Company, includes helping institutions expand the scale of their academic programs, re-engineer how they deliver instruction, and better measure student outcomes; the first two investments, also announced today, will be creating a curriculum through Brandman University aimed at improving the educational outcomes of Hispanic students, and a company that helps universities in Britain and elsewhere in Europe deliver their courses online.

In other words, universities are an untapped market for business to corporations who can in turn use their monies to sway policies practices and ideologies within the university system. This is a GLOBAL system which includes, “the largest most sophisticated investors in the US and globally, including founders of successful education enterprises, major University endowments, leading education philanthropists, and Bertelsmann, the 177-year-old international media and services company owned and controlled by one of Europe’s largest and most important not-for-profit foundations.

What could publishing and entertainmnent companies want from investing in higher ed? Million dollar business contract perhaps? Who publishes and prints more than a university?

Who WORKS at University Ventures?

Some of them worked previously at Edison Learning. Another was CTO of Apollo Group where he built and launched cloud-based and data-driven adaptive learning platforms. But the three leaders of this venture are indeed well versed in vulture/venture capitalism:

Daniel Pianko began his career as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs. He entered the education industry as Director of Strategy and Planning at LearnNow, a high growth charter school company that was acquired by Edison Schools. Since his initial work with charter schools.

David Figuli has represented seller or buyer in over half of all successful non-profit to for-profit conversions of colleges and universities. Figuli said, “To the extent we’re trying to remodel higher education, you have to remodel it at the core of the institution, which is still primarily on-ground.”

Ryan Craig: was founding Director of Bridgepoint Education, one of the largest online universities Ryan began his career as a consultant with McKinsey & Co.

According to their website, “University Ventures has the capital to assist colleges and universities to develop innovative new programs that will allow them to do a better job of fulfilling their mission and also generate important new revenue streams.”

They are focused on GLOBAL changes in higher education: “Bertelsmann’s role as the anchor investor in the recently launched $100m University Ventures Fund signals the arrival of the German media giant as a player in the global education market – a market dominated over the last 18 months by Pearson and private equity firms. The new fund aims to form partnerships with leading universities to jointly develop and deploy online higher education programmes and build scalable education platforms in Europe and the US. Unlike other players in the market, Bertelsmann’s focus is entirely on digital and the opportunities technology provides in education.”

They partner with global businesses, bringing business and revenue to those corporations via their educational programs.


The Condé Nast project was an intriguing first partnership for Qubed, Pianko says, because of the opportunity to “bring incredibly strong consumer brands into education and connect them with strong university brands to build consumer experiences commensurate with the quality of those brands.”

See here to see their BOARD of DIRECTORS

Click here to see UV white paper which explicates their broader approach.

Generally takeaways from the white paper:

UV is interested in creating “competency based education” (over seat time)— Here is where national agenda like Common Core and edTPA reflect their agenda. To create streamlined revenue sources by creating online education, data…streamlined big data…is necessary. And it relegates educators and classrooms as expendable.

“The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on Tuesday announced that it would use a $460,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to study the Carnegie Unit, which forms the basis of a time-based measurement of student learning. The credit hour calls for one credit per hour of faculty instruction and two hours of homework, on a weekly basis, over a 15-week semester …Accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education are working through how to regulate institutions that want to move beyond the credit hour.”

“Produce more learning for less work” (p.12)

“Gamified mobile apps, all manner of e-books and classroom analytics tools are just a few of the business models attracting venture capital dollars in the $5.4 billion K-12 education technology industry. In California alone, state estimates peg the implementation costs of Common Core around $3 billion, opening the door for companies pitching cost-effective tech tools”.

In other words, University Ventures is just one of many vulture—um…venture –capital projects.




