Stop The Presses! These People Know Each Other! And Sometimes They Even -Gasp- Work Together!

It’s the new politburo I tell ya! Eduwonkette has constructed a visual web showing the interlocking relationships between various, mostly centrist, education reform groups. I’d have more confidence in her work if she actually had this right: There are many more relationships here than her chart shows!

I’d also take it more seriously if she took a look at all the similar relationships around, just say, ed school accreditation, teacher certification, NCLB opposition, etc…etc…etc…In other words, yawn…Policy networks are par for the course in this business and a well-researched part of the policymaking process. Understanding and being transparent around them matters, of course, but there is nothing sinister about them.

And, I’d take it still more seriously if we weren’t getting what amounts to faux concern about transparency from an academic who publishes criticism anonymously. Someone remind me again why a lot of people don’t take education seriously?

Update: Check the comments section below for more. Dean Millot and I go all 19th Century and start writing letters to one another.

Update II: Tangled Up in Kuh. Kevin Carey disgorges his priors.

36 thoughts on “Stop The Presses! These People Know Each Other! And Sometimes They Even -Gasp- Work Together!

  1. Anonymous

    she really should’ve simply looked at the previous job connections. those look even more insidious. i mean, how many senior staffers at these organizations worked together at the department of ed at any one time?

    of course, this all leads to the “so what?” question. as eduwonk pointed out, every policy issue has a small group of big players who know each other, have worked together in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. and? it’s a pretty self-regulating bunch (as they do all know each other and will therefore call each other out on any conflicts of interest). i just don’t see the big deal here.

  2. Marc Dean Millot

    The tendency to yawn correlates with whether you are in or out of the network/club. Let me use the above comment as an example: “it’s a pretty self-regulating bunch (as they do all know each other and [here’s the part I find incredibly self-serving]- will therefore call each other out on any conflicts of interest).”

    Moreover, I know something about these intertwined interests, and have some personal experience with what it means to run afoul of this particular network and its interests. And there are quite a few people in the charter school movement circa 2002-2004 who do as well.

    What I find most interesting is that eduwonk pretty much admits that what we have here is an interest group, akin to “all the similar relationships around, just say, ed school accreditation, teacher certification, NCLB opposition, etc…etc…etc…”

    I’m fine with that – no problem, and I know that edsector discloses its funders and relationships etc, but it’s also fair to say that the (not think tanks but)policy marketing shops are generally trying to create the impression of disinterested parties purely interested in the public interest.

    Moreover, it is at least reasonable for those in academia to apply the this “well-researched part of the policymaking process” to this particular network in the policy setting of public educatiuon policy. It seems to that its academically defensible to ask what role this group plays, their activities, whether they matter or not, and whether they play a positive, negative, neutral or null roll in school reform.

    Everyone likes to put the other guy under the microscope. No one likes have the microscope trained on them. Because no one is pure.

    I’ve been looking at this from a slightly different angle in http://www.edbizbuzz,com – first at the so-called think tans, and now at the so-called social entrepreneurs in public education. This is a discussion the open-minded blog reader should encourage.

  3. Anonymous

    Sure, no big deal at all — so I assume the Education Sector will go ahead and begin including an asterisk next to its Independent Analysis, Innovative Ideas motto that makes clear who is behind any given independent analysis of charter schools, teacher policies, etc?

    Edwonkette’s blog is anonymous, so I obviously can’t speak to her situation, but my guess is that she isn’t receiving large sums of money from prominent foundations to promote her thoughts and ideas, nor have I seen her claim expertise.

  4. Eduwonk

    Quick reality check. Re disclosure, we do that now:

    http://www.educationsector.org/whoweare/whoweare_show.htm?doc_id=336558

    And any report funded by a project-specfic grant indicates that in the front matter of the report.

    But re Dean Millot’s comment above:

    I’m fine with that – no problem, and I know that edsector discloses its funders and relationships etc, but it’s also fair to say that the (not think tanks but)policy marketing shops are generally trying to create the impression of disinterested parties purely interested in the public interest.

    What’s the point here? Don’t most people – on all sides of these issues — do their work because they think it’s ultimately in the public interest one way or another? Put another way, beyond being open about values and disclosing support what else should an organization do here? I’m serious, this is something we strive to do and I’d like to hear ideas beyond what we do now.

    Incidentally, ES’ value statement here:

    http://www.educationsector.org/whoweare/whoweare_show.htm?doc_id=345134

  5. Anonymous

    Edwonkette’s blog is anonymous, so I obviously can’t speak to her situation, but my guess is that she isn’t receiving large sums of money from prominent foundations

    WRONG

    to promote her thoughts and ideas, nor have I seen her claim expertise.

    WRONG

  6. Marc Dean Millot

    Re: “whats the point here – don’t most people do their work because they think it’s ultimately in the public interest one way or another?”

