Arne Duncan's Conflict Of Interest: Updated II And Updated Again

The edublogosphere is circulating this now deleted post by Marc Dean Millot (below, in full) raising serious concerns about conflicts of interest among DOE players and the reformers (and all the $$$).

A couple edublogger reactions here and here:
I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources - the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education's competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department's political appointees.

Over the last several months a national education reporter, a senior manager at a national education research organization, and the head of a national nonprofit working in the field all volunteered that the Department's senior officials know exactly who they want to get RTTT and I3 money - in brief, the new philanthropies' grantees and the jurisdictions where they work.

These three hold positions of some responsibility. None have been prone to exaggeration in the past. They are not colleagues. They run in entirely different circles, live in entirely different parts of the country, and work in very different parts of the K-12 education space. They all relayed conversations with colleagues about the problem.

We do know that the Secretary benefited from a strong relationship with the new philanthropy in Chicago. We know that the Secretary is high on charter management organizations and the new teacher development programs that benefited from the new philanthropy. We know that RTTT czar Joanne Weiss was senior staff member at New Schools. We know that Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton was a senior program education officer at the Gates Foundation and NewSchools. We know that both managed investments in the organizations' Duncan favors.

Anyone who remembers the Reading First fiasco is familiar with the pattern. A Secretary inclined towards a particular education reform solution, subordinate political appointees with a personal investment in the same solution, connected to organizations practicing that solution - organizations with incredibly thin files of reliable evidence consistently demonstrating an educationally significant contribution to improvements in student performance in the schools where they work today. The last time education reformers saw this pattern, the organizations with the best evidence of efficacy were pushed aside in favor of those who met a tortured definition designed to produce the desired outcome. Given history, concerns that a repeat is in process are neither unreasonable, nor unwarranted.

Whatever is or is not going on at the Department, the principled response is for the Secretary to address the fear head on, explain how the feared outcomes cannot take place, and then make sure he and his people keep several arms lengths removed from the process.

TWIE Readers: If you have evidence for or against the concerns I've relayed, or if you've heard the same stories, heard the opposite, or haven't heard a thing, please post it here.
Update: Marc Dean Millot responds:
Marc Dean Millot said...
At 1:45 Friday afternoon, I posted a brief commentary in This Week in Education, where I have been a guest columnist. "Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?" was one of many appearing in the edu-blogosphere over the last two week's expressing concerns over the lack of transparency in the Department of Education's implementation of the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation discretionary grant programs. Within a few hours the commentary generated a modest amount of interest from some of our community's leading bloggers.

A little after 5 pm that day it was taken off the site by TWIE editor Alexander Russo. Russo informed me that he had been directed to do so by TWIEs sponsor, Scholastic as the result of a call from Andrew Rotherham to someone at the firm that Russo thought might be Rotherham's friend.

Over the weekend Russo struggled mightily to fix the problem. He emailed me, "Please be assured that this isn't really about you or the substance of your post." I agreed to sit tight till Monday. Sometime around 10:15 Monday evening I was fired by Russo or, to be more precise, he activated TypePad software on TWIE prohibiting me from publishing. The act was in breech of a six-month contract giving me "complete editorial control" over my columns as well as the princely sum of $200 a month.

I've been asked by my readers to explain what happened. I'm posting here because Kenneth Libby was the first. I intend to tell my story from start to finish. Yes, I have something at stake here. Yes, I intend to draw on materials that don't normally see the light of day - like emails and private conversations. But this situation is also an opportunity for readers to gain some insights into the personal side of Washington policy debates, the ways people with influence use it, the challenges faced by those who seek a commercial model for the new media, and the role of the blog in public discourse over education policy. These are worthy goals, rarely pursued.

I could go out and start my own blog, but I ran one for a year at edweek.org and prefer to be a columnist. I would be grateful for perhaps five days access to an edublog as a guest blogger. In return, I can only offer my best efforts to provide the facts, a good faith interpretation, and the full record in my possession for readers can come to their own conclusions.
I have offered this blog for his posts. We shall see....

Update II:  It looks like Marc will post 5 exclusives on 5 different blogs; TFT should be 4th.  I will update as Marc posts.  First of 5 here.

Update III:  Follow the saga on the Marc Dean Millot page (new feature--look for the permanent link right under TFT's title at the top of the page.)

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