Once More Into The…? Plus: Eduwonk Pimps The Cabal’s Books To Fill Their Coffers!

There is not a lot to add to this whole debate about policy networks in education beyond what’s in the comments section of several posts below (and I’d encourage you to read, get past the tin foil hat stuff and there are some interesting issues). But I do want to take issue with Eduwonkette’s new assertion that, “eduwonk is correct that there’s nothing inherently sinister about these [policy] relationships, and I agree so long as we call it what it is – an alliance.” I guess anonymity means never having to own disingenuous statements.

There is a difference between an alliance and a policy network. The latter is what we have here, and, as seems to be generally acknowledged in this debate, it’s a pretty common occurrence within education and across other policy issues. And while I’m obviously a transparency-hawk, there is a disturbing tendency here to leap to or at a minimum imply causal and other claims from basically descriptive information. Kevin Carey lampoons that well. People with common interests work together, big deal.

An alliance, by contrast, in any common usage of that term (and the way she clearly intends it) connotes a formalized arrangement of some sort to advance some goal. Within the education community (and in some cases within the reform network) The American Diploma Project, Committee for Education Funding, TURN, PIE-NET, or NCATE might constitute an alliance or perhaps even something like the National Governors Association State Honors* program where there are expectations, rules, formal relationships, in some cases deliberately shared funding, etc… And again, big deal.

But in this loosely affiliated group of groups now under discussion is not an alliance of any formal sort at all. The general unifying idea is a push for educational change along either or both of the two main continuums of education reform today: Standards/accountability and choice as well as a willingness to break with or challenge established interests. There are no formal norms, expectations, quid pro quos etc…no formal communication mechanisms, no rules, there is real competition for funding, and there is in fact considerable disagreement about many issues (and some folks who just plain don’t get along). Just for instance, on choice, funding, national standards, teacher quality reforms, etc…as well as about theories of action and change there is pretty intense debate that plays out in public and non-public ways. That’s, you know, actual nuance around complicated issues where reasonable and informed people can disagree. By way of one example fresh in my mind because I’m working on now, this paper on charter caps and this one on policy bargains on charter schools didn’t sit well with a lot of folks in the charter and funding communities but I haven’t found a headless policy brief in my bed yet.

So while Dean Millot makes some good points about the flow of information (though that is a common problem and complaint in terms of the policy debate as agendas change, and trust me in this business hardly anyone thinks their views and brilliant work recieve enough attention or credit), the too clever theories about “covering fire” and logrolling and all the rest are by definition awfully hard to disprove and simply appeal to suspicion rather than evidence. The more pedestrian explanation goes something like birds of a feather…and as I wrote earlier funders are naturally attracted to people doing work they care about, the causal chain runs that way. Eduwonkette of course knows all this but it bears mentioning because among some readers of these various blogs the concern or even paranoia to knowledge ratio seems to be at least a bit askew.

If you’re really interested in this, and it is fascinating, for a serious look at some of the federal policy evolution here I’d recommend the recent books by Manna, DeBray, and McGuinn for three different takes and cameos by some of the organizations we’re discussing. For an older story but still good illustration of some of the issues Jack Jennings’ book on the national standards debate is very good, too. Also Baumgartner and Jones‘ book for policy change more generally as well as Kingdon’s Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies will shed a whole lot more light on the processes of policy change than this bloggy debate. Ravitch’s Left Back and Troubled Crusade are very solid for some relevant history and subsequent agenda setting if you’re interested. And if you really want to start to understand education philanthropy Rick Hess’ recent book With the Best of Intentions is good place to start (disc. includes a chapter by me arguing, ironically in the context of all this, that many funders** do not think enough about public policy and discussing the ways grantmakers can help drive change — ask for a pro rata markdown…) and there have also been a lot of debates about the same in The Chronicle of Philanthropy ($) and Philanthropy.

*I’ve been a reviewer for this.

**Special bonus irony: There is a lot of suspicion about the Walton Family Foundation in all this, but regardless of what you think of them it’s hard to argue they’re a big top down change outfit. One of the primary complaints you hear about their grantmaking theory of change is that they do not engage sufficiently in the policy debate but rather focus on bottom-up change. But wait a minute, I’m one of the people making that critique and I’ve never gotten money from them….uh oh! It’s retribution I tell ya! They control everything! Free the wonks!