    I’m afraid I think that is somewhat naive. Most people who work for a client – in the case of the think tank/policy advocacy shops, their foundation funders – balance what they think to be true with what they understand their funders will support.

    Ive been in all kinds of nonprofits in all kinds of roles, and I’ve never been in one where this wasn’t an issue at some point in some important way.

    At RAND I saw the issue from the standpoint of the researcher searching for truth confronted by sponsors who sought to minimize the inconvenient truths.

    At NAS I saw it from the standpoint of a research sponsor wanting to give their research grantees a fair shake against a district hoping to blame its problems on designs rather than their support for designs, but still hold design teams accountable for errors, without unreasonably hurting their chances in a new market.

    At the National Alliance of Charter Schools, I saw it play out in the struggle between a funder’s ideological preferences regarding the purity of proposed legislation, and the interest of a membership based organization in the ability of its individual state members to deal effectively with their states.

    As a consultant I’ve seen it play out between the value-added brought to a research problem by an individual and the effect on the research organization’s funding relationships if that value-added was recognized.

    As a grant seeker before the Department of Education, I’ve seen organizations torque themselves to fit the change in administration’s to protect their funding.

    I have also worked on several Presidential Commissions and Blue Ribbon Panels outside of education, and I’ve never seen one where the will of commission members did not bend in some way to outside forces.

    In the end, most people and organizations in this policy wonk business follow Thucycidides’ aphorism concerning states: “they do what they can and suffer what they must.”

    Over the long haul, some people believe or at least reconcile cognitive dissonance by saying that “what they are doing ultimately in the public interest one way or another”; others need the job, others don’t care so much about the product, they just want to get it out. Some people are what Lenin called “useful idiots.” But few are truly independent, and most try to line up with funders who share there views.

    Moreover, few making a policy argument, trying to persuade the vast middle, underline that their arguments’ advantage their interests or their clients, or start from the position that “what good for General Motors is good for the nation.”

    My basic point is made by Kelsey’s posting on edwonkette: “I’m naive enough that I figured research was done by independent scholars. I was sometimes skeptical on scientific grounds, but now I see I should have realized the political power behind these think tanks.”

    Eduwonks take the bias in research and “research-assisted advocacy” for granted and mentally discount for it. But most people aren’t eduwonks. Unless someone like eduwonkette raises their consciousness, the good people will take all work at face value – and give a policy paper out of the Center for Education Reform or even AEI the same weight as years of research from RAND or the Urban Institute. It’s even more of a problem now that we have advocacy blogs pretending to be independent, and readily downloadable pdfs pretending to be research.

  7. Eduwonk

    Hi Dean,

    Please excuse the typos or misspellings since this is the comments section and this is stream of conscious on just one cup of java this AM. This is a good discussion and I’m glad Eduwonkette set if off though I wish she just gave readers some broader context rather than affected wonderment about the whole thing, which is preposterous coming from someone in her professional position.

    But, I don’t know Dean, maybe I’ve been fortunate, maybe I’m naive, or maybe it’s possible to have standards and still engage in the policy debate. I’ve said no to funding when it didn’t fit the strategic mission at either PPI or ES or would have conflicted with organizational values (in the case of PPI). In the case of ES we have very clear standards for editorial control (we don’t cede it under any circumstance) and the kinds of funding we do, or rather don’t, take. Eg gov’t funding, fee for service contracts, and so forth are all out. In other words, we just don’t take funding that comes with strings. I’m not unique among my peers nor is ES unique among peer organizations in thinking that way. One random thought on that, there is so much funding out there right now on all sides of all these issues that I can’t see why anyone would have to bend to get some. If you do good work there are plenty of avenues to get it funded right now, the stock market hasn’t fallen that much!

    I’m not going to start airing dirty laundry here. But to your point about everyone bending one way or another. I’ve been involved in a lot of various things in Washington and in the states, too. I’ve seen that happen AND I’ve seen it resisted. I’ve seen plenty of people inside all sorts of organizations do the right thing or do the wrong thing and I frankly can see no direct correlation to funding, organizational structure, partisanship, ideology, etc…people either act with integrity or they don’t. And when people behave badly it happens for lots of reasons, seeking or keeping various kinds of support, currying favor, insecurity, ideology, lack of understanding of the issues, or they just plain want to keep their job. But that happens inside special interest groups, the teachers’ unions, advocacy orgs, think tanks, academia, government, etc…it’s not exclusive to any group or exclusive of any group. And in that way the education field is no different from any other. Put another way, everyone wants to find some sort of institutional or structural villain here when the villain is human nature.

