Thursday, October 26, 2017

Full Range of Reformsters Unite for Video Contest

Education Post, you may recall, is a site nominally on the progressive-flavored wing of the reformster movement and headed up by Peter Cunningham. Cunningham is an old Chicago hand who worked assistant secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education in the Arne Duncan Department of Education. EdPost is backed by some big money, like Eli Broad and Laurene Jobs' Emerson Collective (which has given Duncan a job). Because for a while, a bunch of billionaires were really concerned that they were overmatched in the media by a bunch of bloggers writing for free on their lunch hours. I guess the world looks different when you're a billionaire.

Given that pedigree, it is not surprising when EdPost promotes charters and choice. What's a teensy bit surprising is whom they've teamed up with this time to do it. This contest runs the full gamut of reformsters from A to B.

So maybe we actually are kind of similar
Yesterday they happily announced a sort of contest to crowd-source some school choice PR, because, you know, "better conversations." (Yes, I linked to EdPost-- it's no fair to talk about someone without letting readers see for themselves if they're so inclined.)

The Choices in Education contest has its very own website, and the premise looks similar to Jeanne Allen's "Let's Show John Oliver He's  big Doodyhead" contest from last year. Just make a video with your phone about how choice changed or your life (or why you desperately need it in your state) all in order to "elevate the story" of people's choices. Three top winners get $15K, three more get $5K, and there's a pair of people's choice awards for $5K each-- so a cool $70K. The contest encourages you to shoot the video with your phone, perhaps because they want that "real people support us" look and in part because a slick looking ad would just draw attention to the fact that reformsters have tons of money to throw around on PR stunts. I can't even imagine a world in which public schools could wave a giant wad of money around and holler, "This stack of cash goes to the people who do the best job of saying nice things about u."

But a closer look makes this contest even more interesting. First of all, instead of focusing only on charter schools, this contest is to promote a broader agenda:

There is no “one size fits all” school or educational model that works for everyone. That is why it is important for students and families to have the freedom to choose the pathway that best meets their needs, whether that is a different public school, charter, magnet, private school, virtual/blended, or homeschool.

That  moves us away from the strictly-charter advocacy and into something more closely aligned with, well, the agenda of Betsy DeVos. Plenty of charter advocates have cast a leery eye on voucher systems-- but this contest loves it all. And EdPost is promoting it.

Whose contest is this, exactly?

Well, the main address on the site is that of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Florida-based group that, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, was going to provide a platform to help launch Jeb Bush to the White House. FEE has actually changed its name, at least in some places, to ExcelInEd, a group that includes all the same players and still calls itself the Foundation for Excellence in Education in the fine print on its site. I bring ExcelInEd up only because they are nominally the launchers of this contest. Mostly I am just dying for them to open an Ohio branch so that we can call them EiEiO. FEE/EiE is one of the older, more well-entrenched reformy groups with a Who's Who of deep-pocketed donaters including Gates, Walton, Broad, Kellogg, Bloomberg, Schwab, News Corporation and Dick and Besy DeVos. 

Also sponsoring the contest? American Federation for Children, Betsy DeVos's advocacy group. AFC is a dark money group that has been working hard to push privatization of education in this country (for the children).  

Also? EdChoice, the advocacy group previously known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the group launched by Milton Friedman. 

National School Choice Week, the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, Agudath Israel of America, and Classical Conversations (that last group provides content materials for homeschooling parents focusing on the three C's-- classical, Christian, and community). 

So while this contest does represent more of the same old, same old, it has certainly drawn together an assortment of bedfellows. And as was the case with Jeanne Allen who used to think Trump and his administration was awful, but then she got over it, more and more reformsters, even the supposedly progressive ones, are more and more willing to align themselves with the DeVosian agenda after all. While folks in the reform movement may try to put some distance between themselves and other elements, it seems they can still bridge the tiny gaps tat sort of separate them.

