by Diane Ravitch
Leonie Haimson, who leads Class Size Matters in New York City and was a co-founder of Parents Across America, has worked with other parents and with educators to compile a comprehensive list of corporate reform organizations and to identify the lingo of the reformers. She asks your help in reviewing the list and letting her know about errors and omissions.
Review the list of organizations and definitions. You can let her know your thoughts at the email she provides or in your comments here.
Many parents, teachers and concerned citizens are confused by the superabundance of well-funded advocacy organizations, consulting companies, and research groups promoting the corporate education reform agenda. These groups adopt a free-market approach to education reform by expanding privatization through charters, vouchers and online learning, judging schools and teachers through standardized test scores, and advocate for the Common Core standards. In order to be helpful, we have prepared a list of such organizations, along with their prominent staff, boards and funders, many of whom are interlocking. Many of these groups are the beneficiaries of the Gates, Broad and Walton Foundations.
This is a working document, and if you see an organization mistakenly included here, or you have suggestions for other changes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org your comments.
One can also tell if an organization is allied with the corporate reform movement by its rhetoric. For example, the use of such buzzwords as “transformational”, “catalytic”, “innovative”, “great teachers”, “bold”, “game changer”, “effective”, “entrepreneurial”, “differentiated instruction”, “personalized learning”, “economies of scale”, “informational text”, “instructional efficiency”, “college and career ready”, and/or the term “disruptive” used in a positive sense provide clues that the organization or individual is associated with the corporate reform movement.
Other evidence of such an alignment may be if an organization uses “Children First ” or “Students First" or "Kids First" in its title, along with a claim that they represent the interests of children rather than adults (i.e. teachers); or if they have the propensity to attack anyone who disagrees with their policy agenda as defending the status quo. Also indicative of corporate reform leanings is stating that “education is the civil rights issue of our time” and/or the tendency to use the word “crappy” (a descriptor used frequently byMichelle Rhee of StudentsFirst and Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform.)
The use of the above buzzwords is replete, for example, in this recent press release from the Pahara Institute, an organization funded by the Gates Foundation. The Institute announces that they are awarding salary enhancements to a long list of “fellows”, including Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, James Merriman of the NY Charter Center and Joel Rose of the New Classrooms (formerly the School of One), who head corporate reform organizations included in our list. The Pahara press release uses the word “reform” nine times, “transformational” six times; “entrepreneurial” four times, and the word “bold” twice, in a little over two pages.
Another good example of the rhetoric of corporate reform is this memo from the Broad Foundation, proposing a new program to highlight their cadre of “change agents”, who will “accelerate” the pace of “disruptive” and “transformational” change; who are “bold, visionary leaders with a proven history of breakthrough reforms” and an “aggressive reform agenda”, including “entrepreneurial founders and CEOs of revolutionary CMOs [charter management organizations] or non-profits.”
Yet another example of this overheated but essentially empty rhetoric is a report hyping the Rocketship chain of charters: "Rocketship’s differentiated staffing model offers further opportunity for transformative innovation." Here transformative innovation appears to mean parking kids in front of computers for two hours per day to save money on staffing.
Often this agenda offers a simplistic, yet strangely contradictory set of positions:
- Teacher quality is paramount, and yet schools should be able to get rid of experienced teachers in favor of Teach for America recruits with five weeks of training, most of whom will last only two years.
- There is a need for differentiated instruction so each child can receive individualized feedback, but the smaller classes that might make this possible should not be considered, and instead, class sizes should be increased to save money and to create greater “efficiencies.”
- Personalized learning will instead be achieved through software programs and online learning, though real personal contact will be lessened or entirely taken out of the equation.
- Schools must adopt the Common Core standards to encourage higher order critical thinking and writing, but their success in reaching these goals will be measured through standardized tests taken and scored by computers.
- Districts should lengthen the school day or school year, but they should also lessen the emphasis on “seat time” to allow students to get through school more quickly.
- For traditional public schools, there is a need for standardization, including prescribing 50-70 percent “informational text” in assigned reading; at the same time, deregulation through the proliferation of autonomous and privately managed charter or voucher schools should occur, with little or no rules attached.
- Parental “choice” is encouraged, by expanding the charters and voucher sector, but when hundreds or even thousands of parents vehemently protest the closing of their neighborhood public schools, or demand smaller classes, their choices are ignored or rejected with the claim that they are not educated enough to understand what’s at stake.
- Teachers should be “empowered” through online learning, and the profession should be “elevated” and “respected”; but when teachers overwhelming oppose merit pay, the use of test scores in evaluation systems, or insist that the best way to improve their effectiveness and actually “empower” them would be to reduce class size, their views are cast aside.