11 Replies to “Once More Into The…? Plus: Eduwonk Pimps The Cabal’s Books To Fill Their Coffers!”

  1. There are program officers from foundations that fund Ed Sector on the Ed Sector board. That’s not an appeal to suspicion; that’s evidence.

  2. Andy –

    As far as I know, you’re still on the board of the New York Charter School Association. Even if you left, they’ve received Walton FF money during your tenure. Maybe you’re not compensated for your attendance at the board, but on its face this doesn’t read right.

    Given that NYCSA’s buddies at the union busting firm of Jackson Lewis are still poking into charter organizing campaigns in NYC, I wouldn’t want you to forget about your relationships and responsibilities there.

  3. Always smarmy Ed. Nice. I haven’t been on the NYCSA board since last year because once the real policy action slowed down in NY it became a time commitment issue for me. But you know that since you follow them so closely. And while I was on that board I always noted that in any posts here about charters in NY the same way I note other things that are relevant for readers. And sadly the board position was not-compensated. As you also surely know most in the non-profit sector are not — or else I’m on the wrong boards.

    Re Jackson & Lewis I don’t think I’ve even met someone from that firm, let alone in a professional capacity, and don’t recall them ever coming up in board meeting etc…But, since I’ve called for innovating with unions and charters and supported efforts to do that, including the schools your soon-to-be president launched in NYC, it’s sort of ridiculous to try to paint me as some sort of anti-union extremist here, no? You really have to get into tin foil hat country then.

  4. No. I didn’t know that. More to the point it’s not smarmy. You were engaged with an organization that isdoing something that is, in my view, immoral. Working with people whose m.o. is to give workers the impression that their choice is between their rights and their livelihood. That has colored my opinion of you and everything that you do. Good for you for leaving.

  5. So…it was the NYC Charter school association with those unmarked black helicopters. Don’t they have some sort of affiliation with the Trilateral Commission and the Knights Templar?

    Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald both served a predecesor organization, btw.

  6. I’m going to take my role in this discussion back to edbizbuzz.com over the next few days with what I’ll call “deconstructing a policy keiretsu.”

    My intent is to take one layer of the relationships that tie the group together – board memberships, funding, shared publications, conference participation, etc – in each of a series of essays/postings.

    Readers can decide for themselves what is happening here, what the effects are on the policy discussion, and whether or not it’s a good thing.

    I’ll try very hard to stick to “just the facts. ma’am” and leave my analysis to the very end

  7. “give workers the impression that their choice is between their rights and their livelihood.”

    Or gives parents the choice between crappy schools and other ones?

  8. Eduwonkette disingenuous? What exactly in her posts on this subject can be considered disingenuous or a distortion of fact?

    And why must an alliance refer to a formal arrangement? I don’t believe Eduwonkette ever suggested that these organizations were meeting in smoke-filled rooms plotting right-wing conspiracies.

    When organizations are this closely linked, however, through funding, leadership, and message, you have a de facto alliance, whether you choose to admit it or not. That the policy shops associated with this informal alliance consistently rely on each other for “evidence” and fail to hold each other to any kind of real standard of research is further evidence of this tacit cooperation.

    I don’t doubt that Eduwonkette’s alliance of organizations (and their talking heads) have anything less than kids best interests at heart when they go to work every day. But the question remains whether the current institutional structure of policy making in K-12education is sufficiently fair, transparent, and democratic. To date, the answer to that question appears to be a resounding no.

  9. The comments above were recently brought to my attention…

    I understand the union’s typical guilt-by-association approach, but this Jackson Lewis thing is a bit baffling. I think I met somebody from this firm once, and I recall that Pete Murphy spoke with one of their folks about the charter law (for their union-organizing book). Other than that, we’ve never worked with this firm. Moreover, the above-mentioned book was funded by Joe Reich, Achelis and Bodman Foundations, and others – not us.

    With apologies for further offending teacher union sensibilities (and all other moral transgressions that they identify for me), I must say that I think the Jackson Lewis book is very good. It is informative and business-like about what the law allows, and therefore helps New York charter schools.

    Lastly, I can attest that Andy was completely useless regarding our efforts to convince the Walton Family Foundation to fund NYCSA.

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