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Ed-tech firms shaping education policy

Are choices being driven by student needs—or profits?

“Having sat through hours-long hearings on these topics in state legislatures all over the country, I can personally attest that our voice has always been one among many,” said Connections Education’s Mickey Revenaugh.

(Editor’s note: Ed-tech industry executives are influencing key education policy decisions, a newspaper’s investigation reveals—even providing the wording of legislation they’d like adopted in various states. This raises an important question for our democracy: Are the same companies that stand to profit from such moves too close to the decision-making process?)

Stephen Bowen was excited and relieved.

Maine’s education commissioner had just returned to his Augusta office last October after a three-day trip to San Francisco, where he attended a summit of education reformers convened by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which had paid for the trip.

He’d heard presentations on the merits of full-time virtual public schools and watched as Bush unveiled the “first ever” report card praising the states that had given online schools the widest leeway.

But what had Bowen especially enthusiastic was his meeting with Bush’s top education aide, Patricia Levesque, who runs the foundation but is paid through her private firm, which lobbies Florida officials on behalf of online education companies.

Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

“I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he eMailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of eMail messages obtained from a public-records request, the state’s education commissioner would rely on Bush’s foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy, and the text of Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.

A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found that large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.

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Comments:

  1. Jerry Thacker

    October 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I find it interesting that this article discusses everything except the welfare of the children who need a 21st-century education in order to get along in this world. The unions are a creature of the last century as are most of the government processes. It is no surprise that those in leadership do not know what is current in education. They have been fed a ton of socialist garbage for so long that the only way they see to improve the children’s education and get value for tax dollars spent, is to allow the private sector to do what they do best which is to achieve results. Profits and dividends are not bad. Profits and dividends make paydays possible in the real world. They also make taxes possible. The governor is to be applauded for his stand for choice in the educational system. Federal, state, and local redtape is to be cut down if education is going to progress into a new model which will train digital citizens in a way that makes them ready for tomorrow’s world.

  2. jcschweitzer

    October 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    This is why it is important to have a detailed technology plan and enterprise architecture that meets the needs of the district. School systems generally don’t have the skilled IT staff to vet things being sent to them.

  3. jessica_ruby

    October 16, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Thanks for sharing this great information!Technology plays an important role in every man’s life. Thus, it is important that every individual gets well accustomed with it so that they can enhance their knowledge. Schools should also start giving preference to e-learning for the students. In this way, every individual can become more tech friendly and can proper well in life.

  4. rolandsb

    October 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    The undertones of this article worry me in that it appears to suggest a reduction in schools and teachers down the road. Much of the literature on 1 to 1 laptop programs and other IT implementation in schools suggest that its benefits are limited. The main problem is Tech people who are not educators (i.e. think their job is done once the IT is in place) while many teachers lack IT training and how to teach with IT in the classroom.
    Socialization is likely one of the best motivators of student learning and having students learning in isolation and only collaborating and learning online disturbs me.
    Finally, putting profit based companies is charge of education delivery also concerns me. If there is one thing we should be getting our moneys worth in and that is education. 100% of the money going into education should be used for education.