Pedagogy of Doubt (Part II): Supporting Evidence

Corporate Control of Higher Ed

A Deeper Examination of the Messaging

In Part One I mentioned two articles: and .

The first one is published by Fordham Institiute (known for a its corporate-model reforms) promoting ““Deans for Impact”. One of those deans is Mayme Hostetter, Dean, Relay Graduate School of Education–see more about Relay below. Benjamin Riley is the founder and executive director of Deans for Impact.  Before that he was Director of Policy and Advocacy for New Schools Venture Fund, an organization that is knee deep in corporate reform. Hmmm. Can’t imagine that Deans for Impact has an ulterior motive?! Please read Mercedes Schneider for more.

The second article was published in WaPo by Dr. Pianta himself (the man leading the charge for “Deans for Impact”) using a bit of self promotion via the media. Not suprisingly, Dr. Pianta also has worked closely with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as evidenced by one of his many books found here.

Is such media hype research? or is it advertising?

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.

National Governors Association (a key developer of Common Core) launched this paper on Oct 15th, an executive summary entitled Expanding Student Success: A Primer on Competency Based Education from Kindergarten Through Higher Education. Here are some highlights faculty should consider:

“The role of the educator and opportunities for learning. In a CBE system, the role of the educator changes from an individual lecturing in a classroom to that of a coach or facilitator who guides learning. In a CBE system, the training, certification, evaluation, pay, promotion, and leadership role of educators should all be reexamined. In addition, online resources play a larger role in teaching and learning. Policies should reflect those shifts and enable educators to use those resources effectively and cost efficiently;

Changes in roles will affect faculty contracts, job descriptions, and evaluations for tenure and promotion. Faculty contracts and job descriptions will need to reflect those new, differentiated roles. Current promotion and evaluation for tenure are not typically tied to the quality of education that students experience. Depending on the type of institution, they might not be tied to teaching at all. Future evaluations could shift toward measuring faculty performance against whether students have acquired the learning outcomes set for the courses they take.”


Currently, policymakers in a number of states are looking to establish criteria against which to evaluate the quality of higher education by measuring student learning outcomes rather than inputs or the number of graduates.


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.



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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