Friday I wrote a post about the wildly unequal funding of organizations promoting progressive education and those on the privatization/"education reform" side. The big bucks are flowing to the privatization crowd, mainly from what Diane Ravitch calls the Billionaire Boys Club, while progressive educators get the little money they have through contributions from small donors and by looking for change under sofa cushions. My case in point was an online education news network being started by ex-CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown. She's got enough money to hire 13 people, including a former editor at Time magazine and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Her message is anti-union, anti-tenure, pro-charter and pro-voucher. And she's not alone. She's joining a network of well funded organizations that have plenty of money to get out a similar message.
The comments on that post aren't as wild and wooly as on some of my other posts—things can get pretty heated in Comments Land—but there are a few interesting points I want to respond to. A few people said, maybe the progressive education side isn't getting as much money because its ideas are tired and unpopular. Wrong. It's not about which side has the better ideas. It's about which side is favored by people with lots of money. Money may be speech according to the Supreme Court, but more money flowing to conservative politicians and ideas isn't a sign that they have the better, or even the more popular, ideas. It's just a sign of what big money wants.
Someone else's whole comment was a link to a group called the Progressive Education Network. I assume the point was to spotlight an equivalent organization to those on the privatization side. So I went to the website. Very nice looking, very professional. From the look of things, the group might very well have some big money behind it.
Next I went to the group's 2013 tax return. Total revenues for the year: $300,000, enough to maybe pay the salaries of 4 or 5 of Campbell Brown's 13 staffers. The president, secretary, treasurer and 6 directors get no compensation. They're volunteers. Under expenses on the tax form, there's no compensation—salaries—listed. Most of the money, $230,000, goes to pay for hotels, speakers, services and lodging/board.
Mainly, the group spends its limited funds to put on conferences for progressive educators to attend, like its upcoming October conference in New York, Access, Equity & Activism: Teaching the Possible. (Among the three featured speakers is Tucson's own Curtis Acosta who was part of TUSD's Mexican American Studies program — now Dr. Acosta, by the way.) I'm guessing the major expenses are renting space for the conference and paying the lodging expenses of the presenters.
And that's the point. Campbell Brown has millions to start a new venture. Jeb Bush's organization, Foundation for Excellence in Education, brought in $46 million from 2007 through 2014. And they're just two of many, many organizations large and small, on the national and the state level, working in similar directions and getting lots of money. Progressive education groups run on a shoestring. Many of them only exist due to the efforts of dedicated educators who are used to spending the extra time and going the extra mile for their students and are willing to volunteer more of their time to promote the kind of education they believe in.
AN OBVIOUSLY-I-HATE-CHARTER-SCHOOLS-AS-DO-ALL-PROGRESSIVES NOTE: I'm often accused of hating charter schools, and especially BASIS. Not so. I value all good education, and I support charter schools that are getting the job done. We need more honesty and transparency, financial and educational, from charters, and I tend to focus on those issues since the pro-charter crowd has the money and the megaphone to toot its own horn. But bottom line, good education is good education wherever you find it, school districts, charter schools or private schools. (And for the record, so far as I can remember, in the thousands of words I've written about BASIS, I have never criticized the quality of the education it provides.)
That's true of the Progressive Education Network as well. Its list of partner schools actually runs heavily on the private school side, but it says, "We partner with public, public charter, and independent 501 c3 schools that have a dedication to progressive practice at their core." Progressives believe in the value and importance of the public education systems which educate the vast majority of our students, but not to the exclusion of other educational options.