Christopher Lubienski, Frank Adamson & Tamasin Cave
On November 17, the Globalization and Education SIG hosted a webinar on educational privatization. The event was moderated by D. Brent Edwards Jr. and brought together three speakers: Christopher Lubienski (University of Illinois), Frank Adamson (Stanford University) and Tamasin Cave (SpinWatch).
Citation: Adamson, Frank, Cave, Tamasin, and Lubienski, Christopher webinar with D. Brent Edwards Jr., FreshEd, podcast audio, November 17, 2015. https://freshedpodcast.com/webinar-privatization/
D. Brent Edwards 0:55
Welcome, everyone, to this webinar put on today by the Globalization and Education Special Interest Group of the Comparative and International Education Society in coordination with the Global and International Education program at Drexel University. We’re excited today to bring this webinar to you that actually builds on a series of conversations that were recently published as podcasts in the FreshEd series, which is hosted by the co-chair for this SIG William Brehm. That podcast series, as many of you know, is available via SoundCloud, and iTunes, and a number of other streaming services. More information about that can be found on our website. We’re also excited to be putting on this webinar today, because it’s something we’ve been planning for a few months. And we think it will be of interest not only to the membership of this SIG but also more broadly to researchers and scholars thinking about trends in educational privatization around the world. But lastly, because we’re trying to build on a series of webinars that were produced in 2012 and 2013, also by this SIG. Those webinars were produced by the Center for Comparative Education at Loyola University, and they have been archived. They can be found both through the website of that center at Loyola University, as well as through the website for this SIG. Now, today’s webinar, as I mentioned, will be focusing on theory and method in research on educational privatization around the world. We have three guests today who have been thinking about and looking at this issue for a number of years in their own research. First, we’ll have Professor Christopher Lubienski from the University of Illinois, and he will be talking about some of his research related to incentivist reforms in the United States and the role that philanthropies play in that. Then we have Frank Adamson, a researcher at Stanford University, who will be talking about some research and a book related to privatization in a number of countries around the world. And lastly, we will have Tamasin Cave, who works with SpinWatch, who’s a researcher, a scholar and an activist based in the UK, talking about the influence of lobbying on educational privatization there. The process: each presenter will speak for about five to seven minutes to give a brief overview of their main findings and their research projects. I will ask one question of the presenters, and then we will have at least one round of questions for them from those of you who are tuning in. With that said, I will turn it over to Chris Lubienski to kick things off. But before I do, for those of us who are tuning in, can you please be sure to mute your microphones. There’s an icon in the bottom left corner of your window through which you’re viewing this presentation. If you can mute the microphone so that there’s as little feedback as possible in the audio. So, thank you.
Chris Lubienski 4:24
Hi, Brent. I just lost your audio. So, I assume it’s my turn. Thank you, Brent, and also to Will for putting together this series. It’s been really a useful set of conversations. I’m glad to be here and talk about this today. So, I’ll be discussing a paper that’s coming out on the Australian Education Researcher, but I also want to say I’m also submitting my comments within another project on the global education industry. It’s a book coming out next month with Toni Verger and Gita Steiner-Khamsi, co-edited that which deals with a lot of these issues. So, my particular interest here is in what I’m calling an orchestrating of policy ideas, how different actors facilitate idea transfer through policy networks. And this fits in with what Frank’s been talking about in terms of some of these global changes we’re seeing in education policy. But also, I’m sure the comments from Tamasin as well, where this is often presented as an organic process but in fact, there’s a lot of advocacies behind it. And so, I’ll be looking at some of that advocacy in my comments here. One thing I want to say to start out is there’s questions about whether or not we’re looking at a privatization movement. I know that’s reflected in the title here. I would say that that’s debatable about whether or not this is a classic example of privatization. What we are certainly seeing is marketization in education. There’s certainly instances where private managers are taking over schools. And you can see that, for example, in Sweden, or Chile or some of the low-fee schools in developing countries. But for the most part, we’re not seeing the transfer of public or state schools to private ownership as you had seen with other privatization movements. For example, with telecom and public utilities.
In a way, this is a distinction without a difference because we’re still seeing marketization around schools. We’re seeing public or state schools being put into marketized environments where they’re asked to act like private businesses. And we’re seeing this in terms of choice, competition and emphasis on deregulation. That said, and I’m going to talk about some organizations that are promoting those types of reforms. But that said, we are seeing privatization in two other critical areas. One being the good of education itself. Education is a public good but it’s being treated more and more as a private, individual consumer good. And most important for my interests here, we’re seeing privatization of public policy making around education. That is the act of making policy is being contracted out to private entities. So, the paper I focus on here has to do with philanthropies and think tanks. And I’ve worked on this with Jameson Brewer and Priya Goel La Londe and we were particularly interested in how this happens in the US, in this instance, and we looked at a couple of examples in terms of school vouchers, and also what’s called parent trigger laws here. And it’s being facilitated by new forms of philanthropy. We’ve had philanthropic interests in education for decades, of course. But now there’s quantitative and qualitatively different approaches to this philanthropy, moving away from more of a social obligation and more toward taking a venture capital or corporate model and applying that to how the money’s used. And you see this, for example, in the effective philanthropy movement. So, think-tanks play an important role in this. There are significant nodes within advocacy networks, and they bring a lot of legitimacy to the advocacy around certain ideas.
