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Who gets to speaks about what schools need? Race to the Top and the Bill Gates Connection

Susan Notes:

NOTE: This article comes from the special education issue of EXTRA!, publication of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Go to the url below and you can receive a year's subscription to the online edition for $15. You will receive this current issue on education immediately.

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With this article, the research involved counting "who gets cited" in over 700 articles on Race to the Top and the Common Core standards also reveals who doesn't get quoted, raising very large questions.

The sidebars (see below) were omitted from the article, but they reveal a lot. As noted in the article, just 23 "experts" were quoted five or more times. As important as the number of citations is how the individuals are identified. For example, Chester Finn, Mike Petrilli and Andy Smarick at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute were cited 49 times. Education Week wants you to know that Smarick is a "prolific writer on Race to the Top." Might there be more telling information here? When citing Finn (president of the Fordham Institute), Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin at the New York Times identify him simply as "president of an education research group in Washington." In another article, Dillon identifies him as "former assistant secretary of education who has long called for national standards," and in another, a "writer of an influential education blog."

Sometimes, Education Week quoted Fordham Institute people in three articles in the same issue.

Truth in Disclosure: During the time period under discussion I was cited twice, in The Washington Post, March 10, 2010 and in USA Today on March 11, 2010.

That is two more citations than Richard Rothstein got, a fact I find incomprehensible.


by Susan Ohanian

Race to the Top (RTTT),
announced by President Barack
Obama and Secretary of
Education Arne Duncan on July
24, 2009, is a $4.4 billion grant program
generating more conversation
than its relatively small money
amount might suggest. What has people
talking is its competitive structure
that forces cash-strapped states to
make radical changes in education in
order to stay in the running--changes
a National Research Council report
(10/7/09) warned were not backed by
research. Instead of dispersing grant
money on the basis of greatest need,
RTTT chooses a few winners based on
the degree to which the states deliver
what the feds want: more charter
schools, so-called merit pay for teachers
and new curriculum standards
known as the Common Core.

Another key requirement is "using
data to improve instruction." This
means basing classroom lessons on
data collected from highly criticized standardized
tests. So if you're a third grade
teacher and lots of kids in your class missed
questions on apostrophes, that's what you
have to teach, whether it's appropriate to
children's individual needs or not. Teachers
with a high immigrant population, for
example, might well feel the children need
to learn English before they are drilled on
apostrophes.

The director of this RTTT competition
was Joanne Weiss. Now Duncan's new chief
of staff, Weiss is the former COO of
NewSchools Venture Fund--which
received millions of dollars from the Eli and
Edythe Broad and the Bill and Melinda
Gates foundations to assist charter management
organizations. The Gates Foundation,
which has given $650 million to projects
that advance educational priorities like charter
schools, testing and "teacher effectiveness"
in the last two-and-a-half years
(Washington Post, 7/12/10), awarded
grants to some states to hire specialists to
aid in the application process for RTTT
round one, which Weiss estimated would
take state personnel 681 hours.

"The Gates program and the Arne
Duncan program are pretty much the same
program," Nancy C. Detert, chair of the
Education Committee in the Florida Senate,
told the New York Times (10/28/09). Mike
Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B.
Fordham Institute, agrees, telling the Puget
Sound Business Journal (5/15/09), "It is
not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation's
agenda has become the country's agenda in
education." The Business Journal noted
that as of that date, the Fordham Institute
itself had received nearly $3 million in
Gates Foundation grants.

Delaware and Tennessee came out on top
in round one of RTTT: Delaware got $100
million (about $800 per student), and
Tennessee $500 million (about $500 per student).
Since these states radically changed
their education strategies to receive
what amounts to 7 percent of their
total expenditures on elementary and
secondary education, the feds are getting
a lot of bang for the buck. And
other states are making radical
changes in hopes of looking good for
Round 2.

Across the country, progressive
educators complained that
despite all the conversation
about RTTT, there was little serious
questioning of this radical federal
deformation of what should be local
school policy; the "other guys" got
all the press. I decided to take a
look, which meant reading some
700 articles on the subject of RTTT
and the Common Core standards
published between mid-May 2009
and mid-July 2010. Wanting to see
which "independent experts"
reporters called upon to explain
these programs, I eliminated cites
from state ed officials, union officials and
politicos. This left me with 152 outside
experts in 414 articles. Of the 23 experts
quoted five times or more, 15 have connections
with institutions receiving Gates funding
and 13 with strong charter advocacy
institutions.