Let’s Start with a Few Recent Headlines:

Teacher Prep Colleges Are Failing the Teachers

Study Delivers Failing Grades For Many Programs Training Teachers 

States Slow to Close Faltering Teacher Ed. Programs

Traditional colleges of education (aka 4 year undergraduate teacher preparation with state certification usually conferred in tandem) are under the gun in recent years. But WHO is it that is putting the element of doubt about the quality of teacher preparation programs into the mainstream media to begin with? Peter Taubman forewarned about this movement over seven years ago when he wrote: “It’s a remarkable sleight of hand. The best way we educators can address serious social, political, and economic problems is to comply with regulatory agencies and their mandated audit practices, subject ourselves to constant surveillance, render ourselves and our situations as quantifiable data, and surrender to normalizing discourses that drain our subjectivities.” (The Tie That Binds: Learning and Teaching in the New Educational Order, Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 4 (2), 150-160)

And here we are.

Framing a Narrative

A close examination of the facts suggests that colleges of education as an extension of their public K12 counterparts are being subjected to the same strategies and tactics led by corporate-run “reform” policies in an effort to privatize public education. All that is needed is sufficient “doubt” about our faith or trust in Colleges of Education. The “doubt” strategy is evident in other extreme far right policies regarding their challenge climate change policies (do we really know if its human made?), voter ID fraud (the whopping fraction of a fraction of the population who could destroy our democracy, right?), and even evolution as a scientifically proven explanation for the origins of the human species (it is a theory after all). All that’s needed is that seed of “doubt” to maintain leverage in a debate to keep their agenda on the table with the illusion of legitimacy. Like other public service sectors (agriculture, health, prisons) this effort to profoundly alter the landscape of teacher preparation in America is both ideologically and economically motivated.

The ideological motive behind eliminating Colleges of Education comes from far right individuals and think tanks who fear that Colleges of Education are bastions of leftist thought and “brain washing”. Common assertions made by these critics such as Chester Finn claim that the typical school of education “has a Left-wing political bias, favoring Socialist philosophies such as Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy “ and the “Teaching for Social Justice” movement” and are of lower academic standards and include “Mickey Mouse” courses” (Finn, C. E. [2001]. Getting better teachers—and treating them right. In T. M. Moe (Ed.), A primer on America’s schools (pp. 127-150). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute).

It is not surprising that the voices leading the Pedagogy of Doubt are think tanks and non profits sponsored by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the most powerful organization “you’ve never heard of” (Moyers,, which is directly tied to the Koch Brothers. As a Rolling Stone article explains ALEC: “They don’t oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the holiness of free markets.”

The lesser known but equally important “man behind the ALEC curtain” is Paul Weyrich (1942-2008). In addition to being one of co- founding creators of ALEC he also co-founded the conservative think tanks, the Heritage Foundation, and the Free Congress Foundation. He coined the term “moral majority”, the name of the political action group Moral Majority that he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.

According to Paul Weyrich:

“The next conservatism should renew the call to disestablish the Federal department of Education and leave local schools to local communities. If we don’t stop it, soon we will find that it doesn’t matter how we educate our children, their minds will still be poisoned by this anti-Western, anti-Christian ideology”

The economic motive also exists for attacking Colleges of Education is economic, a move also generated by ALEC to craft policy catering to free market incentives that reap billions of dollars in profits by closing or co opting public Colleges of Education into privately managed profit driven intuitions.

As Giroux  illustrates: “Neoliberalism is not merely an economic doctrine that prioritizes buying and selling, makes the supermarket and mall the temples of public life and defines the obligations of citizenship in strictly consumerist terms. It is also a mode of pedagogy and set of social arrangements that uses education to win consent, produce consumer-based notions of agency and militarize reason in the service of war, profits, power and violence while simultaneously instrumentalizing all forms of knowledge.”

See blog Part II for more data on this.

Three Easy Steps

There is the playbook which has been used to shutter schools from New Orleans to Chicago to Detroit and other urban locations.  This is not conjecture. It’s a proven pattern. Following this step by step How to Privatize in 3 easy steps I suggest this narrative has found its way into reforms making their way through higher education.

