"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, February 05, 2010

Millot Asks About Conflict of Interest in Duncan's DOE

I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources - the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education's competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department's political appointees.


We do know that the Secretary benefited from a strong relationship with the new philanthropy in Chicago. We know that the Secretary is high on charter management organizations and the new teacher development programs that benefited from the new philanthropy. We know that RTTT czar Joanne Weiss was senior staff member at New Schools. We know that Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton was a senior program education officer at the Gates Foundation and NewSchools. We know that both managed investments in the organizations' Duncan favors.

Be sure to read the entire entry (here) - it's good and juicy.

Millot compares this situation to the disastrous Reading First fiasco - but this time we're talking about $5 billion stead of simply $1 billion (note: the Race to the Top/i3 fund was $15 billion in earlier drafts of the ARRA; it was eventually cut to $7.5 billion and then trimmed again to $5 billion). The parallels between the two programs are striking.
Part of the eligibility requirements laid out in the ARRA for i3 funding includes this:
    (4) demonstrate that they have established partnerships with the private sector, which may include philanthropic organizations, and that the private sector will provide matching funds in order to help bring results to scale.
It has all the language Duncan and the philanthrocapitalists love: public-private partnerships, heavy (over)involvement from the private sector, and taking things to scale. And, of course, this dressed-up business language is a slick way of directing funds specifically to the charter school crowd supported by Duncan and his philanthrocapitalist pals bowing at the alter of the market.

Millot could add in the other ties between Gates and the DOE, particularly the selection of Margot Rogers, Vicki Phillips' former assistant from the Gates Foundation. He could add that NSVF is an almost entirely owned by the Gates/Broad/Walton/Fisher clan; that nearly every one of NSVF's grantees could benefit from the i3 fund; that NSVF allegedly approached states asking for 5% of their RttT winnings; and that the RttT and i3 fund is practically a duplication of NSVF's strategy of expanding education markets for edupreneurs, upping the competition, and increasing the dosage of testing abuse.
Millot ends with this:
Whatever is or is not going on at the Department, the principled response is for the Secretary to address the fear head on, explain how the feared outcomes cannot take place, and then make sure he and his people keep several arms lengths removed from the process.
While Duncan should listen to Millot's suggestions, it's highly unlikely the Secretary will address these concerns. He's too busy making obscene comments about Katrina, blabbering on about the no excuses charter chaingangs, or playing a bit of basketball with the Prez. Principled responses? Duncan will take a pass.


  1. judy rabin7:12 PM

    Ken, Is it possible that Obama has good intentions? He is directing billions of dollars towards education, a step in the right directions in terms of priorities. However, the money should be used to "strengthen public schools" not private schools. "Public" being the key word here - The entire conversation has to shift, the rhetoric has to change by hammering this home. Obama is a pragmatist and he may have chosen to look the other way right now to get the money flowing. These are desperate times indeed. Even Ravitch has taken off her rose colored glasses and sees the damage being caused by current ed policy and the big money behind it.

  2. Charters are public, so, no, Obama does not have good intentions. He believes in longer school days/years, VA measurement and all the rest.

    I have no faith in Obama's ability to do the right thing on education; Arne Duncan being the best example.

    The conversation does have to shift, but it won't.

    Yes, I'm a bit pessimistic, with my house under water, my loan modification application having been rejected as incomplete 3 times (it wasn't), what the SCOTUS did to campaign funding, and every other horror.

    And I voted for Obama! I am not kicking myself, but he is not what I hoped for so far, except for his brilliance. Now if he would only use it!

  3. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Yes - I don't think Obama has bad intentions, but I do fear he's grossly misguided. It can also be difficult to tease out how much of the ed policy is coming from Obama and how much is coming from the Democratic party, particularly the pro-Wall Street/big business wing of the part (the DFER crowd, etc).
    I think he truly believes charter schools are entire public (they're not). I don't think he fully understands how this could impact equity, access, quality, etc. It says a lot that he picked Duncan over someone like, say, Linda Darling-Hammond.
    These are desperate times - but they're desperate because of Wall Street casino capitalism. Obama and the Democrats need to step up to the plate and do some major regulating, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. Instead, he'll talk about educating our way to the top ("the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow'), even though national competitiveness has very little to do with education. The World Economic Forum has been pretty clear about this (Bracey cited the WEF quite regularly). The US dropped to number 2 in the rankings this year, and the WEF is awfully clear about the reason for this "decline": poorly-regulated financial markets and massive debt.
    There does seem to be some additional funding for public education coming from the feds, but spending money on highly questionable programs isn't exactly something to brag about.
    Thanks for your comment! :)

  4. Is it just me, or do others not get properly linked to the Millot article?

    (BTW, thanks for the post)

  5. Anonymous2:02 AM

    Hey Chunga, the link is a bit tricky. This Week In Education has a funny set-up that doesn't make it possible to link to individual stories (or I can't figure it out). You can always search for "Three Data Points: Unconnected Dots, or Warning?" Thanks for helping clarify. (And, thanks for the comment!)

  6. Thanks for the pointers. I still couldn't find the article although I found many other interesting ones by Millot at http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/marc-dean-millot/.

  7. Anonymous2:38 AM

    The Eduwonk no likey what Millot had to say.
    Additionally, the original article is no longer posted online...

  8. Judy Rabin10:14 AM

    Linda Darling Hammond didn't get the job and it was one of many huge disappointments especially for those of us who had some hope for his administration, all across the board on many issues but he's better than W. (which isn't saying much, I know, but if he goes down, we all go down)- when his basketball buddy Duncan got the job - the writing was on the wall. All I'm trying to say is in order for there to be any hope at all in terms of ed policy going forward - it will take teachers, parents and concerned citizens marching in the streets and civil disobedeience -like the doctors who are fighting for single payer universal healthcare and are getting arrested (Bill Moyers Friday nite had one on). The money interests, together with a Congress that is a beholden slave to Wall Street and all of the private corporate interests, have also hijacked education. Corporate interests also now rule now rule ed policy and yes, the SCOTUS decision is going to make things worse. Lots of people are under water financially right now, including government - the beast has been starved. Duncan and Obama may be clueless about teaching and education, and - but it's high time that they got educated. It's time for a few teachers to get arrested in front of the Department of Ed - movements take time - abolition didn't happen in a day - lots of people went to jail, were murdered and suffered, but the day eventually came. We have reached the tipping point, it's becoming more and more obvious - as reauthorization nears - the time is now and if this window closes - it's going to get really dark.


  9. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Millot's entire article is available here.

  10. Marc Dean Millot12:44 AM

    At 1:45 Friday afternoon, I posted a brief commentary in This Week in Education, where I have been a guest columnist. "Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?" was one of many appearing in the edu-blogosphere over the last two week's expressing concerns over the lack of transparency in the Department of Education's implementation of the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation discretionary grant programs. Within a few hours the commentary generated a modest amount of interest from some of our community's leading bloggers.

    A little after 5 pm that day it was taken off the site by TWIE editor Alexander Russo. Russo informed me that he had been directed to do so by TWIEs sponsor, Scholastic as the result of a call from Andrew Rotherham to someone at the firm that Russo thought might be Rotherham's friend.

    Over the weekend Russo struggled mightily to fix the problem. He emailed me, "Please be assured that this isn't really about you or the substance of your post." I agreed to sit tight till Monday. Sometime around 10:15 Monday evening I was fired by Russo or, to be more precise, he activated TypePad software on TWIE prohibiting me from publishing. The act was in breech of a six-month contract giving me "complete editorial control" over my columns as well as the princely sum of $200 a month.

    I've been asked by my readers to explain what happened. I'm posting here because Kenneth Libby was the first. I intend to tell my story from start to finish. Yes, I have something at stake here. Yes, I intend to draw on materials that don't normally see the light of day - like emails and private conversations. But this situation is also an opportunity for readers to gain some insights into the personal side of Washington policy debates, the ways people with influence use it, the challenges faced by those who seek a commercial model for the new media, and the role of the blog in public discourse over education policy. These are worthy goals, rarely pursued.

    I could go out and start my own blog, but I ran one for a year at edweek.org and prefer to be a columnist. I would be grateful for perhaps five days access to an edublog as a guest blogger. In return, I can only offer my best efforts to provide the facts, a good faith interpretation, and the full record in my possession for readers can come to their own conclusions. I can be reached at deanmillot@mac.com.