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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.

Money and politics meet at the schoolhouse

I'm tardy in stumbling across this excellent article from Rethinking Schools, countering the "Waiting for Superman" hype.

Education writer Barbara Miner diagrams the disturbing intersection of money and public education, unveiling the shadowy role of media conglomerates, hedge fund operators and Christian fundamentalist billionaires in so-called reform.

Most important, she spells out the strange political alliance between "analog Republicans" and "digital billionaires."

"Despite their differences, both groups embrace market-based reforms, entrepreneurial initiatives, deregulation and data-driven/test-based accountability as the pillars of educational change," Miner writes. "Under the banner of challenging bureaucracy and promoting innovation, both groups chafe at public oversight and collective bargaining agreements. Above all, both rely on money to get their way.

"Two decades ago, challenges to public schools were spearheaded by groups such as the Christian Coalition, a grassroots, church-based phenomenon that sought to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and to elect religious conservatives who could take over local and state school boards. Today's bipartisan corporate reformers tend to sidestep democracy altogether by abolishing school boards, promoting mayoral control, and hiring corporate-style CEO's who answer to a city's power elite. No longer preoccupied with abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, they instead use their wealth to effectively control it and to dictate reform."

Miner's article goes a long way in explaining the strange education lovefest between pairs like U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Indiana's state superintendent, Tony Bennett.

While groups like the anti-union Education Action Group and its mystery funders target Indiana public school teachers, Miner shows us how an anti-democratic alliance is quietly driving tax dollars to corporate interests and private investors under the guise of helping poor children.

Miner begins her story, appropriately enough, with a Watergate "follow-the-money" reference. Those of us who have worked long enough in journalism know that, eventually, there's a great political scandal to be found at the end. Greed and ambition never fail to produce.

Stay tuned.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at