1.                  Manufacture a Crisis (from David Berliner, 1996, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America’s Public Schools)

This is a very real strategy which was embraced by Paul Weyrich and the political and corporate members of ALEC. In the words of Eric Heubeck, a protégé of Weyrich:

We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of ‘Public Education is Rotten; Homeschool Your Kids.’ This will change nobody’s mind immediately; no one will choose to stop sending his children to public schools immediately after seeing such a bumper sticker; but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem. 

Crisis #1: Colleges of Education are “Failing!”: Huebeck’s tactic is being imitated by key corporate owned policy makers. In October 2009, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that “by almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom.” (Medina, Jennifer [22 October 2009] “Teacher Training Termed Mediocre”New York Times. Retrieved2012-03-02).

The manufacturing of faux ratings of Colleges of Education by National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ)  is the starkest evidence of a manufactured crisis created by the same individuals who seek to profit from marketing solutions ever created.  See blog Part II for more about NCTQ.

Crisis #2: Colleges of Education are Expendable–Now we are facing the message of “under enrollment” –the higher education version of “underutilization” in K12. The manufactured crisis of under utilization is used to justify closing k12 public schools and re opening them as privately managed charter schools.

Ed Week (funded by Bill Gates) refers to this as “an alarming trend.”

This narrative was repeated by Cabinet Report  whose corporate host is School Innovations & Achievement (SI&A), “a bellwether education consulting firm … among the nation’s leaders in providing software and service solutions to schools with a combined enrollment of nearly six million students.”

Maybe there are fewer students enrolling in colleges of education. However, the framing of the language as negative IS important. It implies that colleges of education must be doing something wrong causing low enrollment that we must “fix.” WHO is defining the numbers as “low”?  Low according to whom? Many college classes are often over-full lacking the financial resources to hire more faculty and open more sections of classes. So they extend the class sizes, making quality instruction often times challenging. How can we have insufficient numbers of sections available for classes necessary to complete a program of education within four years (note the counter criticism is that we fail to graduate student out in four years) but also be faced with under enrollment? Which is it? Reframing the language, might be an opportunity to provide more personalized instruction which in turn would help us prepare even better beginning educators. Maybe fewer students in each class would mean fewer students failing to get in to their needed courses within a four year time period. Maybe, given the financial constraints of most institutions we no longer have to stretch ourselves to hire more and more adjuncts to cover the overflow of students clamoring to complete our courses.

  1. Create A System of Self-fulfilling Prophecies:

Many of the so-called solutions to the so called crisis actually exacerbate existing problems, moving the crisis from manufactured to real. For example, CAEP (formerly NCATE) is requiring Colleges of Education collect data on their interns (student teachers) from two sources while they are teaching in the field. This is to measure the efficacy of the teacher preparation program and the quality of the intern (to appease Arne Duncan’s notion of mediocrity).  Refer back to headline Number Three.  which reported, “Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee, among others, are at the forefront of another effort. They are issuing annual reports showing teacher programs’ ability to raise student achievement, usually by connecting K-12 students’ test scores to each institution that prepared those students’ teachers.”

However, this over simplified solution to the problem ignores the myriad of factors that all educators know to be true about how student achievement is produced such as family dynamics, schools funding, health and wellness of the child, and most notably POVERTY.  As Taubman warns:

“Racism, poverty, class warfare, political corruption, as well as specific individual and local problems are translated into lack of qualified teachers who can be produced if we just have the right standards and practices in place. Furthermore, we know we’ll have succeeded by the results on tests taken by the teachers and by the students.”

With little to no consideration for these key factors, interns and colleges of education will be judged on their performance. Partnerships with schools within high poverty neighborhoods will have fewer interns and fewer interns will be prepared to work in such communities. Ravitch echoes this concern: “Judging them by the test scores of students taught by their graduates will discourage colleges from sending their graduates to distressed districts and serve as a warning to avoid special education and English language learners.”

