Think Tanks, Fake News, Astroturfing, and Lies in the Era of Trump and DeVos

The powerful influence of think tanks, fake news, astroturfing, and lies in our policymaking process is nothing new to us. In the past, the influence of lobbying was frequently discussed in the news. But until recently, we didn’t hear much about how think tanks, fake news, astroturfing, and lies impact politics. Yet, their dominance over policies runs deeper than the D.C. swamp where most reside.

Think tanks got their name during the WWII era. They are non-governmental policy research organizations — or they are supposed to be.

“Think tanks conduct and recycle research that aims to solve policy problems and not solely to advance the theoretical debate.”

Maybe there has been a bit too much “recycling” of research.

Whether or not think tanks work as originally suggested, for “the common good,” comes into question particularly when money enters the equation. Remember, these are the groups in D.C. giving policy advice…during the lawmaking process. Where their money comes from does matter. Foreign powers buy influence at think tanks.

“Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.”

Remember the old saying about computers? Garbage in, garbage out? By definition,

“poor quality input will always produce faulty output.”

Poor policy advice results in laws that do harm. Plus, many of the non-profit organizations that house think tanks do have outright political agendas. And too many people are not aware of the pre-determined plans of these organizations. As NPR wrote in What to Think About Think Tanks?,

“This has nothing to do with right-wing or left-wing politics. It has to do with giving the audience more – not less – information to help them evaluate the speaker.”

If think tanks are swayed by money and political ideology, are they producing “fake news”?

Where did fake news come from?

Bending the truth for political gain is certainly nothing new – it’s propaganda, and the record of its uses stretch back to ancient times.”

“Propaganda and Internet fake news do, however, hold similarities: both are methods of distorting the truth for emotional persuasion, seeking to drive action.”

Some claim that the term has now been co-opted by politicians and commentators to mean anything they disagree with – making the term essentially meaningless and more of a stick to beat the mainstream press with than a phenomenon in itself.”

I don’t see the term “fake news” as being meaningless. I see the danger of it —confusion in the public mind!

And when fake news is fortified by astroturfing, we shouldn’t be surprised that our country is failing to address problems with real solutions. The country can’t see the truth through all the lies.

The corporate-elites controlling education policies in this country have been “buying and selling school reform” for decades (Hired Guns on Astroturf). How is a citizen supposed to know whom to believe? Even well-meaning activists are being deceived into working for policies they actually should be against. It isn’t the first time we People have been used, our tax-dollars used against us, or we have been lied to. … And there is no reason to believe we have seen the last of it.

So that brings me to the main topic of Think Tanks, Fake News, Astroturfing, and Lies in the Era of Trump and DeVos.

I’ll use the charter school/voucher debate to demonstrate how the game is being played. This isn’t a new topic; it’s just finally on the national stage. The Trump White House is simply following in the footsteps of the previous three administrations when it comes to federal funding of charter schools….and expanding school choice HUGELY.

President Trump openly supports this expansion and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos supports not only the Charter School (School Choice) Movement but is also pushing for public funds flowing to private schools through vouchers.OR….by using the ALEC “scholarship” and “tax credit” laws already in place in several states.This is a school-choice tax credit plan that didn’t fly in 2013. But the plan is to get it done. The choice network thinks they can —with the help of 50CAN. Thankfully some parents across America are watching!

To grow astroturf, you add more money and hire more people.

Credit: POLITICO

What’s the harm? These billionaire-sponsored organizations have the capacity to control the news cycle. They can make things happen, or not, before most of us are even aware of what is happening. That level of domination of information doesn’t allow the real grassroots activists to prevail in blocking the corrupted lawmaking process at every turn. Too many twists and turns are an obstacle to citizen participation.

A disinformation campaign can quickly and easily be launched using both fake and legitimate, but naive, news outlets. In this example, here’s how things lined up then unraveled for the federal “opportunity” school-choice tax credits (thus far):

  • End of April-First part of May —- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pitched “Tax Reform.”
  • Mid-May – a snag – A report was released by the American Association of School Administrators containing an analysis of tax credits.
  • Then came the poor reception for the Trump budget.

