UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise. PART II




AUTHORS NOTE: Following the completion of this research (22 pages worth) I came across a document from UNESCO in 2002 that sums it up. Given this recent find, the ensuing research is not necessary to “prove” what I suspected: that UNESCO is steering the global ship of privatization. But enjoy the timeline of events and findings nevertheless—each slice of evidence simply further illustrates what is written in this 2002 document called Education Privatization: Causes, Consequences and Planning Implications. Well, the title says it all. This document promotes a slew of market-based reforms that might have well come from ALEC including: voucher programs, promotes charter schools, accountability, and data mining. The article states, “In general, the World Bank (and other supranational agencies) has encouraged reforms which lead toward privatization of public education” (p.32). At the conclusion of this trope, the authors recommend the reader visit a site called National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


How did we get from first mention of national standards 1984 published at UNESCO to the privatization of public education (of which standards and testing are a huge part) in 2014? The idea of national standards have been an academic and pedagogical exercise for decades if not centuries. What this paper illustrates are not the debatable premises put forth in academic treatise but how national standards as a practice and policy have emerged in the last half century and the ways in which CCSS merges with other related education reform policies all of which lead to one goal: a privatized, market driven and globalized transformation of education.

How did the likes of Lou Gerstner who created Achieve, created in 1996 (who was awarded the contract for CCSS) in 2008 connect with UNESCO? How did an international agency that claims dedication to promoting world peace, and ending of poverty also advocate for a total disruption of education by technology driven corporations?

Without conjecture as to motive or intent, I parallel the last 30 years of reform which are intertwined with UNESCO and find some documented parallels and relationships. The conjecture is left to my reader. My findings here reflect what appear to be the three premises of the last few decades upon which global accountability driven reform are driven, posited by Heinz-Dieter MeyerDaniel TröhlerDavid F. Labaree & Ethan L. Hutt (Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014):•

  • homogenizing the heterogeneous reality of education through increasingly abstract and context-indifferent standards and outcome metrics;
  • shifting centers of policy making influence from “local” education professionals embedded in institutions and narratives of national history and culture to a global elite of experts, committed with increasing single-mindedness to the narrative of market efficiency; and
  • moving from decentralized governance and soft guidelines to centralized governance and hard mandates.

PART II: The 1990’s: Lou Gerstner Gets the Ball Rolling

Climate of the Decade

According to Monthly Review (2001) “convergence and consolidation are the order of the day. Specific media industries are becoming more and more concentrated, and the dominant players in each media industry increasingly are subsidiaries of huge global media conglomerates …the U.S. market for educational publishing is now controlled by four firms, whereas it had two dozen viable players as recently as 1980.  In short order, the global media market has come to be dominated by seven multinational corporations: Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, and Bertelsmann. It is possible that the global media system is in the process of converging with the telecommunications and computer industries to form an integrated global communication system, where anywhere from six to a dozen super companies will rule the roost. The notion that the Internet would “set us free,” and permit anyone to communicate effectively, hence undermining the monopoly power of the corporate media giants, has not transpired.”

Via “big data” of technology the coordinating efforts of UNESCO circa 1984 (mass communication) and the goals of corporate moguls like Louis V. Gerstner Jr.to craft a set of national standards was now possible. UNESCO had its own arm of new technologies in order to manifest the possibilities. The US was not a member of UNESCO in the 1980’s it appears that industry leaders like Gerstner were carrying a similar global message and technology campaign. In the 1990’s the U.S. found common ground with UNESCO.  Through these new technologies education could now be managed like corporations and by managing “big data” on a global scale, corporations can now better determine how to manage, invest, and profit from educational ventures. A common set of standards and tests make data manageable.

Lou Gerstner is the chief executive officer of IBM. Gerstner had long been involved in education reform, both as president of American Express in the 1980s and as CEO of RJR Nabisco before taking the helm at IBM in 1993. He co founded Achieve, the lead architect of the Common Core in 1996.

(Note: At IBM Gerstner established Reinventing Education as a strategic partnership with 21 states and school districts that utilize IBM technology and technical assistance to eliminate key barriers to school reform and improve student performance.”

1994: A book co-authored by Gerstner entitled Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools illustrates that, “The techniques and discipline of business have much to offer in the field of education,” and that part of the problem (as they see it is) Simple organizational ideas like listening to customers, decentralized decision-making, measuring performance, and continuous improvement are notable by their absence in public schools.”

1995: The National Governors Association invited Lou Gerstner to their event.  If the governors showed up, Gerstner told them, he would “team them with a major corporate executive from their state, someone who would back them with strong support in the often withering debates over education reform.” During the event (which was later referenced by a UNESCO report in 2001) Gerstner also stated that, “information technology is the fundamental underpinning of the science of structural re-engineering.” He notes that while IT revolutionizes business and governments, it has not “even made the barest appearance in public education.” Therefore, the same changes that have brought “cataclysmic changes” to business can, “improve the way we teach” as well as improve the “efficiency and effectiveness of how we run our schools.”

1995: UNESCO publishes a book entitled Education Policy Planning Process: An Applied Framework (by Wadi Haddad).  In it the author(s) state “The concern of planners is twofold: to reach understanding of the validity of education in its own empirically observed specific dimensions and to help in defining appropriate strategies for c h a n g e”

1996: Lou Gerstner leads at the Second Annual National Education Summit called for state and local action, 41 governors, 49 corporate leaders and 30 education experts to develop strategies for tough, rigorous standards for the nation’s schools.

Following the 1996 summit, a group of CEOs led by Lou Gerstner and governors founded Achieve Inc., a nonprofit, bipartisan effort to shepherd the process of setting and implementing standards at the state level. In addition, three business interest groups — The Business Roundtable, the National Alliance of Business, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — announced a common agenda to help educators and policymakers “set tough academic standards that apply to every student in every school … and use that information to improve schools and create accountability.”

1998: The creation of Knowledge Enterprise.

Knowledge Enterprise LLC is a private highly specialized consulting firm with a worldwide network of experts, associates and partners and is based in the Washington Metropolitan area. Dr. Wadi Haddad (who authored the 1995 UNESCO book mentioned earlier) established Knowledge Enterprise served as its president and led its analytical, technical and consultation activities. In this capacity, he has served as editor of TechKnowLogia (an online journal of technologies for the advancement of education and learning). He also led collaborative projects with UNESCO, World Bank and Inter American Development Bank. Before founding Knowledge Enterprise in 1998, Dr. Haddad spent 17 years at the World Bank (See WORLD BANK https://educationalchemy.com/2012/09/27/from-metaphor-to-global-nightmare-the-world-banks-influence-on-us-education-reform-policies/. He also drafted World Bank education policies, supervised the formulation and implementation of education development projects in countries worldwide, and led the conceptualization and launching of the “Education for All” (UNESCO) movement. Also served as special adviser to the Director General of UNESCO

1999: Lou Gerstner hosts the third National Education Summit. The focus for the first time was less on the development of standards and more on holding schools accountable for their students’ achievement through measures such as testing and issuing school report cards to the public.

According to one report, “It is no coincidence that among the earliest advocates of testing and raising standards were key corporate moguls like Louis Gerstner of IBM, whose ‘vision’ could have come out of his own company’s mission statement but has since been taken up by politicians of every hue (and cry). It is now routine for education to be seen in economic terms – Tony Blair’s New Labour sees it as essential to making Britain ‘competitive.’

NOTE: The current CEO of Pearson, Sir Michael Barber, also served under Tony Blair.


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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