The Center for American Progress is considered by the media to be the voice of the Democratic establishment, or at least the Obama-Clinton center of the party. Referred to as CAP, it is resolutely pro-charter school, pro-testing, and anti-voucher (if it were not anti-voucher, its education agenda would be identical to the DeVos agenda).

So who are the experts who speak for the Democratic mainstream?

Our reader Laura Chapman is a dogged and diligent researcher. She studied the CAP website and posted the following review of the members of the CAP staff who write about K-12 education. It is interesting to see overlaps with Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence (which is stridently pro-voucher), the unaccredited Broad Residency (which advocates for closing public schools and replacing them with charters) and other decided not-progressive connections.

She writes here:

In April 2019, CAP had seven “experts” for K-12 education, several more for preschool and postsecondary education. I have looked at the bios of the K-12 experts and read some of their recent articles at the CAP website. Some artiles have appeared in Forbes, US News and World Report, The Hill, Hechinger Report, and The 74 (Walton funded blog). Who are these CAP experts? What do they say?

Neil Campbell, Director of Innovation for K-12 Education Policy. Former Director, Next Generation program for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education with policy oversight for personalized learning, course access, funding, and student data privacy. Obama’s USDE Chief of staff, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development; former Director of Strategic Initiatives for tech-based learning at Education Elements.com; work at The Boston Consulting Group. Education: Bachelor economics, political science, Case Western Reserve University; MBA, Vanderbilt University; The Broad Residency in Education. Teaching Experience: Not found.

Sample of writing for CAP: Excerpt from “Teacher Strikes, Charter Schools and Unions, February 26, 2019. “It’s unfortunate that questions about charter schools are diverting attention from the core message of these teacher protests: the need to invest in our schools, teachers and students. Instead of focusing on division, it would be powerful for teachers, unions and charter supporters to advocate together for greater investments in public education across the board. Every student deserves a building, supports and supplies needed to succeed, and every teacher — in traditional or charter schools — deserves to be treated and paid like a professional.”

Excerpt from “Policy Ideas to Improve Private School Voucher Programs,” November 19, 2018. “The Center for American Progress believes that public money should fund public schools, whether they are neighborhood schools, magnet or specialty programs in traditional school districts, or public charter schools that are open to all students and accountable to the public.”

Excerpt from “The Progressive Case for Charter Schools, With a Correction,” October 24, 2017.“Despite recent evidence suggesting that many public charter schools are improving outcomes for students—especially for low-income students of color—broad support for charter schools may be waning. According to one recent poll (Education Next, 2017) support for charter schools among self-described Democrats has fallen over the past year. This decrease in progressive support may be due to a skewed representation of charter schools in the media as well as a conflation of charter schools with ineffective private school vouchers—such as those Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration champion. However, to simply devalue all charter schools is unreasonable. The highest-quality charters exemplify progressive values and practices, most notably through their foundational principle of providing low-income students of color with equal educational opportunity and access they may not otherwise have.” (Links are to Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First).

Khalilah M. Harris, Managing Director for K-12 Education Policy. Former host and producer of Real News Network’s Baltimore Bureau; Founder, 2007, Baltimore City Freedom Academy, a charter school closed in 2013; Co-founder Baltimore Coalition of Black Leaders in Education. Active in EduColor movement; Former Deputy Director, Obama’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; Manager, Obama’s Diversity and Inclusion in Government Council. Education: Morgan State University; J.D. University of Maryland School of Law; Ed.D. University of Pennsylvania, 2018 Dissertation: “Chasing Equity: A Study on the Influence of Black Leaders on Federal Education Policy-making.” No CAP publications. Teaching: No K-12 Found.

Laura Jiménez, Director of Standards and Accountability. Former Director, College and Career Readiness and Success at the American Institutes for Research (AIR); former Director, American Youth Policy Center. Manager, National Youth Employment Coalition (a three-year pilot funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Nellie Mae Foundations); UCLA Minority Training Program in Cancer Control Research. Obama’s USDE, former special assistant on Every Student Succeeds Act “flexibility,” college and career readiness, special populations (American Indian/Alaska Native and English language learners). Education: BA English, UCLA; Master’s Social Welfare, University of California; Berkeley. Teaching (?): Peace Corps, Community Education volunteer.