    Doesn’t too much get made of foundation funding and too often it’s just an intellectually lazy way of attacking work. Priors matter and should be disclosed (and though we’re doing better as a field about this over the past few years there is still a long way to go) but need not be determinative. It’s a natural process for interests to gravitate towards one another. For instance I do a lot of work on public charter schools and teacher quality, analytic work, research, commentary work, and policy design. It’s not surprising then that I work with some of the funders in this space who are most interested in those issues. I didn’t start doing that work because of funders, I think those are two very salient issues in educational improvement and there are funders who agree. I also have other preferences around school reform but there isn’t a lot of funding for those out there. It doesn’t mean I change my views, just that I can’t do a lot of work on those issues right now. I use the first person example here because among policy entrepreneurs I’m hardly unusual in approaching the work that way.

    The case of Fordham Foundation is especially interesting here, no? They have an endowment (though they also take grants) that presumably would give them more freedom of action right? Yet the CW is that they’re in the “tank”, so to speak. But to whom? If anything to ideology, I guess, but in our system that’s their right and the lively debate is a good one. Or consider Teach For America. They are certainly part of this centrist reformist policy network but did they start placing high caliber teachers in high poverty schools because a funder steered them that way or did they get funding for their idea? Obviously the latter and they have a strategic plan and then fund against it, not the other way around. All I’m saying is that this is a lot more complicated than the general assertion that everyone is beholden in ways that inherently comprise them.

    Finally, to the “Kelsy” you cite, he sounds like an idiot. But that’s OK, every village needs some. Does anyone believe that university researchers are like Horace, just out there in the groves of academe seeking truth? Of course not, they get, wait for it… foundation funding, too! And they need various avenues of support, too, inside and outside of their department and university. And they also have priors based on their beliefs, training, alliances, past work etc… And guess what, some of them play fast and loose with the facts, too. For instance, per some previous posts, if he thinks he’s getting straight shooting from Eduwonkette he’s sadly mistaken. Per my last paragraph below, that’s life and people should be intelligent consumers of information from all sources. It’s that critical thinking thing we allegedly used to teach so well in school before NCLB right?

    Just to complicate matters, one thing I have to turn to today is finishing a paper that Jane Hannaway (who heads the education operation at Urban Institute) and I are working on together for an academic conference later this month. She and I also have done a book together, funded by Broad and Smith Richardson Foundations and via grants to Urban Institute and PPI. So, per your closing point, if everything you say is true then certainly looking to UI or by extension RAND (since they get funding from some of the same funders who fund this centrist network of reformers) would be a poor proxy for impartiality, too. I don’t believe that those orgs produce bad work, on the contrary. I only raise it to show the fool’s errand that you set people on with this unchecked cynicism. There are more intelligent ways to judge the quality, usefulness, and integrity of work than labels.

  8. Sherman Dorn

    Andy,

    I think you’re referring specifically to money available for advocacy and a particular (capitol-based) type of policy analysis. The think-tank funding is generally a different stream from the type of on-the-ground research that my colleagues doing ethnography or close analysis of achievement data engage in. If “there is so much funding out there right now on all sides of all these issues,” then there would be more funding for solid education research than there is now. What’s the proportion of education funding nationwide that goes for R&D, as opposed to other fields?

    That doesn’t mean you guys on Capitol Hill shouldn’t have jobs, or that I want a slice of the pie (though if you have someone interested in some good proximate measures of graduation, I have a project to pitch), but rather that there is differential access to funding, time and opportunity to data, etc., and the view of those opportunities from within one network is very different from the view opportunities from those in a different network or without access to any stream of funding.

  9. Marc Dean Millot

    To eduwonk Hi Andy.

    I think we’ve played this one to as standstill in so far as what we might add for disintersted readers to decide matters for themselves.

    I don’t know what to say about our experiences with the rough and tumble at the intersection of research/policy/program and funding. Maybe you are luck, maybe I am not, maybe Republicans are meaner or less principled than Democrats. maybe I read to much into debates, maybe you read to little. I guess readers have to decide for themselves.

    I will admit that the deeper one gets into research methodology and analysis, choices of study design given resource constraints, time and the teams familiarity and facility with the relevant tools, (and I’ve been in the middle of them in defense and education programs) the more the informed see education researchers as others see economists – line then up end to end and you’ll never reach a conclusion.

    But what differentiates a RAND from an individual researcher, or a typical DC policy (advocacy) shop is the review process and the body of institutional knowledge. In the last two, the individual dominates the quality control process. Put the individual researcher or policy shop head in a RAND research project, and the product is different – more credible. Why? Because RAND’s institutional interests in a long term reputation for objectivity across all potential research sponsors, and the culture and capacity of many different analysts to check and balance their colleagues, checks that research in ways that simply don’t occur in work-for-hire from a consultant or research from a think tank that’s aligned itself with a particular point of view. No single sponsor is more important to RAND than its reputation. I doubt that is true of any education policy advocacy shop other than Fordham – and that’s the exception that proves the rule because leader Checker Finn has to keep Funder Checker Finn happy.

