Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The New Iron Triangle of the Information Sector, Education Reform and the Democrats

This quintessential blogpost by Paul Horton, "Will the Media Help Destroy Public Education?," at Anthony Cody's Living in Dialog blog lays out with great precision the dynamic nature of the forces at play with the war on public education.

The corporate media, the metrics-focused ideologues, and the education reformers more acutely, are aligned against the teachers. In the Republican-Democratic battle for money in the Citizens United era, the media / information technology sector of business are aligned more closely with the Democrats. This has profound significance for the direction of our country's education and for our political options. [graphics added]

Will the Media Help Destroy Public Education?

By Paul Horton.
Why have those defending public education had such an uphill fight in crafting a compelling counter to the mainstream message that “public education is broken”? How can we break through this monotonous monopoly of thinking with an alternative message?
As Noam Chomsky points out, the mainstream political discourse in America is largely shaped by media outlets under complete corporate control.
Who are the players here? Over the past two decades, as the internet has transformed communication, a circle of Silicon Valley billionaires have achieved great influence. Their outlook tends to be Libertarian, and finds much in common with neoliberals when it comes to education policy. These nouveau tech billionaires have found common cause with hedge fund managers and banking industry insiders, who also hold tremendous power.
According to Robert McChesney,
…much of the wealth generated by the Internet has been funneled into a small number of hands….[T]he Internet has produced monopolistic titans like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, e-Bay, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, and Qualcomm….In combination, these firms have almost unlimited power in Washington, and the only time they face any regulatory threat is when the giants find themselves on opposite sides of an issue….Academics trip over one another as they sing the praises of digital titans,
…but [T]he Internet brings one of the core contradictions of capitalism to the fore—what is good and rational for those who control the economy is bad and irrational for society as a whole. (Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century, 228-9)
The most important fact in American politics today is the Citizens United decision. With this, the hand of the Democratic Party was forced: in order to win major elections the party must accept major campaign funding from the Silicon Valley right libertarians, neoliberals and their financiers on Wall Street. For neoliberal Democrats who are forced to lick the Nikes of their major funders, the privatization of education has become the price they pay to get the dollars needed to win elections.
The Obama Administration’s education policies are the equivalent of doing dog tricks or “dancing” for someone who is holding a gun.
So what role does the media play in this dance?
Although things have improved slightly in the print media in 2014, almost all major print editorial pages are controlled by publishers who are whole hog on privatization and charters: NYT and Chicago Tribune and the Tribune network are leading the bandwagon and heavily influenced by Bloomberg, Broad, and Murdoch. The Chicago Sun-Times editorial page is completely compromised by the political pressure exerted by publishers friendly to governor-elect Bruce Rauner who supports privatization of education. The New Republic is dead, succumbing to Silicon Valley neoliberal libertarianism.
The Progressive, The Nation (the country’s oldest journal of political and cultural opinion), Salon, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post most often include stories and voices of teachers in print; while Politico, The Huffington Post, Alternet, Truthout, and Common Dreams are open to teacher voices that call attention to a counter narrative.
Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Jon Pelto’s Education Blogger’s Network, Cynthia Liu’s K12 News Network,Tim Slekar’s Busted Pencils site, Dr. James Miller’s War Report, and the Network for Public Education, an organization formed to counter the neoliberal Democrats for Education Reform, have all worked to build online grassroots communities opposed to right libertarian and neoliberal public education disruption-destruction. Peter Greene has been relentlessly spot-on, taking Mr. Gates-Duncan-Petrilli on every day. The work of blogger-authors Mercedes Schneider and Jeff Bryant has been exemplary in reaching a broader audience at Huffington Post and Salon. Edushyster (Jennifer Berkshire) brings a deft humorous touch to her articles and interviews. Dozens of local bloggers around the country like Mike and Fred Klonsky in Chicago, The Jose Vilson in New York, and Julian Vasquez-Heilig’s Cloaking Inequity blog have been relentless, but don’t always get the attention they deserve.
