There has been much heated conversation about the direction and needs of our nation’s schools, and plenty of voices willing to chime in and offer expert opinions, qualified or (mostly) not. In fact, there is a growing number of self-proclaimed experts, who often lack practical classroom experience or an understanding of the realities in our schools, who appear loudly determined to impose their agendas on public schools.
Such individuals and organizations gain an audience by feeding on public fears, using the poor results of educational under-investment and failed policies like No Child Left Behind as evidence of an educational crisis.
Be wary of any of these people and groups, and pay close attention to the company they keep. No matter whether they are simply well-intentioned but misguided, or wolves in sheep’s clothing, the figures on the list below pose a serious threat to the democratic principles of the public school institution, while opening the door to economic opportunists and others who seek to give public schools over to private interests.
Note: the links embedded within the following names lead to what we feel are the best collections of resources on why they are not all they’re cracked up to be– not these individuals’ or organizations’ own websites. The people and groups on this list have a large enough media megaphone without our help, though we certainly encourage you to Google each of them if you’re interested in reading more of what they would like you to know about themselves (if you aren’t already familiar with them).
For more information on the financial connections among certain funders, people and organizations (both new ones and those that have been either compromised or fully co-opted from their original intent), see Great Schools for America’s Edwatch database.
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New Teacher Project founder and former school Chancellor in Washington, DC, Rhee has garnered plenty of national attention for her divisive leadership practices and exaggerated claims. Shortly after former DC mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her to the position in 2007, she began an aggressive campaign of “cleaning house” by closing schools, by firing teachers, principals and other employees and by initiating an unwieldy, standardized test-driven evaluation of teacher performance, all while circumventing the terms of the District-Union contract.
It is worth noting that Rhee had minimal classroom experience (through TFA) when college buddy Fenty granted her the job, and many of the claims she made on her résumé later proved to be exaggerated or false. Local distaste for Ms. Rhee’s slash-and-burn policies eventually helped thwart Fenty’s chance at a second mayoral term in 2010, prompting Rhee’s resignation from the post. Several months later, investigations into erasures and other irregularities in D.C. testing surfaced, most notably in the generally uncontroversial USA TODAY.
This story, and other criticisms of Rhee’s personal mythology may have tarnished her star, but they have not prevented her from forming Students First, engaging in lobbying and consulting with Democratic and Republican elected officials around the implementation of changes similar to those she imposed in DC.
Stand For Children
On paper, this organization seems well-intentioned, with a stated mission “to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education.” It also boasts an impressive pedigree with founder Jonah Edelman, son of Marian Wright Edelman, at its helm. It was founded in Oregon and has since spread to several other states.
Reports suggest its original intent has mutated, shifting from a focus on improving child welfare through advocacy for after-school programs, health and dental care for uninsured kids, etc. to an agenda focused on test-driven education policy, union-busting, charter school promotion and more. Edelman himself was caught on tape elaborating these tactics at an Aspen Institute workshop in 2011.
Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)
A glance at DFER’s Statement of Principles reveals an unambiguous embrace of the education-in-crisis narrative. What isn’t so obvious is the group’s alliance with hedge fund managers who are eager to jump into the education market via investments into charter schools.
Education Reform Now
Closely related to DFER, Ed Reform Now’s Board of Directors consists exclusively of non-educators coming primarily from the investment field. (Yes, we are including Joel Klein in that count, and no, his recent stint as Chancellor of New York Department of Education does not grant him honorary educator status.)
The ‘Big Three’- the Gates, Walton, and Broad Foundations
Though far from the only organizations using their money to guide education policy, these three are by far the most powerful and high-profile funders. By funding everything from ‘research’, to principal/superintendent training programs, to organizations like Stand for Children, Teach Plus and more, these foundations use their financial strength to create the appearance of grassroots support for top-down education policies, to create the appearance of more empirical support for their policies than actually exists, and to foster financial dependency among policymakers, researchers and members of the public who might otherwise question whether they deserve so much influence over public policy.
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We know this list is incomplete. If you’d like to nominate a self-appointed reformer or group of reformers for this list, please use the form below!