Wednesday, January 26, 2005

EdWeek omits a few minor details

I just noticed EdWeek (warning: heinous registration procedure ahead) has an article out on the Massachusetts charter school situation.

It's the usual "ya gotta know that the local teachers' unions and ed groups are so against charter schools" yadda yadda yadda piece. Funny but it's hard to tell a whole another side of the story was completely omitted by the good people at EdWeek.

If you're interested in knowing more, the must-read counterpoint is this Dunphy and Aziz article on what's going on in Massachusetts just recently highlighted by Frederick Clarkson.

Quick summary:
*Broad background (this does not do justice, see Clarkson's 1999 article (pdf) for details): several sets of networked group of conservative thinktanks exist to promote education policy (including other policy areas) at the state level. One group is called the State Policy Network. The other network is more directly related to the Christian Reconstructionists, called the Family Policy Council which directly spins off Dobson's ominous Focus on the Family (FoF) organization.

*In Massachusetts, the state-level SPN think tank is the Pioneer Institute. Dunphy and Aziz points out that in Massachusetts, it looks like you've got a very cozy case of political incest between the Pioneer Institute and Massachuesetts politicians. This began in 1990 when the then governor Weld hired nearly everyone at Pioneer for key positions in government.

Now what we have is an alarming situation:
Yet, a handful of conservative ideologues, closely aligned with a local libertarian think tank, are dominating every aspect of Massachusetts’ education policy and pushing an agenda of privatization that is driving up costs even while weakening public oversight. And they are getting away with it largely unquestioned.


For starters, the chair of the state Board of (public) Education is the former executive director of Pioneer. Another former executive director serves alongside him on the Board. The head of the Department of Education's Office of Charter School Accountability arrived at the job directly from Pioneer. These appointments continue the revolving door pattern between Pioneer and the Administration, first established during William Weld’s governorship. Several of the institute's wealthy and powerful board members have orchestrated a high-price lobbying effort to push their legislative agenda.

And Pioneer itself, backed by the deep pockets of such conservative foundations as the Walton (as in Wal-Mart) Family Fund, churns out dozens of reports, studies, and surveys that the media has obligingly turned into news.
Makes me wonder where else this is happening.

*Note that EdWeek quotes David Driscoll, the state commissioner of education, who just happens to be, surprise surprise, friendly with this conservative thinktank. EdWeek omits any mention of the Pioneer Institute which has played such a dominant role in setting education policy.
David P. Driscoll, the state commissioner of education, acknowledged that the department of education and state board could do a better job of being more responsive at public hearings on proposed charters, but said that the debate comes down to a fundamental difference.

“There is a disconnect between the critics who see [charter approvals] as a debate on charter schools in general, and the real intent of the law, which is to have charter schools,” he said. “We will never be able to satisfy our critics, because they don’t want charter schools.”
Of course, he's right from his perspective. I wonder how many people know how the law was insidiously influenced by a conservative thinktank.

*Milt Romney, the governor, mentioned in EdWeek appears to have a very good working relationship with Pioneer.

Where else is this happening? I don't think we can count on media to cover this.

One thing I do recommend is to take a look at Clarkson's list of state-level thinktanks, both the SPNs and the FoFs.

Find out which ones are in your state (he's got a partial list). Then find out which politicians in your state who are affiliated with your local friendly neighborhood conservative thinktank. A quick Google might be surprisingly fruitful.

To the investigative journalists out there: lots more work to be done on this. I do wish someone would find out which commentators and politicians get money from this source as starters.

It's time for a definitive overview of the sets of networked conservative thinktanks. These are the pieces I know about:

1). the State Policy Network (SPN) think tanks (from Clarkson's 1999 article)
2). Dobson's FoF associated groups (from Clarkson's 1999 article)
3). Business Roundtable Groups from each state (discussed in great detail in Susan Ohanian's book Why Does Corporate America Bash Schools?)
4). politicians affiliated with these groups
5). commentators affiliated with these groups
6). the role of ALEC
7). the role of the DLC with these thinktanks

What are the other pieces? How are these playas all connected? I'm betting ALEC plays a big role in this.

Any takers out there? Let me know.