Rethinking Schools is perhaps the longest standing alternative educational media outlet, and this organization has produced outstanding curriculum and analysis for more than twenty years.
Bill Moyers remained a stalwart presence on the air and online, and remains an inspiration to all of us who cherish his native Texas progressive populism that refuses to dismiss the moral dimensions of political economy in the face of an all out assault on public discourse maintained by the right libertarians of the Chicago School of economics who have come to dominate Obama Education policy. Democracy Now likewise produces news coverage that challenges the corporate narrative in education. The LA Progressivegives prominent space for teacher voices.  Travis Smiley is also worth noting, along with his sometime co-host, Dr. Cornel West, for their attention to the issues of poverty, and willingness to challenge the Obama administration’s policies.
MSNBC should be a progressive voice on education, and to an extent, Chris Hayes is open to teacher voices. Melissa Harris-Perry has sometimes also featured guests that question the reform narrative, such as Julian Vasquez-Heilig. However Rachel Maddow is reputed to be a friend of Eva Moskowitz and appears to supports the charter movement. Democrats are heavily influenced by NPR and PBS coverage that virtually excludes teacher voices except for a recent NPR series on the “Secret lives of teachers” that reifies the political, social, and economic contexts of educational issues. NPR and PBS both receive very generous support from the Gates and Walton foundations and Students First, which is heavily subsidized by many individuals and foundations hostile to public education. Among centrist Democrats heavily influenced by the Wall Street investors who support privatization of schools, NPR, PBS, and the New York Times remain the three most influential institutions that most directly shape mainstream public opinion on education issues.
These three major media outlets are in turn heavily influenced by studies coming from policy think tanks that receive generous contributions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and The Bloomberg Fund. The Fordham Institute, AEI, the Joyce Foundation, and the Brookings Institute (turned neoliberal) and a spate of conservative think tanks have all produced non-peer reviewed papers to support the privatization of education. They have all received heavy subsidies from the above foundations, and education beat reporters and editorial pages routinely use talking points from these and other think tanks to write stories about education issues.
GMMB, a think-tank and PR firm located in Washington DC and heavily subsidized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also had a big impact on the shaping negative opinion of public schools and public school teachers. GMMB carefully prepared the media packets and campaign in support of the Common Core Standards and has worked very closely with the Fordham Institute to supply talking points and interviews to virtually every major media outlet. GMMB has hired media insiders who have worked in most major cable news and print media institutions, opening easy access to editorial boards and the country’s major education reporters. Mr. Duncan’s former PR officer, a former reporter for the LA Times, revolved into a GMMB job one year ago. It is not a stretch to say that there is virtually no institutional membrane existing between GMMB, the Fordham Institute, and the Department of Education under Secretary Duncan. Indeed, presidential appointments of top assistant secretaries that are closely connected with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are the norm within the Obama Department of Education. Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute was called by virtually every major print, cable, and digital reporter from 2012-14 for talking points in defense of the Common Core Curriculum which, like the Fordham Institute, is heavily funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Department of Education, for its part, promotes the agenda of Mr. Gates at every turn. Like a general threatening to bomb a noncompliant subaltern population, Mr. Duncan routinely disparages the teaching profession and public schools. Ignoring the validity decades of NAEP assessments, Mr. Duncan has turned Pearson Education loose on all American educators, students, and teachers by publicallly funding his own version of Operation Phoenix: the PARCC assessments that will not only hold all students to a higher standard, but will rid the country of “bad teachers.” This campaign intentionally ignores mountains of peer reviewed studies that indicate that ineffective teachers make up no more than 3% of the current teaching force in virtually every state.
