On education, political contributions, and investigative journalism

Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2012 in Investigation

On education, political contributions, and investigative journalism

by Gina Hamilton

Colin Woodard, in a very impressive piece of journalism, highlighted the trouble that occurs when corporations are suddenly put in the catbird seat for public benefit issues, like education.

At issue was K12 Inc., which is a company that creates curriculum to be used online. It also provides 'teachers' to review children's work and provide feedback.  Teachers, according to K12, are fully credentialed, and work at home on their computers, while students work at home on theirs.

This might be a good choice for some students, and enrichment programs for others who are not happy with the choices that their public or private school provides. 

Regardless of the obvious issues involved -- the fact, for instance, that K12's teachers wouldn't have a clue whether the child had done the work or a parent had done it while the child was out chopping wood and fetching water, and the fact that the child would get no social interaction at all from a computer screen -- some of Maine's students, especially children who can't be in school for behavioral reasons or because they live 100 miles from the nearest elementary or high school, might benefit from such a program.  Offering rural students specialized coursework that their own schools cannot provide is another worthy option for digital learning.

With all due respect to the governor, however, that isn't the issue.

K12 gave a modest donation to the Republican Governor's Association expressly for the purpose of electing Gov. Paul LePage - only about $19,000.  However, K12 was then given a seat at the table to discuss digital learning options in Maine.  It is not difficult to connect the dots and follow the money in such a cozy relationship.

Paul LePage, in his weekly radio address, blasted the Woodard piece, and called the implication that K12 was given preference over many other digital learning companies because of their donation to the RGA "a bald-faced lie". 

However, it is difficult to accept LePage's assertion at face value.  There are many other companies with much longer experience in textbook and digital learning, including every major textbook company in America -- Pearson, for example, with whom the state board of education already has a relationship and which is fully aware of Maine's Learning Results, since they already create textbooks to Maine's specifications. 

LePage needs to acknowledge that he got caught giving favors to political donors and be done with it.  Education isn't the only issue in which corporate donors to this particular governor's election campaign have been given preferential treatment.  It's unethical, and illegal, and it's time to knock it off.

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