In addition, one might imagine that if “data performance” will be attached to whether or not a student/intern may even graduate, one might imagine enrollment in colleges of education plummeting even further. As the saying goes, more rules make more criminals, just as more accountability will create more “failure”—the narrative framing has moved from manufactured to inevitable.

  1. Market a “Solution”:

The same entities manufacturing the crisis conveniently are also the same folks waiting in the wings to market the solution. Such is the case with Relay Graduate School and Teach for America. These organizations, whose key funders are the same people whose “think tanks” and non profits generated the “data” to create a crisis narrative in the first place, profit handsomely for their efforts. The end result also serves the ideological interests who created the crisis. Again, Paul Weyrich:

“Conservatives have also made progress in dealing with the corruption of our universities by the ideology of cultural Marxism, which includes all the phony “studies” departments we now see in most colleges. We have established new colleges and universities, both “brick and mortar” and on-line institutions, that offer the classics of Western culture. Conservative alumni groups are having real impact on some existing universities, working to restore freedom of thought and speech.”

Universities have become a new market for venture private investments to make their profits. According to University Venture Funds, “In the last few years … a new strain of entities has emerged. These use private (often investor-provided) capital to work with existing institutions to create entirely new institutions or enterprises.”

Let me recap: Colleges of Education are subjected to the same two manufactured narratives as their K12 counterparts: Failure and under utilization. These narratives of “doubt” are mobilized by the same corporate and political entities that market “solutions” to the crisis they fomented. Corporate members of ALEC finance non profits, think tanks and research that provide “data” to market these narratives. The motives for this are ideological (a blind faith in unfettered free market and privatization, and fear of “progressive” ideas) and economic (profits created via free market privatization).  

Do teacher preparation programs need to improve? Of course they do. Just as any professional program for lawyers, nurses or business majors could be improved. But our areas in need of improvement are not the “problems” framed by corporate reformers. And their “solutions” are not the real solutions to the problems we face. For example, we need to address how to attract more teachers of color (education is still largely a white female profession). We need to create curricula that emphasize critical theories which encourage beginning educators to critique “reform” and the attacks launched on public education and our profession. A pedagogy of doubt IS needed-one that WE frame, one that asks our students to doubt whether or not those promising “reform” have other economic or ideological motives NOT in the best interests of public education or children. So rather than responding to the manufactured crisis narratives such as how will we address “low enrollment” or “improve teacher quality” by twisting ourselves in knots to address these “crisis”-a task designed for our failure no matter how we try, we should put our energies into a deep critique of the narrative itself and whose bidding we are choosing to serve?



My Letter to Arne

Posted: October 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

Dear Arne,

I know many members of the education revolution, fighting for the rights of ALL children for an equitable, meaningful and sustainable public education, are doing a jig of joy over your resignation. I share in their collective joy…and yet…well, I’m gonna kind of miss you.

I’m going to miss your vapid blank facial expressions. I am going to miss the empty rhetoric which any dolt could have written on the inside of a Hallmark greeting card, and call it a genuine response to our genuine problems. I am REALLY gonna miss those horrible foot- in- the- mouth gaffs you made, like the racist response to the people of New Orleans after Katrina and the way n which you erase the voices and actions of people of color which are central to the opt out movement by calling it a movement of “white middle class soccer moms.”

You made it so easy to fight back. You gave us so much fuel for fodder. Now what? Will King, being the asshat that he is, continue to destroy public education as badly as you have? I am sure he will. But will he be as much fun?

The first time you and I met was in 2011 during the Save Our Schools march when i gave you my hand made doll-in-a-box (made especially for you). I am sure you’ll take it with you when you leave and keep it somewhere to treasure always.


We met again when United Opt Out occupied the US Department of Education. You invited us in and shared with us the black hole that is your intellectual void .

