Dastardly philanthropists

“Corporate foundation” and “corporate” were used as a catch-all insult at the Save Our Schools rally, writes Kevin Carey. For opponents of school reform “corporate” appears to be a synonym for “dastardly” or “scum-sucking.”

A “corporate foundation” is accountable to owners and shareholders, he points out. ExxonMobil Foundation justifies its underwriting of  “Masterpiece Theatre” by the public relations benefits that “help mitigate some of the less popular aspects of being a gigantic energy conglomerate.”

By contrast, the Carnegie Corporation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Century Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and many others are independent non-profit foundations that got their money from rich people who founded large corporations. There’s a difference. The politics of Henry Ford and the interests of the Ford Motor Company are by no means aligned with the strategies put forth by the Ford Foundation.

Education reform’s enemies are “corporate” in nature, argues RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The two teachers’ unions are “billion-dollar organizations” with well-paid staffs and CEOs.  The AFT’s Randi earned $428,284 in 2010,while the NEA’s DennisVan Roekel was paid $397,721.

Like their peers in the corporate world, the two unions devote countless hours developing strategies aimed at maximizing their core mission — serving their shareholders and customers, who, given that they are teachers, are one and the same.

Like their corporate peers, the unions use marketing, branding, public relations, lobbying and political contributions, Biddle writes.

Billionaire philanthropists should build new institutions and stop trying to fix old ones, advises Jay Greene. “In general, existing institutions don’t want to be fixed.”


About Joanne


  1. For many on the left “corporate” has become the all-purpose boogeyman/scapegoat that “Communist” was for many on the right during the Cold War.

  2. The Left demonizes corporations because they think government is the solution to all problems; the right thinks government is part of the problem. Many on the left are government employees or on other government support, also. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the media and entertainment; those are huge corporate entities and the recognizable names are likely to earn far more than some of the corporate heads they demonize. Ted Turner, for instance; I understand that he’s the largest landowner in the country.

  3. CarolineSF says:

    Cross-posting my response, as posted on Quick & Ed:

    Thank you for continuing to praise the Save Our Schools event with faint damns. I’ll bite on the use of “corporate.”

    It’s hard for critics of the current fads in education reform to clarify what it is we’re criticizing. We are not actually opposed to true, positive, beneficial education reform; we’re calling out the currently trendy “reform” policies as ineffective and harmful.

    I put “reform” in quotes there. Sometimes I use “so-called reform” (though actually a lot of people don’t recognize the “disbelief” connotation of the adjective “so-called”). Some of us use “corporate reform” as shorthand.

    Presumably there are some among us who view anything “corporate” as evil. I’d say that doesn’t apply to most of us.

    In my own case, I’d say it applies to education policy based on the idea that schools should be run like businesses; based on ideas that come from business leaders and that ignore and disdain the views of actual experienced educators.

    “Corporate education reform” as a term isn’t a perfect solution to the need for a way to characterize the education policy philosophies I’m referring to. Any suggestions?

    (end of crossposted response)

    In response to this comment on Q&E, Joanne Jacobs questioned whether “reformers” are espousing running schools like businesses. Her question seems to reflect the agreed-upon new tack from the reformy world. Reformers have been openly advocating running schools like businesses since Milton Friedman, propelled by John Chubb and Terry Moe’s book “Politics, Markets & America’s Schools” in 1990, Andrew Coulson’s “Free-Market Education” in 1999, and more.

    Now they seem to think this isn’t a successful tack anymore and are acting like public-ed supporters have wild imaginations for claiming anyone ever espoused running schools like businesses.

    It’s not clear whether the so-called reformers have decided that:
    1) running schools like businesses isn’t a good idea after all, thus changing their minds about the entire concept;
    or 2) promoting running school like businesses isn’t an effective PR strategy anymore, so they’re changing the soundbites.

    Either way they’re changing their minds, after an ongoing vilification campaign against Diane Ravitch for changing HER mind. Though in the so-called reformers’ case, they’re trying to handle this by denying that they ever called for running schools like businesses.

    It’s surreal.

    (Pause here for my non-fans to hurl some sneers and barbs at me for being wordy, for being old and white, for being a teachers’ union lackey, or for simply existing. OK, I did it for you, so you don’t have to. Back to the discussion.)

  4. CarolineSF says:

    (Momof4, can you really back up the implication that more on “the left” are on government support? Reality shows the opposite:

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-06-30/news/17210516_1_modoc-county-california-s-general-fund-tax-averse-county )

  5. I didn’t say that more on the left, I said many. Government employees – I didn’t say just federal- include all levels of government and all public k-12 schools, CCs and 4-year colleges. Recipients of various social programs, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and Pell grants are receiving government support, as are recipients of many different kinds of government grants. It’s not crazy to suppose that many wish for that support to continue. Also on government support is the military and those on the GI Bill, although that’s probably not a reliable hotbed of support for the Left. My experiences have suggested that many people do not understand capitalism and market forces very well and many of those do not have experience in the private sector.

