by Jay P. Greene and Frederick M. Hess  Mr. Greene is Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Mr. Hess is Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Their report examining the political preferences of people working in education reform organizations will be released Monday in Education Next.
March 8, 2019

The K-12 education-reform movement was once led primarily by conservatives and libertarians with centrist Democrats as junior partners. But over the past decade, education reform has taken a hard left turn. Republicans are now almost entirely invisible within the ranks of its activists. This progressive capture of education reform—like the capture of much of the media and academia—will undermine the quality and effectiveness of the movement’s work.

We’ve seen this trend firsthand over two decades of work in education reform, so we decided to quantify it. In a new study, the first of its kind, we examined the political preferences of people working in education-reform groups. To identify these groups we focused on those receiving support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. These are the two leading backers of school reform. Almost all major education-reform groups receive funding from one or both foundations (as have we). We then searched OpenSecrets.org for all political campaign contributions made by the staff of these groups to gauge their political leanings.

We tracked staff contributions to political campaigns in a sample of 73 education-reform organizations funded by the Gates Foundation, including Achieve, Teach For America, the New Schools Venture Fund, Alliance for Excellent Education, Jobs for the Future, Turnaround for Children, and Bellwether Education Partners. In total, we found 2,625 political campaign contributions from the staff of Gates grantees. Of those contributions, more than 99% supported Democratic candidates or the Democratic Party. Only eight (that’s eight, not 8%) of the 2,625 campaign contributions went to Republicans.

The political imbalance among Walton grantees was somewhat less pronounced. Our sample of 194 organizations receiving support from the Walton Foundation included Teach For America, KIPP, Education Reform Now, 50CAN, the 74 Media, Chalkbeat, and the Education Trust. In total, we found 3,887 political campaign contributions from employees of these organizations, of which 3,377, or 87%, went to Democrats.

The deep-blue hue of education reformers rivals that of famously Democratic precincts like Hollywood and public-employee unions. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that 78% of campaign dollars from the “TV, movies, and music industry” have gone to Democrats since 2000. Even the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher union, gives a larger slice of its campaign money to Republicans (7%) than do the employees of Gates education grantees (less than 1%).

Does the education-reform sector lean so far left simply because everyone in education is progressive? No. An Education Week poll shows that 41% of educators identify as Democrats while 27% identify as Republicans and 30% as independents.

The virtual nonrepresentation of conservatives has made school reformers more open about their political convictions, even on unrelated issues. Many school-reform groups, including KIPP, Teach for America and Education Trust, have energetically embraced the anti-Trump “resistance,” adopting outspoken progressive stances on hot-button issues like immigration, tax policy and gun control. The education-reform sector risks appearing as one more progressive lobby. This appearance undermines its authority when it pushes for crucial changes like school choice, transparency and experimental new learning methods.

K-12 education, more than most policy issues, is shaped at the state and local level. Given that two-thirds or more of U.S. states are red or purple—including such reform bellwethers as Colorado, Louisiana, Indiana and Tennessee—reformers hurt their cause when they fail to anticipate Republican concerns or speak credibly to Republican audiences. And because of the left’s attachment to teachers unions and discomfort with market-based education reform, a Democrat-only strategy has difficulty assembling a majority even in blue states.

Political homogeneity helps explain many of the setbacks the reform movement has suffered in recent years, including the collapse of Common Core, the abandonment of new teacher evaluation methods, and a national stall in the expansion of charter schools. It is losing its ability to forge new coalitions and find new converts. Those who care about the effectiveness of K-12 education should think about ways to inject some red—or at least purple—into a movement that has become monochromatically blue.

Mr. Greene is Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Mr. Hess is Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Their report examining the political preferences of people working in education reform organizations will be released Monday in Education Next.



February 21, 2019

K-12: Reformers Needed

By Bruce Deitrick Price  Bruce Deitrick Price’s new book is  Saving K-12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  He deconstructs educational theories and methods on Improve-Education.org.


Contemplate public education in America, and you will probably feel depressed.  Despite billion-dollar budgets, an army of employees, and endless promises, K-12 under-performs year after year.  Tens of millions of Americans cannot read fluently, they can’t do middle-school math, and they hardly know who won the Civil War. 

Worse, a lot of our problems seem to be self-inflicted.  Professors of education strive to erase proven methods devised through the centuries.  Instead, we get overhyped gimmicks (so much so that a 1953 book was forthrightly titled Quackery in the Public Schools).  Parents can’t understand what’s going on, but they know for sure they must constantly deal with bad outcomes.  Today’s students need a lot of help with homework.  Expensive tutoring services have become a routine burden for many parents.

