By Gary Cohn

The nomination of Ted Mitchell to the Department of Ed. is a clear indication of just how cozy this administration plans to get with the corporate reform crowd.

The nomination of Californian Ted Mitchell to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Education is the latest indication that proponents of school privatization are continuing to gain influence over the Obama administration’s education policy.

“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”

In education “privatization” refers to the contracting out of traditional public education services to for-profit companies or to charter schools that are set up as nonprofit organizations. In many ways, the Mitchell nomination reflects the ongoing battle being fought in Washington and in school districts across the country. It’s a battle that pits the views of teachers, their unions and community groups against a movement that is backed by wealthy philanthropists and corporations.

Mitchell is a former Occidental College president who had previously served as then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s president of the California State Board of Education. He was nominated by the White House to become Under Secretary of Education last October. Mitchell is also the founder and chief executive of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit whose stated goal is “to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.”

But critics like Ravitch say that Mitchell and NewSchools Venture Fund are in the forefront of a movement to privatize public education, a radical transformation that would benefit technology, testing and textbook companies such as Pearson, the London-headquartered multinational publishing and education giant.

Furthermore, the website of Students Matter names NewSchools Venture Fund as a supporter of Vergara v. California . This lawsuit, currently being tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, is aimed at scrapping teacher seniority protections in California. Vergara’s sponsor, Students Matter, is a nonprofit created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch – whom Business Week identified as a NewSchools investment partner.

Sabrina Stevens, the executive director of Integrity in Education, says in an interview that “[Mitchell’s] nomination is an example of the kind of thing we are worried about – corporate influence at the U.S. Department of Education.”


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