Things got messy for the think tanks. They should respect good research, solid evidence; right? Instead, the network went into control mode.

Between social media, the web of news outlets using think-tank experts for article and quotes, and the charter school networks, the disinformation campaign took off.

“School choice” laws facilitate the flow of funds to charter and private schools. The dollars follow the students, leaving existing schools without those dollars, even when chances are (based on research) the school of choice will be inferior.  This tax credit IS a school choice law.

The public loses part of its tax base. The “charitable donor” (those with money to invest) makes money. Research says: public schools do lose money in this deal. Experts, what do they say? School Choice think tank experts like Rick (Frederick) Hess aren’t stupid. They want to cool down the chatter.They don’t want TrumpChoice to become a political battle anything like ObamaCare. Their propaganda campaign spread from D.C. to Idaho faster than a western wildfire. Sincere concern or propaganda? You decide. The choice network stands on the principle of “competition.” Consider this: Maybe it’s better to show the country how competition really “works” —right now, on the national stage—instead of waiting until no one is looking and let the Scholarship Tax Credits slip quietly into law.

Photo credit: Washington Times

That is how The Quiet Revolution in American education reform has been waged and won —to date.

A general rule that has been followed is DO NOT ENGAGE. And for heaven’s sake, not on the main stage! Education reform was not supposed to be a major topic at the presidential level. Not really. The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act just prior to the presidential campaign season helped ensure that what was wrong with No Child Left Behind would not be discussed. It still needs to be. The problems weren’t fixed.

This is how the rulers approached putting data collection systems in every state during the Great Recession. Where was the outrage? From a Best Practices Brief
http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/pdf/best_practices.pdf

So, IF the era of Trump and DeVos brings national conversations and debates about real problems, real solutions, and the news reports include perspectives from the real grassroots activists in the trenches of education reform, we might just drain the swamp ourselves.

Fight fire with fire. Engage.

P.S. I have always stood upon the principle of providing quality learning opportunities for all children through a publicly funded, publicly controlled public education system free from the corrupted forces of politics. If a hired gun wishes to have a civil conversation with me, wording questions in a way that sounds accusatory is not the way to do it. Putting words in my mouth? Wrong! That is a smear tactic.   I’ll represent my own views, thank you.

Education Lessons JFK Left Behind

100 years after the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and with his birthday falling on Memorial Day, it seems fitting to look back in tribute at the education lessons JFK left behind.

President Kennedy recognized that our country

“requires a citizenry that understands our principles and problems. It requires skilled manpower and brainpower to match the power of totalitarian discipline. It requires a scientific effort which demonstrates the superiority of freedom. And it requires an electorate in every state with sufficiently broad horizons and sufficient maturity of judgment to guide this nation safely through whatever lies ahead.”

Final Special Message to the Congress on Education, January 29, 1963

Today, are this nation’s needs any different than when JFK made his proposals to congress?

In 1961, Kennedy’s first appeal to Congress on behalf of public schools was for support of his “twin goals”:

“a new standard of excellence in education and the availability of such excellence to all who are willing and able to pursue it.”

By April 11, 1965, over two years after JFK’s assassination, his “twin goals” became the aim of national education policy when President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA),

An Act

“To strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities in the Nation’s elementary and secondary schools.” 

Kennedy emphasized the need to address “depressed areas” and “slum neighborhoods” where children are known to have: poor diets, unaddressed speech, dental and visual disorders, and where older students are in need of job guidance and proper recreational activities.

The first titles of ESEA addressed Kennedy’s concerns for a spectrum of disadvantages:

Title IEducation of Children of Low Income Families to provide financial assistance to support educationally-deprived children.

Title IISchool Library Resources, Textbooks, and Other Instructional Materials to provide for access to educational materials for all students in the State.

Title IIISupplementary Educational Centers and Services to provide services not currently offered but deemed vital to educational improvement made available to the entire community.

Kennedy stressed that unlike in the health and agricultural fields where they “have established the worth of systematic research and development,”

the education profession “lags behind in utilizing the results of research.”