So, just to simplify, for the sake of illustration here, we can think of policymaking in terms of knowledge production, which is typically done by universities or think-tanks. And then intermediaries play a role here as knowledge brokers and they work with advocacy organizations or with the media to get those ideas, to get that knowledge, out there. Philanthropies have been facilitating that by promoting political support for key allies within this process towards knowledge users on policymakers, thought leaders, and public figures. And I think the philanthropists coming out of the corporate world, they see this as an investment. They don’t want to just throw money at a problem, they want to make sure that every step of the process is covered. And in doing this, one key factor we’re seeing is that public policy making, which had traditionally been done by democratically elected entities, is being farmed out to often nonprofit, but nonetheless, private entities that are making policy and setting the guidelines for how that’s implemented by other public bodies. These networks are orchestrated, or they’re shaped by philanthropies and think-tanks serve as the driving force. And this happens in the US on the state level, but also the national level. And I think it’s important to note that it’s a multi-tiered process. So, we looked at this particularly in terms of incentivist policies -policies, that incentivize individuals or organizations to pursue particular outcomes. And as I mentioned, we focused on parent trigger laws and vouchers. Most people know what school vouchers are. And parent trigger laws are a new wave of laws in the US that allow parents to basically opt their school out of local democratic control and often have it taken over by a private management company, often through charter schools. And think-tanks have played a key part in this. I’d say that, in a sense, you could call them thought-tanks because there’s usually not a lot of variety of thinking. It’s usually about one idea and that has to do with promoting market models. In our findings, they have less to do about producing evidence or new ideas and instead, they’re often serving as the chief strategist for moving these ideas forward through the policy making process. So, that kind of sums up what my comments are about. And I think it’s a good opportunity to pass it on to, I think, Frank.
Frank Adamson 10:13
Thank you, Chris. And thank you to Brent and Will for organizing the webinar. I actually have a PowerPoint that should be coming up in a second. There it is. So, we have a forthcoming book that should be coming out in March of 2016, edited by myself, my Swedish co-editor, Bjorn Astrand, and Linda Darling-Hammond, at Stanford. And we’re basically looking at six different countries. And the impetus of the book -can we go to the next slide- is in Chile, we saw a large social movement primarily centered on education in 2011 with huge numbers of students and families in the streets. And we’re asking ourselves: how did Chile arrive at the situation? And so, this book is really somewhat of a historical book, actually, because we looked back and saw that, in the 1970s, when Pinochet took over as a dictator of Chile, he began to enact privatization theories of Milton Friedman. And particularly in the sector of education, he started Friedman’s idea of a voucher system. And vouchers basically allow families to take state money and use it to pay for their children to go to any different school that they want. So, what’s happened in Chile is that there’s been a growth of different types of schools, a lot of private schools, and a lot of these parents end up topping up, to the extent that they can, on their children’s education outlay. So, they give $50 or $100, or $200 and that buys them a little bit better education. So, the end result of that is that it really decreases the opportunity for individual children, particularly at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. And it further stratifies the education system and society at large, leading to 30 years later, the protests that we just saw.
Conversely, when we look at Finland, you know, Finland, also in the 70’s, revamped their education system but they decided to do something quite different. They decided to focus on equity. And they were reorienting after sort of Soviet-era policies. And they decided that they wanted to have a focus on democracy and equity, as Chris was alluding to a bit in his podcast about the democratic nature of education as a public good. So, when we fast forward back to the current reality of what’s going on, the world is shocked in 2000 when Finland tops the charts in the international assessments because they weren’t really trying to be this high-achieving nation. They were focused on equity. But lo and behold, the results of that system over a generation or two have been quite substantial and quite systemic. They have stayed the test of time. The results are changing a little bit now, but Finland is performing quite high. So, then we thought, well, we have these two countries -Finland and Chile- which are on sort of the end of a spectrum but how do we get a little closer to examining methodologically what’s going on in these countries and comparing them to like situations? So, we looked at Finland and Sweden. And Sweden actually privatized their system in the 90’s. We look at the United States, which has been privatizing in various ways and United States is very decentralized. So, you can’t say something is totally happening in the country as a whole. But there have been pockets of privatization, is Chris just alluded to. And Canada, which has privatized, but then reinvested in a public way, in the Ontario School System in the early 2000’s. And then we have Chile, which is a Latin American privatization movement, and Cuba, which has pursued a public investment policy for quite a long time.
