The Teat: @ntlBAEO, Choice, $, and Strings Attached?

Today The Teat returns to discuss The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

A few days ago I was giving an interview to an LA Times reporter for an upcoming piece they are going to publish on Teach For America. About midway through the discussion the reporter asked, “Who funds your research?” I replied, I am a scholar, this is what I do for a living, as a tenured faculty member, my time-honored role is to create knowledge for society. I am not saying I have not been hired in the past to consult on various research projects or serve(d) on various advisory boards. However, my peer-reviewed research has not been bought. More on this later…

I have also noticed over the past several years when submitting to peer-reviewed journals, they are now asking who funded the research. Why might this now be necessary? It is also now typical that at the end of an article peer-reviewed journals will now state openly who paid for research…

This brings me to a Tweet i recently received

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 1.37.30 PM

The tweeter was referring to a new “survey” conducted by The Black Alliance for Educational Options.  Edweek reported:

The vast majority of African-American voters in four Southern states believe the government should provide as many educational choices as possible to ensure their children receive a good education, says a new report released by the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a school choice advocacy group.

[BAEO] acknowledged that it is not impartial on the issue of school choice. The Black Alliance for Educational Options states in the beginning of the report that it is an advocacy organization that aims to increase the amount of educational options available for black children.

And within the survey itself, the report says that after asking initial questions about charters to gauge the survey participants’ knowledge of charter schools, participants were then given “informed ballot questions prefaced with facts about charters.”

Those facts included nuggets like “charter schools in some communities have led to significant gains in academic performance, graduation rates, and college readiness for lower-income black students” and “charter public schools serving Black students were over three times as likely to close the achievement gap.”

Clearly BAEO used classic tactics to insert bias into research via recency effects. Who is BAEO? Why might BAEO have been motivated to blatantly introduce bias to the survey respondents? From whose Teat do they partake? In a piece published more than a decade ago Susan Ohanian wrote:

With the voucher legislation and ballot initiatives of the 1980s failing, voucher proponents embraced a new strategy adopting the language of the civil rights movement and targeting the African American community. This political strategy is designed to boost support for vouchers, not only among African Americans, but also among progressive and moderate suburban whites, many of whom support strong public schools. The current public relations and legislative focus on poor children does not alter right-wing voucher proponents’ long-term goal of broader-based voucher systems and privatization that would irreparably harm public education.

BAEO announced its formation on August 24, 2000 at a national press conference in Washington, D.C. Former Milwaukee Schools Superintendent Dr. Howard Fuller, the group’s president and founder, said it would support tax-funded voucher programs, private scholarships, tuition tax credits, charter schools and public/private partnerships.

In March 2001, BAEO began its organizing efforts with its first annual meeting in Milwaukee  bringing over 600 African-American voucher backers from 35 states together for the express purpose of starting local chapters. By May, chapters were operating in Milwaukee, New York, Denver, Indianapolis and Philadelphia and the group claimed to be organizing chapters in nine other cities. Two months later, BAEO announced the formation of a new chapter in St. Louis, which immediately announced plans to start running ads.11 One of the Indianapolis chapter’s first activities was to host a conference with the prominent African American voucher supporter Rev. Floyd Flake as the keynote speaker.12 By the summer of 2002, BAEO had tapped into the network of existing local African-American voucher supporters and formed 33 local chapters.13

BAEO quickly converted the new activists into spokespeople, amplifying its press coverage. BAEO spokespeople were quoted widely in national education stories such as the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Cleveland voucher case and on the debate over President Bush’s voucher proposals. BAEO joined the roster of pro-voucher press conferences and briefings, often teaming up with representatives from pro-voucher partisans like the Cato Institute and controversial researcher Paul Peterson.

BAEO bills itself as a coalition of up-and-coming leaders working within the African-American community. But a closer look shows that BAEO has been bankrolled by a small number of right-wing foundations better known for supporting education privatization and affirmative action rollbacks than empowerment of the African American community or low-income families.

Four groups that BAEO originally listed as benefactors back in 2001 are major players in the right-wing voucher movement. In fact, the Walton Foundation and the Bradley Foundation have financed much of the movement. The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the American Education Reform Council are pro-voucher advocacy groups that while also receiving significant funding from the Walton and Bradley Foundations are lending their own significant support to BAEO, the relative newcomer.

Right-wing groups have also put a great deal of effort into cultivating African-American spokespeople, and working to counter the legacy of mistrust that communities of color have for a movement that has historically ranged from indifference to opposition toward racial justice efforts. Yet, at the same time, the right-wing political movement has continued to attack traditional civil rights leaders and initiatives.

BAEO is the latest step in the Right’s long effort to portray school vouchers as the new civil rights fight. The group does bring together many African-American voucher supporters and only a fraction of them are involved in right-wing politics in general. But BAEO takes its place among the other think tanks and local organizations that have been created with money from right-wing foundations as well as individuals and organizations hoping to profit from promoting increased privatization of public education.

There is much, much more on BAEO and from funding sources in the Ohanian article. (Also check out Cloaking Inequity’s other posts in The Teat series) A decade later they are up to the same false consciousness. What’s going on with BAEO lately? Well, $10 million more from the Walton and Gates Foundations.

So we know which side BAEO’s bread is buttered.

So looping back to my conversation with the LA Times reporter… Is it possible for academics supported by choice-biased foundations to publish research that show no effects of school choice? What if for example you were an endowed chair of school choice and funded heavily by the Walton foundation etc… Have you ever seen such a person, if in fact they might exist, publish work that shows no effect of choice even while the predominance of the peer-reviewed literature has opposite findings? Food for thought.

Clearly BAEO wants to play the race card/civil rights card. I agree that parents need choice, but I have proffered on CI here is REAL choice. The general public can see through BAEO’s ideology and biased/bought research methods. Furthermore, the predominance of independent empirical research does not support their exaggerated claims on choice (See my Senate testimony on charters). Also, click for all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts on vouchers and charters.

In conclusion, what is The Teat series without it’s Haiku?

Choice a Moniker

Green leaves flutter in the breeze

The Walton money tree

Please Facebook Like, Tweet, etc below and/or reblog to share this discussion with others.

Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button in the upper left hand corner of this page.

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

p.s. Thanks for Sylvia from Austin for digging up BAEO’s latest money trail.

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