Strategic Partnerships: the end of independent viewpoints in education policy

“Strategic Partnerships” represent an unfortunate trend of the past few decades in US education policy. I learned about them directly when I worked at ACT (2007-2009). I was supposed to be the one writing their policy reports–the big, heavily promoted reports they used to make their claim to be a player in US education policy debates. My drafts were deeply researched and honest. Then, they would go up the chain of command and were reviewed by an editor with no policy background or experience, whose job was to make sure they aligned with our strategic partners’ talking points. ACT’s strategic partners included at times the Education Trust, Mark Tucker’s Center on Education and the Economy, and, always, the Gates Foundation. The end result was that my manuscripts were gutted and replaced with trendy and superficial ideas du jour and citations limited to widely known celebrity researchers, with popular inaccuracies added to the content. Fortunately, my name is nowhere to be found in the reports. In return, ACT’s strategic partners would promote ACT products. The only time I ever attended a presentation by Mark Tucker was around this time and he did, indeed, promote ACT products as the best. (Ironically, the chief sponsor of strategic partnerships at ACT then works at College Board now.)

Big foundations belong to strategic partnerships, too. A popular belief among them is that each one alone cannot effect the big changes they wish to see in society, but together they can. So, the Gates Foundation goes in one direction and a crowd of other big foundations follows. I call it “pack funding.” They also repeat each other’s talking points and collectively recruit and fund “opinion leaders” to promote their goals (and to hound, suppress, ridicule, shun, and ostracize those who disagree). 

Unfortunately, pack funding for the Common Core Initiative pretty much bought everyone with influence and cleared the field of any possible consideration of feasible alternatives. Those who were bought are now invested in their claims and owe each other favors. Paul Peterson at Harvard (and his many celebrity researcher progeny), for example, benefited hugely from association with the Gates Foundation and their largesse. In return, see for example: https://www.educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/.

These days, if one wishes to be an education policy celebrity, one must access a good deal of money, which probably comes with strings. One must join a “citation cartel”—a group of scholars that promotes each other’s work while it ignores or dismisses that of rivals. As with membership in a street gang, there are rules: group loyalty is rewarded, and disloyalty punished. 

The outfall is far from just personal: most useful and relevant ideas and evidence are hidden from policymakers, blocked by a wall formed by a few cliques that hoard all attention for themselves.

One thought on “Strategic Partnerships: the end of independent viewpoints in education policy

  1. This article contains information that I am very glad to see in print. It certainly lived up with some things I witnessed in AL during my 16 years on the state school board in AL. The strategic partnerships in AL helped us get to our current achievement level.—in math we are at the bottom of the rankings. Before CC was implemented we had been making impressive progress. I have been collecting information on AL for a long time and hope to put it together soon. Strategic partnerships can be financially successful for the partners but deadly for student learning. ACT and also Marc Tucker were strategic players in AL’s downward math spiral. Both have been influential in NASBE’s work.

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