Over the past few years an ongoing discussion has developed over public education in the United States. Certain factions in America believe public education is foundering and unable to deliver quality academia. This belief has been advanced by others who understand there are huge profits that can be had through privatizing education – from elementary to college levels. Differing opinions and beliefs have led to a major ongoing battle over whether or not to privatize our schools.
For more than 200 years our society prospered and flourished due to public education systems – basic education from early life through college. Many of the evolving technologies that helped the U.S. prevail in the Second World War were developed by students who attended public schools and universities. Our space exploration program was advanced in part by those who learned through public education and used that knowledge in this program. More recently the computer software and hardware development industries were born out of public education and technologies crafted by graduates of our public school system.
Since the early 90’s there has been a relatively unknown network of foundations, think tanks, politicians and organizations (tax exempt) actively pursuing what can only be described as a take-over of public education. The purpose behind this endeavor is access to and control of over half a trillion dollars spent annually on education. In order for the public to endorse a switch from public to privately operated education it has been necessary to convince that public that there is a need for such a transfer. This private education “network” I describe has used political connections to reduce funding for public education in every state in the U.S. Subtly this changed the landscape of public education; by keeping it from evolving. Freezing salaries to teachers, larger classes, less personal or one-on-one tutoring of students, reductions in transportation upgrades, charter schools, vouchers and fewer books are some of the initiatives used to attack public education.
The national spokes-organization for this attempt at privatization is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with funding from Charles and David Koch and their family foundations. Koch’s money is combined with funding from other foundations representing the interests and agenda pursued by conservatives – including privatization of public education; DeVos, Scaife, JM Olin, Bradley, Coors – and of late, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. ALEC’s members include companies who will profit off of the software they manufacture for “long distance learning.” A study by the liberal group ProgressVA, found that ALEC had been involved in writing bills that would:
“Encourage school districts to contract with private virtual-education companies."(One such company was the corporate co-chair of ALEC’s education committee.) The bill was signed into law (In Va. and elsewhere).
ALEC has written several pro-corporate model legislative bills to advance the education privatization goal – including at the college and University level. They have pursued privatization of public school transportation services in Indiana, Michigan and elsewhere through lobbyists operating as “consultants” (Wendell Cox Consultancy) that wrote such model legislation for ALEC:
“…Principal author of a research project comparing public and private school bus operations for the American Legislative Exchange Council (1990).”ALEC worked for over two decades to cut funding, encourage home schooling, charter schools, education vouchers, privatize school transportation and cafeteria services, lower teacher wages, eliminate collective bargaining and in support of “long distance learning”. Each of these efforts has been to increase access to, and extract profits from, public education funding. With each successful cut in state funding, school administrations have been forced to do more with less. As funding cuts have reached the tipping point in this great recession, ALEC steps forward with “solutions” to the various failing education problems – with more privatization, not increased funding.
Recently another non-profit corporation surfaced that is providing “free” education to students worldwide on a non-profit basis. On March 11th, 2012 “60 Minutes” did a segment on the Khan Academy, a non-profit operated by Sal Khan. The segment extolled the virtues and wonderful work Khan and his academy are doing to educate children all over the world. Segment Producers found Bill and Melinda Gates supported Khan and his concepts as did Google with funding for developing and expansion of Khan’s non-profit program.
While watching the story, the name Sal Khan seemed familiar and triggered a red flag. I sat down and went over my research and discovered the “red flag” concern was well founded. I had run across Khan and his academy previously – but they were just names in a larger picture. Khan was simply an unknown name I came across and dismissed as it didn’t directly relate to the story I was working on. Now I sat back and began to go over the previous research and concentrate upon this Sal Khan and the Khan Academy and the connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Koch funding that was the target of my previous research.