    I guess the objective question for edsector is the balance sheet, cashflow, and operational impact of losing your single or second largest funder. If you can walk away with core activities intact, you are probably objectively independent and whatever bias you have follows purely from ideology and personal relationships. If you look at the loss of that funder and start thinking about what you’d do to keep it them; well, you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

    On whether on not Kelsey who wrote in eduwonkette is an idiot, I’m inclined to believe that many many people who care about education and want to be involved as responsible citizen are fuzzy about the distinction between policy advocate, policy wonk, and researcher. My experience is that these folks are no less likely to question one of these types that they are their lawyer or doctor. I don’t think they are stupid, I think they know they lack the capacity to argue specifics, have little choice but to defer to the experts, and are overly trusting of those who claim that status.

  10. ed notes online

    I’ve known Eduwonkette for years. Wong, wrong, wrong. No need to go further. There are reasons for being anon. as many teacher bloggers in NYC, some of whom are admired in this space, must be in order not to be removed to a rubber room by the much admired – in this space – BloomKlein police.

  11. Marc Dean Millot

    Sorry for the P.S. Any.

    I forgot to ask eduwonk’s eduwonky readers whether they consider this to be a “sellers'” market for research (there is more foundation money looking to sponsor research than researchers seeking sponsors) or a “Buyers’ market” ( the reverse – more researchers seeking money than funders ready to sponsor it.

    I’m very curious.

  12. Anonymous

    Judging by the richness of this discussion (and eduwonk’s obvious sensitivity to it), this topic is clearly much more than a lullaby for your favorite stock photo baby.

    I’d like to echo one of Marc’s comments by noting that eduwonk has obviously been too close to the center of the policy world, for too long, to recognize reality on the ground. To call “kelsey” an idiot because he/she isn’t plugged in enough to have a full understanding of the tight-knit world of ed reformers is great evidence of this.

    When the average school district administrator or BOE member recieves a publication from an authoritative-sounding organization like the “Education Trust” or “Thomas Fordham Foundation” (or for that matter, the “Economic Policy Institute”) do you really think he or she can apply the same kind of “intelligent consumer” filter that one would apply in DC or elsewhere? When she receives a report touting the success of charter schools, is she going to pull up the Ed Sector’s board of directors to see if any charter school operators sit there? I would hope so, but I’m pessimistic.

    Two other brief points: on the money, the issue is not that there is so little money that policy wonks have to bend to their interests. Its that there is so *much* money out there–targeted to very specific interests–that it is has created a cottage industry of talker-researchers who will continue to focus their efforts on these very interests as long as the money is there.

    On foundation-bashing as an “intellectually lazy way of attacking work”–probably true. But how about bashing “the unions” (isn’t it always the unions?), “the entrenched interests,” “the apologists,” et al? To the extent someone can be easily assigned to one of these categories, let the bashing begin, here on eduwonk and elsewhere. Andy would like readers to judge foundation output on its ideas and merits, not who sits on its board. But when it comes to other points of view, we must find out who is behind it so they can be summarily discredited as “defenders of the status quo.”

    Almost makes someone want to go anonymous.

  13. Eduwonk

    Sherman —

    Two thoughts. First, the same funders that you see on Ed Sector’s disclosure page or that fund the groups in Eduwonkette’s network map also fund work being done in academia. The only thing that discourages some of them is the high overhead rates at some universities, but that’s also a problem with some DC-based groups, especially those that take gov’t funding and are on an overhead schedule as a result. So the advocacy/research distinction is mostly a lazy feel-good red-herring that people wheel out. It’s us and them! We’re outsiders, they’re insiders! Sorry, doesn’t work like that.

    What some of the DC groups do better than some academics is market the finished work. And some funders like that as part of a strategy to get impact so it gives you an edge. When I review proposals for foundations, in addition to the salience of the project, adequacy of the methods, etc…they increasingly want comments on the communications strategy and potential for impact. In other words, they don’t want to fund work that collects dust on shelves. But, there are plenty of academics who do a great job marketing their stuff. In fact, I got in hot H20 earlier this year for raising some tough questions about that around vouchers as part of an academic conference. And it’s not as though folks like Linda Darling-Hammond, Tom Kane, Jim Ryan, CALDER, Vandy Center on Performance Incentives, PEPG at Harvard, etc…are voices in the wilderness and last time I looked, they’re academics and the money flows to them from a variety of sources.

    All that said, a few years ago I wrote a chapter on funding for research, policy, and advocacy for “With The Best of Intentions” (Harvard Ed Press) and I think there should be more support for it. But that’s not exclusive to also saying there is a lot of funding out there now. The big tectonic shifts we need around R & D are a public policy issue with government funding.

