The Nation: Online Learning Buying America’s Schools

By Ian Quillen — November 17, 2011 1 min read
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In the latest critical look at the world of virtual schooling, left-leaning magazine The Nation today has published an investigative report painting recent reforms to broaden access to virtual schooling as measures drafted with ulterior motives—mainly the desire to line the pockets of big business.

The piece, which will appear in the magazine’s Dec. 5 print edition, ultimately questions whether school reform groups that rely on donations from philanthropies and businesses are driven by the desire to reform or the desire to maximize profits for corporate donors in the technology sector.

For example, both the Bill & Melinda Gates and William and Flora Hewlett Foundations, philanthropies that have wealth derived from the business successes of technology companies Microsoft and Hewlett Packard, respectfully, have given significantly to technology-related education grant projects, including the Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges competitive grant program, on which the Hewlett Foundation is a partner. The foundations also contribute funding to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit publisher of Education Week.

An executive summary of the article names Microsoft founder and former CEO Bill Gates and News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch as key faces in this movement. Murdoch’s purchase of Wireless Generation, in particular, has already drawn criticism within the education world, particularly from teachers’ unions and other teacher advocates who saw Murdoch-owned Fox News as vilifying teachers. The Nation also posits that the formal education system is now more easily influenced by philanthropic and commercial dollars because of the crunch of public budgets that fund education.

This isn’t the first time critics have called the digital education movement corporate or overly favorable to business, though it is one of the most expansive allegations we’ve seen. It also comes on the heels of the most recent Virtual School Symposium in Indianapolis last week, at which injecting more accountability into virtual schooling was a headline topic, while some political tensions also came to the fore.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.