Just quickly, so when we talk about what’s happening, the larger theory of Pasi Sahlberg, who’s the author of the Finnish chapter in our book is this idea of the Global Education Reform Movement, with the acronym GERM which is not that positive, and I think it’s questionable what the GERM actually means but I’m using it in terms of the Global Education Reform Movement, these privatization policies that have produced the kind of protests that we saw in Chile where clearly the public is upset at the current state of education. And so, this chart shows that the GERM began in the 80’s in Chile, it manifested in different cases in the 90’s with the vouchers in the United States, Sweden became marketized -and this goes to Chris’ point that privatization is maybe not the right term. There’s privatization, there’s marketization but the distinction is without a real difference. It’s still a privatization model. And then we have the corporate charter school movement in the United States. Well, in Finland, you have this non-GERM approach and then ironically, the PISA scores in the 2000’s gave them a bit of immunity from the business community trying to push the privatization model. Canada resisted the GERM because their voucher program was overturned in 2003. They had democratically elected a different government structure and they pursued a whole system reform model that has had positive results. And then Cuba has a bit of a GERM protection because they’ve had sanctions and a command economy that has prevented this GERM from entering their national education structure, although it remains to be seen what will happen after the opening of the Cuban economy.
And what we can see here is -there’s a lot of numbers here. But I just wanted to point out that the results do show that Finland is quite high on the top, that Sweden’s scores have dropped from 510, which is above the OECD mean to 478. The Canadian scores have stayed quite high, while the US scores are consistently below the OECD mean. And Chile has increased a little bit, but the four OECD countries do display in PISA over time, the results of these privatization Republican model. And finally, when we look at Latin America, because Cuba doesn’t participate in the PISA, you can see very clearly that Latin America is lightyears ahead of both the average and the whole continent that participates in the test but also significantly ahead of Chile, as well. So, we can see that these public investment results in the countries are producing higher outcomes. And I think the qualitative findings are that students are doing better, they’re happier, they’re more productive than the stratified systems that are leading to protests and movements against the profit-making and dilution of the public good of education in the countries that are pursuing privatization models. So, with that, I think I’m going to pass it off to Tamasin, thank you.
Tamasin Cave 18:02
Thank you, Frank. I’m going to come from a different perspective. I don’t generally write about education; I write about lobbying. So, I work for a group called SpinWatch, which is a small, not-for-profit company based in the UK and we look at the public relations industry and the commercial lobbying industry, mainly in the UK, but sometimes in Brussels as well. And the way that I got into this is I wrote a book about lobbying and a chapter in it is a case study looking at lobbying by the educational reform industry, mainly in the States and in the UK. And for the past nine months, I’ve been continuing that research. So, by way of saying, I’m not an education expert, but I know a bit about lobbying. And so, what we do is we write about how lobbyists work and the tools and tactics that they use. And Chris alluded to this, that it’s not something that organically just magically happens, it’s like building a bridge. You know, you build influence with a set of tools, people, money, skills, and that’s the way that you get influence. Which is not to say that actually when it comes to the education reform industry, particularly in the US and the UK -I’ll talk about it in the context of the UK- there’s not a lot of persuading that needs to be done. Sometimes you think of lobbyists as kind of parasitic to a system. They’re on the outside and they’re lobbying in. But in the case of the education reformers in the UK, they are very much as one with the government and they are helping them to forward a particular agenda. So, it’s interesting to not see them on the outside, they’re very much kind of insiders.
So, just very briefly, skimming through some of the techniques that I set out in the chapter and that I’ve been looking at in relation to this, I think it’s important, first of all, to think like a lobbyist. In terms of research, how do I go about trying to find out what these particular industries are up to? And it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at the tobacco industry, or the healthcare industry, or the education industry, or whatever, fracking is a big thing that we’re having at the moment in this country. You’ve got to think like a lobbyist. They want to get a certain policy outcome, how are they going to do it? Now it may be that actually to sit down and have a quiet word over dinner with the Minister is the best way of getting particular policy outcome. But it may be that they have to launch, on the opposite end of the scale, a full-on PR campaign because public opinion is set against them. So, you need to kind of think how a lobbyist thinks. So, just sketching through some of their techniques and tactics quickly. One of the key things anybody who’s looked at GERM, I’m going to use that shorthand again, is well aware of the narratives that have been crafted. So, the messaging and the narratives in order to sell this proposition both to politicians but mainly to the public. And then a lot of effort has gone into creating the right narrative. And what you do is, you don’t tell your story, you start with where the audience is, and then you tell a story that fits how they think about education and their concerns and their worries. And you drill into their fears or their hopes. So, there’s been many narratives. A big one that I’m noticing in the States at the moment about kids being college ready. In Australia, it was about the fact that kids love technology so, therefore, more technologies need to be used in the classroom. There’s a wide range of, kind of, narratives and messaging that’s being used. But they are all promoting very similar policies.
