Sunday, January 29, 2012

Diane Ravitch: who is winning the fight for education reform?

From the Diane Ravitch blog,

Back when I was on the right side of the political fence, I was on the editoarial board at Education Next. It is supported by the Hoover Institution and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, both conservative think tanks with which I was affiliated. The journal, which is based at Harvard and edited mainly by Paul Peterson, was created to counter what was seen as the liberal bias of the mainstream education media.

Education Next is a well-edited journal (I used to write a monthly book review there), but it does have a strong bias in favor of charter schools, vouchers, and testing. It is the journal of the corporate reform movement.

The current issue of Education Next has a fascinating article about the “reformers’ fight club.” I have been writing and speaking about the interconnections among these organizations (and there are many more), and it is good to see confirmation of what I have been saying.

For some reason, these incredibly rich and powerful organizations like to portray themselves as underdogs in contrast to the teachers’ unions.

So, get this picture: On one side are the 3.2 million teachers who belong to the NEA and the AFT. On the other side are the Gates Foundation ($60 billion), the Broad Foundation (billions), the Walton Foundation (billions, and spent $159 million this past year alone on education grants), the Dell Foundation, big corporations, Democrats for Education Reform (Wall Street hedge fund managers who can pump millions into political campaigns at will), and 50CAN (more hedge fund managers). And there are supposedly “liberal” advocacy groups like Education Trust and Ed Sector.

Gosh, that is surely an unequal lineup. No wonder the “fight club” feels like underdogs. Those teachers’ unions are just so doggone powerful and rich. Why, they have the big foundations and Wall Street trembling. Who knew that teachers had so much power?

Florida is open for business, Pearson Spends hundreds of thousands on lobbying efforts

Click below to watch video. -cpg

9 Investigates: Impact of lobbying contracts on children's...

Despite late scores and questions about grading practices, the state pays International Pearson Incorporated hundreds of millions of dollars to administer the FCAT.

Now, investigative reporter George Spencer discovered Pearson has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to legislators.

In her summertime routine, fifth-grader Erin Newman has now gotten over her FCAT writing score, which as for many Florida students, was lower than she expected.

But in Tallahassee, WFTV learned that the private company behind the test deals in numbers that are very high.

Despite scoring problems and student failures, the state is paying Pearson $249 million for five years of tests and grading. WFTV also found that Pearson spend hundreds of thousands to influence those same leaders.

"Public education is open for business. Whoever the best bidder is, you can come in and administer our test for us," said parent Rebecca Newman. "It's ridiculous!"

WFTV studied public records and discovered that since 2007, two years before getting its current contract, the International Pearson Incorporated has spent at least $580,000, and possibly as much as $800,000 on lobbyists in Florida's capital.

But Pearson's quarterly spending often put it in the highest tier of lobbyist spending by firms in any sector.

Lobbyists are paid to advocate their clients' interests in the halls of power, meeting face-to-face with lawmakers. They're known to be persistent, sometimes returning time and again to make their case.

Pearson's money went to Uhlfelder and Associates.

According to the group's website, it was named "one of the top lobbying firms in Florida by Influence magazine."

The group claims to have "extraordinary knowledge of the people, the policies and the processes of Florida government to "get the results our clients demand."

"Should the state cut its ties with this company?" Spencer asked.

"I absolutely think that we should cut out ties," said Representative Geraldine Thompson.

Thompson, a longtime educator, was already troubled by Pearson's late grading debacle in 2010, an avalanche of writing test failures this year and concerns about test questions with more than one right answer.

WFTV learned that other education firms also use lobbyists.

Uhlfelder said he was chosen as lobbyist for his educational expertise and that his lobbying work had no impact on Pearson's FCAT contract. Pearson said its reputation for educational excellence allows them to use lobbyists only to inform and advise elected officials.