    Second, on graduation rates, if you can’t get something on that issue funded right now it’s either not especially good or you’re not trying hard enough. In your case I assume it’s the latter. There is LOADS of interest in that issue right now across a range of funders. And that’s a case where think tanks had an obvious impact. Chris Swanson (formerly of Urban Institute, now at Ed Week) and Jay Greene (Manhattan Institute and University of Arkansas) really moved that issue. So on getting funded, it’s like putting, never up, never in. You have to talk to everyone and per your point, it sounds like you’re writing a bunch of folks off based on a presumption. Hell, send it to me, this is an issue I’m interested in.

    And of course, I’m being a little flip above. There are some times when it just doesn’t pan out because people have different judgments about things. Two examples from my work: A few years ago Bryan Hassel and I tried to get a detailed study of state departments of education funded so we could examine how prepared they would be to take on the demands of NCLB. Seems timely now! Likewise, Richard Whitmire and I were told by several publishers in 2002-03 that a book about No Child Left Behind would not have much of an audience because who would be interested in that law in a few years? C’est la vie.

  14. Eduwonk

    Hi Dean —

    I’m not sure debate in the comments section is going to become a regular thing — I do have a day job, all those funders I have to shill for — but I wanted to respond to one thing because this is a great conversation going on among different commentors.

    You wrote:

    On whether on not Kelsey who wrote in eduwonkette is an idiot, I’m inclined to believe that many many people who care about education and want to be involved as responsible citizen are fuzzy about the distinction between policy advocate, policy wonk, and researcher. My experience is that these folks are no less likely to question one of these types that they are their lawyer or doctor. I don’t think they are stupid, I think they know they lack the capacity to argue specifics, have little choice but to defer to the experts, and are overly trusting of those who claim that status.

    I believe the same thing in terms of people caring and wanting to know, but I don’t buy the doctor or lawyer analogy. That’s because this sort of information is different, there is more pluralism in provision etc….It’s a good habit to be skeptical of information you consume, whether it comes from RAND or CER or Ed Sector, the New York Times or The National Review. It’s a habit of thinking. So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who assume academics should be completely trusted and others not or that anyone should be trusted/not trusted based on labels, you earn that.

    Second, the media has big role to play here and often drops the ball. For different reasons they sometimes consume work uncritically or fail to unpack policy relationships etc…

    Three links on that issue:

    Media and research:
    http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k_v89/k0801rot.htm

    Walton Family Foundation support for charter schools:
    http://www.educationsector.org/analysis/analysis_show.htm?doc_id=422193

    NEA support for anti-NCLB efforts:
    http://www.educationsector.org/analysis/analysis_show.htm?doc_id=382069

    I don’t envy them (reporters) their job here, it’s challenging, but I think their role is too often unexamined or supported. This is why Richard Colvin’s work at the Hechinger Institute is so important.

  15. Anonymous

    Just asking: If Eduwonk was so sensitive why would he debate this and call attention to it?

    All the same, trust no one.

  16. Marc Dean Millot

    Andy/eduwonk:

    I too have a day job that pays the bills. I guess we’ll just have to differ on Kelsey, or better yet, let others take over the discussion.

    I agree about reporters’ responsibilities, and I try to spend time helping them understand the broader context within which studies are commissioned and released. On the broader point, see my commentary here: http://archive.edbizbuzz.com/blog/_archives/2007/4/12/2875252.html

  17. Anonymous

    Its famously better to have people inside the tent peeing out, rather than outside the tent peeing in.

    One of our goals, which would take time, would be an institutionalized system consistent with the RAND institution. To do so, we should recognize where the current situation has flaws. As Dean has alluded to, RAND researchers had a variety of experiences in the military, intelligence, and the institutions they analyzed. That cultural awareness is essential. There’s a right way, a wrong way, and an army way, and you’ve got to be able to communicate across subcultures.

    The same applies to education. How many veteran inner city teachers, especially secondary teachers, are a part of the educational networks? Civil rights and labor leaders had usually come up through the ranks, but that seems to be rare among educational policy activists. (Unless you define veteran as three years of teaching elementary kids. The rule of thumb among teachers is that it takes three years to find the restrooms.)

    So, I’d widen the tent. Why not set up exchange programs? Farm out talented young ed researchers to urban schools and let them teach for a couple of years, and have some inner city teachers take sabbaticals at the think tanks.

    John Thompson

  18. Marc Dean Millot

    John Thompson has hit on one of three points from my own reflections on this discussion overnight.

    First, and related to John’s thought, is that if you actually enumerate the people circulating around (what for a placeholder I’ll call) the AEI-Fordham-eduwonk axis, it’s maybe 20 people, 30 tops in perhaps 10 institutions – including not just wonks in wonk shops, staff in the philanthropies and “social entrepreneurs” in public education.