A key thing that lobbyists do is it enlists the support of the messengers. So, if you are a global education business, you don’t want to be the one that’s telling the public what the policy changes need to be. You need to get your messengers in place. And this is something that’s absolutely pioneered by the tobacco industry, which is the third-party technique. And Chris, you talk about think-tanks in this context, as messengers, and as policy actors. I would say that actually, a lot of the time, particularly in the UK, I don’t know so much in the US, but they don’t actually behave very differently from commercial lobbying agencies in that they are third party messengers. They provide access to politicians; they behave like commercial lobbyists. And I think it’s very difficult to see the distinction between the think-tank as commercial lobbyists. So, these third parties, they need to be credible messengers. So, it’s always good to get professionals, teachers, if you can get teachers for reform message out. Parent groups, they’re very good. We’re seeing lots of student voice campaigns. So, this is about getting students calling for reforms. So, you need a wide range of different messengers speaking to different audiences. Another thing that you’ll notice, and it’s not so much a technique, it’s something that’s just crafted, which is how to get yourself within these policy networks, some of which are very, very small and tight. And you see a lot of movement through so-called revolving door. So, these are very, very small networks with people who have known each other, who move in and out of policymaking and commercial lobbying and corporations. So, the revolving door is key.
Two things that I just want to mention, which often don’t get said in the context of commercial lobbying, we’re often thinking about them putting forward this kind of being proactive and putting a message out is what they do to stop alternative voices getting out there. So, they spend a lot of time -if you work in the PR industry, you most likely will spend half of your time keeping stories out of the press and making sure that alternative voices and alternative opinions don’t hit the mainstream. And the same goes for opposition groups. So, an awful lot of time is expended by lobbyists on dealing with opposition groups. You want to attack their credibility; you want to make them seem like extremists. So, there are lots and lots of strategy documents I’ve seen from commercial lobbyists in various industries, where it’s a classic divide and conquer strategy. You want to get the ones that you can’t deal with, the ones that you’re never going to be able to persuade, those opposition groups are unpersuadable, you want to isolate them and make them seem like extreme fringe participants that don’t need to be listened to. And then the more moderate NGOs and campaign groups you want to start a dialogue, hopefully constant dialogue, with them that never leads anywhere. And basically, persuade them into taking a more moderate position. But crucially, you want to divide your opposition groups. So, yeah, I think those two things: keeping stories out of the press and attacking opposition groups are both important to remember in the context of the education reform movement.
Certainly just, I’ll finish on this, it’s been notable here in the UK that we’ve had very similar reforms happen to our health service as are happening in education. So, equally radical reforms. But whereas what was happening to our national health service was a topic of massive public debate. And the government expended a lot of political capital on it. They were incredibly unpopular people on the streets. Column mentions in the papers. There was a raging debate, so much so that they had to pause the legislation. And in education it’s been the entirely opposite thing. There has been very, very little debate, apart from very well-crafted debates about changes, minor changes, to our history curriculum, which may be important, but they are not the central issue. And so there has been a very, very carefully managed reform process in the UK, which I think is important to unpick. And I suspect, we see it elsewhere around the world, that kind of very, very close tight management and I’ll finish there.
D. Brent Edwards 26:50
Thank you. I want to thank each of the three presenters for the succinct but also very interesting opening comments. I just had one question that I wanted to throw out there. The viewers today and the viewers who will be watching the archive -many of us are engaged in research ourselves around trends in educational privatization. And so along with that comes challenges around theory and method. And so, I was wondering if each of you could comment briefly on -whether you’re doing comparative case studies in Frank’s case, or researching lobbyist networks or philanthropist organizations- what maybe theoretical tools did you grab for? Maybe there are relevant theories or frameworks that you could mention that our readers could follow up on and look into if relevant for them. Or if you could mention, perhaps some of the challenges associated with engaging in these kinds of research, particularly because I think when we read published research, some of the more difficult aspects may not be highlighted in the technical language of methods sections in published research. So, I just wanted to throw that out there before we open it up for a round of questions from the reviewers. Thank you. Sure, of course. Of course, it is a very big topic, you know, theory and method. But whatever comments come to mind as being the most salient for today would be appreciated.
Tamasin Cave 28:40
I think maybe one of the academics should start. I’m going to mute myself.
Frank Adamson 28:47
I’ll go ahead and jump in. So, in the case of writing the book, one big challenge is how do you know what’s going on in these different countries? And one of the ways that we dealt with it was to -all the cases but Cuba- get a person from a particular country to write the case study. So, they applied a lot of different research perspectives within their own chapters. We have a very heavily empirical chapter on Cuba from Martin Carnoy. And we have a lot more sort of qualitative work on Sweden and a lot of policy description in Canada and the United States. And I think when you’re telling these large stories about what’s happened overtime in a country, which is very important to understand the trajectory, it is important to bring in as much evidence as possible while also maintaining a narrative thread. So, we didn’t do primary research in this particular case, but each author brought to bear their own research and expertise. And I will say, in the case, the United States chapter in which I’m a co-author, I did a lot of research in the last couple of years on New Orleans, and we just published a report there. And that was sort of a microcosm of the difficulties that are being faced in other places in terms of access to information. The State of Louisiana was not very forthcoming with data about what was happening in either the state or the local level of New Orleans. And that is a huge transparency problem in terms of the public knowing what the effects of these reforms are. And I guess I’ll finish by saying that the reforms themselves, or privatization, we looked back at the roots of that move in Milton Friedman, we looked even going further back into Hayek. So, understanding the historical trajectory and the marriage of the economics of the situation with the education system, and how they are related and nested in each other. And as academics, we like to be very precise and empirical but at the same time, you can’t lose the bigger picture of how these different sectors influence each other. And so, what we’ve tried to do is bring those together as much as possible.
