LEARNING MORE: Podesta Leaks indicate Hillary Clinton will continue privatization of US schools
Timestamp this moment - the election is just weeks away and the lid has been blown off the Hillary campaign, showing a dizzying revolving door, media and union collusion and barely legal fundraising tactics. Yes, it’s legal and yes, we already knew about it, but the new emails expose particular deceptions and all but show quid pro quos. We see who makes the big decisions, how media is gamed, and supposedly-prohibited coordination.
SPECIAL INTERESTS: In 2015, John Podesta approved a meeting requested by Laurene Powell Jobs and at least three other billionaire education reformers including a Walmart heir. They wanted facetime with Hillary but got Podesta and her senior education advisor Ann O’Leary, who assembled the campaign’s finance people to handle the money arrangements for the meet.
Mere weeks before the launch of the Hillary campaign, the subject of the email was “Ed Reformer Conversation”. Attendees were to include founders of the NewSchools Venture Fund who back privatization — charter schools, ed tech and new teacher recruitment/preparation programs.
Hillary now supports all these things, advised by O’Leary who also runs The Opportunity Institute policy shop, funded by billionaire ed reformer Tom Steyer, the Gates, Carnegies, Fords — and both big teacher unions.
CODEWORD: “ACCOUNTABILITY”: When and where did teachers ever agree teachers were a problem? Seemingly, it was in secret fundraising/policy meetings. The same players who brought us annual testing now pivot to new investment opportunities for high tech classrooms and reinventing teaching. It’s in the ESSA law and has already reached New York as TeachNY, compliments of O’Leary (in 2001, she shepherded in NCLB as Hillary’s aide but now it’s privatization for the whole nation).
THE NEW NORMAL? I guess it’s all legal that money changed hands as policies were discussed, but I’m learning from Zephyr Teachout’s new book that corruption has always marred U.S. history, steadily worsening after those convicted in major bribery scandals actually appealed instead of retreating in shame, finding limitless backing from corporate lawyers and lobbyists.
We need a Teddy Roosevelt right now, someone to stand up to the billionaire class. He was an accidental president who shocked the corporate barons by doing his job after corrupt McKinley was assassinated (okay, that’s as far as I’ve read so far).
But this is not okay. Hillary’s impending win should not be construed as approval of her education plans, nor her fundraising methods. The electorate may prefer her to Trump, but is not enthusiastic about her allegiance to big business. Her education reform donors push charter schools (which Hillary knows draw boos). Their federal test mandates have shown no efficacy in 15 years. And their ham-handed, one-size-fits-all testing is not a “civil right” for children of color.
Ed tech and teacher-tinkering based in automation and junk science are sold as the next big remedies to low achievement, but are also investments for the billionaire donors in Hillary’s orbit. Philanthropist Laurene Jobs (of the Apple computer empire) hired Arne Duncan for some “social entrepreneurship” which generates great PR, but is essentially rewarding him for pushing ed reform as Secretary of Education.
Jobs’ meeting also included Reed Hastings, the controversial CEO of Netflix, who sells streaming content as a “disruptor” and John Doerr, a pioneer in for-profit corporate curriculum, diverting public school money for decades (anyone seen this movie before?). Most worrisome was Jobs’ acquiring the remnants of InBloom from Rupert Murdoch, after a major privacy backlash made the student data mining firm run aground. InBloom had been led by former NYC schools commissioner Joel Klein who had a 85% teacher disapproval rating.
WALL STREET’S CUT: These were the “$$ and substance” folks invited to the discussion, also repping the Waltons, Gates, Kochs, Broads and Icahns of the world. But many more investors will make out too, realizing returns from charter construction financing tax credits through the lucrative Build America bond program which Hillary wants to renew.
Don’t forget test administration, teacher licensing, testing fees (see the EdTPA debacle), consulting and the many education services Joanna Weiss foresaw corporations taking over as she forced RTTT onto the states (her words) while serving as Arne Duncan’s chief of staff in the Dept. of Education. Before this, Weiss was partner and COO for the NewSchools Venture Fund, meaning she ended up disseminating billions in recovery funds to the same privatizer crowd she worked for, contingent on expanding corporate tests, unpiloted teacher evaluations and Common Core.
Podesta’s reply to O’Leary was that he didn’t think the billionaires would be “reassured” — perhaps they could not sufficiently speak for Hillary. Or maybe Hillary objected to something they wanted? But Podesta’s one liner makes a great CYA — the new legal standard after the recent Supreme Court decision is that it’s not a quid pro quo if you took the money but didn’t give them what they want. Here, we don’t know what was actually asked, but Podesta would schedule more meetings with the ed reformer billionaires through March 2016.