    This would lead a Martian to conclude that either our $500 billion a year public education enterprise involving perhaps 10 million adults in the education of 50 million kids has only a tiny group of people who have something useful to say about education policy from the slightly right of center pro-market point of view, or a small group has been very successful capturing the available funding and outlets for that perspective.

    “Bravo” to these winners of the marketplace for foundation funding of right-centrist ideas; and the unions and other groups may have see something similar – but we’re still left with an unhealthy narrowing of public discourse in each group and across the spectrum. Shame on the foundations.

    Second, if you then look at the funded work this group is engaged in and especially their moveable feast of conferences and workshops they sponsored, it’s hard to to detect the “same monkeys, different trees” phenomenon. Between sponsoring; serving on panels as presenters discussants, or moderators; and attending each others conferences, this core of thirty or so pretty much monopolize the “outreach” and “engagement” functions. Again, from the standpoint of market competition for the funding to do these things bravo. Still its easy to understand why some might consider this group to be a self-perpetuating, insular club less likely to engage each other in deep debate, and more inclined to mutual back slapping and log rolling. Just a thought.

    Thid (and I would have written this first, but for John’s remark), I think that the fact Andy/eduwonk has responded to eduwonketee and before that Alexander Russo – rather ignored them like the other names they’ve named, is that he is aware of the problem and has at least tried to deal with it’s most overt features – for example edsector’s disclosure policy. Whether the others don’t give it a second thought I don’t know, but they feel no obligation to explain themselves to the hoi polloi. eduwonk is at least giving it a shot on his own blog.

    Fourth, I have some thoughts on the “independence” of think tanks that I’m not sure I’ll be able to expand on any time soon in edbizbuzz. We can’t really know the motivations or intentions of any eduwonk. They may write for love, money, or simply wherever the analysis takes them. Nevertheless, whether they and their organizations are independent, is something we can know, given objective evidence.

    The mark of independence is not being able to offer examples of having turned down funders for whatever reason. What matters is whether the organization would be materially affected by the loss of any given funder. I mean “material” in the legal sense, that it would change the basic nature of the enterprise – big loss of staff, closing shop, etc. To the extent that a think tank is affected by such a loss, it is dependent, and if we believe funders fund perspectives they prefer, rather than anyone competent to run a think tank, its fair to say that organization is dependent on adherence to a particular point of view.

    I suspect that by this definition Fordham is independent, edsector, AEI and most Washington policy marketing shops of all political stripes are not.

    I think I’ve exhausted myeslf on this topic, although I have a lot to say about the eduwonk’s close cousins in this network – the (to some extent “so-called” social entreprenurs and venture philanthropists in public education – starting here: education.http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2008/02/uberblogger_russo_asks_what_is.html

  19. Eduwonk

    Quick reality check, a couple of thoughts, and an apology on a chilly day that sadly finds me working.

    Last time I looked about 1.5 billion was spent by education philanthropists each year. So, back of the envelope guess, even adding up all the groups in Eduwonkette’s web and all their support would probably only get you to perhaps 10 percent (and TFA would skew that greatly, absent them it would be a lot less) of that. So I have trouble buying the “shame on foundations” argument. The fact is that most of the money goes elsewhere, the problem is that everyone has a view on where it should go and hardly anyone is ever happy. There is an unmistakable sour grapes feel to some of this.

    Second, to revisit something in the original post, policy networks are well documented in the research literature around policy change. What’s also generally accepted is that after you have a policy change you see policy actors both displaced and added to the policymaking agenda. The difference this time is that they have blogs and can grumble about it or conversely exert their voice in ways they couldn’t two decades ago. (This remark is only 1/2 in jest, communications have changed a great deal in terms of how these things are perceived).

    Third, the point Dean has raised twice on funding composition (can an org afford to lose a funder) sounds very smart but is just a rhetorical gimmick. Taking my own organization (and this example would apply for many others in this space) yes we could afford to lose one, or several funders, without the sky falling. But at some point losing funders would cause huge problems, we’d have to downsize, find other revenue sources, etc…) In other words, regardless of how you answer that question about one, or several, or many funders there is always a follow-up that brings you to the not surprising bottom line that organizations need funding to operate. And even the mighty revered and lionized RAND faces that, no one is immune.

