The tangled webs of private influence on public school reform

Last February, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization called In the Public Interest, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for private emails and other files from Indiana school superintendent Tony Bennett and the Indiana Department of Education in an effort to track the extent of private influence on public education policy. Indiana, as public school teacher Doug Martin details in this article on the Schools Matter website, has stonewalled.
 
A similiar FOIA request was made in Maine, where officials released documents that helped show that a big part  of Maine’s digital education agenda is being led by private outside companies. They include the nation’s two largest online education providers, K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, a Baltimore-based subsidiary of Pearson — which stand to earn a great deal of money from the Maine digital initiative, the Portland Press Herald reported in this story.
 
In September the newspaper described more than 1,000 documents that had been obtained concerning former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s role in promoting for-profit online learning schools with Maine’s educational commissioner, Steven Bowen, and Governor Paul LePage.  The documents show that Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education was allowed to bring to Maine its Digital Learning Now! plan, which includes a requirement that all high school students take an online course before they can graduate. (The Indiana plan does the same thing and in Idaho, a law requires that two online courses be taken).
 
The Maine documents show private connections to public school reform that are likely to also be found in Indiana (as well as other states), about which Martin writes. Read the whole article, which includes:
 
Bennett desires info on every Indiana teacher, so he can deem them “unaccountable” and replace them with Teach for America recruits on their temporary stop in the schools before they head off to Wall Street.  He wants data on all students, so that he can declare schools as “broken” and package them up for the privatizers. But when it comes to passing cash onto friends of Jeb Bush and others who have donated to Bennett’s campaigns, like K12, Inc., Indiana’s supt. of public instruction and the IDOE feel it is not in their best interest to be examined.  
 

Donald Cohen of the nonprofit In the Public Interest, which filed the FOIAs, told Martin:

   We submitted these requests to discover the extent of private influence on education policy. They are refusing, stonewalling, even though they are clearly violating the state’s open records law. I can only wonder what they are hiding from Indiana voters.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · November 6, 2012

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