An Interview with Paul Horton: Citizens Against Corporate Collusion in Education
Paul Horton is State Liaison for the Illinois Council for History Education. He is also a History Instructor at University High School at The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools
1) Paul, you seem to be concerned that there is some skullduggery going on in terms of education. Can you tell us about this?
I think that there is so much money behind corporate Education Reform that we need to make a more concerted effort to follow the money. John Kenneth Galbraith used to speak of countervailing institutions in American politics that could play on a level field. We don’t have this any more. Think tanks like the Hoover Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute have flooded the media with positive stories about the promise of corporate reform, the necessity of more standardized testing, and the promise of the Common Core Curriculum.
At the same time, teachers and teacher unions have been vilified, not only by the above institutions, but by mayors of major cities who work closely with fundraising—they are the people who can make the calls to raise a lot of money fast. I refer especially to the mayors of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. What we do have is major foundations with seemingly limitless resources and very wealthy individuals that are pumping money into political campaigns, school board elections, and lobbying efforts aimed at state boards of education, and to the creation of curriculum products that require more standardized testing. The public at large has been led to believe that unions have been the problem, but I think many people across the country are waking up to the fact that an agenda is being rapidly railroaded in without much oversight or discussion.
2) What are your main gripes or concerns?
The rapidity with which states are adapting the Common Core Standards is very concerning, especially when parents and educators begin to see how much more standardized testing implementation will involve. Also, especially alarming is David Coleman’s announcement that the SAT will be redesigned around the Common Core Standards. It is almost as if the proponents of Corporate Education Reform and the Department of Education realize that they are working on a time clock. I suspect that they are worried that public support for the Common Core will dissipate as the public learns more about it. So, I am trying to suggest that there “is an appearance of impropriety” that too many wheels are spinning in concert beyond public oversight. It is time for Mr. Duncan to make his dealings with Bill Gates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson LLC, and David Coleman completely transparent. Every e-mail, every discussion needs to be exposed to the light of day. Connections between employees within the Department of Education and these individuals and institutions need to be disclosed. This has to be done in a Democracy to maintain the public trust.
We also need to examine the “revolving door” between these interested individuals and institutions and public service. How many Department of Education employees have taken jobs with these institutions after they have left the employ of the Federal Government and how many current employees of the Department have received paychecks from these organizations prior to their employment for the public.
3) What about our current Secretary of Education? Arne Duncan? What is his role in all this?
If Arne Duncan will not answer the public’s questions or respond to their concerns about transparency, then he needs to be compelled to do so under oath. We are calling for State Attorneys General to investigate bribery and collusion connected with any school board elections or appointments. There are serious questions that are being raised now in Los Angeles, Indiana, and New York. The State’s Attorney of New York has already investigated the funding of junket trips by Pearson Education. In Texas, a reporter at the Texas Observer has done some good footwork on the activities of Pearson Education in Texas. It is easy to connect the dots, we might need each states’ subpoena power to get closer to the truth. We are also calling for State’s Attorneys to file complaints with the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice pursuant to discovery of evidence in possible quid pro quoagreements between corporate interests and public officials that have the effect of restricting the free market in interstate trade of Education products.
Our main concern is for the public. We need to slow the process of the adaptation of Corporate Education reform down and really examine possible impacts before we push through an agenda that has not been tested.
4) Now, does Bill Gates, and The Bill and Melina Gates Foundation seem to be influencing education ? How so?
I heard Bill Gates speak here at the University of Chicago a few years ago. It is clear that he does not respect teachers. It is also clear that he is very aggressive in his business dealings. It is my opinion, and the opinion of many of my friends, that he sees a future where master teachers will use computers to individualize instruction in every school. He believes that eventually we can reduce the number of teachers in the schools and replace them with cheaper assistants who can guide students through individualized instruction. He clearly sees a future where we will not need as many teachers. He is going to support programs that create new markets for Microsoft and its subsidiaries that will push these types of changes.
Mr. Duncan bought into this Corporate Reform movement when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. The idea of using standardized tests to measure whether schools should receive the “death penalty” was implemented during his administration. When the Obama Administration chose Mr. Duncan over Linda Darling-Hammond, it sent a clear message to teachers and teacher unions across the country. Many big Obama donors supported corporate education reform, including the person who will be considered for the Secretary of Commerce. She was on the CPS School Board and supported the idea of using student testing to evaluate teachers. In the eyes of most teachers, although Mr. Duncan tutored kids as a young man, he has no real experience in the classroom. He seems to listen carefully to the bankers and financiers who know less about teaching and the classroom experience than they do about credit default swaps when testifying under oath. Our agenda is being set by big money that knows nothing about Education and Arne is basically their tool.
5) Now Pearson seems to be a major player in the field of education- and it has been a long time since I studied the field of economics and the idea of a monopoly. Can you brief us on this?
Pearson has the most powerful lobbying presence at the state and Federal levels.They are pumping huge amounts of money into the lobbying. They recently acquired a 3.4 billion dollar testing company in Minnesota. Teachers are shocked by how Pearson has bought up the major publishing houses that publish textbooks and other ancillary materials. They seem to be on track to acquiring monopoly status in the primary and secondary Education marketplace. They need to be made a focus of a restraint of trade investigation. Another thing to consider is if the Anti-Trust Division will scrutinize Pearson’s acquisitions under the Tunney Act which requires an investigation of possible limits on free market activity brought about by a merger in contract.
6) Now- Educational Testing Service seems to have been around for a long time. What are they currently doing and what is your perspective on their impact on education?
While the College Board is chartered as a not-for-profit institution, the ETS that produces tests for the College Board is a huge corporation that has pumped a lot of money into lobbying. My face time with ETS came as a US History AP grader. During the opening night reception, we would always see these genius Princeton graduate students who worked for ETS. They would always tell us that they made the test and determined the normal curve. We college and High School teachers who had an average of twenty-five years of experience would look at each other in disbelief and shake our heads. We were going to take money from the College Board to grade these tests, but almost all of us could not believe that the test norm was going to be determined by multiple-choice section of the test. We all had students who had trouble with syntax and vocabulary who would bomb the multiple choice portion of the test, but who could rock the free-response essay part of the test. We thought the norm should have been determined by the free-response questions, but the ETS and the College Board were not about to trust the judgment of college professors and high school teachers who had much more experience working with kids than twenty-five-year-old Princeton graduate students. In short, the ETS wants to be just like Pearson. The public needs to wake up and see their scam for what it truly is.
7) I have tried to interview David Coleman, and will again- but he is a person who has been actually named in your writing. Your thoughts about this person?
David Coleman is essentially a flim-flam man selling snake oil. He has always been about making money for himself. We need to understand why he was able to get the College Board job. Who pulled the strings and what was the pay-off? He took big money from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to supervise the writing of the Common Core Standards, then our Education Secretary somehow determined that he should be on the Board that is overseeing the PARCC assessments for the Common Core Standards. Now, he has jumped the gun on the standards assessments and made the announcement from his holy perch that The New SAT will be designed around the Common Core Standards. This is completely absurd! How much power should one individual have over American Education? This must be his revenge on all of the deconstructionists and critical theorists he hated when he was a college English professor. To have so much power!
The American people need to wake up. I am a Progressive liberal, but many of the people who are concerned across the country are left and right libertarians, Conservatives, and Tea Party members. Occupy wants to sit in on Mr. Duncan’s office!
The court eunuchs of the Obama Administration need to wake up and understand how angry large numbers of the American people truly are about the way that this “New Class” of Corporate reformers is ramrodding unwanted reforms and standardized testing down the throats of the public. It is time for this administration to come clean under oath if it can.