D. Brent Edwards 31:29
If I could ask one quick, follow up question. In the case where the State Department of Education in Louisiana was not very forthcoming with information, what did you do? What did your team do?
Frank Adamson 31:43
We submitted multiple requests, we FOIA’d information. There was actually a lawsuit by another organization that’s doing research that was ongoing for years. And that was decided in for receiving the information. And you have to also remember that after Katrina, New Orleans is sort of a special situation because there were incredible holes in data. But I do think that all of the data was not shared with the different organizations equally. And this does go back to the politics in play because certain organizations did receive those data and have been able to publish more thoroughly and their results are not necessarily even verifiable. And the peer-review process is critical for us to be making local and certainly national decisions about whether we’re going to pursue an entire charter system as been constructed in New Orleans, that’s now being called a portfolio district or portfolio model, even ramped up at the state level.
D. Brent Edwards 32:54
Thanks. Chris, would you like to go next?
Chris Lubienski 32:56
Yeah. And that’s actually a great segue. This paper I’m discussing here is kind of an offshoot from a larger project I’ve been working on with Liz DeBray, at Georgia and Janelle Scott at Berkeley and we’ve been looking at these policy networks, including in New Orleans. So, I would really echo a lot of what Frank just said. And it actually fits in quite nicely with my thesis here: is that this privatization of policymaking and what we saw in New Orleans is that the people that were really promoting this all-charter school model also had a kind of a proprietary sense towards the data as well. They wanted to make sure that their agenda was being shepherded through the policymaking process. And partly, that means protecting who gets access to which of those data and who doesn’t. This particular paper, it’s part of a mixed methods project. So, we’ve been doing hundreds of interviews with policymakers and advocacy groups. And we’ve been using network analysis approaches. So, a good example would be bibliometrics -if you’re not familiar with that, where you can kind of map the networks and see how ideas go through these networks. So, in this particular case, around the examples I discussed earlier, it would be things like looking at websites, tax forms that are available on annual reports to see which groups are funding other ones. And then based on that we really wanted to theorize the roles of different actors within those networks. So, that’s pretty much it.
D. Brent Edwards 34:31
Tamasin Cave 34:34
I have a few things to add to that. It comes back to my point about thinking like a lobbyist. I spend a lot of my time hanging out with lobbyists and reading what lobbyists read. I don’t really read what NGOs write, I invest in magazines and hang out at conferences with the education reformers, which I think is useful. I’ll just add to it -again, I’m using my experience of the UK because I spent two years looking at the reforms that were happening in the NHS and the role of the private sector actors within those reforms. And I did a lot of FOI’ing and went to a lot of events, and we actually got a hell of a lot of information through FOI. It was department of health, it was a new government. And we just, we blitzed them, and we got so much information out which led to a number of stories. And there was a sense that they were kind of caught talking about things that they weren’t ready to make public. You know, there was one kind of typical quote from a very senior policy maker, who then moved over to KPMG, who was very happy telling a group of investors that the NHS will be shown no mercy. Now, to the British people, this was just incredible. But lessons have been learned by the education industry. So, when you go to these conferences now, they are very guarded, they’re very careful, they couch it in very different terms. It’s not about profit making -or it’s very seldom explicitly about profit making, which contrasts very much with some of the investor bulletins and stuff that we were reading about private healthcare companies a couple of years ago. So, I don’t know if I’ve rather spoiled it, or it’s been spoiled in that we kind of had a big hit on the NHS reforms. We actually didn’t stop. They still went through. But in terms of what the information we’re getting now out of the Department for Education and the way that the industry talks about it is markedly different -so, harder.
D. Brent Edwards 36:56
And just quickly, you mentioned FOI requests, can you say what that is?
Tamasin Cave 37:00
Freedom of Information requests, which actually, unfortunately, in the UK, we’re having a review of our Freedom of Information Law, which means a scaling back of it, which is a very worrying trend.
D. Brent Edwards 37:15
Okay, thanks. Now I see we have a number of people tuning in. At this point, we would like to solicit a couple of questions. You can either type them in the chat box, or you can unmute yourself and feel free to introduce yourself and to ask a question. And we will wait a second, as folks might be trying to figure out the technology. In the meantime, Tamasin, I was going to ask a quick follow up question just about access. I mean, do people recognize you now? Are they less likely to speak with you? Or even when you go to these conferences, for example, how do you go about trying to gain access to some of these investors or reformers? And what challenges do you face around that?