The preliminary source of this Khan/Koch/ALEC connection was at a “2011 Philanthropy Roundtable” where many of ALEC’s funding foundations, think tanks and others met to discuss philanthropic activities for 2012. Attending and presenting at this meeting were:
• Charles Koch,At the meeting, Board members of BSI presented on Charter School operations in AZ. This was important to me as I had found BSI was looking to expand their operations in my state, Indiana. In researching them further, I discovered that key BSI officials had hard ties to ALEC, Koch and the Goldwater Institute.
• Heritage Foundation
• Basis Schools, Inc.
• Goldwater Institute
• Arizona Charter Schools Association
• M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust
• American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
• John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
• Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
• Carnegie Corporation
• DeVos Foundations
• Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
• Koch Industries
• The Federalist Society
• Alexander Hamilton Society
• Marilyn G. Fedak Capitalism Project
• Alliance for Charitable Reform
• National Center for Policy Analysis
• Anschutz Foundation
• Charles R. Schwab, chairman of the board, The Charles Schwab Corporation
• Institute for Justice
• Reason Foundation
• Searle Freedom Trust
• Sal Khan for Khan Academy
BSI is now expanding operations into Indiana. Their concepts and curriculum appear to be simply a new form of educating based upon Charter schools and not affiliated with any political organization or entity. However a closer look at BSI revealed disturbing facts: their board is composed of seven members; Craig R. Barrett, Ph.D. President and Chairman, Michael K. Block, Ph.D. Director, Clint Bolick, J.D. Director, Donald V. Budinger, Director, John Morton, Treasurer and Secretary, Terry Sarvas, Director and Steve Twist, J.D. Director.
Here is Michael Block's bio from BSI:
Michael K. Block -Six of the BSI board have ties to several right wing conservative organizations and institutes; ALEC, Goldwater Institute, Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Institute for Justice and through those organizations to the Koch brother’s agenda and funding. Steve Twist is the founder of Goldwater Institute - a conservative think tank operating out of Arizona affiliated with ALEC.
"Michael K. Block serves as the Chairman of the BASIS School Boards. He is the co-founder of the BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson schools and is the Co-CEO of BASIS Educational Group, an educational management organization for BASIS Schools Inc. Prior to his involvement with BASIS, Dr. Block was a Professor of Economics, Professor of Law and Director of the Office of Economic Education at the University of Arizona. Dr. Block also held positions as a Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Fife Symington’s office, a Commissioner for the United States Sentencing Commission, and the Director of the Center for Economic Studies of the Justice System at the Hoover Institution. He has worked as a consultant to the World Bank, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Arizona Corporation Commission’s Securities Division, and the Office of the State Attorney General’s Antitrust Division, among others."
The Goldwater Institute is funded by Charles G. Koch and many other wealthy cabal members. Twist and Block have direct links and ties to ALEC and one of its task forces, co-authoring an article for ALEC titled: "Run Away Loses" for ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force and corporate member American Bail Coalition. Twist’s SGA company, is headed by Peter Finch and one of Koch’s $1 million dollar donors.
Most BSI board members also have extensive backgrounds in economics – which is another key element of ALEC, conservative think tanks and corporate interests - especially supply-side economics.
Conservatives like to say that the involvement of ALEC or right wing organizations and entities receiving Koch money for particular initiatives is merely coincidental. They like to suggest that because all associated with Koch and ALEC are "Conservative" and share similar interests about business and what's right for "our" country, it's natural their beliefs and policies coincide.
Time and again on every issue; healthcare, workers rights, unions, voter suppression and as in the instant case - education - the same players, institutes, foundations, individuals, organizations and legislators are equally aligned across the board. Whether the issue is education, prison privatization, immigrant detention or attempting to privatize our mail service - all research leads back to this same set of players or “Cabal” who have established a modus operandi which we can follow.