In the meantime, your entry should only include you and your family members, and it has to be under two minutes. Grab your smart phone and record what you think about school choice today! Maybe you'll win $15,00o. In the meantime it's heartwarming to know that voucher vs. charter, free market vs. social justice, GOP vs. Democrats, reformsters don't have all that much trouble putting their differences aside in order to pursue the privatization of American education.


  1. Years ago, one of the arguments that some folks used to get teachers unions and pro-public school teachers to accept --- or to not actively resist --- charter school expansion was that ...

    "Hey, if we don't accept charter schools, we're going to get vouchers and voucher-funded private schools instead, and they're evil, union-busting entities ... "

    I mean, really, goes the argument,

    " ... because charter schools, unlike those private schools that take vouchers, are kinda-sorta-okay-maybe-just-a-little-bit-public-sector-ish-I-think, and some even have unions, and others may have unions in the future ... so it's only semi-privatization... I think ... blah-blah-blah ... "

    The counter argument was:

    "No, charter schools are the gate-way drug to the harder drug of vouchers/voucher-funded schools. They're the Trojan horse, or mid-way step towards total, or near-total privatization of schools."

    It turns out the latter were right all along, as this asinine contest --- and countless other developments --- shows.

    In some states, something has been happening with certain charter schools that were --- as with the rest --- originally opened up as "charter schools, which are public schools, just a different kind of public school. You know?"

    Well, predictably, the following has happened in certain states. With some of these charter schools that were closed --- and some that were never even closed --- their owner-operators, the second they got the chance, seized the opportunity to do the following:

    Over the summer, those charters converted to actual, literal private schools when it turned out that they could accept vouchers. Everything remained the same (okay, maybe the junked a lot of their teaching staff, which is standard operating procedure at charter schools), but with one big difference. They cast off the phony facade of being actual "public schools" and openly referred to their schools as "private schools." So in this new incarnation, they still get the public money, just ZERO oversight --- which includes the right to refuse or kick out kids whenever they want, for whatever reason they want, or discriminate to their hearts' content.

    It's sort of like coming out of the closet, I suppose.

    Last January-February, you had this laughable Kabuki theater during Devos' confirmation hearing, where Eli Broad, citing Devos support for vouchers, called Devos "dangerous" to the continued existence of public education, and how she must be stopped.

    Yeah, right.

    Well, now Broad --- through his Education Post, where Broad is the primary funding source --- is backing this contest which celebrates vouchers and voucher-funded schools, and we now finally see that vouchers were the main part of the Broad gameplan all along.

    In fact, they're the Milton Friedman, libertarian end game that Broad and all the rest were shooting for all along.

  2. Would it surprise you to know that we teamed up with the AFT a few years ago to fund a media critic? Or that we had a union leader on our payroll for a while writing blogs about teacher issues? Did you know that we often publish people we disagree with just to encourage open dialogue? And that we frequently share articles from all kinds of folks who disagree with us on a lot of issues like Rachel Cohen? So the fact that we're promoting a video contest on choice sponsored by a right-leaning think tank isn't really that big a deal. Most of our funders are pretty left-leaning: Laurene Jobs, Bloomberg, Gates, Zuckerberg -- and even Broad -- who is no longer a funder of ours but is a long-time Democratic contributor. Anyway, thanks for sharing the news about the contest. You should enter. You might win.

  3. Anyone who would claim that Gates/Zuckerberg/Broad/Bloomberg are "left-leaning" on education is talking out of his hat. Interesting that they've lost Broad funding - wonder if this explains their move towards Jeb/DeVos.

  4. I'm sure there are some other students in PA who could go on about how their already-underfunded school systems still managed to pay out megabucks to charters, leaving their school systems with even less (*cough cough* Chester *cough cough* Philly *cough cough*)...

    What kind of money would you send them for their submission, Peter?

    1. Aww, Peter Cunningham never came back. :-( I was SO looking forward to his answer.