Perhaps the most telling fact of the success of the GMMB-Fordham Institute-DoEd manufactured consent for the disruption and destruction of public schools is the virtual absence from major national print, digital, and cable public discourse of any discussion of what can only be called the Corvair-Edsel of the Education Industry complex: Pearson Education. I know of no corporation that consistently produces such shoddy products as Pearson Education. The public, especially parents, are learning about the lack of quality of Pearson software and sample questions when they consult online sample questions. Teachers have known about the shoddy quality of Pearson test generators for some time. This educational equivalent of Halliburton, Pearson has benefitted from greasing the wheels of the Obama campaign, and has enjoyed a very cozy relationship with Mr. Duncan’s Education Department from day one.
Pearson has not only profited from developing PARCC at warp speed on the federal dime to please Mr. Gates-Duncan-Petrilli, it has also obtained no bid contracts in many states that were greased by free trips given to state education superintendents. The Pearson Foundation has since been disbanded and fined by the New York State’s Attorney for such shady quid pro quo-reeking interactions. The fact that Pearson has not been taken to court in many states attests to the lack of effective ethics codes in the states and a lack of DOJ and FTC oversight. Such oversight is sorely lacking within an administration that serves Wall Street and Silicon Valley when it comes to education policy.
Because Pearson and PARCC are the centerpieces of Mr. Duncan’s policy agenda, and Chicago School ideas about building unfettered and more “efficient” economies of scale championed by Henry C. Simons, Milton Friedman and their students Gary Becker, Judge Richard Posner, and Richard Epstein; have heavily influenced the Chicago “clique” surrounding the president (Valerie Jarrett, Martin Nesbitt, Penny Pritzker, the board of the Commercial Club of Chicago who were essential to funding Obama’s first campaign) and the antitrust enforcement in the form of requiring Pearson Education to write competitive impact statements when it gobbles up more and more market share like an educational version of the movie “The Blob” is entirely moot at DOJ.
This story is the biggest story of the last several years that has not been touched by education reporters, especially local reporters who are assigned and held to deadlines.
Our biggest challenge to date is this: How can classroom teachers penetrate the corporate media apparatus? Can we cultivate enough relationships with the few reporters who have the courage to find stories that are critical of the dominant disruption-destruction ideology that can see through non peer reviewed and corporate foundation supported “studies”-propaganda.
Another question to examine is: can grassroots media marshal enough support to build coalitions in support of public education among fellow progressive populists?
We need senators Brown, Sanders and Warren to be more vocal in their support of public education. We need them on CNN and NBC. We need more sympathetic talking heads to speak out more forcefully and more often.
We must energize the congressional progressive caucus to work for public education by blasting away at the Gates supported, astro-turf funded, propagation of “’education reform’ as the Civil Rights issue of out time.”
We need Matt Damon to produce a feature film about teachers that are at war with disrupters and who are doing brilliant work in the classroom.
Most of all, we need to come together and act politically and fight. We need to learn more from Ras Baraka and Karen Lewis and join together with as many allies as possible to take neoliberal lies head-on.
Finally, we need to take heart from the people of Latin America and Greece who have defeated or are struggling with the neoliberal cultural apparatus. According to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, “Lies destroyed Latin America. People lie too much, from the press, the politicians, and on the street….I think one of the main problems around the world is that there are private networks in the communication business, for profit business providing public information, which is important for society. It is a fundamental contradiction.” “I think there should be more public and community media, organizations that don’t have that conflict between profits and social communication.” (quoted in McChesney, Blowing the Roof Off, 218).
Public Education Bloggers are actively pushing forward to create what Myles Horton called “islands of decency” within a neoliberal hurricane that seeks to monetize every human relationship, that destroys human relationships and potential within a digitalized “Glass Cage” filled with punitive test scores and VAM calculations. The fight requires us to break through the “Glass Cage” and join hands in one big progressive populist union.
As Graham Nash is fond of singing, ”Won’t you please come to Chicago.
Paul Horton has taught for thirty years in virtually every kind of school. He began his teaching career in a recently integrated rural Texas middle school. He then taught for five years in a large urban high school in San Antonio’s West side where the majority of young people were ESL. He has been teaching at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the country’s most diverse independent school founded by John Dewey, for fourteen years.