Thursday, February 03, 2011

Inside MinnCAN: Political intent, dissembling, and big payments to 50CAN

Hats off to the education deformers at MinnCAN. They're clever, well-funded and well-connected. With a staff of only three people in Minnesota they threaten to do more harm to public education than any of their older and bigger-staffed education deform peers. That and much more is evident in the new organization's original fund-raising prospectus from July of last year, which has been leaked to this website.

Clear political intent

For a non-profit, IRS 501(c)(3) organization MinnCAN's prospectus reveals a highly political organization. In fact, it seems the organization is really nothing but a political organization. It admits as much in the prospectus, where it says "MinnCAN doesn't build schools or train teachers," instead it is involved in creating "political will" and "the right political climate" to "reform education by changing state policy" "through both legislative and administrative action."

The first page of the prospectus says the group aims "to be in a position to secure significant policy victories starting in the 2011 legislative session."  MinnCAN may argue that it is operating within the letter of how tax laws regulating non-profits are enforced, but with its clear political intent it violates the spirit of those laws. Unsurprisingly, MinnCAN kicked off its Minnesota campaign at the state capitol.

Don't be fooled by how the first MinnCAN proposals don't seem as radical as its underlying agenda. The prospectus makes clear that for each legislative session they "set a precise education reform agenda, calibrated to the strength of our movement and the opportunities for change." In the Policy priorities section of the prospectus the underlying goals are articulated:
  • 1) Greater flexibility: i.e. Loosened teacher standards to allow Teach for America, and the elimination of teacher tenure.
  • 2) Greater accountability: i.e. Evaluate teachers based on students' performance.
  • 3) Choice; according to the prospectus, "School choice is one of 50CAN's core principles," i.e. they support "high-performing" charter schools. No word about the low performing ones.
The structure of MinnCAN reflects its twin goals of building "political will" and desire for "legislative and administrative action."  The organization's three employees are its executive director, government relations manager and a community relations manager.  The executive director is charged with "...leveraging the rich network of existing Minnesota education reform leaders and organizations to forge a united font..."

That "leveraging" is actually easier than you might think, given the list of organizations the prospectus lists as allies which includes the Center for School Change, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Conflating political success with policy success

Throughout the prospectus MinnCAN conflates political success - particularly that of ConnCAN - with policy success. Given MinnCAN's touting of its own rhetorical abilities this cannot be an accident.  This dissembling is de rigor for ConnCAN, MinnCAN and their supporters. For example, the Minneapolis Foundation ran a blurb touting ConnCAN's "Success in reducing the achievement gap in Connecticut," on its website advertising the Minnesota Meeting where the notion of MinnCAN was first introduced, even though the claim is obviously false.


Likewise MinnCAN is quick to distort facts and tell outright lies in its prospectus. For example, it states that "Minnesota's African-American and Hispanic children...have made zero progress over the past 10 years."  This is clearly false as demonstrated by the most respected national tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In math Black children in Minnesota in grade four scores have increased from 193 in 1992 to 222 in 2007.  In 2000 the scores averaged 208.  By grade eight Black scores increased from 236 in 1990 to 260 in 2007, showing steady gains over the period. While it's true there has been little gain in Black reading scores from 1992 to 2007, where scores increased from 189 to 198, there was a similar stagnation in white scores which grew to 231 from 223 for the period.  Black reading scores show more gains at grade eight - growing from 231 in 1998 to 245 in 2007.  That same period showed only a four point gain for white students.

So while Black reading scores showed only small gains (not "zero progress") in the NAEP tests, they matched white gains for the period. And in math tests Blacks made healthy, steady gains over the studied period. Even if the statistics cited by MinnCAN were true, which they are not, it in no way follows that the prescriptions offered would do anything to alleviate poor educational performance. It is much more likely, in fact, that MinnCAN's ideas will actually make things worse.

Forty percent of MinnCAN budget to be paid to 50CAN

One of the more interesting parts of the MinnCAN prospectus is its three year budget, which projects spending of over $4 million from September 2010 through September 2013. Of that total, roughly 40 % - $1.5 million would be paid to 50CAN, the umbrella deform organization spun out of ConnCAN. The prospectus describes how 50CAN will supply a "boot camp" for the new MinnCAN president, supply research for the new organization, and help setup the tools of a modern advocacy campaign such as social networking and policy advocacy software tools,  including "micro-targeting" and "e-advocacy" tools used to generate mass communications to legislators masked as individually generated.

In the prospectus MinnCAN talks about how ConnCAN employed "...a Wealth Engine-driven prospecting strategy" that facilitated "growing ties to national funders," including support from the Walton foundation for its Rhode Island project and positive comments from the educational program officer from the Gates foundation. The *CAN's role in the education deform movement, as made clear throughout the MinnCAN prospectus, is one of "professional advocacy," sporting the "savvy use of cutting edge communications vehicles" to "change state policy" around education.

In that sense the CANs represent the culmination of the education deformers' vertically integrated movement, which provides concentrated funding for research, schools, school management, alternative teacher training and advocacy,  media, and now government policy. It is an extraordinary feat seeing as how the deformers spend maybe one percent of all outlays for primary and secondary education, yet are managing to control policy over the spending of massive amounts of government money. The one percent is wagging the 99 percent. The fact that they are obviously politicking with tax-exempt money is emblematic of the movement's fundamental dishonesty and lack of ethics.

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