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Tony Bennett's Day of Reckoning Has Come: Is Corporate Reform Far Behind?

For months the question has hung in the air: When will the weight of deception bring the corporate reform project crashing down? For some, the day of reckoning has come already.

The emails of one of the nation's leading "Chiefs for Change," Tony Bennett, were simply too much this week. The former state superintendent from Indiana was found to have done backflips to prevent the favored charter school endowed by one of his big donors from receiving a C on the state's accountability system. One email stated: "If you can't tell, I am more than a little miffed about this. I hope we can come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past 6 months."

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But wiggle as he would, Mr. Bennett could not escape his lies and manipulations on behalf of the schools he favored. And this has revealed, at least in his case, that the "accountability" project he has championed was driven to produce results that would stigmatize public schools and promote charter schools. And when the numbers did not come out the way they wanted, the books were cooked.

Michelle Rhee cooked the books as well - or at least overlooked the cooking that was happening under her regime in Washington, DC. But her true day of reckoning has yet to come. John Merrow this week revealed that a well-written and carefully sourced column on the Michelle Rhee cheating scandal was rejected by four national newspapers. This is a man who has had no trouble getting columns published in the past. But he was told by one of the newspapers that Michelle Rhee is "not a national story." She, the woman who was featured in Waiting For Superman and NBC's Education Nation, not to mention the cover of Newsweek, as one of the country's leaders in calling for accountability. Her national organization, StudentsFirst raised $28 million last year and spent much of it supporting pro-corporate reform candidates around the country. But somehow, when she is caught covering up wholesale cheating under her watch, this is not news.

There is no shortage of other days of reckoning that are way overdue. In Chicago, the school board of millionaires appointed by Rahm Emanuel has awarded a $20 million no-bid contract for the training of principals to a company which employed school CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett until she began working for Chicago schools. Add this to the closure of fifty schools, and diversion of $33 million in public dollars towards a new basketball stadium, and there are some huge questions about that city's democratic processes and priorities.

This summer Teach For America has had its toughest challenges ever. While the organization continues to be showered with millions from corporate donors like the Walton family, alumni have become increasingly outspoken in their criticism of the paternalistic, anti-union approach the organization takes in its work. As Edushyster points out, Teach For America is actively undermining public schools by fueling the expansion of charter schools.

Earlier this year, investigator Michael Corwin in New Mexico found evidence of numerous actions by another of the "Chiefs for Change," Hanna Skandera. New Mexico law prohibits for-profit charters from receiving public funds. But Skandera engaged in extensive manipulation to ensure that K12 Inc, the nation's largest for-profit virtual charter chain, could be funded. This is in spite of the dismal outcomes these schools have produced. She remains in office, though she has yet to be officially confirmed.

Tony Bennett's day of reckoning came because of the willingness of Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco to dig into Bennett's correspondence, and share the ugly details with us all. Our nation's leading newspapers and media outlets seem unwilling to take on Michelle Rhee in a similar fashion. But perhaps the pattern of ideologically driven "accountability" that stigmatizes and undermines public schools has begun to be exposed. Next month, Diane Ravitch's new book will be published. The title is "Reign of Error, the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools." This book systematically demolishes the claims of corporate reformers, using their own weapon - data. What is more, Ravitch provides examples of genuine reforms that are far more likely to yield results than the phony test-driven accountability measures now in vogue.

The truth is that the entire test-driven accountability project is not sustainable. The private, charter and virtual schools that are being propped up by manipulated data and accountability systems are not really better. Campaign donations flow to leaders like Bennett willing to carry out these manipulations, and our media outlets are often brought along for the ride. Back in 2011, when Melinda Gates opened the Teacher Town Hall meeting at NBC's Education Nation, Brian Williams told us all that "the Gates Foundation is one of the sponsors of this event, and the largest single funder of education anywhere in the world. It's their facts that we're going to be referring to often to help along our conversation." But thank goodness reporter Tom LoBianco did not rely on the Gates Foundation for the facts. He investigated for himself. The sooner the rest of our media catch up, the sooner the hoax of corporate reform will be unmasked.

What do you think? Is the day of reckoning for corporate reform near?

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