Tamasin Cave 38:25
You can buy a ticket. I mean, if you’re funded, you can buy a ticket to go to some of these things. I won’t flatter myself. I’m certainly not known. If you take it outside of me and about my research -this isn’t about me. But if you look at some of the work that’s been done, some of which we’ve done, on how other industries have dealt with opposition groups, and that includes, I suppose I’d be a citizen blogger, which are an enormous annoyance to corporations. But if you look at the way that they talk about dealing with opposition groups, there was a guy that I listened to a couple of years ago who was the kind of reputation management guy in the UK office of Edelman, which is the largest independent PR lobbying firm in the world. And he was talking about the kind of monitoring systems that they have for activist groups, citizen journalists, NGOs, and the very sophisticated tools that they now have, which is monitoring social media sites, websites, blogs, and the like. Basically, if you badmouth a corporation in 140 characters, they’re going to find it. I mean, it’s part of the service. It’s a part of what lobbyists and PR people do because it’s about, like I said, keeping a lid on any bad press or any reputational issues. And then they will monitor -I remember him saying, they’re always looking for the influential one. It’s not necessarily the noisy one, they’re looking for the influential one. They’re looking for the person who is the source of the information, who is then spreading it out through social networks and the like. And then they have means of dealing with people, whether it’s the nuclear option, which is legal threats, or just a rebuttal kind of campaign, telling them when they’re wrong and the like. I mean, I wouldn’t underestimate the sophisticated nature if you are threatening a multi-million, multi-billion-pound corporation and there’s a reputational risk and they take these things seriously. Very seriously.
D. Brent Edwards 40:55
Thank you. I appreciate that. Now, can we solicit a question from one of the viewers, I see you, Ralph Rogers, or JJ, Steve Klees?
Steve Klees 41:12
I’ll ask Frank, one. Can you hear me?
Frank Adamson 41:15
Steve Klees 41:20
I enjoyed the webinar very much. And I’m very sympathetic and agree with all of you. My question for Frank is, they teach us from the beginning that correlation is not causation. And I’ve criticized the Bank and GP for doing similar things to what I thought you might be doing in the book is equating correlation with causation. So, there’s a lot of differences between the privatization countries and the ones that are not GERM specific, other than privatization. And you seem to want to attribute the higher test scores of Cuba, Finland, and Canada to their not being as privatized. And isn’t that pushing the empirics too far?
Frank Adamson 42:23
I think that you are -it’s a point well-taken. And I don’t necessarily have a way to do a 40-year randomized field trial of Chile and not Chile. So, I think at a certain level, the book is designed to call attention to these issues. And the book actually aggregates research within the different countries at different levels. The different authors have different levels of expertise. So, you’re going to find actually very different research methodologies within the different chapters that are talking about what’s going on in those countries. And then the claims aggregated into the book level show what I think would be a correlation but not causation. I also think that we need to really acknowledge the public. First of all, education is a public good. And secondly, the voice of the public that’s really cropping up -certainly in Chile. I can’t imagine 100,000 people or more than that in the streets about education in the United States. That’s a very serious move. And so, I think, if we want to avoid that situation, I mean, first of all. Second of all, if we wanted to provide a high-quality equitable education system for students in the United States, and in other countries, I think we need to look at the countries that are being successful. And when you look at PISA scores, you’re not the only metric of success. So, I don’t want to be narrow on the outcomes side either. But we are using the tools that are available and to the best way possible. And I think the individual stories of the countries, while not certainly causation-based, are compelling.
Steve Klees 44:31
Tamasin Cave 44:36
I have a question. Can I ask a question?
D. Brent Edwards 44:40
Yes. Tamasin, go ahead. And then after that I see one question in the chat box.
Tamasin Cave 44:45
I’ll wait. Ask that one first.
D. Brent Edwards 44:50
All right. So, Ralph Rogers has asked for each of the panelists: based on your research, what are the next steps for research, policy, and practice?
Chris Lubienski 45:02
I can address that. I mean, certainly, as researchers, we’re going to keep looking at these issues that we think are of interest. But I think that the comments from the other two panelists from both Frank and Tamasin speak to some of the wider implications that really need to be considered. Frank, pointing to the protests in Chile, and I think Tamasin, in her podcast, talked about the notable lack of a public dialogue around some of these issues. I think in the US, the closest we’ve really come to any kind of debate about this has been the Common Core, where you have people on the far left and the far right that have been agitating over it. They’re pretty upset about it, but it’s been about that specific issue rather than about the process by which that issue was implemented. And so, I do think the next steps that we need to facilitate as researchers is to encourage a fruitful public discussion about what we want in terms of the policymaking. Should it be democratically based? Should we be looking to experts or to influential figures like Bill Gates? What do we want from policymaking? And I think that would dictate our way of approaching some of the policies that are under consideration right now.