The last time was met was just under a year ago when you spoke at UMBC in Baltimore MD. At the Q and A session is asked you this:

“My name is Morna McDermott. We have met before though I doubt you remember it. I stand here today representing the thousands of members of Save Our Schools, the 50 thousand members of the Bad Ass Teachers Association, and the 30 thousand plus members of the opt out movement as a founding organizer of United Opt Out. Collectively we ARE the voices of teachers, parents and activists who are disgusted by the reforms YOU have put in place which are destroying our childrens’ education, our teaching profession, and our communities. We refuse to sit by idly while you privatize our schools and destroy our democratic rights. My question for you is this: ARE YOU READY FOR US?”

Ahh. The blank expression on your face was something I’ll remember always. Sigh. But then you leaned in to your microphone and responded, “I am ready for anything.”

But, now you are resigning…so I guess you aren’t ready for us. I like to believe you are leaving in large part because of us. Because the revolution is growing … and you know it.

If we drove you out, we can drive out John King or anyone else the corporate king- makers choose to appoint.

Game on.


Morna McDermott


2001: Students in Scarsdale boycott the state’s eighth-grade tests. Twenty-eight schools in New York are part of a growing movement of schools across the country that have protested the use of standardized testing, saying it forces them to abandon creative and stimulating lessons to focus on material in the tests.

2010: Arne Duncan was given an honor at Harvard. Citizens for Public Schools, Fair Test, Liza Womack and her Mom organized a protest at Harvard Square, Ruth Rodriguez (now a United Opt Out administrator)  was invited to speak at the rally, Nancy Carlsson Paige, Deb Meier and many others were also speakers. Then they all went with signs to the site as people were leaving from the event.

2010: Jesse Turner walked from CT to DC for the first time and participated in an event at American University (planned by Bess Altwerger and Vivian Vasquez). Literacy scholars from Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking (CELT) including Jesse, Rick Meyer, Bess and others created an anti standardized testing movement, emerging out of a whole language philosophy which had been publishing anti testing research since the late 1970’s.  During the American University event they discussed an idea ignited previously by Laurie Murphy and Chris Janotta who created a FB page called “The Million Teacher March.” From this, Save Our Schools March was born.

July 2011: Bess Altwerger (now a Howard County MD school board member and professor emeritus) along with other known Opt Out organizers such as nationally board certified teacher Ceresta Smith from Florida and Laurie Murphy (founding United Opt Out administrator) and Denisha Jones (current UOO admin and BATS organizer) as well as Anthony Cody (know at the time for his Letters to Obama movement) and is now one of the creators of NPE (with Diane Ravitch and Robin Hiller). Rosemarie Jensen (a current UOO admin), Ruth Rodriguez (current UOO admin and board member for SOS), Elizabeth Lynch (UOO leader) and Morna McDermott were also at SOS.

There was a strong Long Island contingency represented at the SOS march including Elizabeth Lynch (a current UOO leader).

Ceresta was one of the first parents to refuse the tests for her daughter back in 2010. This is important to note as one of the stereotypes of the Opt Out movement is that it is white middle class moms. Yet in the beginning one of the first opt out voices was a parent and teacher of color down in Florida.

Following on the heels of SOS, United Opt Out was born when Peggy Robertson reached out to Tim Slekar-another testing refuser in 2010, Morna McDermott, Shaun Johnson, Laurie Murphy and Ceresta Smith to form the organization. The first national network specifically dedicated to opting out  is created.

In August 2011 United Opt Out created a Facebook site, a website with 50 opt out guides, and a variety of parent resources and an email to help walk parents through opt out problems.

From United Opt Out, many state level opt out groups were born. Some grew tremendously to national attention such as Opt Out Long Island and Opt Out Orlando (Becky Smith, one of the founding organizers met Ceresta Smith at SOS who also lives in FL, and attended Occupy the DOE 2012).

December 2011 The shot (in the form of a letter from Long Island principals) is heard all over the country and sparks a flame.

March 2012  the first Occupy the US Dept of Education is organized by United Opt Out. This is the first time the words “Bad Ass Teachers Association” are uttered by Mark Naison. People in attendance loved it. What was a clever half serious phrase then in following years blossomed into its own powerful national teacher’s organization (p.s. NOT to associated with TFA’s bullshit “Badass” women’s association).