To remedy the problem;

Title IVEducational Research and Training; Cooperative Research Act to provide research, training, and dissemination of information aimed at improving the quality of teaching.

With variability in quality and access between the states recognized as a problem, ESEA’s last title clarified the intent of federal education law.

Title VState Departments of Education aimed to stimulate and assist in strengthening the leadership resources of State educational agencies.

In each education-focused special message to Congress, JFK expounded further and further on how he saw the proper federal role. He declared,

“Let us put to rest the unfounded fears that ‘Federal money means Federal control.’” And he held up the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Morrill Act of 1862 (establishing the Land-Grant College system), and the National Defense Education Act of 1958 as examples where “the Congress has repeatedly recognized its responsibility to strengthen our educational system without weakening local responsibility.”

And the 35-page law, the 1965 ESEA, was completed with a statement limiting the boundaries of federal power:

“Federal Control of Education Prohibited

Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other print or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system.”

With the passage of ESEA, the major ideas that Kennedy and his advisers believed would strengthen and improve public schools were preserved — temporarily.

Today, both our federal boundaries and guiding principles are unclear.

So in memorial of President Kennedy’s birthday, May 29, 1917, let us recall how he wished to succeed in improving and strengthening educational opportunities for all the nation’s children.

Acknowledging that the quality of the students depends on…

“both the quality and the relative quantity of teachers and facilities,”

he emphasized class size, teachers’ salaries, and adequate classrooms as common problems particularly in need of assistance in states with limited financial resources.

Focusing on teachers, JFK felt…

our immediate concern should be to afford them every possible opportunity to improve their professional skills and their command of the subjects they teach.”

He believed “teachers would profit from a full year of full-time study in their subject-matter fields. Very few can afford to do so.” The funding then proposed was to “begin to make such opportunities available to the elementary and secondary school teachers of this country and thereby accord to this profession the support, prestige and recognition it deserves.”

And quoting Thomas Jefferson,

Let us keep our eye steadily on the whole system,

Kennedy asked that his final education proposal “be considered as a whole, as a combination of elements designed to solve problems that have no single solution.”

The nations’ goals were to be met “on the basis of three fundamental guidelines:

  1. An appraisal of the entire range of educational problems…;
  2. A selective application of Federal aid – aimed at strengthening, not weakening, the independence of existing school systems and aimed at meeting our most urgent education problems and objectives…; and
  3. More effective implementation of existing laws…”

To honor limited federal involvement in education, the “appraisal” is a necessary first step because,…

federal “participation should be selective, stimulative and, where possible, transitional” and “the proper Federal role is to identify national education goals and to help local, state and private authorities build the necessary roads to reach those goals.”

Today, we will only be able to finish building the necessary roads by first removing the roadblocks.

We must look back and recognize that our country

“requires a citizenry that understands our principles and problems.”

Do citizens clearly understand the problems?

Are we standing on the right education reform principles?

Did “we” change our goals?

Improving schools requires we understand the problems, understand the principles, and set the right goals. That is the lesson left behind.

Consider this. President Kennedy’s twin goals were a force that led our nation well for decades. But the changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) over many more decades has taken us further from meeting those twin goals of quality and equality.

Congress lost its footing. They overstepped. And they landed on a very slippery slope.

In 1965, it was JFK’s twin goals that LBJ ushered into this law.

Title I funds clearly were part of the War on Poverty.

The 1994 Clinton administration introduced “other purposes” — unchecked.

Those “other purposes” included basing the “quality” of education and access to it firmly upon standards and the tests associated with those standards. School Choice Programs were put in under Title I. Transportation costs were not included.

By the 2001 Bush administration, the whole law (NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND) was clearly Outcome-Based with accountability for all schools under federal control, flexibility with spending our federal dollars out of control, and school choice included in a variety of places. It was in sections under parental involvement, accountability, and supplemental services. The funding to assess transportation costs as well as picking up that cost in certain cases were included.

This is what NCLB Title I said ( “disadvantaged” ) but NCLB clearly had all public schools march to the same drummer – standards and testing – one-size-fits-all.

