John Thompson, historian and teacher in Oklahoma, writes here about a growing awareness in the mainstream media of the infusion of Big Money into education. The New York Review of Books is a major influence among highly educated people and has a reach far beyond professional educators.



The New York Review of Book’s Michael Massing, in “Reimagining Journalism: The Story of the One Percent,” proposes a new journalism to document and explain the effects of secretive corporate elites on our diverse social institutions. He basically calls for a very well-funded version of the Diane Ravitch blog.

O.K., it’s more complicated than that. Massing notes that “Education is but one area of American life that is being transformed by Big Money.” He wants a website that is staffed by top investigative journalists, and experts in the fields that are being taken over by “billionaires [who] are shaping policy, influencing opinion, promoting favorite causes, polishing their images—and carefully shielding themselves from scrutiny.”

Massing proposes a site, complete with reporters, editors, and “digital whizzes,” who “could burrow deep into the world of the one percent and document the remarkable impact they are having on so many areas of American life.” Similar to Ravitch’s blog, its purpose would be “tracking the major participants, showing the links between them, assessing their influence and impact, and analyzing the evidence on the performance of both public and charter schools.”

Moreover, Massing wants a site that:

Could also serve as a sounding board for people in the field, encouraging principals, teachers, parents, and grantees to send in comments about their dealings with these institutions. The most thoughtful could be edited and posted on the site, providing a bottom-up perspective that rarely gets aired.

Massing explains that “even amid the outpouring of coverage of rising income inequality … the richest Americans have remained largely hidden from view.” And, “journalists have largely let them get away with it.” We need sites that will cover more than education, but Massing, who has been influenced by the work of Mohammad Khan, Zephyr Teachout, and Ravitch, uses their work as a model for the 21st century journalism we need.


His website would:

Produce an ongoing record of the activities of the foundations and private donors trying to affect education policy. The political and lobbying efforts of the teachers’ unions and their allies would be included as well, showing how much money and influence they are able to mobilize in elections and for what candidates.


In the first of two articles, Massing describes Paul Singer, the CEO of the hedge fund Elliott Management as an example of “the ability of today’s ultrarich to amass tremendous power while remaining out of the limelight.” Singer is not merely a key funder of the blood-in-the-eye, anti-union StudentsFirst NY, but also the test, sort, reward and punish policies pushed by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and other corporate school reformers. The billionaire is the single largest donor to the Republican Party; a backer of Marco Rubio and many Tea Party candidates; a funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked John Kerry’s war record; a donor to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the anti-tax group, Club for Growth; and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “which has worked tirelessly to isolate and sanction Iran.”
To illustrate the secretive and far-reaching influence of the One Percent, Massing draws upon the Washington Park Project, and Kahn’s and Teachout’s “Corruption in Education: Hedge Funds and the Takeover of New York’s Schools.” 


They offered:

An eye-opening look at the large sums being spent by what it called “a tiny group of powerful hedge fund executives” seeking to “take over education policy” in the state. This “lightning war on public education,” they wrote, was “hasty and secretive” and “driven by unaccountable private individuals. It represents a new form of political power, and therefore requires a new kind of political oversight.”

Massing then praises the online Hechinger Report and Diane Ravitch who have sharply analyzed the record of the Billionaires Boy’s Club and education reform movement. He explains the need to further document the activities of the Gates, Broad, and Walton foundations, as well as analyze their real world effects on schools.

Yes, America needs websites for examining the structure of money and influence on all of our institutions. Ravitch and her contributors, commenters, and readers should all feel proud of our bottom-up efforts. Massing is correct; our nation needs to produce Diane Ravitchs to lead similar grassroots efforts in health, finance, economics, and politics. I bet it will happen.