The discovery of Sal Khan and his Academy’s involvement with the Cabal raises significant concerns. Is Khan simply another 501(c)(3) tax exempt entity that has fallen under the influence of this network? Are Khan and his program intended to be used to advance this cabal’s overall narrow political policies regarding education? Does the financial support provided to the Khan Academy by the Cabal come with strings attached – as in the case of Koch’s $5 million endowment to FSU’s Economics department? Only time and more research will tell.
A valid concern in this pursuit of profitization of public education is the lack of actual concern shown for the welfare and education provided to students. This is particularly problematic to parents with students who have special circumstances; disabilities, are from lower income families or have other special needs. For each special needs student the costs of education are higher, requiring more one on one tutoring, custom desks and provisions for recreation and attention to possible discrimination or bullying due to their physical or mental differences. Public education has always made room and accommodations for such students and funding for this was included in annual appropriations without thoughts of “profiting” off of such programming. Teachers are required to attend training seminars to understand how to instruct special needs students.
With charter schools and long distance learning, companies are able to employ non-accredited instructors for History, Math, Economics, Science and Chemistry classes. These “instructors” merely have to meet proficiency standards of knowledge in their particular field. In the case of Sal Khan, he is a former Hedge Fund analyst with no teaching credentials. Those he is now able to employ through the funding from Gates and the cabal also are not required to have certification as educational instructors for purposes of long distance learning. As the 60 Minutes segment reports, he is hiring “engineers and designers” to further develop his Academy curriculum.
A side effect of this type of non-profit privatized learning is how this is used to generate corporate profits and further divert students from formal public education. Consider that ALEC’s corporate members include companies manufacturing and selling the software for long distance learning, companies that provide internet access services, computer companies and companies involved in privatizing public transportation. Each one has an interest in increasing sales and profits, and otherwise benefitting from a “front” organization such as the Khan academy. ALEC’s nearly 2,000 state lawmaker members have been advancing this pro-corporate agenda through model bills introduced and passed state by state.
Parents wishing to participate in the Khan program need computers, paid access to the internet and time allocated to providing proper supervision to assure their children are “attending” classes rather than surfing the web or internet gaming. Many of the responsibilities historically provided by public schools are now being transferred to the parents by these changes from public to private. Whether stated or not, this reinforces home schooling over traditional education. The annual internet access alone for millions of students who enroll in such cyber studies is in the tens of millions. As a long time and key member of ALEC; AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast stands to profit hugely from new customers needing ISP access. What about those who can’t afford internet access at home?
According to the 60 Minutes video, class studies are done at home the night before “school” by accessing studies over the internet. Next day at school, students log on to the Khan site and the teacher no longer teaches from a black board or approved and screened educational books – Instead, instructions from Khan’s software are taught. The classroom teacher provides individual tutoring if needed.
The future of America is in the hands of today’s students. Industry, manufacturing, technologies, science and arts have always been apolitical and provided in a manner to allow young minds to rationalize and form their own opinions based upon a broad spectrum of teaching in every subject. To allow a very politically-minded network access to the education of our children provides students with a slanted curriculum based upon a certain ideology held by a minority of Americans. This form of teaching will replace accepted broad and diverse narratives of economics, environment and history with a narrow view held by a single political faction. Education becomes programming.
The following excerpt is taken from “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement”, written by Eric Heubeck from the teachings of ALEC’s founder, Paul Weyrich:
New Traditionalists Must Concentrate on Students and Young AdultsThe foregoing is a basic tenet of ALEC and their members. For more than a decade they have pursued this philosophy, as demonstrated by the many legislative bills they’ve disseminated on privatizing education, charter schools and advancing their style of economics, history and environment.