Sample of writing for CAP: “Furthering the College and Career Readiness of the District of Columbia’s Students” for the Council of the District of Columbia on Education Reform.” May 2018. Her written testimony argues for all high school students to take ”four years of English; three years of math, up to Algebra II; three years of social studies, including U.S. and world history; three years of lab science, including biology, chemistry, and physics; and two years of the same foreign language” with an option in every high school of at least three courses in the same career pathway (e.g., hospitality, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She also endorsed these policies: Monitoring chronic absenteeism at every grade, investing in low cost interventions for absences (e.g., postcards to parents), monitoring at risk students in order to target wraparound supports. Frequent reference citations to Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign and The Education Trust.

Lisette Partelow, Senior Director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives. Prior positions: Senior Policy Analyst CAP, Director of Teacher Policy, CAP; Legislative Associate, Alliance for Excellent Education; Senior Legislative Assistant US House of Representatives; Research Assistant American Institutes for Research (AIR). Education: BA Psychology, Public Policy, Connecticut College; Masters in Public Affairs, Princeton University: Masters in Education, George Mason University. Teaching: Teach for America, first grade, two years, Washington, D.C.

Sample of writing for CAP: In August 2018, Partelow and research assistant Sarah Shapiro wrote about “Curriculum Reform in the Nation’s Largest School Districts.” The authors used the Gates-funded EdReports criteria for judging whether fourth-and eighth-grade math and ELA instructional materials were aligned with the Common Core. They also cite the Louisiana Department of Education’s system of rating instructional materials as exemplary for offering “a snapshot of the current status of the adoption of curriculum reform and instructional materials in the districts.” In fact, the rating criteria for Louisiana are nearly identical to EdReports.

Scott Sargrad, Vice President, K-12 Education Strategic Initiatives. Prior positions: VP for K-12 Policy CAP; Managing Director, Education Policy CAP; Director for Standards and Accountability, CAP. Obama’s USDE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives: Senior Policy Advisor, Presidential Management Fellow. Intern, Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped Hanoi, Vietnam. Education: BA Mathematics, Philosophy, Haverford College; Ed.M. Education and Management, Harvard Graduate School of Education.Teaching: Math and Cross-Country Track Coach, Queen Anne School (private), Upper Marlboro MD; Special education instructional assistant Harriton High School, Rosemont, PA.

Sample of writing for CAP: August 9 2018. “Are High School Diplomas Really a Ticket to College and Work? An Audit of State High School Graduation Requirements”(co-authored with Laura Jimenez) argues for more rigorous standards and courses for high school graduation suitable for “college AND career.” The term “audit” refers to three levels of quality ratings assigned to high school curricula in each state, based on perfect alignment with the specific courses that public colleges in each state seek for admission. No state received the highest rating. The report has other ratings for career and technical education (CTE) and a well-rounded education (e.g., life skills courses, financial literacy, online learning, business and communications, civic engagement). The authors say: “One promising approach to address the alignment and quality concerns is competency-based graduation requirements.” This report recycles ideas from the Education Trust (HS transcript data up to 2013), old data on course availability from the Civil Rights Data Project (2014), among other sources. In Appendix A, there are no active links to 137 of the 238 sources of data. https://c0arw235.caspio.com/dp/b7f930000e16e10a822c47b3baa2

Cynthia G. Brown, Senior Fellow, former Vice President for Education Policy at CAP; former Director “Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future National Task Force on Public Education,” a joint initiative (2004) of CAP and the Institute for America’s Future. Thirty-five years of work in education, many as an independent consultant. Former Director of the Resource Center on Educational Equity, Council of Chief State School Officers. First Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in USDE (1980 appointment, President Carter). Principal deputy, Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office for Civil Rights. Other work for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Children’s Defense Fund. Current: Board of Directors of the American Youth Policy Forum; Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School, District of Columbia. Education: BA, Oberlin College: MPA Syracuse University. Teaching: None found. No CAP publications listed since 2013.

Catherine Brown. In February 2019, CAP replaced Catherine Brown as Vice President for K-12 Education Policy. Brown was “transitioned to a Senior Fellow role at the Center.” As of April 26, 2019 Catherine Brown did not appear on CAP’s website as a Senior Fellow or on the roster for CAP Action. Her LinkedIn bio affirms her recent move to Senior Fellow at CAP.