March 2013 United Opt Out Occupy the DOE 2.0 in Washington DC

2013: Teachers from the Seattle area, led by Jesse Hagopian, refuse en mass to administer the standardized tests.

April 2014: United Opt Out in Denver CO. The UOO website is hacked and destroyed.

April 2015: United Opt Out in Fort Lauderdale FL.  Michael Pena joins us as our newest United Opt Out administrator following this event.

Finally a nod must be given to those individuals and groups that have preceded ALL of this–  Fair Test has been around for thirty years, and education advocates such as Susan Ohanian, Ira Shor, Henry Giroux and Stephen Krashen  all of whom (with so many others) have been researching and writing about the problems with standardized testing for decades, and whose research has been critical to building the opt out movement.

Thank you Ceresta for sharing these historical links:…/educating-for-democracy-s_1… ,…/opting-out-of-state-test-you-ca…,…/03/20/ ,…/parents-take-stand-against-sta…/…


Joanne Weiss is the author of an article entitled Competing Principles:Race to the Top, a $4 billion US education reform effort, produced valuable lessons on designing a competition-based program.

Here’s the main page at Stanford: Competing Principles (SSIR)

Weiss’ main conclusion is: “Competitions are an imperfect way to drive change. Yet as our experience with Race to the Top shows, they can serve as a crucible of reform for forward-thinking leaders. A well-designed competition can spur innovation, create a marketplace for new ideas, engage multiple stakeholders in a broad-based reform effort, and create conditions in which rapid change is possible—even in a traditionally change-resistant field. We will not know the full impact of Race to the Top for several more years. Already, though, it has provided important lessons for policymakers.

But what else do we need to know about Joanne Weiss and her “competing principles”?

In research I did a while back regarding Common Core I noted:

“The director of Race to the Top is Joanne Weiss, who worked with the Broad Foundation, which also has as one of its acting members Chester Finn with the Fordham Institute. Broad Foundation is also a member of ALEC, which sponsored the bill called the Parent Trigger Act.”

Derek Furr, author of “Education in the Age of Neoliberalism,” states:

Joanne Weiss, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff, wrote glowingly that, ‘The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. … The adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.’ Taken in total, these reforms and initiatives effectively created a bonanza for a private sector that scurried to cash in.”

Jane Robbins in her post “Feds Confess Truth About Common Core” writes:

Joanne Weiss was the director of USED’s Race to the Top (RttT) program, the vehicle through which states were bribed to accept Common Core and the aligned assessments. In an essayrecently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Weiss confessed that USED used strong-arm tactics to transform states’ standards and assessments systems: “[W]e forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state — the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education — by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.

Peter Green, author of Competitive Baloney & Rehabilitating RTTT suggests,

Race to the Top kick-started the process of foisting an unproven, unsupportable standards created by amateurs, test manufacturers, and book publishers on an unsuspecting public … Race to the Top gave the test-and-punish policies of No Child Left Behind a giant shot of steroids, promising a level of testing quality that has still not been delivered while simultaneously chaining the professional future of teachers to that unproven testing system … Race to the Top set out to create winners and losers among the states, declaring that the federal government only needed to help some American students be educated. At the same time, it gave a jolt of support to the process of declaring individual schools losers and turning those schools into profit-making opportunities for charter privateers who echoed the new mission– educate only some of the students, but do it with everyone’s public tax dollars.

Blogger and activist Chris Chase summarizes Joanne Weiss’ rhetoric this way:
U.S. Dept. of Education officials write about accountability and evidence-based reforms, yet purposefully ignored  decades of research on successful learner-centered innovations and the dangers of high-stakes testing. Federal laws were ignored, new rules, measurement tools and standards were written out of thin air. By cutting professional teachers and education experts out of the formulation of education policies and seeking to “leverage” change, DOE’s leaders (directly connected to charter school investors) put in place one of the most destructive education policies in recent U.S. history. And, they broke the law to do it, in my opinion.
Did Former DOE Official Admit to Breaking U.S. Law?
Lessons (WE CAN) learn from Race to the Top?

