Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Koch Network's New K-12 Pose: "Let's All Be Friends!"

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 3:36 PM

COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Courtesy of Creative Commons

The Koch Network — formerly known as the Koch Brothers until David Koch died in August — is looking for a new way to ease into K-12 education.

Let's not fight, the Koch Network says. Why can't we all just get along?

Welcome to the Network's new, conciliatory educational brand.

This kumbaya moment comes from an 800 ton gorilla which spends hundreds of millions of dollars so it can sit anywhere it wants. The Network has bought seats at the table in congress, state legislatures, universities and school boards across the nation. We have our own outpost at UA, The Freedom Center, purchased and overseen by some of the Network's high rolling contributors.

The Network has only made half-hearted attempts at moving into the world of K-12 education, so it hasn't had much of an impact thus far. Now it has begun to put more money and energy behind its efforts.

In June, the Koch Network created a new group, yes. every kid., whose purpose, according to one of its spokespeople, is to "move away from the 'us versus them' framing in K-12" and work together across political and educational lines.

It's strange to hear these folks claim they want to make friends with the same educators the Kochs have worked against from their earliest days as political activists. Back in 1980 when David Koch was the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, the brothers weren't interested in getting along with the education community. The Libertarian Party's platform called for an end to free public education.
"We advocate the complete separation of education and State. . . . Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended."
The Kochs haven't strayed far from their privatization goals in the decades since. It's still vouchers first and charter schools second. They believe publicly funded and governed schools will lose out in a head-to-head competition with free enterprise-based education. The traditional school system, they hope, will simply wither away.

So why is the Network saying it wants to play nice all of a sudden? It's because the political winds in education have begun to shift away from privatization.

Until recently, the privatization/"education reform" movement looked like it was winning the education wars. Charters have grown steadily, and an increasing number of states have adopted voucher programs. Even Democrats looked like they were coming on board. They seemed to agree with the "reformers" that our public schools are failing and we need something new — certainly more charter schools, and maybe private school vouchers as well — to offer children an alternative to their local schools. The privatization movement even had a Democratic champion in the White House. President Obama was acting like the Education-reformer-in-chief.

It looked like smooth sailing toward privatization. Then something went wrong.

Democrats didn't turn against charter schools exactly, but they started demanding greater transparency and accountability. They spoke out against the profit motive which drives some parts of the charter school movement. As for vouchers, you have to look hard to find any voucher supporters among Democrats in public office. At the same time, voters have begun to embrace public schools and the teachers who work there. Public schools need more money, people are saying. Teachers need higher salaries because of the important work they do.

The voyage toward privatization is encountering choppy waters.

The Network could have dug in its heels and fought openly and aggressively for vouchers and charters, but it decided to take a different tack. The Kochs have always preferred to work by stealth, not brute force. The Network decided to play nice, or pretend to.

Which brings us to the latest Koch Network venture, yes. every kid. What is it exactly? It's hard to say from the website, which is a single page filled with charming pictures and pretty phrases everyone can agree with.
"One size doesn't fit all. It doesn't fit anyone."
"Each kid is totally unique."
"It’s time we rethink education from the ground up."
"Every kid has extraordinary potential."
"Instead of saying no, we say yes."
"Yes, every kid can learn. Yes, your ideas matter. Yes, together we can make change."
"We want to hear new ideas, new solutions, and new voices."
"Yes, educators are the key to a better education models."
Isn't that nice? When I first read all the lovely, cotton-candy statements  I was tempted to say, "I agree," except that I had no idea what I would be agreeing with. And that's the idea.

Don't bother looking for an "About" page, something you find on most organizations' websites. All you'll find here are empty phrases and a form where you can sign up and subscribe to . . . something, it's not clear what exactly. Don't look for any mention of the Koch Network or the many organizations it supports. The only way you know "yes. every kid." is affiliated with the Koch Network is because of a press release, which isn't on the website.

The one identifier on the website is an address which you don't get to see until you sign up. But the weird thing is, it's the address of a hair salon in New Buffalo, Michigan, in a house across the street from a True Value hardware store. Really. I looked it up on Google Maps' street view. I suppose it could be a mistake, but the website has the hair salon's complete address, including zip code. Why that address? I have no idea. The blog Curmuducation tried to find out and ran into a dead end.

I'm reasonably sure this new venture will fail in its mission to bring people across the educational spectrum together. I can't imagine educators outside the privatization/"education reform" movement wanting to play nice on the Koch Network's terms. This isn't a big tent being offered to the education community. It's the Network's tent. Their money paid for it, so they get to set the agenda. The most any progressive educators who walk through the tent flaps can hope for is to be coddled, complimented, then coopted.

But don't worry. If "yes. every kid." doesn't work, the Network has an abundance of money and time. It will try again and again and again. As the Koch Brothers have demonstrated over the decades, they view failure as a temporary setback. They are nothing if not patient, persistent and ridiculously wealthy.

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