Frank Adamson 46:16
I’ll jump in next. So, I think at one level, there’s an awareness raising that needs to happen. I talked to a lot of people about what’s going on in New Orleans in particular, which is research that we’ve done in the past couple of years. And people really aren’t aware of the amount of stratification that’s happening in the system. And they’re not aware that the top-tier school has predominantly white students is one of the best schools in the state of New Orleans. And then you can go down the street and the bottom-tier school is run by a company that runs correctional facilities in other states. That’s quite a spread, a spectrum of management in terms of a particular city. We’re not talking about even state level. So, people are really interested in understanding what is happening in those different environments and those different contexts within the same city, and particularly when it’s being proposed as a model to be increased in a lot of different states. And I will say also, methodologically, those findings we did do a lot of research on. For Steve, you can’t say anything is causal because we didn’t do an RCT, but we did a lot of talking to a lot of people. And we used the data that we did have available. And of course, the data were not readily made available to everybody. So, there is that issue. And that kind of goes back to Tamasin’s point about who is controlling the access? How are the political actors involved? Whose interests are being served, in which case? And that for me, again, circles back to the need for awareness raising because I think we need to have this conversation that Chris alluded to.
D. Brent Edwards 48:18
If I could jump in here, I think an interesting connection. I mean, we started the conversation about next steps and public awareness and democratic involvement and what do we want from our policymaking processes. But at the same time, thinking back to your report with CREDO for New Orleans and Chris’ podcast, where he talks about not grass roots, but grass tops, kind of activity where folks from outside the community come in and recruit signatures for new charter schools. I mean, there’s this issue of public interest and public awareness. But as you found in New Orleans, Frank, people will defend oftentimes failing charter schools or charter schools that are not performing as well as other schools. And so, I think it’s also an issue to look more into. And I’m not sure that I have an answer, but I would welcome any comments the three of you might have on, what do you do when on one hand, you want public involvement and public interests but what if you as a researcher, or as a public policy maker believes that the public doesn’t know better?
Frank Adamson 49:37
I’m going to just jump in here really quick. Sorry. On the New Orleans piece, the whole premise of the book is that we’ve found that public investment actually does help these countries. And what I think is going on in New Orleans is they’ve taken a model that has not worked over the last 10 years. And people have seen, in the United States, that there is a dramatic need in urban areas in the United States for improvement. And I think the implication of the book is that this model hasn’t worked in the last 10 years, the public investment model -public decision making, democratic approach to education- has worked in other countries. And it really honestly hasn’t been tried in urban America writ large. And so that is an implication, I would say.
Chris Lubienski 50:41
Yeah, and if I could jump in, I would really love to hear Tamasin’s response to the question. Because I think as researchers, there are certain things we can do like setting up the juxtapositions that Frank’s talking about. We can focus some analytical skills on certain issues we think are under studied, for example. But then these go through these long academic peer-review processes. And, you know, we’re not engaged in the Twitter conversation that’s happening in real time. So, I’m curious about what Tamasin would say, as far as, how is her work as far as shining a light. What are the long-term implications of that type of work? I’d be really curious to hear what she has to say.
Tamasin Cave 51:29
Yeah. I work really differently. Being a non-academic, I don’t publish except for through the press occasionally. That’s the aim, is to engage journalists in this conversation. And it’s not rocket science, what they want is something new. They want news. They need new narratives, they need new things to get excited about. And one of the problems is that -I mean, we have a new education bill going through at the moment, which is, I think akin to No Child Left Behind. And if you’re failing, you’re going to be forced, kind of privatization, whatever. And there’s actually nothing in the press about it. There’s very little debate about it. And it’s partly because it’s been going since Blair. So, it’s very difficult. One of the things -and this relates to the question that I wanted to ask, which is- one of the things that fascinates me at the moment is the whole technology side of things, and this is new. This is the entry of new players into education. And if you listen to some of the more extreme voices -not quite the Cato Institute. But if you listen to some of them, they see technology very much as a way of -if technology seeps into schools, you can get rid of the blog. It is a way of usurping, kind of, teacher control of education and whatever means of privatization. I find this a fascinating thing. And actually, when you go to these education investor conferences, this is where the buzz is. This is what’s new. This is the news, and particularly data-driven education I found fascinating. And it’s not like I’ve done a lot of research on it, but I’m fascinated by the fact that there isn’t any conversation about education data in the context of, for example, TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I mean, we’re having a conversation about the NHS database in this country but not education data. And which is interesting, because according to somebody in the States, we have a very gutsy approach to liberalization, which is, we don’t give a shit. Just give it to anybody. So, I think these are all new conversations that journalists are going to get excited about. And you can talk about the schools’ markets in this context, you can talk about accountability and testing in the context of data-driven education and things, but you can bring in other sort of slightly older conversations but within a slightly new framing. So, I think it’s about this newness.