In a last-minute rush, the 2015 Obama administration signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law was renamed so many times in the year preceding the push that the public couldn’t keep up and the writers wrote “achieves” instead of “succeeds” in the final version. ESSA is not what the public was told it would be.

Title I officially has the federal government involved in the basic programs of all schools still based on the principles of NCLB with a ramping up of school choice at every turn, including pre-K charters, with the Secretary of Education given more power to start-up charters as well as providing the first year of transportation costs.

Don’t you think its time we all took a step back, stopped the federal overreach, and corrected the mistakes that have been made?

The education lessons JFK left behind for this nation provides us solid ground upon which to stand. That platform was built where practical knowledge of improvement practices met the need for equal access under the law.

I hope more of you will make the time to read and contemplate President Kennedy’s three messages to Congress on education (the only links in this blog). All real reformers should stand on the solid principles they provide before continuing to fight in the American education reform wars. That war is currently dividing the nation along ideological and political lines while allowing the dismantling of a longstanding system that served us well.

Let us read, understand, remember, and use the education lessons JFK left behind.

Rural America in the Crosshairs: A New Frontier for Profiteers

This is my plea to rural America and to all the people who carried Mr. Trump into the White House. Please remember your power and use it well. Don’t let corporate interests ruin our American small-town way of life.

Preserving our public education system is at the heart of this battle. And the public can both preserve and improve our schools…Why close them or leave them behind?education-reform-quotes-1

This past election season should give us hope. In Massachusetts (the state that has proven that true education reform is possible), voters said “NO” to lifting the cap on charter schools. Why?

“…almost all of the fiercest Question 2 opponents were cities and towns whose public schools are losing money to charter schools.”

And as one principal expressed…

“Community members and parents I talk to want to fight for the resources to improve the public schools we already have rather than opening more schools.” He [Peter Bachli] added, “It’s as if the refrigerator light went out and instead of fixing it you bought a new refrigerator.”

Many people are considering the consequences of “school choice” as we now know it. Charters, school vouchers, and technology are the main products being sold to fill the gaps in education decisively created through our laws. Yes, the market was created.

To make a buck (or billions), the education industry under the guise of education reform has put a price on the heads of children — again and still. Urban markets were tapped first. Now, schools in rural America are in the crosshairs.

But rural America doesn’t have to go the way of America’s urban districts. Not if we learn from their experiences.charter_charterfigure1

And here in Idaho, we can learn from other small towns that have all but been destroyed by our modern-day version of “school choice.”

My hometown of Albion, Michigan is a perfect example. Crippled economically by unfair competition leading to de-industrialization, families paid the price for “globalization” (a nice code word for the development of multinational corporate monopolies).

At the same time, the farce of test-based reforms in K-12 education fueled the development of school choice laws.

So with 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan being for-profit schools, the education industry profited at the expense of American small-town traditions. Gone were the Friday night football games. Gone were the Christmas programs. Gone were the opportunities to gather in local businesses after school events — because — gone were the schools. They were closed. Kids are bused elsewhere.

The fabric of the community was shredded.

Rural America, I’m not crying wolf. Rural schools ARE in the crosshairs of the education industry. The plan is well underway.

Step 1: Direct funding

a-new-frontier-pg-4-2014-08-29-at-10-34-39-pm

FROM A New Frontier: Utilizing Charter Schools to Strengthen Rural Education  by Andy Smarick http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED553987.pdf

Step 2: Get state law in line

AND open the door for philanthropic venture capitalists. Those with an interest in "success" of these charters will use their money to ensure "effectiveness" can be demonstrated. (Idaho State Law)

AND this opens the door for philanthropic venture capitalists. Those with an interest in “success” of these charters will use their money to ensure “effectiveness” can be demonstrated.

idaho-state-charter-law-2016-11-29-at-3-41-54-pm

An application needs an “estimate” for the first year. What happens after the first year?

idaho-state-charter-law-2016-11-29-at-4-00-01-pm

Remember, these are federal grants of taxpayer dollars.