Brown joined CAP in 2014 after serving as vice president of policy, Teach for America. She directed Teach for America’s Early Childhood Initiative, and successfully lobbied USDE for a $50 million Investing in Innovation grant for TFA. Brown is a longtime insider on Capitol Hill. She was the senior education policy advisor for George Miller chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor offering recommendations on standards, assessments, and charter schools among other issues. Brown was the “domestic policy advisor” for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and legislative assistant for Senator Clinton on major initiatives (e.g., preschool, college affordability, job training). Brown also served as an organizer for Democrats in Montana and as a research assistant, Mathematica Policy Research. Education: Smith College, Master in public policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Teaching experience: None Found.

Writing for CAP. Catherine Brown was a co-author of the“The Progressive Case for Charter Schools,” October, 2017, which was posted on this blog recently. 

Brown’s July 2018 article in Forbes “Proposing A $10,000 Raise For Teachers” highlights a CAP proposal for a federal tax credit for teachers in high poverty schools. Brown developed that idea, reported in detail at. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2018/07/13/453102/give-teachers-10000-raise/

Brown was recently credited as “consulting” with presidential candidate Kamala Harris on a similar proposal. Harris has proposed matching teacher salaries with federal funds. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/reformers-and-unions-love-harriss-teacher-pay-plan.html#comments

Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow, Founding director, CAP’s Science of Learning initiative. Founder, The Learning Agency.com. Book: “Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything” (2017); also “The Leap: The Science of Trust and Why It Matters,” (2014). Book publicity in Wired, Slate, Vox, Fast Company, The Atlantic, USA Today. Former advisor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Articles in U.S. News and World Report, Education Week, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, The Washington Post. Education: BA, Dartmouth College, with honors. Teaching: None Found.

Sample of writing for CAP: “How to Match Students With Schools They Choose,” November 13, 2018. (This reflects an uncritical acceptance of school choice and explains one app enrollment) [Editor’s note:. Boser write a strongly critical article about vouchers, but has never written critically about charters. CAP seems to have a party line that protects the legacy of Race to the Top.] 

“Homework and Higher Standards: How Homework Stacks Up to the Common Core,” February 13, 2019. Study based on 187 examples of homework submitted by parents and an opinion survey from 372 parents about that homework. Key findings: Homework is largely aligned to the Common Core standards but often focused on low-level skills that fail to challenge students (especially in primary grades). CAP recommendations for states, districts, and schools: Focus on homework that requires practice of rigorous grade-level content aligned with the Common Core, and/or provide access to Khan Academy’s online homework aligned to Common Core.

Current CAP Experts in K-12 Education strike me as short of teaching experience in classrooms. Recent articles show they are supporters of charter schools, treat the Gates-funded Common Core as if exemplary and look forward to instructional delivery by computers (mislabeled personalized learning). They are arrogant pushers of specific instructional materials and high school curricula, aided by the Gates-funded EdReports scheme. The Center for American Progress is no friend of public education.

CAP also has a news arm, Think Progress, a newletter supported by CAP’s Action Fund but represented as an “editorially independent project.” I wonder. The IRS 990 says: “The Action Fund makes communications to the general public commending or criticizing particular public policy positions taken by various candidates. … The newsletter is intended to “impact the national debate and transform progressive ideas into policy through rapid response communications, public education, grassroots organization and advocacy in partnership with American citizens, executive and legislative branch policymakers and progressive leaders throughout the country and the world.” The Newsletter has a new “Members-Only Commenting” feature available only “to our donors” with perks (e.g., shaping the content) for monthly rates at $5. or $15 or $35.

I looked a recent Think Progress Newsletters dealing with charter schools. I found seven. Of these, most are reports on federal budget and policies under Trump/Devos. The strangest had this headline: “Lawsuit claims that same-sex marriage leads to charter schools, and it may be right.” The author, Ian Millhiser, is a lawyer with expertise on Supreme Court cases. I could not find my way through the legal leaps connecting charter schools with same-sex marriage. The legal objective seemed to be that of establishing a federal law supporting educational choice, that to be justified by past Supreme Court rulings bearing on the 14th Amendment. The case was dismissed 02/20/2019. The law firm advancing this dubious cause also filed the Vergara v. California suit that dealt with a child’s right to instruction by “effective teachers.” That was overturned on appeal. https://thinkprogress.org/tag/charter-schools/

GENERATION PROGRESS is the youth activist and youth journalism arm of CAP. https://genprogress.org/our-issues/

WHO FUNDS CAP? Using the CAP website, I constructed a spreadsheet listing CAP donors for the last five years according to several tiers on money. I will report on some of the key donors later on.