Chris Lubienski 54:23
I can follow up on that. That’s really encouraging to hear. It’s so comforting to know that people like you are doing work that is just so critical and in tandem with what researchers are doing. I would say that the idea that was brought up earlier as far as grass tops, advocacy and grassroots. And another concept that we point to in the paper is the idea of pesticides. And I think of that, in terms of what Tamasin said as far as, a lot of the efforts of lobbyists are to kind of suppress any kind of alternative voices. And we’re definitely seeing that in the research around advocacy in the US and Frank mentions that happening to some extent in New Orleans -who gets access to the data, for example. So, that really points to, I think, some responsibility for researchers is to resist that kind of effort to apply pesticides to any kind of opposition or alternative voices that are resisting the reform agendas. You know, we need to say what the data is saying. And we need to make sure that our voices are heard in that debate, and not be crowded out by people that have pretty substantial media presence, have an army of public relations people working for them, and a lot of us have other things to do, in addition to our research. So, I think it puts a public responsibility on researchers in order to engage in these public dialogues as much as possible, and making sure that honest, objective treatment of the data is available in juxtaposition to what we’re seeing from some of these advocacy groups.
D. Brent Edwards 56:07
Tamasin Cave 56:08
Can I come back in there?
D. Brent Edwards 56:10
Yeah. I was wondering if you wanted to comment. And then you had mentioned before that you had a question. Maybe that question could be the last one to wrap up?
Tamasin Cave 56:18
I suppose, my question was: to what extent are they aware of people looking at this whole data agenda, and I suppose the involvement of some very large technology players in schools, and to what extent that is a concern. So, that was kind of my broad question. But related to that is -I mean, you’re talking about grass tops, we call them AstroTurf, you know, fake grass roots groups. What I’m certainly seeing with the ed tech movement is that they describe themselves building a social movement. So, social movement of innovation labs, and maker spaces, and it’s all very groovy. And there’s so little dissent, or questioning or anything but actually, it wouldn’t be too difficult. There is a real absence of any sort of questioning within those spaces. If you go to some of these events, it’s almost frowned on.
D. Brent Edwards 57:30
It’s more of a celebration.
Frank Adamson 57:32
I’ll jump in with a comment on that. And then a quick question that leads into that. So, I also have been in a lot of different rooms. I think we all have, where you can sit in the one room, whether it’s the activists that don’t want another test to ever cross the desk of a kid, and the Common Core is like satanic but. And then on the other end, you have these -I live in Silicon Valley, the venture capitalist -and not all of them but some of them- are seeing global $4.6 trillion signs ring in their heads. And so, I actually wanted to ask Chris, a little bit: have you looked at all at the sort of spectrum of actors and their motivations in terms of a pure profit-driven motivation by a tech company that wants to sell 800,000 of XYZ to a school district versus companies or actors that are really concerned primarily about providing low-income students with better education than they currently get? Because I agree, they’re not getting great education. Nobody is disputing that. The question is: how can we improve it? I’m wondering, have you looked at the kind of nuances between actors?
Chris Lubienski 59:03
Right, that’s a wonderful question. And I can say, based on our interview data and other data sources, I’ve limited insights into the motivations of a lot of these actors. I would say that I’m quite interested in how they’re using evidence and making their decisions. And yeah, there’s a lot that are seeing dollar signs as a profit motive. And they also see that as a good thing that if companies can make money teaching kids, then they should be allowed to do that, and it builds incentives into the system. I would suggest that some of the evidence on that is -look at the for-profit college scandals in the US, for example- some of the evidence suggests that that’s problematic. But I would also say there’s a lot of very well-intentioned philanthropists who are promoting these things because they want to have more equitable access, especially for disadvantaged children around the globe. But I’m concerned that the way they’re doing it comes from their corporate mindset. How they made money is how we should be running a nonprofit sector, a government sector like public education. They see that as appropriate and aren’t really aware of some of the problems of applying, kind of, corporate-style management to the nonprofit sector. And just a last-minute plug here, I mentioned we have a book coming out on the global education industry next month, and some of the chapters look at exactly that. Groups like Pearson that promote themselves as a socially responsible learning company. But you know, their impact as far as pursuing profit does have implications for equity. And I’d say that’s true with some of the other actors as well. That, again, they may be well-intentioned, but they have a very narrow perspective about how these things should be done that doesn’t take into account that there are sometimes detrimental impacts from these types of corporate management techniques applied to education.
D. Brent Edwards 1:00:59
I think now might be a good time to wrap up. I’m very happy. Not only that we were able to have you three with us here today. But also that we were able to generate some discussion with the viewers but also across the three presentations. I just also want to thank you for participating in the podcasts that led up to this. I want to announce for you all but also for those who are listening now and might be listening later that that podcast series will continue on FreshEd. There was a new podcast uploaded yesterday with Travis Jules on the Caribbean educational policy space. So, please tune in and stay tuned. We hope to be announcing in the coming months that there will be another webinar in the Spring semester. So, again, I just want to thank Frank, Tamasin, and Chris for their time. Very interesting research and discussion here today. So, thank you again. And with that, we can go ahead and wrap up and stop the recording.
The hour-long webinar can be viewed here: