Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Plutocrats in Plunderland

Just as Hillary Clinton was professing her sudden and unexpected opposition to exclusionary charter schools, the think tank founded by her own campaign manager was very conveniently and coincidentally going on full school privatization overdrive offensive.

Clintonite John Podesta's Center for American Progress, already exposed as a corporate front group by Senator Elizabeth Warren, has gathered together the usual suspects -- private equity vultures, Silicon Valley moguls, neoliberal politicians, charter school advocates, billionaire philanthropists and lobbyists -- under a telltale hashtag called TeachStrong. (the immediate supposition that teachers are inherently weak and in dire need of improvement should be your first clue about their true agenda!)

I got the email announcing #TeachStrong on Tuesday, which appropriately enough was also the 150th anniversary of the publication of "Alice In Wonderland". So get ready for a tortured trip down a neoliberal rabbit hole:
It's time to elevate and modernize the teaching profession. (began CAP's email.)

Our students are falling behind internationally. In an effort to catch up, we are asking more from our teachers than ever before. Yet we continue to provide them with inadequate preparation, training, and pay.To address this gap, the Center for American Progress and 40 partner organizations are launching the TeachStrong campaign. It is a movement to change the national education policy conversation and make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the most pressing and significant education policy priority for our nation. As a part of the campaign’s launch, TeachStrong held an event today with Governor Jack Markell (D) of Delaware and Governor Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa, where they discussed the need for a bipartisan effort to act.
"Modernization" is the neoliberal buzzword for privatization. And whenever they crow about "bipartisan" you can almost feel the tentacles of Wall Street grasping you around your throat. And whenever they brag about their "diverse" groups joining together for a project, you can rest assured that even cursory searches of their funding and leadership will reveal astroturf groups within political parties within marketing divisions within corporations.

 Governor Markell, (D-Oligarchy) for example, was one of the original members of Bill and Hillary Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council, a/k/a the party's conservative Big Business wing. Before entering politics and most recently becoming an education concern troll, he held managerial positions at First Chicago Corporation, McKinsey, Comcast and the Nextel Corporation. As governor, one of his first accomplishments was the legalization of sports betting. In December 2013, following a lengthy investigation,  a special prosecutor found that Markell had violated campaign finance law in 2008 by advising high-rollers how to sidestep donation limits. However, since the very brief statute of limitations had expired, and the prosecutor graciously allowed that ignorance of the law is an excuse when it comes to the misdeeds of VIPs like Markell, no criminal charges were ever pressed against him. 

Markell is just the type of principled, qualified cat we need to help kids learn and to "elevate" teachers and improve their skills, don't you think?

My Reality Is Just Different Than Yours

But back to #TeachStrong and its diverse group of partners with the Brave New World goal of "building a better teacher." 

Trust me: this gets curiouser and curiouser, the further down the rabbit hole you plummet, and the harder you try to dig your way back out of the muddy morass. 

But take a peek behind the curtain anyway...

... and you can find the entire Fab Forty on the #TeachStrong webpage. To discern the funding and the people behind each partner, simply Google each of them individually, and then look for the fine print under "Our Board" or "Our Advisers" or "Our Directors" or "Our Team." Much to your surprise, you will discover that many of the "diverse partners" making up #TeachStrong are actually subsidiaries or downright clones of themselves! Here's a sampling of the subterfuge:

"Alliance For Excellent Education": led by former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a lobbyist for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Common Core testing-for-profit program. His alliance is a front group for something called Digital Learning Day, which sells educational software to public schools. From that, he has developed "Project 24," which in turned spawned "Future Ready Schools," which gets taxpayer funding from Obama's Department of Education. Besides being a recent recipient of the "Bammy Award," he also serves on the Barbara Bush Family Literacy Board. Like a bipartisan circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel.....

Anyway, Wise gets assistance at his Alliance from Daniel H. Leeds, who also  happens to sit on the board of the Center for American Progress! It's a small world after all. Leeds is the president of Fulcrum Investments, a private equity firm with a stake in charter schools and educational software.

"America Achieves": Another charter school front group, listing its funders as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Will and Flora Hewlett Foundation among other philanthrocapitalists. Its executive director, Jon Schnur, served on Barack Obama's transition team and as an advisor to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is soon leaving public service to spend more time with his money family.

