Has another venue of education scholarship sold out?

Guest Blogger Morna McDermott McNulty is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Towson University. She blogs at Educationalchemy where this post also appears.

I guess I had Tim Slekar’s clarion call to challenge EdWeek in mind when I was looking through my recent issue of Educational Researcher (ER) today. In his blog, Slekar illustrated quite accurately, honestly and pointedly how, “EdWeek’s ‘news’ stories are typically reprinted press releases from the ‘faith-based reformers’ or purely propaganda for the purveyors of the Common Core.” In other words, he asks his readers to consider whether or not EdWeek has sold out to corporate interests.

Educational Researcher (ER) is AERA’s main journal, and AERA is education’s largest research organization, so the numbers of readers are enormous. The new editors themselves note that given the large readership and frequent publications (9 times a year) the journal authors, have the ability to “influence policy” (p. 7).

One would like to believe that a journal of such “prestige” in education or at least a large readership would recognize the scholarship of education researchers, teacher educators, and teachers…but not in this current issue. Today, while perusing the articles in this issue something about the authors just “struck” me as a curious thing, something worth investigating. Something caught my eye- the number of authors that work for non-profits and/or corporations associated with education, and how few were actually sole educators/professors of institutions of higher education or public education.

Of nine total authors, FIVE of them listed their associations not with universities but with “non- profit” or education corporations. So, more than half the authors are employed by corporations. To be more accurate, one of them listed only his university affiliation but after some digging I found much more.

Is this something anyone else finds troubling? Is this worth drawing attention to?

So I did some of my own inquiry into these organizational associations and found a lot of it disconcerting. Why? Because: 1) the move of corporate agendas into education are quite insidious these days, and 2) ER is considered at tier 1 journal (I think) and there is perhaps a blind assumption about the rigor of scholarship in the journal, so that many people might just take what they read at its word as being ethical or valid, when instead we should be questioning the motives of the authors, their affiliations, and their ability to market their corporate agenda as “scholarship.”

I know that research is never really objective, that academics often have all kinds of ulterior motives when publishing, and that they are often self-serving. This is true of many journals and scholarship. Research claiming that climate change is a hoax might be funded by Exxon, and “evidence” that smoking does not cause cancer might be funded by Phillip Morris. But those companies are household names and therefore most people reading such research can make skeptical and informed decisions about their opinion of the “data.”

But far fewer people realize for example that Wireless Generation, who is on the editorial board of one of the author’s (in ER) employers, has billions of dollars of contracts with school districts for electronic data collection and data tracking, an effort which this same author is promoting. Corporate interests in education policy are much more carefully camouflaged, but hold tremendous sway in the future of public education.

So when corporations start selling their ideology of education reform and the corporate voice becomes the dominant one in such a large scale educational research journal, it just seems like one more step in the direction of the corporatization of higher education.

I note too that the journal has just come under new editorialship. New editors sometimes steer journals in different directions. In their Inaugural Editorial Statement the editors identify two goals:

1)      We will be deliberate in drawing out new understandings from culturally diverse communities, with an eye for the role of policy in sharpening or suppressing development  of cultural identities, instructional differentiation, and educational progress of children from under-sourced locales.

2)      We aim to stay alert to domestic and international policy streams and policy initiatives emanating from governmental agencies, think tanks, and private foundations.

I find these two statements contradictory. Why? Because while the efforts and policies of education reform led by corporate (and think tank) interests have had dubious results at best for “children from under-sourced locales,” and rarely do such reforms actually represent “indigenous communities” (p.8), there can be no question of the enormous profits reaped by these same companies as the result of their initiatives. The new ER editors themselves concede that “policy making is influenced powerfully by and consequentially by research” (p. 7). So whose interests and what gets represented here matters.

Digging in to some info about the organizations from which these five authors herald I found some interesting details:

1)      Elfrieda Hiebert is president and CEO of TextProject (paper authored with faculty at VA Tech)

The Editorial Board of TextProject includes people from APEX Learning, Wireless Generation, MetaMetrics (now owned by Pearson), and Scholastic.

This company is a big promoter of the Common Core standards and offers services related to Common Core.

Her co-authored article in ER was about “upping the ante of text complexity in the Common Core standards” (p. 44) for young readers. While to the articles credit, the authors offered some complex range of concerns about the effects of Common Core on young readers, I cannot escape the facts that TextProject conveniently provides “services” for its successful delivery.

2)      Roy Pea (paper authored with Stanford doctoral student)

Roy Pea is the Co-Founder and Director (from 1999-2009) for Teachscape, a company providing comprehensive K-12 teacher professional development services incorporating web-based video case studies of standards-based teaching and communities of learners.

He is also Director of H-STAR Institute and a David Jacks Professor of Education and Learning Sciences at Stanford University.

This co-authored article in ER was on the need for “computational thinking” skills in K-12 classrooms.

3)      Ellen Mandinach is a senior research scientist at WestEd

Board of directors of West Ed includes John Huppenthal (the guy who helped close the Ethnic Studies program in Tucson AZ).

The number one funder of WestEd is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Their national affiliations include Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), key developers of the Common Core.

According to their website they offer (among other things) a “Comprehensive School Assistance Program (CSAP)” (which) “provides research-based services (cha-ching $$$) and support to help transform low-performing schools and districts into highly effective learning organizations.”

4)      Edith Gummer is a program director Education Northwest (EdNW)

Board Officers of Ed NW  include Tom Luna of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). CCSSO Director Tom Luna works closely with Jeb Bush.

From their website http://educationnorthwest.org/content/about : “The breadth of our work—ranging from training teachers, to developing curriculum, to restructuring schools, to evaluating programs—allows us to take a comprehensive look at education and to bring wide-ranging expertise and creativity to our clients’ challenges.

In their article for ER Mandinach and Gummer write: “Data driven decision making has become increasingly important in education” (p. 30).

Of course Ed NW could provide these services …. right? After all, “Since 1966, Education Northwest has provided educators with top-quality professional development, technical assistance, evaluation, and research services.”

5)      Carla Monroe is the Education Director at Alliance Group International, Inc.

According to their AGI website “AGI’s Core Methodology outperforms traditional sales and marketing models to the delight of AGI clients, from start-ups to major corporations.” They offer marketing strategies for companies.

I found Dr. Monroe’s discussion in ER about critical race theory to be interesting and worthwhile. So why does her affiliation with an organization that calls itself the “single source partner for custom sales and marketing support solutions that will accelerate your revenue generation in the markets” make me uneasy?

I’m not quibbling over their scholarship/research itself per se–that would take an entire other blog entry.  “But I thought it was interesting that for each of these individuals listed above, that their ‘data’ suggested a need for something or other in education that of course the company for which they worked could naturally fill, and that the findings reflect the promotion of ideologies these organizations serve.” In short, it came across as little more than free advertising for the services these companies could provide.

Am I over reacting?

Reference:

Educational Researcher (Jan/Feb 2013), 42(1). Or accessible at http://er.aera.net

 

8 responses

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