  1. That people with self-serving political and profitable interests are the central “talking pieces” promoting hype and sound bite solutions that they are paid to sell. As educator and activist Susan Ohanian points out:        ” Before joining the Obama administration, Weiss, who has a degree in biochemestry, was the Chief Operating Officer and a Partner at NewSchools Venture Expert in Residence at the
    Harvard Innovation Lab(located in Harvard Business School), and a visiting lecturer in education policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. She sits on the boards of Learn Zillion and BloomBoard. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, she was a member of many boards, including Aspire Public Schools, Rocketship Education, Green Dot Public Schools, Leadership Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools, Revolution Foods, Carnegie Learning, and Teachscape.”
  2. Advertising seems to win over facts and research in our “130- characters- or- less” consumer society. Knowing the truth just seems like…such…hard…work. It is easier to believe something that sounds good than work for something that IS good.
  3. Laws and ethical behavior are somethings only the rest of us are accountable for. Loop holes, double-speak and plan bullshit seems to suffice for corporate-reformers to push through their agenda. Selling out schools, communities, and our children-all for profit and the larger ideological goal of dismantling public education are buried beneath false promises. That’s what advertisers DO. Oil companies pretending to care about the environment, sugar lobbyists pretending to care about our health, or new miracle products promising us the cure for what ails us. This is the tactic.
  4. Most important lesson: They CAN and they WILL continue unless we fight back. Our complacency and complicity are what they require–so refuse to buy what they’re selling. REFUSE it all.

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The resignation of Lillian Lowery as the State Superintendent of Maryland schools  has raised speculation as to what may change in current education policies. Given her close ties to PARCC (serving on the governing board), allowing Maryland to be the fiscal agent for PARCC, Pearson and David Coleman (to name a few) it’s no wonder MD has become deeply and uncritically embedded with corporate-run reforms. See:

Jack Smith is Lowery’s temporary replacement, but after that, who will fill the role of MD Superintendent? While Governor Hogan has a role to play in this appointment, The state board of education is the entity that will be responsible for selecting the next person to serve a four-year term and so it’s a wise idea to know the board if we are to anticipate who they deem a viable candidate.  The state board holds considerable power and influence over state policy. Their website states: “The Board sets the state’s education policies and standards for pre-kindergarten through high school and for Maryland’s public libraries, juvenile services education and vocational rehabilitation services. It passes regulations that have the force of law and is empowered to interpret the true meaning and intent of the law. It also reviews and approves three annual budgets (the Department of Education headquarters budget, the state aid to local education budget, and state-aided institutions budget) before they’re passed on to the governor’s office for approval or revision and then to the General Assembly for final action. The Board is also required to decide all controversies brought before it that arise under the law.”

Hogan has been responsible for appointing some of the board members, perhaps putting in to place those individuals whose agenda for education reflects his own. For a better sense of what Hogan is “for” in education policy see here.

In this post I do not intend to skewer an entire twelve person board. I am sure that many of them are simply nice people doing their best to serve the state of Maryland. However, there are some influential members who warrant our deeper examination (and concern). If we want to prepare ourselves for how the board will set policies regarding Common Core state standards, and state (or federal) level standardized testing (depending on what happens with the ESEA re authorization), charter schools, vouchers, and school curriculum, we should understand what other motives they may have.

1) Chester Finn (appointed by Hogan in May 2015).

Finn is former assistant secretary of education to former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

He served as founding partner and senior scholar with the Edison Project. Why this matters: Edison Project is a for-profit education management organization.