    What I find interesting, however, is that early on in this discussion I posed the question of beyond what Education Sector does now, what else should we do on the transparency/disclosure front. I would humbly suggest that we set the industry standard for that now, but we can always do better so I’d like ideas. A commenter earlier said that people can’t be expected to check Ed Sector’s board of directors when thinking about one of our reports. But that’s the point, the way we operate they don’t have to, we put relevant information like that in the work itself. There are links above describing how we do all that, or just check out a report. That no ideas here are forthcoming is sort of telling. I stand by my earlier characterization of that general argument outside of some basic transparency. It’s lazy, judge ideas. Besides, at the most theoretical level no one and no organization is independent or, alternatively, everyone is. That’s not useful. As it’s used in this conversation and our space, I think the more important definitional question is: What’s the appropriate agency an organization should have in order to be considered “independent?” Embedded in that are questions of voice, freedom of action, institutional positions, funding, membership, audiences, etc…

    Finally, at the top level have to point out that this is hardly a new issue. I believe Wendy Kopp’s colleague Madison had something to say about it. In other words, welcome to life in the American political system. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that in all the literature around education on regulatory capture and influence, it’s not this sinister cabal we’re debating here that is cited…or, put another way, go to almost any state capital and have a look around and it’s not the Ed Sector, Achieve, Ed Trust, Teach For America etc…office that you see.

    Also, as a PS – I want to apologize to Kelsey, whoever you are. My response above was needlessly harsh about what seems, now that I’ve read it, an honest admission and genuine point and I regret that. But, I do firmly stand by the idea that there is no substitute for informed and skeptical consumption of information. Within reason, the commenter who said “trust no one” nailed it. To assume that there are not agendas everywhere is naïve.

  20. Kelsey

    Kelsey here,
    Thanks for the apology; don’t worry, I’m sure I’ve been called worse. (Of course, it’s usually mumbled by someone walking away from me.)
    This conversation has been interesting, and I’m so happy to have had my point defended by Marc, who is so much smarter about it than I am.
    I agree, trust no one is the appropriate skepticism in education research. But, unfortunately, I’m not the only naive one out here. Teachers are being mandated to run their classrooms according to research that principals and district curriculum specialists learned about at conferences, research accepted as true. Parents, board members, and teachers read news articles about new research, and I’ve never heard anyone ponder the political background of the foundation doing the research.
    What you all say in edwonkery is changing the way Americans view public schools. It would be nice if all these changes were good, but too often you seem to trust a statistic over first hand experience. What you see as anecdotal, I see as everyday life. I like John Thompson’s idea of ed researchers actually spending time in the classroom. After all, everyone who has children can remember how our expertise as parents was so much greater before we actually had children.

  21. Anonymous

    I have no doubt Eduwonkette has her hand in someone’s wallet who is on her web. I am fairly certain of it, actually.

    If she wants to disprove it, she’ll stop blogging anonymously.

    But it sure is fun to talk about her. Just like those kind of girls in HS.

  22. ed notes online

    Pretty good stuff exposing the ed/biz takeover of urban public school systems for a high school girl. That’s a yawn with a bone in the throat.

    I have no doubt anon. 12:12 am has a bigger hand in someone’s wallet on that web. Disprove it – stop commenting anonymously.

  23. Marc Dean Millot

    1. Why focus on eduwonkette’s status of anonymity here? Both Alexander Russo and I have written or diagrammed much the same thing, and we are not anonymous. Why don’t the folks who are picking on here explain whose pockets we are in? Or do you prefer picking on girls from your own anonymous positions?

    2. On foundation funding, the appropriate baseline is not all funding, but funding controlled by those foundations likely to fund right of center activities. That’s the “addressable market segment” those who are interested in right of center ideas. Further you need to take out of that potential amount of money, funds that these foundations devote to activities other than those we’ve been talking about. To be even more precise, you need to look at the amount of money that is available for new funding in a given year. $1.5 billion shrinks down pretty fast.

    3. On control and independence, I think we’ve taken this argument to the point where readers have to decide the point at which funders control/influence their fundees.

    4. The political science 101 argument is a non sequitor. Perhaps we should move on to a graduate seminar, or just 102. The issue is not whether such networks exist. The issues are first, that this is one, which I think eduwonk has admitted. And second, to understand its effects – not only on the larger federal education policy process (small, I would argue), but within that portion of the political spectrum the network where the network falls (quite large, I think).

    5. On what can be done by way of “truth in advertising.” edsector is doing reasonably well here. It would be nice if everyone of these outfits provided clarity in their annual reports about funding sources and purposes and matched them up better on the expense side, identified the relationships of their staff to education and policy institutions.I like the idea of a code of conduct for all these groups – left, right, center.

    6. I’d like to see some more dirty laundry aired here. I know of people over several years time who believe they have been pressured by members of this group. Some like Andrew Russo and I have talked about it in our blogs. Others I know have, have not talked. What’s important about this is that it suggests the network isn’t just a bunch of people who enjoy working together, it’s very prickly about threats to its interests. I guess that should not be surprising to students of political science 101 or to consumers of the Education Intelligence Agency’s reports on the union networks.