"Digital Promise": This front group is at least upfront about admitting that teachers and students are not its top priorities. According to the website: "Building relationships with developers and entrepreneurs is core to Digital Promise’s work. The Corporate Partner Program aims to create mutually beneficial relationships between our corporate partners, our staff, and our network. We engage with corporate partners as thought leaders, co-designers, and problem solvers alongside our education leaders and researchers."

Well, if you can engage with Thought Leaders, who needs any damned teachers? And their corporate sponsors are a Who's Who of the Oligarchy. The ubiquitous Bill and Melinda Gates, Hewlett Packard, McGraw-Hill, Apple, Amazon, Discovery and Microsoft to name just a few. Ka-ching! 

And the Board of Directors is to die for. Among them is one Gilman Louie, described on Digital Promise's website as "the founder and former CEO of In-Q-Tel, a strategic venture fund created to help enhance national security by connecting the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. intelligence community with venture-backed entrepreneurial companies. (my bold.) Previously Mr. Louie built a career as a pioneer in the interactive entertainment industry, with accomplishments that include the design and development of the Falcon F-16 flight simulator as well as being the person who licensed Tetris, the world’s most popular computer game, from its developers in the Soviet Union. During that career, Mr. Louie founded and ran a publicly traded company called Spectrum HoloByte which ultimately was acquired by Hasbro Corporation, where he served as chief creative officer. He has served on a number of boards of directors, including Wizards of the Coast, Netwitness, Ribbit, Zephyr Technologies, the National Venture Capital Association, the CIA Officers Memorial Fund and currently chairs the Mandarin Institute and the Federation of American Scientists."

Just the kind of intelligence expert we need to spy on entertain advertise to teach our kids, and to elevate our teachers to the highest heights of servitude, huh?

"Emerson Collective": Founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder and jobs off-shorer Steve Jobs, this "partner" of the CAP anti-teacher offensive is obviously in no great need of outside funding. As a result, watch for a Brave New World Jobs Elementary coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Students will concentrate not on the Three R's, but on "personalization" and "syncing." Needless to say, this involves lots and lots of very pricey educational software, to be installed in both homes and classrooms. Mrs. Jobs explains:
"We've developed a set of algorithms that choreograph the movement of students between learning stations (that include both live and digital instruction), identify the skills and concepts each student is ready to learn as well as which of their classmates need the same skills. As a result, students spend more time on skills they are ready to learn, understand their personal learning goals, and are accountable for their own learning. Learn more about our most recent results here.
Are we all mad here, or do you think that Laurene Jobs and Gilman Louie would make an excellent team? Ka-ching on steroids!

"Hope Street Group":  Just when I thought I'd finally reached rock bottom of the rabbit hole with Laurene Jobs' Orwellian vision, there is this hilariously named education reform front group. Actually, you should probably abandon hope once you've entered this domain, which prominently features the mugshot of outgoing Education Sec. Arne Duncan. It seems to have little or nothing to do with actual teaching, what with its core message that education must be viewed as "an economic opportunity," along with health and jobs, small j, to be oxymoronically aligned with "market forces for social good." (the accepted definition of Clintonian third way politics, or neoliberalism.)

 The Board of Directors is a star-studded cast of plutocratic characters from private equity, the tech industry, vulture capitalism and the predatory health insurance cartel. 

Hope Street is definitely Arne Duncan's baby (or at least one of them), now that he is retiring from "public service". Triple-triple-triple Ka-ching!

"Third Way": If it's American Progress, and there is money to be made from the commonwealth, you cannot possibly leave out Wall Street billionaire and Clinton pal Pete Peterson. Now that his austerity for the masses initiative is in temporary hibernation due to campaign politics, he might as well glom onto public education to get his outsized share, right? This guy actually wants Congress to reauthorize George Bush's No Child Left Behind scam, and the Clintons' think tank is welcoming him with open arms, just as Bill and Hill welcomed him with open arms to their family foundation, and even lent out daughter Chelsea in calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The aforementioned astroturf organizations are just a tiny slice of the Center for Progress's #TeachStrong initiative. To be fair, there do seem to be a few legitimate teachers' groups interspersed among the lot for appearance's sake, not least of them Randi Weingarten's American Federation of Teachers, which mysteriously endorsed Hillary Clinton without even bothering to take a vote from actual members.

