Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

10 Responses to “Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free”

  1. Paula Meyer at 9:47 pm #

    The usual great investigative reporting and analysis here. Thanks again, Tom!

    Like

    • Jack at 9:36 pm #

      It’s interesting to read a tweet from Chris Stewart that presumably is a response to this, as it came out the next day. Stewart tries to flip the script and make an ad hominem attack, without any attempt to address or rebut the actual content of this article.

      It’s the same thing when someone mentions Stewart’s billionaire-funded salary… oh, you’re just a hater, and you’re envious, and you’re stoking ignorance … blah-blah-blah …

      ————————–
      Citizen Stewart @citizenstewart

      “You can literally sell any story (and stoke ignorance, hate, and envy) simply by adding the word ‘billionaire’ to any story.”
      11:13 AM · Mar 28, 2020
      —————————

      Like

      • tultican at 11:39 pm #

        The fact that this hired gun stabbing his community in the back noticed says the article touched a nerve. The reason adding the word billionaire to a story sells may not have as much to do with “ignorance, hate and envy” as it does the corrupt and undemocratic uses they put their financial resources to, like creating a digital propaganda organization to attack public schools. Many people also see that most of those resource were achieved when the game became completely rigged and were never legitimately earned.

        Like

  2. Lloyd Lofthouse at 7:14 pm #

    Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Learn more about the autocratic billionaire kleptocrats funding the war to privatize and profit from OUR democratic K-12 public schools.

    Like

  3. drext727 at 8:50 pm #

    Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education.

    Like

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