October 13, 2011; Source: Associated Press via SFGate.com | A two-day conference in San Francisco sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education is being picketed by parents and teachers upset that the keynote address is being delivered by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch. The Foundation, chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, champions school vouchers, charter schools, performance pay for teachers and digital learning. The protest has also attracted members of the local Occupy Wall Street group.
In addition to Murdoch, other speakers include Melinda Gates and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The protesting teachers and parents assert that Murdoch and other business leaders are positioning themselves to profit from digital learning and other so-called reforms that are being touted at the conference. Teachers’ union member Dennis Kelly said, “We don’t think education is their concern. We think that profit is their only concern. And we don’t trust them near our children.”
These objections are not coming out of the blue. Last year, News Corp. bought Wireless Generation, a company that provides software and services to K-12 schools. But as a result of the phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. involving News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, New York’s comptroller recently rejected a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation.
This story echoes our reporting on the parents in Newark, New Jersey who have been edged out of the public-school decision-making process in the wake of a $100-million gift to Newark Public Schools by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It’s another example of how the insertion of private money into public systems can turn out to be a sharp and double-edged sword.—Ruth McCambridge