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Friday, March 27, 2015

Is the tug of war on education policy between liberal "reform proponents" and the unions, as the NY Times argues, or the 1% and nearly everyone else?

NY Times ran a front page article on Wednesday, focused on the tug of war for Hilary Clinton’s soul, supposedly between the teacher unions and the big donors, mostly hedge fund operators, who want to privatize public schools and ramp up high-stakes testing, weaken teacher tenure and base their evaluations on student test scores. Value-added test based teacher evaluation has proved to be highly unreliable, and many expert groups, including the American Statistical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, have concluded that it could have damaging impact on morale and the quality of education.   

In the article, the hedgefunders make it clear that they will threaten to withhold their contributions if Hillary does not adopt their positions:

“This is an issue that’s important to a lot of Democratic donors,” said John Petry, a hedge fund manager who was a founder of the Harlem Success Academy, a New York charter school. “Donors want to hear where she stands.”

Yet in the process of writing about this ideological battle, the reporter, Maggie Haberman, characterizes Democrats for Education Reform, one of the principle hedge fund-backed lobby groups as a “left of center group,” which is absurd.  For some reason, DFER has managed to persuade reporters that it has any liberal credentials, despite the fact that as Diane Ravitch pointed out, the California Democratic Party has repudiated it.  

Parents Across America wrote an open letter to the NPR ombudsman in 2011, objecting to the fact that Claudio Sanchez, the NPR reporter, had called DFER a “liberal” organization, while quoting their criticism of the progressive participants in the anti-corporate reform Save Our Schools march in DC.   

We also pointed out that DFER’s founder, hedge fund operator Whitney Tilson, admitted that the only reason he put “Democrats” in the organization’s title and focused on convincing Democrats to adopt their pro-privatization agenda was that GOP leaders were already in agreement with most of their positions.  The following is an excerpt from a film made by Tilson called “A Right Denied”:

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

In addition, by characterizing the struggle on education policy as being a conflict primarily between the teacher unions and big donors, the reporter misses the boat.  Indeed, the only mention of parents in the piece implies that they are allied with the DFER privateers: Reform proponents include donors, but also a cross section of parents and business advocates.”   

Hopefully NY Times readers and especially Hillary will smart enough to reject this claim, if they merely looked at Governor Cuomo’s plunging popularity.  Cuomo’s poll numbers are dropping like a stone, largely because his positions on education are in thrall to his big donors in the DFER/hedgefund crowd.  He has pushed hard on test-based teacher evaluation and other favorite talking points of the corporate reform contingent.   

According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Cuomo’s approval ratings on education are at a tepid 28% - while 63% of voters reject his views on school reform.  65% of voters reject the notion that teacher tenure should be based on student test scores; 71% reject the idea that teacher pay should be based on scores, and 55% trust the teacher unions on education, compared to 28% who trust Cuomo. 

And the overwhelming rejection of Cuomo's views is shared among rural, suburban, urban voters, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Interestingly, instead of citing any of the many polls that show voters overwhelmingly reject the corporate reform/hedgefund education agenda,  the NY Times article uncritically links to a leaked “memo” from Joe Williams of DFER, to “Board members and Major Donors,” citing polling results that supposedly show that “voters agree with our policies.”  

But in the memo, Williams fails to reveal the actual questions – or what it might actually mean that 69% of voters feel that education is on the “wrong track”.  After a decade or more of increasingly severe test-based accountability, many voters are indeed weary of the focus on testing and test prep, and the disruption and damaging cycle of closing neighborhood schools, and so reject the DFER agenda that is based on more of the same.

Another recent poll from GBA Strategies, conducted for In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy went unmentioned by the NY Times. Unlike the DFER survey the full questions and answers were released, revealing that most voters do indeed reject the corporate reform agenda. Voters see lack of parental involvement as their biggest education concern, followed by too much testing, funding cuts and overly large class sizes. School choice came in last on a list of their priorities.

Let’s hope for more accurate and less biased education reporting from the mainstream media in the future.  The tug of war on education is not primarily between liberal reformers and the teachers union – but between the 1% and nearly everyone else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or between the 1% of the 1%, and everyone else. There seem to be about five individuals with all the money, pulling all the strings.

All the while, the media keeps all the peons fighting and focused on ideological and political "differences", so we don't notice what is really going on.