NOT IN THE EMAILS: As with AFT president Randi Weingarten, Richard Trumka and other labor VIPs, the biggest exchanges are worked out in person or over the phone. Steamrolling her member teachers, Randi approved charter schools, Common Core, standardized testing and now, verticalizing the teaching profession. So we know what the donors got, we just can’t see what teachers got.
RECYCLING MISTAKES: How can they ignore so much protest, so much hard data showing waste and fraud to taxpayers and damage to children’s educational experience? How can they ignore scholarly research to baldly adopt disproven mass-education theories? How can they keep selling bad ideas after the mass opt outs and court rulings?
Podesta explains why. In his 2012 appearance with Jeb Bush promoting ed reform with their hands out to the wealthy, he lays out an “infrastructure” plan to wait it out, to outlast teachers and parents who resist. Backing Republicans and Democrats alike, they planned to usher in a new breed of younger, cheaper, more compliant teachers. And to use “friendly” media for spin. And to provide staff to lawmakers to write policy — yes, they do housecalls.
Podesta’s reformers can afford to do all these things over decades. The latest fraud is the claim that teachers and parents are now “at the table” in improving the standards and the tests. They also continue to say charters will create solutions for public schools (any day now?) and still maintain that teachers need distant technocrats to understand their students’ needs.
INSIDE ACCESS: His emails show many secret alliances between Podesta and Bush-era neocons. In 2015, he granted a “favor” to a powerful Republican legal strategist, then working as a corporate lobbyist, to arrange meetings between senior HFA campaign staff and a charter industry group:
Given the incestuousness and horse trading now evident, it’s no accident these elite players are so insulated from the average parent, classroom teacher, or taxpayer. They see our schools as marketplaces for sweeping neoliberal business ventures, and press to privatize education budgets and assert new federal controls over billions in competitive grants and corporate contracts, despite a 15 year track record of increasing school segregation and unmet goals.
THE 99% NEED NOT APPLY: The Podesta leaks present a granular look into the way the wealthy control U.S. politics to privatize schools, self-dealing on an unprecedented scale.
David Dayen astutely reminds us that the hour is nigh to stop the ripoff. A few weeks before the 2008 election, Podesta was emailed from Citigroup exec Mike Froman the Wall Street-vetted list that would make up almost all of Obama’s cabinet. Can we afford to go through this again?
Elizabeth Warren thinks not, looking to make campaign finance transparency an issue right now, before the election, in calling for Mary Jo White of Obama’s FEC to step down. The timing suggests Warren’s recommended appointments have not gotten any calls. She has a list too, and whoever Hillary is considering for cabinet posts is being contacted right now, before the election, by Podesta.
The leaks show how the machine runs and where the tentacles go, but when Ann O’Leary says these are “money and substance folks” — doesn’t that tie the donation a little too closely to the policy asks? Perhaps why they’re refusing to confirm the authenticity of the leaks and blame the messenger? (Hillary’s camp maintains U.S. officials have “growing evidence” the Podesta emails were hacked by the Russian government specifically to help Trump win. Wikileaks is publishing all of them, regardless of their public-interest value).
Staying positive, it’s never too late for Hillary to live up to her own promises to “end the revolving door” and get “money out of politics”. This election saw small donors giving her Democratic opponent over $230 million, proving big donors and corporate PAC dollars were never truly “necessary” to compete. At the same time, her own campaign staff was concerned Hillary’s Wall Street ties hurt her in the debates, in the public eye and at the ballot box.
MONEY TALKS: As clashes over privatization of schools look to begin anew, it’s helpful to know how directly linked to campaign cash these policies are, with the same insiders slated to return to power. Hillary’s promise to give teachers “a seat at the table” rings hollow after secret policy meetings took place with high rollers and union bosses. It should be “academic” that teachers set education policy, so Hillary granting teachers access (in exchange for endorsement) only reminds us how far off we already are.
Zooming out, our education woes are just one by-product of a broken campaign finance system that sees money as speech. And it’s Orwellian that they now know we know what’s going on and refuse to explain or apologize (or improve), instead playing the victim of Vladimir Putin’s cyber-espionage. It may be unfair to Podesta that his recipes and marathon schedules were leaked online, but if they aren’t acknowledging that this legal payola is wrong and needs to stop, we are worlds apart.