“The new movement will inevitably be geared toward children and young adults, especially their education. We will accomplish the goal of retaking our country only when large numbers of young people are educated outside of the indoctrinating environment of many public and private schools, universities, and of course, the popular culture. At this point in their lives, many of their ideas are still in the formative stage, the more so the younger they are. Furthermore, young adults (of college age and above) should be given a large role in the organization of the New Traditionalist movement…
“…College students must be a key audience for our movement..., [We] should consider creating alternative fraternities where traditionalists can live, interact with each other, learn from each other, and socialize with each other. New Traditionalist fraternities can help replicate lifestyles from the past--emulate "civilized" behavior from the past…Members of the fraternities and collegiate study groups should build each other up in every possible way: in terms of public speaking skills, debating skills, physical fitness, intellect, manners, aesthetic sense. It is imperative that our ideas be lived and not merely discussed.
“A basic problem is that most bright, creative, dynamic, energetic young people with leadership skills become leftists, and this is why most student leaders--who eventually become the leaders of society--tend to be leftists. New Traditionalist fraternities and collegiate study groups can help reverse that tendency.”
The conclusion I’ve reached is; while the concepts of the Khan Academy may be beneficial to education as a supplement, it should be examined from the perspective of the curriculum offered and those providing it – not at the “free” cost provision. As shown, those involved in pursuing and advocating the Khan Academy, BSI and similar profitized educational services have a specific agenda. To them, the message is more important than turning a profit.
Their concepts follow an ideology of economics, environment, history, religion, evolution and government which are currently unaccepted by a majority of Americans. To provide education in this way is irresponsible and in a multinational world puts Americans in jeopardy of, for example, appearing ignorant when they proclaim that climate change is unproven science.
The possibility that such outlets are being used to advance a political agenda through educational programming is simply too dangerous to future generations. To allow or support this kind of education without further critical examination and research would be negligent – and dangerous. I believe producers of the 60 Minutes segment on Sal Khan failed to thoroughly research the program and its backers and promoters. Would the 60 minute report have been as supportive if proper researching revealed the ties between Khan, Koch and ALEC’s conservative agenda? I’m hoping the answer to that is a resounding NO.
My state (Indiana) has made significant cuts to education under the Mitch Daniels administration - to the point that last year it enabled ALEC members to push educational vouchers, charter schools and related legislation down our throats, saying public education has become inefficient and must be replaced through privatization. The constant cuts to funding of public education in Indiana led to the appearance of inefficiency from financial starvation efforts of the GOP led legislature.
Now we Hoosiers have discovered that the state lost (their word, not mine) $506 million dollars since 2007 by misplacing it in an e-account with the DOR. First Governor Daniels "found" $300 million last December and then another $206 million earlier this year.
This money was found by Governor Daniels' administration just in time to make some of it available to corporations now moving into Indiana to operate charter schools, and for those same companies who are even now taking over our public schools that have been deemed "inefficient" through a lack of funding. Daniels cut education funding by $600 million during his tenure...nearly as much as has recently been "found"...money that could have been used for scholastic purposes and kept the "need" for privatization from happening. But of course, that would not have fit in with ALEC's agenda.
Lest we forget that Daniels is an admirer of ALEC...take a look at this video:
So here in Indiana (as elsewhere) we have an ALEC-friendly Governor and GOP legislature dominated by ALEC members, pushing for privatization of education. Our Superintended of Schools is on the road lobbying on behalf of Job Bush's non-profit "Chiefs of Change" and ALEC's model legislation. He is working closely with ALEC's Education Task Force in his lobbying efforts...
...and all of this systematic attacking of education is being done by 501 (c)(3) tax exempt "charitable" organizations operating under a flag of conservatism. All the money raised and used for this lobbying is tax deductible to the corporations, to ALEC and disallows disclosure of where the money is coming from. It appears that similar to the huge PAC's who are able to use anonymous funding to direct our elections, ALEC is doing the same in the case of education and other important or key issues - including corporate funds used to pay for legislative member "scholarships" to travel to and attend ALEC's meetings and task forces.
I'm thinking education is seriously at risk and will be forever altered unless we get a grip on ALEC's pursuit of this privatization and abolish them once and for all. If this issue is of interest to you, please see my previous diary on this at: http://www.dailykos.com/....