False Advertising Used to Sell Out Maryland Public Schools


Head’s up. Or better, duck and cover. Reform is coming to Baltimore County. While I’ve been blogging for a while how reform policy is influencing Maryland in general and Baltimore City,  the tentacles are expanding, as many of us knew they would. The modus operandi du jour is charter school legislation and related reform policies. Why? Because Maryland’s charter law because it is one of the most restrictive in the nation.  For predatory reformers and corporate profiteers, this (of course) will not do. They’ve got to loosen those messy regulations that hold profiteers in check, and ensure that public education is not colonized by McCharters. But grow they must. And grow they will…unless the public school advocates, parents, teachers and students do something to stop it.

On May 15th, the charter-driven reform circus is coming to town, presenting at Towson University, where a host of panelists will discuss “topics including the hotly debated Common Core State Standards Initiative, universal pre-kindergarten, and the role of charter schools in Maryland.”

Let’s look at whose coming to dinner: A host of “experts” who hoist themselves up through a thin veneer of legitimacy via the non-profit organizations for whom they work. The Maryland Public Policy Institute, Jason Botel, founder of KIPP Baltimore and executive director of MarylandCAN, Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation.

First, let’s start with a brief review of what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for readers who may be unfamiliar with this group, because they have everything to with everything here.


The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a right-wing public policy organization with strong ties to major corporations, trade associations and right-wing politicians.

ALEC’s agenda includes rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on polluters, infringing on workers’ rights, limiting government regulations of commerce, privatizing public services, and representing the interests of the corporations that make up its supporters. ALEC’s mission: “To promote the principles of federalism by developing and promoting policies…To enlist state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission…To conduct a policy-making program that unites members of the public and private sector in a dynamic partnership to support research, policy development, and dissemination activities.” ALEC is supported by many right-wing foundations and organizations, including, but not limited to: National Rifle Association, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Milliken Foundation, DeVos Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and the Olin Foundation. ALEC has approximately three hundred corporate sponsors. Several well-known and closely-tied organizations include: American Nuclear Energy Council, American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Union Pacific Railroad, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Phillip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. ALEC has proposed that many public services, such as schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services, be taken over by for-profit private businesses.

Back to Our Panelists:

1)       The Maryland Public Policy Institute (MPPI)

From Source Watch http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Maryland_Public_Policy_Institute:

Christopher B. Summers is founder and president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Maryland’s “leading” public-policy think tank. Prior to launching the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Mr. Summers held positions on Capitol Hill and in the nonprofit sector, including the Capital Research Center, a Washington-based think tank that studies corporate philanthropy and funding of issue advocacy organizations, and in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

A brief word about Roe: The ROE Foundation–is a 501(c-3) private foundation that provides  financial support to free-market policy groups across the country. Roe was also an early funder of the Heritage FoundationThe Roe Foundation has granted $28,500 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) between 2000 and 2011, according to a review of the foundation’s IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy

Bob Erlich is one of the directors for the MPPI.

In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute stated that it provided a grant of $40,000 to the Maryland Public Policy Institute (which is misnamed Center in the annual report).

MPPI adjunct staff member Wendell Cox was the director of public policy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for three years. Both MPPI and ALEC have received grants from the JM Foundation ($25,000 each in 2009).

2)       Jason Botel, founder of KIPP Baltimore and executive director of MarylandCAN, formerly worked for Teach For America 

The MarylandCAN Board of Directors includes someone from TFA, one from Teach Plus, one from Sylvan Learning. They state “Our board is our most trusted advisors.”

MarylandCAN is funded by Fund for Education of the Baltimore Community Foundation among others. And 50CAN, the master organization that sponsors state-level groups, is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation, and Google Inc. among others.

More about KIPP follows at the end of this blog.

3)       Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Alliance for Public Charter Schools partners with some of the most nefarious reformers on the educational landscape: StudentsFirst, Democrats for Education Reform, 50 Can, National Association of Charter School Authorizors (a member of ALEC’s Education Commitee) and Foundation for Excellence. Ms.Rees also also served as the senior education analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

4)       Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation

Heritage Foundation is opposed to Common Core. So are a lot of folks-both from the right and the left. But…they’re also anti-union and pro privatization.

Heritage was co-founded by Paul Weyrich,  who was an American religious conservative political activist and commentator, most notable as a figurehead of the New Right. He co-founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He coined the term “moral majority”, the name of the political action group Moral Majority that he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.

How does the co-founder of The Heritage Foundation and ALEC feel about PUBLIC schools?

“Faced with public school systems that no longer educate but instead ‘condition’ students with the attitudes demanded by Political Correctness, they have seceded. They have separated themselves from public schools and have created new institutions, new schools, in their homes. I think that we have to look at a whole series of possibilities for bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy. If we expend our energies on fighting on the “turf” they already control, we will probably not accomplish what we hope, and we may spend ourselves to the point of exhaustion.”

Funding for this event is provided by the Arthur Rupe Foundation. The foundation is expanding its reach into a variety of issues, including labor unions, K-12 education reform, and higher education reform.

Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president of Rupe Foundation has a record of advocating for pro charter expansion policies. The foundation provides institutional support for the Cato Institute and other right-wing advocacy groups which support the mission of Paul Weyrich and ALEC.

In their mission statement, founder Arthur Rupe states, “In founding and funding the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, I am endeavoring to employ our limited resources to perpetuate for posterity the guiding principles of our Founder’s libertarian philosophy: limited government, free market capitalism, individual responsibility, and the rule of law.”

So naturally Rupe would support charters and privatization.  While charter school proponents rely of free advertising, like tha offered by this event, and use of keen marketing to sell their products, they all but completely ignore research based on facts. For example, a Stanford study shows “that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.”

In reform-world, this would be grounds for a wholesale shut down of community schools. So … why would we actually EXPAND a policy in which nearly 40% of the new schools are in fact worse? What sane city or county would perceive that as a good idea?  They don’t. In fact there has been tremendous push back and outcry by communities from New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago who did NOT want this so called “choice” in their communities. Tear-jerking scenarios from Waiting for Superman do not suffice. Out there in the real world, urban communities around the county are fighting against these measures—because they harm the schools, children, and communities. Why would the effects in Baltimore be any different?

Additionally, KIPP (headlining this panel) is not exactly the wunderkind it promotes itself to be. Given its outrageous attrition rates, and so-called “radical” approach that enables them to cherry pick some and eliminate others,  “KIPP doesn’t seem to have an answer for those kids who won’t work hard or be nice. KIPP has the luxury of washing its hands of them.” Would we really want to replace more public schools that educate all of the children all of the time in favor of a privately run model that only educates some of the children some of the time?

Also on the panel are two of Maryland’s public servants to public education (Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County and Dr. Nancy Grasmick, former MD State Superintendent). One can only hope they live up to their titles: working to serve ALL PUBLIC education and SUPPORT policies that protect ALL PUBLIC school children (from predatory reformers), and take a deeply critical examination of the research, rather than succumb to the false advertisements.

Regarding the other “expert” panelists: Their ideological, political and financial interests are far more apparent given the information I provided here. The issue on everyone’s minds in the audience on Thursday must be: That none of them have yet to provide solid evidence that shows how their reform initatives will actually benefit the children affected by their efforts. They don’t have it because …it doesn’t exist.

We need to ask them and ourselves the real question: Who do these policies really serve?


Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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