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University of Arkansas 'Department of Education Reform' is just another front for Wal-Mart propaganda against the nation's public schools

By the final years of the 20th Century, those who were paying attention to the growing debate about so-called "school reform" knew that many of the supposedly "independent" outfits that were providing the media with a stream of op eds and "reports" promoting the corporate agenda against public schools were paid propagandists. Whether it was the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institutes, they could be counted on to promote the corporate agenda in their so-caled "studies," which would then be inserted into the general discussion on education policy via the gullible media. At the time, America's newspapers, especially, were vulnerable because they were facing financial problems, some generated by their own mistakes and others forced upon them. As a result, it became easier for any piece of well-written writing to be eased into a "news"paper and fill column inches, even at the expense of clear editing, fact-checking, and a copy editor. As a result, the propaganda that came out of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute -- two of the most prominent among dozens -- seeped into the mainstream without criticism.

Jay Greene (above left) went from being a right-wing pundit at the reactionary Manhattan Institute to being a "Professor of Education Reform" at the University of Arkansas courtesy of a massive grant from the Walton family specifically to create the controversial departments. Greene and several others who once produced reactionary "choice" propaganda as Manhattan Institute "preliminary studies" now get to publish their propaganda as university based research.Some of this was the fault of leaders of the teacher unions, who acted as if the attack on public education -- and unions -- was something that merited compromise. As a result, both the NEA and the AFT were regularly failing to respond to the attacks or, worse, joining forces with those doing the attacking. The most notorious examples came in the early part of the 21st Century. The NEA swamped one of its annual meetings with Arne Duncan propaganda, just as the U.S. Department of Education under Duncan was sharpening the privatization attack on public schools. And the AFT took millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation (and a few others) and then insulted a hundreds year tradition of labor militancy in the "Northwest" by inviting union-busting Bill Gates to be a featured speaker at the 2010 AFT convention in Seattle.

The right-wing groups that were pouring their versions of reality into the mainstream had enormous funding and a great deal of success. One of the most infamous, at least from the point of view of factuality, was the Manhattan Institute. Their influence, through "preliminary studies" which were regularly released to the media without ever getting peer reviewed, became a national problem when their studies of so-called "school choice" became the basis for a Supreme Court decision in favor of school vouchers. Left out of much of the public debate was that the Manhattan Institute was clearly funded by major corporate sources (including long before they had become nationally known for such things, Koch Industries) to produce slick propaganda on behalf of corporate causes. (Today, their studies outside of education include proof the fracking is not dangerous...).

But by the early 21st Century, the Manhattan Institute was very well known as a propaganda outfit on behalf of a reactionary agenda. As Wikipedia reports: "The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (renamed in 1981 from the International Center for Economic Policy Studies) is a conservative American think tank established in New York City in 1978 by Antony Fisher and William J. Casey. The organization describes its mission as to 'develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility". Its message is communicated through books, articles, interviews, speeches, op-eds, and through the institute's quarterly publication City Journal.'" That William J. Casey is the guy who had such a strange tenure as head of the CIA.

By the early 21st Century, the right-wing think tanks were being exposed. Clearly, the propagandists for the right needed a better game plan, and so they came up with the idea of creating an academic department -- the "Department of Education Reform" at the University of Arkansas -- to do the same propaganda work they had been doing through corporate-funded think tanks (which continue). And so, much of the staff of the education reform people at the Manhattan Institute suddenly became "professors of education reform" at a major university. The funding was completely from Wal-Mart, courtesy of the Walton Family.

But even the most craven leaders of the unions couldn't remain committed to the quslingism they had gotten away with for years. Between rank-and-file upsurges (most notably in the Chicago Teachers Union) and a growing awareness of the facts about the attacks on public education (with two high points being the publication of Diane Ravitch's two best sellers, The Death And Life of the Great American School System, followed by Reign of Error), the leaders of the unions had to shift ground of face the ground being shifted from under them.

Although most of the popular versions of the success of the new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union and the CORE (Caucus Of Rank and file Educators) caucus (of which I am a steering committee member) claims that CORE won both its election victory in 2010 and the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 through "community organizing," the secret, if there is one, is much more complex. Were I asked, I would say that the "secret" to the success of the current leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union involves not only a certain kind of so-called "organizing," but also the growth of credible research, superb communications, and a democratic form of public advocacy that is usually lacking in union locals where the leader is too paranoid to allow others to speak about major issues.

So far, the official narrative conforms to one version of what unions need now, but that is already changing in the face of the facts. The brief leaving out of the research, communications and contract enforcement work of the Chicago Teachers Union is coming to an end, and it couldn't have come at a better time, since a growing number of teacher unionists and other supporters of public schools are asking how to do it, and to provide the wrong prescription is to miss curing the disease.

The research that has gone into the CTU's ability to counter the arguments of the ruling class and refute the limp talking points of Rahm Emanuel and his expensive propaganda machines (there is a publicly fund one here in Chicago's City Hall and a massive privatized one in Hollywood, as the recent Robert Redford fiction "Chicagoland" proves) is based on getting the facts straight and getting them out.

And so, once again, a report demonstrates another wing of the propaganda attacks on public schools, only this one poses as a "department" at a major university -- the University of Arkansas "Department of Education Reform."

DIANE RAVITCH ON MAY 12, 2014 REPORTS:

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has an academic department in its College of Education & Health Professions that is one of the strangest I have ever seen.

It is called the Department of Education Reform, and the strangeness starts right off on the department's webpage: edre/uark.edu There one sees that the department is the "newest department in the College of Education and Health Professions, established on July 1, 2005. The creation of the Department of Education Reform was made possible through a $10 million private gift and an additional $10 million from the Universitys Matching Gift Program."

One is never told -- anywhere -- that the gift was from a foundation set up by the Walton family of Wal*Mart fame. Of course, the Walton family has sunk more than $330 million into one in every four start-up charter schools in the past 15 years. This is pretty dark money since few know how deep into education reform the Waltons are. And the University of Arkansas is not advertising on their web site that an entire department was created by one very ideologically dedicated donor.

This lack of acknowledgement of the ties between the department and the Waltons goes even further than the unwillingness to advertise who is paying the department's bills. The January 2014 issue of the Educational Researcher -- house organ of the American Educational Research Association -- carried the report of a study that alleged to document a very impressive benefit to children's critical thinking abilities as the result of a half-hour lecture in an art museum.

Wal-Mart billionaire Alice Walton.Pretty impressive stuff, for sure, if it's true. The article was written by Daniel H. Bowen, Jay P. Greene, & Brian Kisida. (Learning to Think Critically: A Visual Art Experiment).

Now it is never disclosed in the article that the art museum in question is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, the creation of Alice Walton, grande dame of the Walton family, or that the authors are essentially paid by the very same Waltons. Now the authors should have disclosed such information in their research report, and the editors of the journal bear some responsibility themselves to keep things transparent.

One thing among several that is truly odd about the Department of Education Reform is that when you click on the link to the department (http://www.uark.edu/ua/der/) you are taken immediately to http://www.uaedreform.org/, which appears to be a website external to the University. Huh? What gives? The University doesn't want to be associated with the department? Or the department doesn't want to be associated with the University of Arkansas?

Once you are at the internal/external website (www.uaedreform.org) for the Department of Education Reform, you can't get back to the University of Arkansas or its College of Education. Even clicking on the University's logos at the top of the department's homepage leaves you right there at http://www.uaedreform.org. So the department is really in the University of Arkansas, but it seems to act like it would rather not be associated with it.

Among the activities of the department supported by the Walton money is the endowment of six professorships. Well, there are only six professors in the entire department, and only one of those is not sitting in an endowed chair. I know of no other department in which 5 out of 6 faculty occupy an endowed chaor of some sort or other. Well and good. Professors work hard and they deserve support and many have labored for decades without such reward. However, the five endowed professors of the Department of Education Reform appear to be a tad different from most endowed professors. In fact, only one of them strikes me personally as having the kind of record that would deserve an endowed professorship at any of the top 100 colleges of education in the country.

Among those surprising recipients of endowed professorships are four others. Robert Maranto has a doctorate from the Univ. of Maryland in 1989 and had only risen to the rank of Associate Professor at Villanova when he was hired by the department in 2008 to fill the Chair in Leadership.

Gary Ritter earned a doctorate from Penn in 2000, and less than a decade later is awarded an endowed professorship by the department.

Likewise for Patrick Wolf who made it to Associate Professor at Georgetown before being named 21st Century Chair in School Choice in the department.

And the department chair, Jay Greene, never made tenure at a university before logging five years at the notoriously right-wing Manhattan Institute and then jumping into the 21st Century Chair in Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

Question: Who is making these decisions? How does this department relate to the College of Education & Health Professions? Does a university committee vet these appointments to endowed chairs? What role do outsiders play in hiring decisions? The department administers the University's PhD in Education Policy. The department uses the University's imprimatur in much of what it does. Does the University have any sayso in what the department does? And the bigger question: Is everything for sale today in American higher education? Gene V Glass?Arizona State University?National Education Policy Center. University of Colorado Boulder

GEORGE SCHMIDT COMMENT TO DIANE RAVITCH'S BLOG

Some of us reported this scandal when the University of Arkansas created this "Department of the Manhattan Institute" and then allowed it to push out its "studies" as academically sound, valid, etc. Of course, officials at the university denied that the Waltons' privatization agenda would in any way interfere with the scientific soundness of the work of the "department." But suddenly all those questionable "preliminary studies" poured out in press releases by a right wing outfit with a ponderous name (but based in Florida) became the products of a respectable (?) university. By the second year of its existence, the infection has branched out. The "Ed Reform" department was sub-contracting some of the apologetics for privatization to other universities. One day, I stumbled upon a "Vanderbilt" series of "studies" that proved that teacher pensions were threatening education. Another time, a study from the State of Wisconsin (just as Scott Walker was taking over) demonstrated (again) that the Milwaukee voucher system was a failure. Within a week, a counter "study" was released by an adjunct "professor" at Wisconsin -- through the Ed Reform "department" at Arkansas. Just as these people have been funding the "science" to counter climate change, and as they funded the "scientists" to prove that smoking cigarettes wasn't a health hazard, now they are polluting the academic environment with these propaganda departments. I have a hunch that these "endowed chairs" won't be the last we'll see, although doing an entire "department" may only be possible when a university has access to Wal-Mart money.



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