June 29, 2024

Maurice Cunningham: Barr Foundation K-12 Interest Groups Throw Their Muscle (and Dollars) Around

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Maurice Cunningham, an expert in dark money in politics and education, shows how one group throws their weight around in Massachusetts. Reposted with permission. 

The Barr Foundation Family of K-12 Interest Groups had a heady two days with a story in the Barr funded Boston Globe touting a poll commissioned by the Barr funded Education Trust from the Barr funded MassInc Polling Group with remarks from Keri Rodrigues of the Barr funded National Parents Union and Lisa Lazare of Barr funded Educators for Excellence, presented at an event held by the Education Trust and moderated by the Globe reporter who wrote the story.

This is a post about politics, not education. The politics is that billionaire Amos Hostetter, benefactor of Barr and a donor of $2 million in dark money to the 2016 charters campaign, is using his money to shape the K-12 policy debate.

Here is a head shaker, from the Globe story:

The poll, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group between April 8 and May 2, found a combined 84 percent of parents believe schools definitely or probably should be required to use “evidence-based” reading curriculum, or teaching materials supported by a vast amount of scientific research. That research, often referred to as the “science of reading,” shows most students will need explicit instruction in phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension, to become successful readers.

And the poll indeed asks the question:

Do you think schools should be required to use evidence-based reading curriculum, which means curriculum materials that are proven to work in teaching students how to read, or not?

This is like asking should the Boston Pops play the 1812 Overture on July 4, or maybe go with a medley from Spinal Tap? If you are an interest paying for this poll you have to be pretty happy with this question.

The Globe makes it sound like a slam dunk (1812 Overture or Spinal Tap?). But actually, the “science of reading” research is unsettled and fluctuates over time.

There isn’t room in a poll or a news story to adequately explain what the terminology of “evidence based” or “science of reading” means to lay persons, so how can they give an informed opinion?

The poll, the story, and the event hosted by Education Trust on Tuesday serve the goal of advancing pending legislation expressing the K-12 policy preferences of interests funded by Barr and the Walton Family Foundation.

That’s the politics. It is agenda setting by the handful of us who can fund interest groups, commission polls, subsidize professional “parents” like Rodrigues or “educators” like Lazare, and even sponsor an event moderated by an employee of the paper of record.

Or as Anand Giridharadas puts it: “What wealthy people do is rig the discourse.”

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

I hope you read this far so I can offer a word of praise for the Globe. For the first time since 2022 the paper disclosed that Barr funds both part of the Globe’s K-12 coverage and one of the interests it reports upon: “The Education Trust … sponsored the poll with the support of the Barr Foundation. (The Barr Foundation also partly funds the Globe’s Great Divide education team.)” It’s a start.

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