by Phil Cullen
Some forms of lobbying are underground operations. A lobbyist can influence decisions of governments by targeting government advisors and legislators, without their target realising that the new contact has a special subterranean purpose.
Lobbying is big business in Australia. There are said to be over 4000 lobbyists working full time trying to influence the directions of public policy. There are 293 lobby companies on the official register http://lobbyists.pmc.gov.au/who_register.cfm as well as 600+ individual recognised lobbyists for hire, and part-time ‘in-house’ lobbyists attached to firms and companies. There are also ‘interest’ group members who represent groups and organisations with special needs. It is a big, big, busy, complicated industry. The way that it operates on the schooling industry in Australia is worthy of systematic empirical study.
When one speculates how educational innovations that have clearly failed in America could possibly be copied by Australian federal and state departments of education, there is small need to wonder too much how it all happened. One would be very naive to accept that vested interests have not been at work and that ‘someone’ close to a state or federal Minster has not been subterraneanously ‘worked over’.
Take charter schools. The value of these to publishing companies, school management consultants and school management firms is enormous. White Hat Management, which runs 33 schools in the US is the largest for-profit charter operator and ‘has been under fire for poor performance’. Apart from full-time lobbyists, it pays a few million dollars to political campaigns to maintain a presence in the money-making education industry. In spite of all the evidence provided about the usefulness of ‘charter’ schools or ‘private-public’ schools or what ever disguise is used, charter schools are part of the landscape in some states of Australia. The movement represents conquests by testing business lobbyists over good sense, and confirms the adage: ”If something fails in the USA, we copy it.”
It would be extremely naive to believe that Rupert Murdoch and his mega-test-publishing company and his off-sider Joel Klein did not establish the way that Australian schools are now run and manipulated. We are now in place, a large warehouse; part of his empire.
Sucker jurisdictions can be so easily manipulated and the fancies of their operatives’ belief-systems easily controlled, so that they believe that such gimmicks are for the ‘common good’. There has never been any push from any group of education professionals, over the past few decades, for schools to reform. Schooling as we know it, has its origins in New York and any proposed changes are US based and purely political. NAPLAN itself is an example.
The value of these chartered corporate out-stations to Murdoch and Pearson on the Australia scene is in quick access for their products. Red tape takes time and professionally-based government scrutiny can be slow. Underground lobbying then establishes itself within these ‘autonomous’ schools. They are part of the plan.
Performance pay for those who produce the better test results is another example of the subtleties of control over the maintenance of SBTs [Standardised Blanket Tests] in school settings.
Gene Glass, highly reputed world educator, says that he is seeing the fingerprints of education companies on public policy in ways that “would curl your hair”.
“The corporations just woke up a few years ago to the billions and billions of dollars that exist in public education, and they decided to go for it. The incredible thing is how easy it is.”
There is little doubt that the effects of lobbying in Australia have been profound. It has been a fertile field. How else can the so-called ‘reform’ movement be explained? Australian educators, not allowed to pursue original thoughts, are easy prey to the lobbying of the politically-aligned measuring and publishing and on-line providers. Their lobbyists are good at their job, even though they don’t have to be.
One of their methods is to create minor companies ‘with neat-sounding names’ that peddle educational goodies. There’s the ‘Foundation for Excellence in Education’, established by Jeb Bush that is connected to companies such as Amplify, Charter Schools USA, K12 Inc., McGraw-Hill Education, Microsoft, and Pearson Education. It was involved in writing legislation for Florida that meant a $250 million contract for Pearson Education.
Connection Education, now owned by Pearson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearson_Education employs folk who are part of ALEC, a task-force that writes legislation for state governments. There is a tendency for legislators to use such companies because they are unfamiliar with cutting-edge technologies and they know that IT is an emerging component of future modes of schooling. We will surely end up with something that has a profit-base.
An organisation called K-12 Inc is an enormous company with deep pockets http://www.pearsoned.com/press-room/. It has spent $6 million on federal lobbying. It has a partnership with Connections. Connections Education had 99 lobbyists on the payroll from 2002 to 2011. The K-12/ Connections partnership works with a number of volunteer organisations to support their legitimacy. Such companies have openly stated that they will “…protect their investment by influencing the process.”
The workings of lobby groups in Australia are complicated and obtuse; and are as ‘hair curling’ as they are in the USA. The maintenance of a Klein system of schooling is a tribute to lobbying operations. A launch-pad for further study of how lobbying is undertaken down-under is contained in this article supplied by Bruce Jones :
Bruce concludes : “We’ll wake up when it is too late I guess.”
Phil Cullen AM
41 Cominan avenue
Banora Point 2486
07 5524 6443