12 November 2010

The Bad Guys: Part One - Dr. Paul Peterson

A long time ago I urged us to "look behind the curtain" in that Wizard of Oz sense in order to understand who was promoting what I'd call "the wrong things" in education - and why.

Why does Walmart want to support Michelle Rhee? Why does Rupert Murdoch want with NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's schools chancellor? Why do those who fund George W. Bush's lifestyle want non-teachers as principals?

And who provides intellectual "cover" for these initiatives?

"Paul Peterson is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Editor-In-Chief of Education Next, a journal of opinion and research."

I asked Diane Ravitch one night why Harvard University seemed to be the source of so much anti-child, anti-teacher, anti-learning "educational theory." I think that was an important question because in America, when something says "Harvard" on it, people tend to assume validity. And so what spills from Harvard Yard these days - despite much evidence that shaky practices are common there - matters in public perception.

And Ms. Ravitch gave me one name: Paul Peterson, suggesting that he wielded significant power over Harvard's educational research agenda.
"Paul E. Peterson, the Henry Shattuck professor of government at Harvard University, is best known in education circles for his controversial studies on school voucher programs. But Peterson has also played a major role in recruiting and mentoring a new generation of scholars who are making their own mark in education debates. Most of them, like Peterson, are political scientists challenging public education's core conventions, and most of them, like Peterson, advocate choice, competition, and other market-based reforms.

'"A large percentage of the people doing research in education that I would consider outside the mainstream have a connection to Paul," says Terry Moe, a Stanford University political science professor and co-author of an influential 1990 study advocating market-based reforms in elementary and secondary education. "They are generally more critical of the existing system and more willing to challenge its basic structure."

"These include people like Moe and John Chubb, Moe's co-author of Politics, Markets and America's Schools and now a vice president of Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit school management company; Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and Marci Kanstoroom, both executive editors of Education Next, a journal critical of the educational status quo published by Stanford's Hoover Institution that Peterson edits; Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Bryan C. Hassel, a private consultant and expert on charter schools; and Kenneth K. Wong, director of the Urban Education Policy Program at Brown University."
Now Peterson, like so many favored by today's faux "reformers" is not someone trained in education. He seems to have spent a year hanging out in Stanford University's School of Education, but, you know, I've walked around there too. Essentially he's a right wing political scientist who, after years of trying to increase inequality in America through other means, stumbled on education. He kicked around the fringes of anti-national political theory from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s (with some forays into anti-public schooling), then, if his CV is to be believed, he found his voice as a pro-school voucher, anti-public school advocate funded through grants from right-wing think tanks.

It has been a profitable endeavor for him, as it has for his fellow travellers, from Paul Vallas to Arne Duncan, from Michelle Rhee to Joel Klein. It is such a profitable path, in fact, that a highly paid publishing executive will quit the lucrative role of telling teen-age girls how to have sex in order to follow that route beginning as Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools.

And Peterson, collecting paychecks from Harvard, Stanford, and (probably) the U.S. Department of Education, is doing especially well.

As are his disciples, now spread through right-wing publicity mills and for-profit educational groups.

What is Peterson's agenda? Who pays for it? Why is Harvard joined to the Hoover Institution on this and not, for example, the Stanford School of Education or Columbia University's Teachers College?

After all, we know that students have no money, poor parents have no money, but that the people funding Peterson and pals have a lot of cash. And when people pay for research... well, you've heard of Vioxx, right?

- Ira Socol


Dan Callahan said...

Some websites I follow the RSS feed because I appreciate how they challenge my perceptions and provide useful insight. I would classify your blog among those. Others I follow specifically because I want to keep an eye on what people I strongly disagree with are saying. Peterson's Education Next is one of those.

John Robinson Ed.D said...

Thanks for the post. I have been following Paul Peterson and those associated with him, and it is clear that they have a biased agenda against public schools. It is alarming as well that they have the financial backing that they have. What's really sad is these right-wingers can published pseudo-research and make it look like real research. Just goes to show that having "Harvard" in front of it doesn't necessarily mean much any more. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why silly people who think that sex-ed will ruin their children would want public schools to fail.

I have no idea why anyone in business would want public schools to fail, other than to prevent any future competition from learning to multiply.

And I really can't see why anyone would make up a lie about 'liberal indoctrination' or 'indoctrination into the gay agenda' or whatever the hell else, other than to make sure the silly people stay silly, and their progeny never become the competition in the future.

Basically, people like Peterson and his pals are scared of the smart people of the future, and are quite content to sow discord in order to keep the proles stupid.


Tabitha Sexton said...

I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class and I plan on teaching high school when I graduate in 2012. I am not sure why anyone would want public education to fail. This is a very sad situation. I have enjoyed your blog, and thanks for your thoughts.