Worse still, when we contemplate the educational panorama, we feel that something is very wrong.  Finally, we identify the problem: silence.  If salmonella infects the food supply, the nation’s media scream for weeks.  How could such a terrible thing happen?!  But the schools are churning out millions of ignorant, illiterate children.  Why is no one screaming?  There seems to be a news blackout concerning education.

Any reporting we do see is trivial.  What time should school start?  Should we have valedictorians?  Which grading system should we use?  Can students receive a grade below 50?  Where should they build a new school?  Superintendent X says, as he always does, that he’s optimistic about the coming year.

Check the archives of your own paper.  Try to find something helpful.  Odds are, probably not, which suggests an unhappy conclusion: mainstream media rarely provide substantive analysis of educational failure in the U.S.

Prima facie, the Education Establishment and Media Establishment are silent partners.  Evidently, neither one wants Americans to know what’s going on in their public schools.  If these two provide nothing but silence, how can parents figure out what to do?

The average American would not guess these two behemoths could be scheming together. But how else do we explain the paucity of genuine journalism about education?

If the USA had an honest media, the public would know why sight-words create dyslexia and illiteracy; why Reform Math makes children calculator-dependent and not much else; and why Constructivism leaves children less educated than was normal 50 years ago.  The daily papers would routinely explain such mysteries just as they now discuss climate change and flu shots.

Freedom of the press was not meant to be freedom to practice bad journalism, or no journalism at all.  But that’s the essence of our malaise. 

So here’s where we are: pretend-journalists hide the truth about pretend-education.  The public is not allowed to understand what it needs to know: why phonics is essential; why traditional math instruction is more successful than Common Core; and why Americans are typically ignorant about simple stuff they used to learn in fifth grade.  How could all this happen?

A century ago, seizing control of public education was already a priority for the far left (i.e., communists, socialists, collectivists, and totalitarians of all kinds).  Fabian socialists in England devised a scheme to dominate that country with few agents and little expense.  They recruited talented young people from Oxford and installed them in low-level positions.  Two decades later, Fabians would be upper management throughout government, media, foundations, and education.  John Dewey’s so-called Progressives added a complementary plan for this country where teachers in ed school are indoctrinated and then sent out to indoctrinate the next generation of children.  These schemes unfold slowly.

After 1920, Russian agents swarmed through Washington, D.C.; New York; and San Francisco.  Super-spy Alger Hiss often worked with FDR in the day and sent U.S. plans to Stalin each night.  Read Witness (a great book by Whitaker Chambers) to find out how totally penetrated the US government and society were.  Unfortunately for everyone, the Russians like to make themselves miserable via communism, and they like to spread the misery to other countries.  Controlling our schools, to any degree possible, was a critical goal.  And why?  So they could con Americans into making bad, self-destructive decisions.

How conned are we now?  Our political leaders seem to have scant gift for strategy, little instinct for fighting.  Democrats are mostly socialists.  The Republicans appear to be compromised in some way.  Conservatives, who should instinctively support traditional ideas, tend to divide up in little groups and snip at each other.  Pathetic.  Many Americans seem defeated.

If you want to roll back the damage, the obvious first step is to reclaim the schools.  Systematically reverse the dysfunction that the far left put into classrooms. 

This turnaround is doable.  So many topics for reform have become tangled up with P.C. constraints; anything you say is likely to be called racist, sexist, etc.  But education is wide open. 

Take more interest in your local schools and what goes on there.  Support people who have similar goals, even if slightly.  For example, most Americans understand that reading is a disaster area.  Okay, great — let’s support reading done right, which is to say with phonics.

In short, be a change agent for genuine education.  Everyone should heed the wisdom of President Obama.  Become a community organizer!  As Obama urged, “get in their face!

It’s perfectly appropriate, respectable, liberal, and conservative to insist that our children deserve the best education possible and that our public schools can be improved.  Everybody can help make this happen.

Coda: No one should forget that in 1927, Dr. Samuel Orton, a neurologist, conducted large-scale research proving that Whole Word does not work and in fact damages children’s minds.  In an honest world, that would be the end of Whole Word.  But here we are, 90 years later, and Whole Word has been the dominant method of instruction all that time.  How could this happen without a conspiracy of lies?  Orton’s research was reported in a professional journal.  All the elite people knew the truth.  The people at the top of education and media had to know the truth.

In October 2018, the New York Times broke the silence by declaring that phonics is essential.  But that was 50 million functional illiterates too late.

Bruce Deitrick Price’s new book is  Saving K-12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  He deconstructs educational theories and methods on Improve-Education.org.

Read more: www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/02/k12_reformers_needed.html#ixzz5hon7XIEy
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