  24. Eduwonk

    Kelsey, thanks. Two thoughts for you and John Thompson to consider. First, I suspect the people in most of these organizations spend more time in schools and with teachers than you think and that former (and often in the summer current and future) teachers are more represented amongst their ranks than you think. And, and this is mostly a sad commentary on how little high quality professional development and opportunities for peer collaboration teachers get: I’d bet I’ve been able to spend time in more schools and a wider variety of public schools and with more teachers, domestically and internationally, than most teachers and the same is true of many of my peers. But, and here’s the thing: “Teachers” are not monolithic in their views and preferences. They think many different things about policy, pedagogy, practice etc…That’s because reasonable people can disagree about many issues. Just speaking from personal experiences, I’ve had teachers working for me who loved charter schools and ones who hated them, ones who thought No Child was overall the right approach, and ones who bristled at it… you get the idea. The notion that there is a “teacher” view in a system with millions of them is ludicrous and polling bears that point out as well. Also, the notion that no one listens to teachers when their interest groups are the most powerful players in state and national education politics is sort of odd. Anyway, that whole line of debate is sort of a red herring thrown out there. And it’s funny; all the folks out there writing and speaking who agree with the established interests, no one ever seems to care if they were public school teachers…it’s only raised about the critics, why do you think that is?

    Second, I appreciate your point on firsthand experience and it matters. But, when you go to the doctor, do you want one who is going to treat you based on his or her firsthand experience, or one who is well versed in the research and literature around what they do and uses that information to inform their firsthand work? Systemic inquiry matters and the plural of anecdote is not data. All that data, in the aggregate, tells important stories.

  25. Eduwonk

    Ahhh…I should have known, it’s only the funders who might fund “right of center” groups and activities. Sure! Leave aside the difficulty of quantifying that (what makes putting great teachers in high-poverty communities or opening good schools in those places right of center anyway?), there is, of course, the small but more immediate problem that it’s hard to characterize most of these grant-receiving groups as right of center in the first place, TFA? Achieve? Center on Education Policy!?!? New Schools Venture Fund? Citizens Commission on Civil Rights????? I’ll grant you that these groups do monopolize 100 percent of the funds they receive, fair enough. But outside of that unless you move the goal posts all over the place it’s hard to argue they are monopolizing the funding landscape more generally whether it’s for think tanks, advocacy, education philanthropy, etc…

    One other thought, this conversation has moved to, or perhaps always had implicitly an assumption, the idea that people are hiding something here. I don’t think that’s the case at all. As I said above we could, as a field, do more to be transparent and accountable and Ed Sector tries to push that in its own way, but that’s not the same thing as saying these groups are hiding something. I don’t think any of the groups we’re talking about here in any way seek to be deceptive about either their goals or sources of support. If there is counter-evidence, beyond assertions of some sort of weird conspiracy and other nonsense, but actual examples etc…I’d like to hear it.

  26. ed notes online

    There is certainly a common teacher view in NYC – almost unanimous condemnation of the entire BloomKlein program – from the left, from the right, from the middle. You can read it on so many of the blogs (find any that support BloomKlein.) More importantly, many of the most respected and well-read blogs like NYC Educator also point to the complicity of the UFT, a monolithic, undemocratic organization (why and how requires a seminar.)

    “no one listens to teachers when their interest groups are the most powerful players in state and national education politics is sort of odd.” Not odd since the UFT/AFT doesn’t listen to teachers either. Some of us (still in the minority, but we’re hoping to change that) consider them part of the neoliberal team but cover it up with rhetoric.

    This comes from someone who knew within 10 minutes of entering the NYC school system in 1967 that the system needed enormous reform (well, maybe within 3 years) and that no true reform would come without turning the UFT into a progressive union (of course we have failed). I’m sure our view of progressive reform does not match the neoliberals, who want reform on the cheap by tinkering – throw teachers out of schools instead of putting whatever money into what can make a real difference – try it as an experiment for the data freaks. Don’t change the teachers or close the school – just add 30% more staff and see what happens.

  27. Anonymous

    Eduwonk,
    You really don’t get it. The person who writes eduwonkette has to remain anonymous because she lives in NYC and she criticizes the Bloomberg regime. Given Bloomberg’s vast fortune and power, she would never get a job again if her name goes public.
    Me neither.
    Anonymous

  28. Anonymous

    Given Bloomberg’s vast fortune and power, she would never get a job again if her name goes public.

    Evidence please?

  29. Anonymous

    It is not who IS listed, it is who is NOT listed, including the Trilateral Commission, the Warren Commission, the Skull and Bones Society, the Vatican, and Starbucks.

    Clearly Wonkette doesn’t understand the proper stewardship of the disclosure policy of these groups: Don’t ask, don’t tell, and nobody gets hurt.

    Could Mrs Wonkette be Mrs. Oliver Stone?

    (I’ll tell you who I am Wonkette, when you tell who you are.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *