This Letter About Corporate Involvement in Education Policy Should Go Viral

Diane Ravitch’s blog

Paul Horton, a history teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, wrote a letter to Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), when the Senator announced his intention to retire.

Horton asked whether the senator was aware of the corporate influenceon Race to the Top and the Common Core standards.

Horton told the senator that critics of these programs are not extremists:

“In fact…critics of the RTTT mandates and the CCS come from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. In the national education debate, the status quo agenda that is being pushed comes from the corporate middle of both parties that is backed by many of those who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the current economic “recovery” in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan (and Westchester County) and large foundations.”

Horton urges Senator Harkin to call Secretary Duncan to a hearing to testify under oath and answer the following questions:

“How many of your staffers have worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Who are they, and why did you hire them?

“What role did these staffers and Bill Gates have on the formulation of the RTTT mandates?

“How much classroom teaching experience do the principal authors of the RTTT mandates have, individually, and as a group?

“Why are these individuals qualified to make decisions about education policy?

“Were you, or anyone who works within the Department of Education in contact with any representative or lobbyist representing Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, or InBloom before or during the writing of the RTTT mandates?

“What is the Broad Foundation? What is your connection to the Broad Foundation? What education policies does the Broad Foundation support? How do these policies support public education? How do these policies support private education? What was the role of the Broad Foundation in the creation of the RTTT mandates?

“How many individuals associated with the Broad Foundation helped author the report, “Smart Options: Investing Recovery Funds for Student Success” that was published in April of 2009 and served as a blueprint for the RTTT mandates? How many representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation assisted in writing this report? What was their role in authoring this report? How many representatives of McKinsey Consulting participated in authoring this report? What was David Coleman’s role in authoring this report?

“Do you know David Coleman? Have you ever had any conversations with David Coleman? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with David Coleman? Did anyone within the Department of Education have any connection to any of the authors of the Common Core Standards? Did anyone in your Department have any conversations with any of the authors of the Common Core Standards as they were being written?

“Have you ever had any conversations with representatives or lobbyists who represent the Walton Family Foundation? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with the Walton Family Foundation or lobbyists representing the Walton Family Foundation? If so, what was the substance of those conversations?

“Do you know Michelle Rhee? If so, could you describe your relationship with Michelle Rhee? Have you, or anyone working within the Department of Education, had any conversations with Students First, Rhee’s advocacy group, about the dispersal foundation funds for candidates in local and state school board elections?

“This is just a start. Public concerns about possible collusion between the Department of Education and education corporations could be addressed with a few straightforward answers to these and other questions.

“Every parent, student, and teacher in the country is concerned about the influence of corporate vendors on education policy. What is represented as an extreme movement by our Education Secretary can be more accurately described as a consumer revolt against shoddy products produced by an education vendor biopoly (Pearson and McGraw Hill). Because these two vendors have redefined the education marketplace to meet the requirements of RTTT, they both need to be required to write competitive impact statements for the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice.”

This is an extraordinary letter. Please read it. Send it to your friends. Send it to everyone on your email list. tweet it. These are questions that should be answered by the Secretary, under oath, in public hearings.

American education is being radically reconstituted and centralized, with little or no democratic deliberation. The public hears bland assurances about “high standards for all,” “college and career readiness for all,” and other unproven claims and assertions about sweeping changes that have not been subject to trial or open debate or careful review.

Horton asks tough questions. The American public deserves real answers–not flowery rhetoric– about who made the decisions to reconstruct the nation’s education system, with what evidence, and for whose benefit.

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