Adding Insult to Injury—Indeed!

March 19, 2012

Emanuele Corso

In a recent online column titled “Do you want education reform or legislative gridlock?” (http://www.nmpolitics.net/index/2012/03/do-you-want-education-reform-or-legislative-gridlock/), a chap named Doug Turner rather disingenuously, or perhaps conveniently, omitted a few relevant facts.  The first is that Turner is the Board President of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools and the second is that he is a Rio Grande Foundation board member. The Rio Grande Foundation’s president, Paul Gessing, has just filed an application to start four charter schools called “New Mexico Connections Academy”.

Now consider that none of the three leading New Mexico Republican education reformers – Paul Gessing, Doug Turner, or Hanna Skandera  — have any training or hands-on experience as public school teachers or administrators – none – absolutely none. Zip – Zero! Turner had one hardly relevant turn teaching business for a semester at UNM, and his two degrees are in international affairs. Skandera had a short-lived position at Pepperdine, where she taught public policy. So how is it, then, that these folks have now become instant experts ready to tell people who have taken the time to earn degrees in education— taken the time to teach in classrooms and work with children – that they are doing it all wrong, that they simply don’t know how incapable they are and that they need to replaced with non-degreed graduates of training companies such as Laying the Foundation, Inc.? How does the operator of a public relations firm, Turner, a recent candidate for governor, present himself with a straight face asking the public to dismantle public education unless there is an underlying political and business motivation? How does a woman with no background in education or qualifications as an educator find top-level positions advising politicians and federal agencies about education? Politics?

Given its list of sponsors, it is also telling that a non-profit such as the Rio Grande Foundation is willing to front for a for-profit corporation, namely, Connections Education LLC, an  international business owned and operated by a British company, Pearson PLC. In the United States they operate as Pearson Education US, with headquarters in New Jersey. Here is what Pearson says about itself:
Pearson (NYSE:PSO), the global leader in education services, education technology and school solutions, provides innovative print and digital education materials for pre-K through college, student information systems and learning management systems, teacher professional development, career certification programs, and testing and assessment products that set the standard for the industry. Pearson’s other primary businesses include the Financial Times Group and the Penguin Group.

Sounds a lot like an information technology company and not an outfit concerned with the life and learning of little Vincent or Olivia next door. In the application to establish the charter schools, Gessing lists as his “advisors” two individuals, one who works directly for Pearson and another who works for their operation, Connections Education. Cozy arrangement to say the least. Talk about foxes in the hen house. Another of Pearson’s offerings that should be of interest to educators in New Mexico as this “foot-in-the-door” process evolves are its “educator effectiveness systems.” This involves administrators as well as classroom teachers – a shared fate indeed. Teachers and principals, superintendents and chancellors – everybody is going to get their oil checked by Pearson, a British info-tech company.

Do public schools make a profit as do the Connections Academy investors? Where does the Connections Academy profit go? Certainly not to New Mexico; the profits make their way, eventually to Great Britain.

Keep in mind that charter schools nationally do not have a successful track record in spite of the relative selectivity they enjoy with respect to their student populations. Public schools actually do much better. What public schools do not do, which is relevant to this discussion, is that they do not generate profits as will the New Mexico Connections Academy for the foreign corporation that owns it. The profits that public schools generate come in the form of an educated and informed populace.

Public schools are the public’s investment in its own future – the public are the shareholders and the beneficiaries. The recent phenomenon of non-educators promoting themselves as experts in the field does not demonstrate much respect for or understanding of the democratizing role public education has played in the history of this country. But then, demonstrating respect for democracy isn’t what this campaign by these so-called reformers is about – is it?

Turner’s claim that when legislators choose to dim what he calls the one “bright spot on the educational landscape by attacking public charter school funding” they add “insult to injury” is perhaps his most disingenuous bit of snake oil. The real insult comes in his presenting himself as an educator. What’s next? Perhaps he can become a brain surgeon on the recommendations of Gessing and Skandera.

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