Step 3: Coordinate federal law …(while claiming more state and local control)…

essacharterfacilitiesstate-2016-11-29-at-9-42-09-am

This is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA Public LAW 114-95). Why does the federal government feel the need to tell states how to fund charter schools?

essatransportation4charters-2016-11-29-at-11-35-53-am

Eyes will be on the start-ups in the beginning. But how long will the watchdogs keep watching?

Step 4: “Grow-your-own” market even when that means you direct funds AWAY FROM IMPROVING SCHOOLS….really.

YES, this does say to FOREGO improvements. No Child Left Behind created a market in the same way. It limited curriculum while charters popped up offering more of what regular public schools used to offer.

YES, this does say to FOREGO improvements. THIS IS ESSA. No Child Left Behind created a market in the same way. It limited curriculum while charters popped up offering more of what was removed from regular public schools.

The decades-long standards, assessment, accountability, and technology movement continues making “choice” a moneymaking instrument easily sold to freedom-loving people.

For Idaho this began in the 1990’s with the Albertson Foundation sponsoring the development of “new” standards. Then came the assessments and accountability mechanisms to spawn competition between schools thus creating a market for “choice.” They focused their money and our laws (and money) on standards and testing for math and reading at the expense of better quality education. Their vision. Their plan. Their lobbyists that created “our” laws that in turn foot the bill for education products to fix what they helped ruin.

Now, they have much of Idaho believing we don’t understand “what policies and practices are likeliest to help” improve our rural schools. That simply is not true.

In January of 2013, one conclusion of state research was that our rural schools wanted their teachers to have the opportunity to obtain multiple certifications. Administrators wanted to improve the quality of their teaching workforce.

Instead, in August of 2013, the Albertson Foundation brought in out-of-state experts to examine OUR rural schools.

They found a new frontier — for rural charter schools — based on “the fantastic work done by charter management organizations” and “human capital organizations” like The New Teacher Project…..Wait? Who?

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-2-09-16-pmLet’s be clear. We are talking about philanthropic venture capitalists. These are the same people who put their money (and ours) on Common Core.

You think Common Core is simply going away because Mr. Trump doesn’t like it? Not when those who teach the teachers, develop the leadership, and lobby the lawmakers are in control. The Common Core System is in place. With the change of a name, in the blink of an eye, we still face the same problem of no real local control. Charter schools are not the answer to that problem.

And there seems to be a belief that charters will only come in where they are needed and wanted. Can the public just say no and have it be so? Ask congress.

Federal law - ESSA - gives the Secretary of Education POWER!

Federal law – ESSA – gives the Secretary of Education POWER!

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-2-43-51-pm

In Idaho, our state board has the POWER also. Idaho’s State Board is not elected; they are selected!

 

So knowing how the laws have been fixed to profit the charter industry, as I traveling across rural Idaho over the Thanksgiving weekend, I tried not to think about it. But unfortunately while passing through one small town in particular, a horrible thought struck me. How long would it be before the food chain consisted of ConAgra, Monsanto, and Walmart?

And what will the schools be like under this new world order? Well, if the purpose of education is work-force development, we know who’ll be calling the shots.

10389690_773525136032161_985265226383217614_nOn the other hand, I’m not convinced that corporate America will trump rural America.

Will America be made great again by those who control the schools?

Will rural America choose to give control to the same people who manipulate our laws to benefit their industry?

Or will rural Americans reclaim the “new frontier” as their own?

How will we see success?

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-10-50-52-pm

Crosshairs added with the help of a friend. Photo from Harvesting Success: Charter Schools in Rural America brought to us by the “National” Charter School Resource Center and SAFAL partners (a consulting firm with “deep domain knowledge in the charter section, human capital management systems, and next generation learning.”….Rural America, are these the people you want managing your children and grandchildren?

“Let’s have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” — Abraham Lincoln

P.S. Special thanks to the undistinguished Americans that go unacknowledged for the extraordinary research they selflessly do everyday (without pay) in an attempt to enlighten all of us. I for one appreciate their contributions to this blog.