  6. CarolineSF:

    Let me begin by saying I would eliminate all corporate and agricultural subsidies immediately if I could. I am as opposed to middle class and upper class welfare as I am most forms of welfare.

    However, you keep citing this one article from 2009 as the be all and end all on the issue of who gets more government money. I would submit to you that that county may not be typical. How about I pick inner city Detroit for my data….I’m wiling to bet it is a very different picture.

    The fact is, the bottom 50% of American taxpayers paid only 2.7% of all income taxes collected in 2008. Soon, if it hasn’t already, that number will be a negative number because most members of the bottom 50% actually receive a “refund” check for more money than they had withheld.

  7. CarolineSF says:

    The article was a feature-style response to a study of all California counties. Consistently, the more liberal counties (the coastal counties, including mine,SF) get the least per capita in government funding and the most conservative counties get the most. Consistently. Given California’s size, this is a significant study sample.

    Of course there are correlations that aren’t political, but it’s still significant and still undeniable.

    Moot point here, since Momof4 seems to be clarifying that she wasn’t really saying liberals get more government funding.

    My favorites, of course, are the “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!” low-information Tea Party types… (I really did see that sign at a Town Hall meeting in San Carlos summer ’09.)

  8. Caroline SF,

    You hit the nail on the head. The public has become wary of corporations and business, so saying they are going to run schools like businesses is horrible PR. Luckily for them, they can purchase all the teaching bashing pieces and “studies” they need.

  9. I can see why you reference that SFGate article since it’s as empty of information and full of innuendo and misrepresentation as your posts although you have the luxury of not having professional standards to live up to whereas Kevin Fagan clearly can’t tell the difference between an editorial and hard news.

    As for your self-admittedly windy posting it’s notable that you’re incapable of criticizing us “reformy” types without putting words in our mouths. But then dishonesty is the natural ally of the monopolist since coercion is your stock in trade.

    The problem for you is that in a representative form of government the power to coerce ultimately derives from the people being coerced who have to decide if the cost is worth the benefit. That’s worked out quite well until fairly recently when those who were getting the worst the public education system had to offer discovered that there were alternatives. Not too surprisingly those unfortunates have avidly latched onto the alternatives and as can be implied from the rapid spread of those alternatives, have many allies. But I’m sure that won’t deter you in the slightest. You’ll cling to the lies you determined are truth because you’ve chosen to believe them.

    So you just keep on peddling your papers at the same, old stand and watch the world leave you behind.

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    I have more trust in “corporate” America than I do in “public services”. While corporations are self interested and greedy, they act as a counter balance to those who will always tell us they’re working on our behalf with our tax dollars but are frequently feathering their own nests, trying to consolidate their influence and power and enhance their class prerogatives. The worst of all worlds is when corporations and government work together. Then we get Fannie Mae.

  11. Large organizations, of all types, evolve to serve the interests of those running them. That’s life. What’s amazing about those on the traditional left/right axis is that, depending on political bent, they can only see this as true of either government or corporations, but rarely both.

  12. Stuart Buck says:

    There are obviously ways in which schools could be better run if operated like businesses, and ways in which schools differ from other businesses. Anyone who knows how the DC central office was run prior to Michelle Rhee would know that it was in poor shape — incompetent employees were sent “out to the schools,” which is something that well-run businesses would never have done. Nor could DC prior to Rhee even keep accurate numbers on attendance, which again is something that a competent business wouldn’t do (Wal-Mart could have taught DC schools something about keeping track of basic information like that). In these and many other regards, good business practices have improved the operation of many school districts.

    As for the anti-corporate slogans, it’s not clear that these people have any idea what they are talking about. They object to judging teachers or schools by test scores, for example, but relying on standardized tests isn’t anything peculiar or even relevant to “business,” except in the vaguest sense of being about data or numbers of some sort or another. One might as well decry the “government” practice of reducing people to numbers (that is, Social Security numbers).

  13. Stacy in NJ says:

    “Large organizations, of all types, evolve to serve the interests of those running them. That’s life. What’s amazing about those on the traditional left/right axis is that, depending on political bent, they can only see this as true of either government or corporations, but rarely both.”

    Yes, but corporations are created to serve the interests of their owners, whether they’re privately owned business publicly traded with stock and bond owners. Public services should be held to a higher standard. They’re created to serve (supposedly) the interests of the public. Unfortunately, there is currently so little trust in government because it uses public services has political patronage schemes. Those folks who work in the public sector are only to willing to be captured. This creates an insider/outsider dynamic and little belief that “smart people” are capable of setting aside their own interests.

    When we get an unholy alliance between the interests of business and government patronage, like with GE or GM, we’ve reached the end result of corporatism and the tax payer/private citizen exists to prop up the special interests of business AND government.

    Corporate interests in and of themselves aren’t a problem. When corporations make common cause with government in pursuit of special favors then small and medium sized business are the biggest losers. They don’t have the time, money or influence to capture government favors.

    Both government and corporations should be viewed with skepticism, but when they combine forces they should inspire terror.