Finn serves on the boards of National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and the Core Knowledge Foundation. Why this matters: Finn strongly supports the common core and charter schools. In fact, Finn was is an honoree in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (see Anthony Smarick below) “charter school Hall of Fame”

According to Wayne Au:

“Conservatives have been developing an infrastructure to attack teacher education at least since 2000, when the Thomas B. Fordham Institute created the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) … [The Fordham Institute] established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification … corporate education reformers have placed NCTQ in a position of national prominence. Diane Ravitch explains: ‘Today, NCTQ is the partner of U.S. News & World Report and will rank the nation’s schools of education. It received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to review teacher quality in Los Angeles. It is now often cited as the nation’s leading authority on teacher quality issues.’ NCTQ supports the use of high-stakes test scores in teacher evaluation (known as value-added measurement, or VAM), including using test scores of students to rate the teacher education programs from which their teachers graduated. Taking a page directly out of the rabidly pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook on education reform, NCTQ has already issued report cards for teacher education by state and is on the verge of “grading” most individual teacher education programs in the country. Kate Walsh and the NCTQ are part of the cabal of corporate reformers dismantling public education today, and they have teacher education squarely in their sights.”

See more here:

2) Andrew Smarick (appointed by Hogan in May 2015)

He is Partner​ ​at​ ​Bellwether​ ​Education Partners. Why this matters:

Bellwether works with Stand for Children, and one of the board of the Partner -members is on the board of Democrats for Education Reform.

Andy Smarick was keynote speaker at lunch for the November 19 Summit on Faith-based schools, sponsored by The American Bible Society in NYC.

Bellwether Board of Directors includes prominent people from: Teach for America, Goldman, Sachs & Co., NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, McKinsey, and ROADS Charter Schools, and numerous people from Bain & Company.

Smarick also ​helped found a college-preparatory charter school and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools​ ​(NAPCS) and was a founding board member of 50CAN. Why this matters:

According to Sourcewatch, “NAPCS is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement”

50CAN is one of the most influential corporate run reform efforts in the country. 50CAN currently has more than 40 full-time staff across the country, with a leadership team composed of Marc Porter Magee, Ph.D (CEO and founder), Vallay Varro (president) and Ingrid Reynoso (COO).[7] The organization’s board of directors is led by Sandy Vargas (president & CEO, The Minneapolis Foundation) and includes Dacia Toll (co-CEO, Achievement First), Ann Borowiec (former CEO, JP Morgan Asset Management), David Wick (chief external impact officer, KIPP Foundation) Jonathan Sackler (director, Purdue Pharma & founder of ConnCAN) and Marc Porter Magee.

(Note: Jason Botel is a founding member of MarylandCAN and founded KIPP Baltimore)

3) Larry Giammo

He is Managing Director with the Matrix Knowledge Group. Why this matters: Matrix Knowledge has been described as a major player (within the UK and the US) in the move toward privatization of public education and commodification of “policy knowledge” (Ball, 2010)

According to Ball, “the commercialisation and commodification of this leadership knowledge, as well as that involving ‘numbers’ and other forms of ‘policy knowledge’, and the emergence of what Gunter (forthcoming 2010) calls ‘the leadership industry’; which brings new voices and new knowledge brokers into the market of research ideas, and also, in a variety of ways, into the conversations of education policy. This involves a new generation of knowledge companies and consultants for whom policy is a business opportunity and from whom governments are increasingly purchasing ‘policy knowledge’. In the United Kingdom, Matrix Knowledge Group and A4e are examples of such knowledge businesses.”

Matrix Knowledge Group is also supported by ALEC. In an ALEC document called Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education “ is a new joint venture between the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Matrix Knowledge Group. This interactive website enables users to evaluate the performance of four-year public and private colleges and universities focusing on key outcome measures: graduation rates, first-year retention rates, education-related cost per student, cost per degree, student loan default rates, and the ratio of student loan payments to earnings for recent graduates.”

It appears from the associations examined here that Hogan is aligning the stars for a pro privatization agenda of Maryland public education. If the 3 board members discussed here are any indicators of the full board’s agenda for education policy, those of us fighting for public education are in for a rough ride ahead.