John Podesta founder of the Center for American Progress meets with Bill Clinton in 2006 by The Hoya Online/Flickr
Over the past decade, the left-leaning Center for American Progress has become one of the most relentless voices for the corporate “education reform” movement. Although originally created as a left-leaning think tank to counterbalance groups like the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, in recent years the center has become indistinguishable from the ed reform voices on the right.
CAP’s preferred policies—on charter schools, high stakes testing, test-based teacher evaluation, TFA, and national college-and-career ready standards—are the same positions taken by right-leaning think tanks including the Thomas Fordham Institute. Even compared to groups like the Heritage Foundation or AEI, CAP is different only in its willingness to say the words “Common Core.” CAP has even partnered with AEI and the Chamber of Commerce on ed reform.
CAP was founded in 2003 by John Podesta, former Bill Clinton Chief of Staff, counselor to Barack Obama, and current Hillary Clinton campaign chairman. Podesta’s CAP is wide-reaching and deeply funded with plenty of Soros money, among other sources. CAP has united a diverse group of organizations including the two major teachers unions, TFA, and the union-hating Democrats for Education Reform under the banner TeachStrong.
- CAP has advocated for teacher merit pay. While they have pointed out that teachers don’t make enough, they advocate raising the pay for only some teachers, by linking teacher salaries to student results on the Big Standardized (“BS”) Tests.
- CAP has pushed for charter schools, arguing that students must be rescued from underfunded, resource-poor public schools and their terrible teachers. CAP stops short of calling for voucher systems, but rarely calls for improved funding, preferring the charter-choice alternative.
- CAP is a big fan of Teach for America as well, and has hired many TFA grads over the years, including Lisa Partelow, director of teacher policy, and Catherine Brown, vice-president of education policy. Both women are lauded as experts on education based on two years of experience in the classroom.
- CAP has advocated loudly for the use of the BS Tests, claiming that only by seeing standardized test results can students, teachers, and parents know how students are doing.
- Also, CAP has been absolutely tireless in its support of the Common Core, even after such stalwart supporters as Jeb Bush fell away. CAP has even taken time to scold some politicians for their apostasy on Common Core.
CAP, however, is not so diligent when it comes to the facts. Some of this has been simple embarrassing sloppiness, like the time the center trumpeted the news that teacher attrition was way down—complete with a photo of a TFA recruit who had already done her two years and left the classroom.
CAP has repeated the claim that the Core was written by teachers long after even hermits in caves knew that claim was false. The center’s website presents faux research with sloppy, unchecked “supports,” as well as bad polling results (many times). CAP even once made the claim that the Common Core would help girls close the achievement gap with boys—then bolstered that claim with research showing no such gap even exists. Most recently the center tried to promote Common Core with an unfunny, tone-deaf, parent-insulting Funny or Die clip.
CAP brings revolving door politics to education. CAP actually managed the Obama-Biden transition in 2008, and has since helped many pols move back and forth between public and private sectors. One example is Robert Gordon, who went from the Office of Management and Budget to the Brookings institute to the U.S. Department of Education, where he replaced Carmel Martin, who left the office to become a vice-president at CAP. Podesta protégé Jennifer Palmieri has served as a communications director for the White House, then moved to CAP, then back to the White House press shop (now she’s communications director with the Clinton campaign). Neera Tanden worked on getting Obamacare passed for the current administration, but now serves as CEO of CAP (from which perch she defended Huma Abedin). You see how this works, and so do others—some contributors have seen CAP as an avenue for shaping the policies of a Clinton White House.
It’s ironic that CAP, theoretically started to counterbalance the voices of the right, now merely echoes the right wing position on education. CAP may be most closely associated with Hillary Clinton, but there is not a molecule of its education policy with which Jeb Bush or John Kasich would disagree, nor is there a molecule that comes from consulting with actual educators. Like many reform groups, CAP leans not so much left or right as it does toward money and entrenched Beltway power. If it really is the next administration, we can look for more of what we’ve had under George Bush and Barack Obama.
That’s bad news for public education.
Peter Greene has been a classroom secondary English teacher for over thirty-five years. He lives and works in a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, blogs at Curmudgucation, and is Midwest Regional Progressive Education Fellow.