Thursday, July 28, 2011

Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware of Some Inter-Agency and Non-Profit Collaboration with Neoliberal Foundations and Think Tanks - Part 3 of 3

Fenwick W. English
R. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership
School of Education 
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Caveat Emptor: “Buyer beware” of what?
            Currently the neoliberal cause is embedded in millions of dollars going to promote the pet educational solutions of  individuals Diane Ravitch (2010) has labeled “The Billionaire Boys Club” (Bill Gates, John Walton and Eli Broad)(p. 199). These “venture philanthropists” have developed an aggressive approach to only funding those actions that fit closely their neoliberal ideology. In addition, there are the traditional right-wing foundations that also back the neoliberal ideology and hire consultants to produce slanted research (see the NEPC analysis) and keep writers on their payrolls to crank out an endless stream of op-ed page broadsides and blogs.
1.     Neoliberals are neither critics nor friends
Neoliberals are not our friends. Anyone who advocates your erasure from the educational field or who proposes the function you perform is not necessary is not a critic nor a friend. Neoliberals are not interested in a dialogue because they have already made up their minds. They do not believe that professors have anything to offer their agenda and they are particularly not interested in having their views challenged. Opposition is akin to heresy. The neoliberal foundations and right wing think tanks employ paid consultants and writers to advance their causes and engage in “creative destruction” (regressionsverbot). These persons are little more than gunslingers for hire.
2.     If you accept their money you accept all of their agenda
The billionaire players in the field of education today have a broad based agenda of the ideological changes they desire to implement in the schools. While one may not agree with all of that agenda, their funding of a program or any aspect of that agenda is part of a whole. Neoliberals do not fund efforts that do not coincide with their total agenda. So while you might defend your sliver of their agenda and console yourself that you were only interested in a smaller portion and not their total interests, you have, whether you like it not, become a cog in the implementation of their total plan.
3.     They are serious, focused and accountable to no one
The neoliberals are in the game for the long haul, they are serious and they are very focused. This is not a game of truth pursued. It is, rather, a game of a political agenda being ruthlessly implemented. Gates, Broad and the right wing think tanks are accountable to no one. There is no public regulatory body which oversees them and ensures their activities actually benefit the public. They are representative of a corporate ideology which is heavy-handed and authoritarian operating without any public oversight.
Some of the “research reports” produced by them have been subjected to review and been found to be wanting. This is a true “caveat emptor” warning in that a review of the reports  produced from these neoliberal organizations by Kevin Welner, a co-director of the Education and Public Interest Center in the School of Education at the University of Colorado said, “Across the nation, think tanks are churning out a steady stream of often low-quality reports that use weak research methods, offer biased analyses, and make recommendations that do not fit the data” (2010, p. 1)
The NEPC found many reports faulty and included in this group Chester Finn’s “study” of pre-school released by the Hoover Institution; the Friedman Foundation’s flawed study on the Florida school reforms; a Gates Foundation report on “value-added” analysis reached the wrong conclusion. According to professor Jesse Rothstein, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley said that if the report had been interpreted correctly, the data actually “undermine rather than validate value-added-based approaches to teacher evaluation” (2011, p. 1)
The Progressive Policy Institute’s report called Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector’s Best was subjected to an external review  by David Garcia (2011), an ASU professor who said, “The report lacks any scientific evidence to support its advocacy” [of charter schools]. PPI has accepted funds from the Bradley Foundation (the same group behind the new Bush Foundation principal training program).
The Most Tragic Fallout of the Neoliberal Attack: 
The Destruction of the Ethic of Public Service
The most tragic fallout from the neoliberal attack on public education is their “for profit” mindset which is imposed on all transactions in public education. The neoliberals wish to  debase the entire idea of public service, the idea of a public servant who serves all of the children irrespective of who or what they may be.
Bourdieu (2002) said it this way:
…it remains however that the official definition of state office—and of state officials, who are mandated to serve, not serve themselves—is an extraordinary historical invention, an advance for humanity, in the same sense as art or science. The conquest is fragile, and always threatened with regression or disappearance. And it is all this that is now rejected as outmoded and belonging to a past era (p.197).
The imposition of the market place, the business mindset which has brought unprecedented levels of corruption to our financial system overall (Madrick, 2011), is the very same mindset the neoliberals wish to impose on public education. Teachers and principals motivated by the for profit motive, whose only interest is to advance themselves and enhance their financial status, are those individuals who have no desire to help children who cannot move them ahead to the next paycheck. Do we want such individuals in our schools? Are these the teachers we want for our children?
Bourdieu (1999) called this situation, the destruction “of the idea of public service” and the shrugging off of the huge disparities in wealth in the nation, “they suggest that since inequalities are unavoidable, the struggle against them is ineffective (which does not keep them from blaming the system for discouraging the best people) and, in any case, can only be undertaken to the detriment of freedom; by associating efficiency and modernity with private enterprise” (p. 182).
What is at stake is the very ethos of the public service and that of an educational system linked to a democratic state. Bourdieu (1999) asks:
How can we not see, for example, that the glorification of earnings, productivity,
and competitiveness, or just plain profit, tends to undermine the very foundation
of functions that depend on a certain professional disinterestedness often associated with militant devotion? (pp. 183-4).
Richard Ekman, President of the Council of Independent Colleges in the U.S. sounded an alarm in viewing who were the individuals coming into college presidencies. An increasing number are from business, government and the military (17% overall) and have no experience in the heart of the academic enterprise. What he wrote is also applicable to leadership in K-12 education:
If the number continues to increase, the risk is that higher education will become an industry that is led by people who do not truly understand it, who view it as a commodity to be traded, a production problem to be solved efficiently, or a brand to be marketed (p. A88)
Yet these are the very same persons that neoliberal agencies and think tanks promote along with the marketing mentality of problem solving.

What Can Professors Do?
            We cannot sit idly by and watch public education be dismantled and shifted into the “for profit” marketing model preferred by the neoliberals with the attendant loss of the ethic of public service which has long been the hallmark of our profession. The achievement gap is not a problem caused by the lack of corporate style management, but by issues with teaching, learning and curriculum. Here are things we can do in our classrooms, in our writing and research, in the op-ed pages of our local newspapers and in educational conferences we attend.

1.     Expose the neoliberal political agenda and its ideology
We need to become thoroughly familiar with the linguistic phraseology of the neoliberals and expose it for the anti-democratic views in which it swims. An excellent source in the U.S. is Emery and Ohanian’s (2004) Why Is Corporate America Bashing our Public Schools? For a wider global view Pierre Bourdieu’s (1998) short text Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market. Bourdieu’s (1998) analysis is revealing:
      What is surprising is that this fatalistic doctrine gives itself the
      air of a message of liberation, through a whole series of lexical
      tricks around the idea of freedom, liberation, deregulation, etc., a
      whole series of euphemisms or ambiguous uses of words—
      ‘reform’ for example—designed to present a restoration as a
      revolution, in a logic which is that of all conservative
      revolutions (p.50).

2.     Expose the neoliberal players and their financial backers
It takes time but it is necessary to learn the names of the public advocates for neoliberalism, their favorite arguments and to work to understand the sources which fund them. There is an argument that makes sense and that is if you want to understand what is really going on, “follow the money.” The money trails reveal where the hidden and vested interests really lie. Table 1 in this paper is the beginning of a chart which the reader can finish. 

3.     Expose the faulty logic, shoddy reports and research of neoliberal think tanks
The neoliberal foundations and think tanks have taken to do their own “research” which is rarely vetted at research conferences or in research journals where their research can be critically analyzed. Their paid writers do the research and release it directly to the media. Foundations such as Gates and others buy paid space in such outlets as Education Week. Recently the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado has begun exposing the shoddy and faulty research which has been the hallmark of too many think tank advocates. You can log onto their web site and check out their publications at NEPC is one of the few objective locations where think tank research is being held up to the scrutiny it deserves.

Finally, we are in a fight for the “soul of our profession” (Kowalski, 2004)  and our collective will is being tested. The stakes are too high to fail.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware of Some Interagency and Non-profit Collaboration with Neoliberal Foundations and Think Tanks - Part Two of Three

This is the second of a three part post.  Check back soon for part three.

Fenwick W. English
R. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership
School of Education
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Current Neoliberal Targets
Target 1:Traditional Democratic Forms of Governance in Public Education: School Boards
The neoliberal attack has focused on the governance structure of public education. This includes elected school boards, teacher unions, state departments of education and the role of the respective states in determining teacher and administrative preparation and licensure, and the differences among the states in establishing testing programs and different educational standards.
Teacher unions have been targeted as representing major barriers to “educational reform,” which simply translates into the kind of changes the neoliberals and their allies see as necessary to “improve education.” The Gates Foundation gave $2 million dollars to support the controversial film Waiting for Superman, “which demonized Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Gates also gave $500,000 to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and to his Foundation for Educational Excellence (Dillon, 2011, 11A). Bush is pushing hard for the common core curriculum standards (Bush & Klein, 2011). According to Gates  officials, the Foundation is expected to allocate approximately 15 percent of the $3.5 billion it expects to spend on education for various forms of advocacy (Dillon, 2011, p. 11A).
Target 2: Schools of Education
Neoliberals find schools of education to be irritants to their corporate preferred changes in education. They see schools of education as places where their intellectual agenda is consistently challenged. Neoliberal assault has taken place as a flanking movement by (a) pushing for alternative certification and programs which prepare teachers and administrators outside schools of education because schools of education are seen to be agents functioning with a “harmful monopoly” and which have failed to produce leaders as part of a “faulty pipeline” (Broad Foundation,2003, and; (b) criticism that schools of education appeal to the lowest level of student as judged by college exam test scores.
The linkage between test scores and eugenics is one which is part and parcel of neoliberal ideology. Genetic arguments are used to indicate that test scores represent innate capacities, from the infamous Hernstein and Murray,(1994) the Bell Curve to the Broad Foundation’s (2003) broadside describing the innate capacities of “great” leaders.
This propensity to present prospective teachers prepared in schools of education as simply a task involving genetic sorting, circumvents arguments regarding low wages for teachers as a profession by suggesting merit pay and for profit models of compensation as an antidote which will then draw “the best and brightest” to teaching. The “best and the brightest” angle is a retreat to a genetic or eugenic model of those entering teaching.
By definition such traits are rare and would never apply to the entire teaching force. This is an economic-eugenic model for blunting the criticism that teaching as a profession is underpaid in America, i.e., they’d be better paid if they were “better” meaning more intelligent.
The actual political agenda of the neo-liberals is that they despise the causes often discussed in schools of education. Chester Finn Jr., a conservative fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an executive with a Broad supported institute, singled out schools of education because they are places where journals are published which emphasize topics such as “racism, homophobia, Eurocentrism, sexism and conservatism” (Finn, 1991, p. 225).
Target 3: Educational Leadership Programs
The neoliberal attack on the governance of public education as well as schools of education include an assault on programs which prepare school leaders. This attack has been epitomized by Eli Broad and the Broad Foundation which has funded efforts to de-legitimize leadership preparation in the release of position papers which make all kinds of allegations regarding their alleged shortcomings (Broad, 2003). Broad has focused on getting non-educators into positions of leadership in urban school systems to prove his point.
A frequent critic of leadership programs has been Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that also supports Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve (Hernstein & Murray, 1994), a text which advocated doing away with federal programs for poor African-Americans on the rationale that their lack of intelligence makes the use of such support negligible. Hess has received up to $500,000 from the Gates Foundation to “influence the national education debates” (Dillon, 2011,11A).
The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, an arm of the George W. Bush Institute, aims to influence the preparation of 50,000 K-12 principals by 2020. The AREL approach is estimated to cost $500 million over a decade. It enjoys funding from the Bradley Foundation, one of the four “big sister” hard right foundations that support right wing causes.
The neoliberals like to argue that leadership is also largely a genetic capacity. They use such terms as “talent”, “attributes”, “qualities”, “traits” “endowments”, “capabilities” in describing great leaders (Broad Foundation, 2003). These are not acquired skills but innate characteristics. They are genetic endowments. Since they are rare the argument goes, education must be “opened up” in order to find such scarce talent wherever it might exist. The Broad Foundation takes the same approach in bringing in former business CEO’s and retired military brass to become school superintendents. Who cares if they don’t know anything about learning or curriculum? The Broad people see the simple antidote of imposed corporate style management as the solution to learning problems in the schools.
The same economic-eugenics approach to the selection of leadership is that proffered by the Alliance for Reform of Educational Leadership of the George Bush Institute, when the Director, James W. Guthrie, formerly a professor at Berkeley and Vanderbilt, explained that in not selecting more schools of education, the reason was that “education schools [were] not selective enough about who is allowed to enter their programs”. (Aarons, 2010, p. 16).  This perspective is the same advanced by the Broad Foundation in their attack on schools of education and leadership programs in indicating that they want non-educators in leadership positions because they have superior endowments, i.e. genetic capacities.
The de-professionalization agenda of the neoliberals is pursued on a variety of fronts and from a variety of angles. Frederick Hess indicates that that “deregulating the recruitment and training of school managers is especially crucial” (2004, p. 39). This is classic neoliberalist thinking. “De-regulation” is part of the ideology of neoliberalism in breaking the public service ethic ensured via state regulation and superimposing a business, “for-profit” mindset. It is the relentless commodification of public space (See Anderson & Pini, 2011).

Table 1
A Partial List of Neoliberal Goals Regarding Public Education and the Agents and Agencies Engaged in Pursuit of those Goals

Aspect of Society, Education and/or Schooling
Neoliberal View
Neoliberal Agents & Agencies
Role of government (state & federal)
-Limited only to creating legislation to permit alternatives and competition to be created if they did not exist before
-Chester Finn, Heritage Foundation, Fordham Institute
-Frederick Hess, American Enterprise Institute
View of school boards
-An outdated appendage and a hindrance to corporate models of governance-should be abolished
--Also push for more mayoral control of school systems
-Eli Broad- Broad Foundation/Fordham Institute
-Lou Gerstner, Jr.
-Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
View of Schooling
The purpose of schooling is to enable the nation to remain economically competitive in a capitalistic society and world-globalization
-Jeb Bush, Foundation for Educational Excellence (Gates Foundation)
-Chester Finn, Jr. Heritage, Hoover Inst.
-Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.
The Necessity for Competition and Alternatives for Public Schools
Without competition the harmful “monopoly” of the public schools have no incentive to become more efficient and effective-must have charter schools and vouchers
-Chester Finn, Jr. Heritage
-Frederick Hess, AEI
-John Walton, (Wal-Mart)
-Joel Klein, News Corp (Murdoch)
-Rick Scott, Rep. of Gov.Florida
-Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of D.C. schools
View of Teachers and the Teaching Work Force
Anyone can be a teacher as it is primarily genetic endowment that is important; abolish all but minimal teacher training and licensure requirements
-Chester Finn, Jr., Heritage Foundation, Fordham Institute, Hoover Institution
Teacher unions
Abolish teacher unions or strip them of any power to engage in collective bargaining as they pose barriers to corporate governance models; abolish seniority systems and connect teacher pay to test results
-Bill Gates-Gates Foundation
-Eli Broad-Broad Foundation
-Frederick Hess, AEI
-Tom Pawlenty, Reb. Gov. of Minnesota
-Jeb Bush, former Rep.Gov, Florida
-John Kasich, Rep.Gov.Ohio
-Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Wash. D.C. schools
-Eric Hanushek, Hoover Institution
-Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.
School curriculum
Identify the “core” curriculum to be learned by all students; consists of time honored “Western” perspectives as the only legitimate form of knowledge
Jeb Bush-Foundation for Educational Excellence (Gates)
Joel Klein-(Rupert Murdoch)
Extensive testing is necessary in order to know if students are progressing and to serve as the mechanisms to reward teachers and administrators whose students score the highest.
-Business Round Table
-U.S. Chamber of Commerce
-Bill Gates
View of Schools of Education
Unnecessary and should be abolished; teachers do not have to be professionally prepared; Teach for America is adequate
-Chester Finn, Jr. Heritage Foundation, Fordham Institute
-Eli Broad- Broad Foundation
-Arnold Foundation
-Robertson Foundation
University educational leadership programs
-Must be radically changed or closed down
-More business techniques instilled in preparation programs
-Frederick Hess, AEI
-Eli Broad, Broad Foundation
-James Guthrie, Bush Foundation
-Arthur Levine, Woodrow Wilson Institute, NY
Note: Some of the data in this exhibit were extrapolated from F. English (2010, October) 