 "... if you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later." -- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.


Jim Horn said...

Please show me where Hillary Clinton voiced opposition to charters. You need to read the interview transcript again. She supports charter schools acceptance of all students, and her criticism was limited to their exclusionary practices.

Alison said...

I'm not sure if you've seen the work by this group: Global Education Futures. Tom Vander Ark of the Gates Foundation is on their board of advisors. The full pdf of their report reads like science fiction, only it's not that far off. This is a diagram of where these corporate global leaders see education going in the next 20 years. The information you present about digital learning and simulated learning environments aligns very close with this.

I think there is also a link to the AROS push for community schools. The Digital Learning folks want to push competency badges over "seat time." They are looking to deconstruct bricks and mortar schools in favor of cyber learning and learning experiences with "community partners." Keep an eye out for the term "extended learning opportunities."

There are also ties to Weingarten's "Share My Lesson" format as well. They are looking to create a huge database they can tap for personalized competency-based or proficiency-based education where teachers play the most minimal role.

Karen Garcia said...

@Jim Horn,

Hillary opposes/criticizes charter schools the same way that she opposes/criticizes the TPP: selectively and semantically and probably very temporarily. The important thing is that both conservative and progressive voters, as well as charter school advocates and some unions, are reading her carefully parsed phraseology as opposition. It's having the desired effect, at least for now. She is attempting to distance herself from the GOP (which also loves charters) at the same time that her CAP campaign manager is pushing their corporate agenda. This is called triangulation, and it's a trick as old as Clintonism. Hopefully she will be pressed further on this issue at Saturday's debate. I imagine that she will relent on charters once a few of them verbally agree to accept a few special ed kids a year. This is called a sop, another trick in the Clinton playbook designed to make progressives shut up and sigh "we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Karen Garcia said...

P.S. to Jim Horn.

Your criticism of my language is well-taken so I have had added the adjective "exclusionary" to my lede. Thanks again.

Karen Garcia said...


Thanks. The philanthrocapitalism of Bill Gates, the Waltons and others is a slap in the face to democracy, or what is still actually left of it. We have allowed the "Giving Collective" of billionaires to directly dictate education policy all over the world. Their goal seems to be the prevention of independent thought in human beings, the better that we might accept our lot in life. It's a mix of Huxley and Orwell, with a nice dollop of Kafka thrown in for good measure.

They immediately give their hidden agenda away by talking about about "education futures," as though children were commodities like pork bellies to be traded, sliced and diced, and ultimately dumped. They are truly disgusting people.

Pearl said...

A very informative column, Karen, not generally known by many.
What is disturbing is that it is comparatively easy to spot a politician who we know is robbing the voters blind or misrepresenting their interests. But all these hard working successful people taking the time to reach out a helping hand and whose backgrounds seem impeccable in developing new silicone valley gadgets or workable ideas for using them for improving life for others, are even more dangerous. They are cloaked in civilized garments and don't depend on our votes or support to go on with their mind control agendas.
I know next to nothing about most of the names you bring up and less of their genuine history which would be true of others as well with even less political education. Many are 'advisors' to the power cores who make the important decisions of TPP, environmental needs, how to educate the population and buy opposition off when needed.
I feel Obama has been easily duped by their visions for betterment. Of course the issue of the money involved and who benefits is carefully cloaked like the Clinton Family Foundation. They will have great influence on Hillary should she become President and create an even more flourishing neocon nation.

And all those fancy flowery names for their organizations reminds me of similar naming of new war plans in our invaded countries to make it sound like a clean and civilized effort. Wish I could remember some of them.

Meredith NYC said...

Thanks Karen for this excellent post, and for the Alice in Wonderland illustrations. I guess we could find an apt drawing from the Alice books for just about every political issue. Use more! And many lines from them would be apt too for our surreal politics. I sure enjoy them more than the photos of various politicians.

The Dem debate moderators should bring up the charter schools issue. And Sanders should use it.