One oft-cited "expert" is Gene Wilhoit,
executive director of the nonprofit Council
of Chief State School Officers. Wilhoit's
group and the National Governors
Association Center for Best Practices, its
partner in spearheading the drive for the
Common Core standards, received more
than $35 million from the Gates Foundation
(Boston.com, 7/30/10). In Bloomberg
Businessweek (7/15/10), Daniel Golden
revealed the man behind the curtain, pointing
out that the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation "bankrolled the development of
the common curriculum standards." In the
Lowell Sun (7/18/10), Matt Murphy provided
dollar amounts, provoking Sam Smith
of the Progressive Review to offer this
headline (7/23/10): "Is the Gates Foundation
Involved in Bribery?"

Golden writes, "Today, the Gates Foundation
and Education Secretary Duncan
move in apparent lockstep" on an agenda
Golden calls "an intellectual cousin of the
Bush administration's 2002 No Child Left
Behind law." Gates Foundation personnel
are rarely quoted in the press. They don't
need to be: Their money talks for them.
Both Golden and Murphy pointed to the tidy
sum that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
received from Gates to provide analysis of
the Common Core standards.

There are other connections left unspoken:
In the 55 citations from Chester Finn,
Mike Petrilli and Andy Smarick at the
Thomas B. Fordham Institute, only five mention
that the three served in the administrations
of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Of the 152 experts cited in the 414 articles
under review, 24 were associated with
universities, but you won't find many
professors elucidating pedagogy or teaching
strategies here. Instead, we get mostly economists
and statisticians. Who knows if it's
deviousness or just sloppiness when the
Washington Post (1/2/10) and New York
Times Magazine (3/7/10) refer to Eric
Hanushek as a "Stanford economist"? Hanushek
is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a
conservative think tank on Stanford's campus.
Carlo Rotella at least gets the descriptor
right in the New Yorker ( 2/1/10) when he
pegs Hanushek as "one of the most outspoken
senior academics in the market-forces
camp."

"Market forces" are the unacknowledged
elephant in the room of the
Obama/Duncan/Gates school reform policy.
But it's up to the reader to figure out what
the agenda might be when the press quotes
experts associated with groups like New
America Foundation, NewSchools Venture
Fund, New Leaders for New Schools, Mass
Insight and on and on--without a hint about
their pro-market agenda.

Reporters usually don't even identify
the Cato Institute as libertarian, never mind
reveal the ties of the charter-advocate
NewSchools Venture Fund to both the
Broad and Gates Foundations and the
administration. How many education
reporters, citing Fred M. Hess (14 times in
my study), director of education policy
studies at the American Enterprise Institute,
could even name a scholar who represents a
view from the left, never mind phone one
and ask for a soundbite?

If there were some sort of balance in
press coverage of RTTT, they would ask
Wisconsin professor Richard Brosio to
explain the relationship of capital, democracy
and schooling. Or call Richard Rothstein,
research associate and respected author of
numerous books, briefs, studies and reports
at the Economic Policy Institute, including
the EPI Briefing Paper he wrote with
William Peterson, "Let's Do the Numbers:
Department of Education's 'Race to the
Top' Program Offers Only a Muddled Path
to the Finish Line" (4/20/10). For years,
Rothstein has been reminding people that no
matter how many fourth graders pass the
test, it won't raise the minimum wage. The
education press seem incapable of hearing
this message--or sharing it with the public.

I keep thinking about who else is missing.
Although I put blogs beyond the purview
of this article, this bit from David
Berliner's commentary on Valerie
Straus's Answer Sheet blog (Washington
Post.com, 6/29/10) nicely shows the kind of
analysis that seems to scare reporters off:


When poor children go to public
schools that serve the poor, and
wealthy children go to public schools
that serve the wealthy, then the huge
gaps in achievement that we see bring
us closer to establishing an apartheid
public school system. We create
through our housing, school attendance
and school districting policies a system
designed to encourage castes--a system
promoting a greater likelihood of a
privileged class and an underclass.
These are, of course, harbingers of
demise for our fragile democracy.

Berliner wasn't cited once in during the
time period studied. So the question remains
open: Why would the press shut out an
expert, the co-author of the acclaimed
Manufactured Crisis and Collateral
Damage: How High-Stakes Testing
Corrupts America's Schools
--while calling
up Joe Williams and his cohort Charles
Barone of the Democrats for Education
Reform, a political action committee (PAC)
tied to hedge fund interests, for 40 citations?

Duncan created a firestorm among bloggers
when he told Sam Dillon and Tamar
Lewin of the New York Times (5/4/10) that
his policies encounter no opposition:
"Zero. There's just an outpouring of support
for the common-sense changes and the
unprecedented investments we're making."

This outrageous claim was left to stand
unquestioned in the newspaper that still
claims "All the news fit to print" on its
masthead. No comments were accepted
online.

Progressive Texas journalist Molly Ivins
once warned (in her George W. Bush biography,
Shrub), "People who have read only
one book can be quite dangerous." So it is
with reporters who listen only to the same
few people on an issue as complex as RTTT.
As a longtime teacher, I grieve over the
press's unwillingness to touch on why the
current destruction traveling in the name of
reform is happening to our public schools,
and I fear I might have found the answer in
the movie Three Days of the Condor, where
Joubert, the contract assassin, sums things
up: "I don't interest myself in 'why.' I think
more often in terms of 'when,' sometimes
'where'; always 'how much.'... The fact is
what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone
is always willing to pay."



Sidebars
It is worth reading every citation. Note who cites these people and how they are identified. Think about what spin is put on this identifier and how it affects the reader's ability to understand what they say about Race to the Top. Think about how this misinforms the public.


Sidebar 1

Experts quoted in the press receiving 5 or more citations and how the press identified them


  • Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform

  • Charles Barone, director of federal policy, Democrats for Education Reform

  • Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc.

  • Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project

  • Chester Finn, president of Thomas B. Fordham Institute

  • Eric Hanushek, of Hoover Institution

  • Fred M. Hess, of American Enterprise Institute

  • E. D. Hirsch, founder of Core Knowledge

  • Caroline Hoxby, Stanford University economist

  • Jack Jennings. President of Center on Education Policy

  • Dane Linn, education division director, National Governors Association

  • McKinsey and Company

  • Mike Petrilli, with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

  • Diane Ravitch, education historian

  • Andrew Rotherham, co-founder Education Sector; co-founder Bellwether Education

  • Jon Schnur, co-founder New Leaders for New Schools

  • Andy Smarick, with Thomas B. Fordham Institute and American Enterprise Institute

  • Kate Walsh, president of National Council on Teacher Quality

  • Joanne Weiss, Race to the Top director

  • Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

  • Gene Wilhoit, executive director of Council of Chief State School Officers

  • Amy Wilkins, vice president of government affairs and communications at Education Trust

  • Joe Williams, executive director, Democrats for Education Reform

  • Sidebar 2 A Closer Look
    Race to the Top for Press Attention: Democrats for Education Reform, a Political Action Committee


    Charles Barone

  • of Democrats for Education Reform, a New York-based advocacy group (Greg Toppo,
    "Race to the Top education grant propels reforms," USA Today, Nov. 4, 2009)

  • federal-policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee (Erik W. Robelen, "Education Stakes High in 2010 State Elections," Education Week, Dec. 16, 2009)

  • director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that has been tracking states' efforts (Amanda Paulson, "Education reform: California to join Race to the Top rush," Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 5, 2009)

  • director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that has been highly critical of teachers' unions (Stephen Sawchuk, "Two State Unions Balking at 'Race to Top' Plans," Education Week, Jan. 6, 2010)

  • director of federal relations for Democrats for Education Reform (Alyson Klein, "District-State Tension an Issue in Race to the Top," Education Week, Jan. 14, 2010)

  • the director of federal legislation for Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee based in New York City (Alyson Klein, "Education Dodges Obama's 'Freeze' Pledge," Education Week, Feb. 3, 2010)

  • of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that supports Race to the Top (Nick Anderson, "Virginia's effort for Race to the Top funds modest so far," Washington Post, Feb. 8, 2010)

  • helped craft the existing teacher-quality provisions in the NCLB law as an aide to Rep. George Miller, now the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. Washington-based research and advocacy group (Stephen Sawchuk, "Obama's Teacher Plans Stress Competitive Grants," Education Week, February 24, 2010)

  • director of federal legislation for the New York City-based political action committee Democrats for Education Reform (Michele McNeil and Lesli A. Maxwell, "Local Buy-In Helps Two States Win Race to Top," Education Week, March 29, 2010)

  • director of federal legislation for the New York City-based political action committee Democrats for Education Reform (Lesli A. Maxwell and Michele McNeil, "$3.4 Billion Is Left in Race to Top Aid," Education Week, April 7, 2010)

  • director of federal legislation for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee that finances Democratic candidates who support charter school expansion, among other policies. (Alyson Klein, "Push to Renew ESEA Faces Steep Policy, Political Hurdles," Education Week, May 19, 2010)

  • director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee that's been tracking and critiquing the Race to the Top competition (Michele McNeil, "Race to Top Round Two Heating Up," Education Week, April 28, 2010)

  • director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform (Amanda Paulson, "How Race to the Top is recasting education reform in America; States are submitting their applications for Round 2 of the Obama administration's $4.3 billion Race to the Top Program," Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 2010)


  • director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, a Washington-based nonprofit group (Moira Herbst, "Obama's 'Race to the Top' Education Fund Draws Fewer States," Bloomberg BusinessWeek, June 2, 2010)

  • of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that supports Race to the Top (Nick Anderson, "Md., D.C. continue their Race to the Top," Washington Post, June 2, 2010)

  • director of federal legislation for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee that supports candidates who favor policies such as expanding charter schools (Alyson Klein, "Education Initiatives Hit Political Head Winds," Education Week, June 16, 2010)

  • director of federal legislation for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee often at odds with teachers' unions (Michele McNeil,"Race to Top Buy-In Level Examined," Education Week, June 16, 2010)

  • Democrats for Education Reform

    Joe Williams


  • Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)

  • of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group ("Ready, set, go; Reviving America's schools," The Economist, October 3, 2009)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group often critical of the teachers' unions (Sam Dillon, "After Criticism, the Administration Is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants," New York Times, Nov. 12, 2009)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group often critical of the teachers' unions (Sam Dillon, "After Criticism, the Administration Is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants," New York Times, Nov. 12, 2009)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee (Erik W. Robelen, "Stimulus Is Spurring Legislation," Education Week, Jan. 6, 2010)

  • executive director of the New York-based Democrats for Education Reform (Jessica Fender and Jeremy Meyer, "Colorado scrambles for dollars with new school reform plan," Denver Post, Jan. 19, 2010)

  • executive director Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee (Lesli A. Maxwell, "District Stances on Race to Top Plans Vary," Education Week, Jan. 20, 2010)

  • executive director Democrats for Education Reform (Patrice Wingert,"Next Bunch of Obama Education Reforms to Offer More Carrots," Newsweek, Jan. 27, 2010)

  • executive director Democrats for Education Reform a New York City-based political action committee that supports policy measures such as charter schools and merit pay (Michele McNeil, "Dueling Objectives Mark Stimulus at Halfway Point," Education Week, Feb. 10, 2010)

  • executive director of the political action committee Democrats for Education Reform (Michele McNeil, "Duncan Carves Deep Mark on Policy in First Year," Education Week, Jan. 20, 2010)

  • Democrats for Education Reform, a political action group (Greg Toppo, "Mass firings at R.I. school may signal a trend; Administration takes a hard line on accountability," USA Today, Feb. 25, 2010)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, "Race to the Top: Which states made the list of finalists?" Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2010)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that favors charter schools and stronger teacher evaluation systems (Neil King Jr. and Barbara Martinez, "Education Finalists Picked," Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2010)

  • of Democrats for Education Reform (Editorial, "No State Left Behind?" Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2010)

  • of Democrats for Education Reform (Meredith Kologner, "City Eyes Own 'Race' Bid. Next Round Could See NYC vs NYS for Ed Funds," New York Daily News, April 1, 2010)

  • president of pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform ("GREAT RACE; Can NY fix schools?" Crain's New York Business, April 5, 2010)

  • Executive director, Education Reform Now (Rachel Monahan with Bill Hammond, Bill to Lift Charter Cap Aims to Win Fed Cash," New York Daily News, May 1, 2010)

  • (Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, "Race to the Top: Which states made the list of finalists?" Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2010)

  • of Democrats for Education Reform, a New York-based political action committee. (Greg Toppo, "Stimulus funds up the ante for public schools; Educators pressed to make big improvements in two years," USA Today, May 5, 2010)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a national political action committee (Stacy Teicher Khadaroo,"Colorado latest battleground for teacher performance," Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 2010)

  • executive director of a political action committee that advances what has become a favorite cause of many of the wealthy founders of New York hedge funds: charter schools; former education reporter for the New York Daily News (Trip Gabriel and Jennifer Medina, "Charter Schools' Unlikely New Cheerleaders: Financiers," New York Times, May 10, 2010)

  • executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter group (David Saltonstall, "Battle Over Airwaves Pits UFT vs. Pro-Charter Forces," New York Daily News, May 18, 2010)

  • Democrats for Education Reform (Steven Brill, "The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand," New York Times Sunday Magazine, May 23, 2010)

    — Susan Ohanian
    Extra!
    2010-09-08
    http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4


    INDEX OF RESEARCH THAT COUNTS


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