This is the second of a three part post.  Check back soon for part three.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware of Some Interagency and Non-profit Collaboration with Neoliberal Foundations and Think Tanks - Part 1 of 3

This is the first of a three part post.  Check back soon for part two.

Fenwick W. English
R. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership
School of Education
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
          Neoliberalism has been defined as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well being can best be advanced by liberating entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey,2005, p. 2).
            Neoliberals look to the state in a paradoxical fashion. First, they want the state to stand back and advance only the most meager of rules and regulations, believing that the market itself is the best regulatory mechanism available for bad behavior, and secondly they use the political power of the state to move formerly public services (education, health, environmental pollution) into the private, for-profit sector. In-other-words, the state is to “back off” regulatory supervision of the markets or at least engage in laissez-faire oversight, but use its statutory authority to create alternatives to public agencies or to outright privatize them. This is a relentless pursuit of the commodification of public space.
            Harvey (2005) indicates that, “the process of neoliberalization has, however, entailed much ‘creative destruction’ not only of prior institutional frameworks and powers, but also of divisions of labor, social relations, welfare provisions, technological mixes, ways of life and thought, reproductive activities, attachments to the land and habits of the heart” (p.3). Bourdieu (1998) called neoliberalism “a very smart and very modern repackaging of the oldest ideas of the oldest capitalists” (p. 34). The “creative destruction” Harvey (2005) discusses is called by the Germans a Regressionsverbot, “a ban on backward movement with respect to social gains” (Bourdieu, 1998, p. 41).
The Neoliberal Assault On Public Education
            As a socio-economic-political ideology, neoliberalism has appeal across party lines. Prominent neoliberals are largely Republicans, but there are also some prominent Democrats among them, notably Eli Broad. This is the reason that the Obama administration’s educational policies have been called identical to that of the Bush’s administration (Chennault, 2010). And the Obama administration’s Race to the Top is a prime example of traditional neoliberal “cures” for public education (see Robelen, 2011).
However, there is a huge investment by right-wing think tanks and conservative foundations which are using their financial muscles to pursue and implement the neoliberal agenda in education. Among them are the Gates Foundation (Dillon, 2011) and the Broad Foundation (Samuels, 2011). But they are by no means the only players in the neoliberal assault. Other neoliberal advocates include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable (Emery & Ohanian, 2004; Ravitch, 2010).
Brian Barry (2005) summarized the neoliberal grand strategy in this way, “a network of lavishly financed foundations, and the books and journals that they promote at enormous expense, have rationalized all the most mean-spirited impulses of affluent American whites” (p. 233).
            The neoliberal assault on public education has taken on a number of familiar attacks and targets.  Rarely are these targets assailed directly from a socio-political perspective. Instead, they are bombarded from other standpoints which mask the mantle of their ideological agenda. The neoliberals know how to hide their politics behind the fa├žade of “disinterest” and “objectivity” by shaping their criticism along lines of efficiency (it costs too much, as for example teacher salaries, union contracts and retirement programs contained in collective bargaining agreements); scientism (pseudo-science management ideas); and the continued economic domination in the global market as synonymous with patriotism (the U.S. will fall behind advancement in global markets, (Spence 2011).
Check back soon for part two - "Current Neoliberal Targets".