Ed Reform Propaganda Machine Goes into Overdrive

Well now this is just plain creepy.

In 2012, the Vermont based, Nellie Mae Education Foundation-funded  Partnership for Change  developed a one-year, 125k dollar communications plan for the Winooski-Burlington School Districts in Vermont to sell an idea for which there is no sound supporting research.

Using tactics developed by FrameWorks Institute (also with funding from Nellie Mae), the communications plan  uses strategic messaging – including sample talking points, opinion editorials, a speech/PowerPoint presentations, letters to the editor, and even a template sermon for the faith community –  to generate public buy-in for the corporate-driven theory of education  known as “personalized,” “competency-based,” or “student-centered” learning.

“Over time, we will put flesh on this narrative, adapt it for various audiences and time frames, and spread it across the community such that it eventually becomes second nature to the citizens of Winooski-Burlington,” the document states.

According to the plan: “Designated messengers, including superintendents, will give PowerPoint presentations to various groups (e.g., Kiwanis, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce) about the Partnership for Change and its implementation.”

The plan even includes a master calendar of local school and community events to help “the team” to help “identify potential opportunities for carrying the message and building public engagement.”

Nellie Mae, a spawn of the student loan industry whose funds come in part from the Gates Foundation and a hedge fund in the Cayman Islands, has been on a massive spending spree in the Northeast in an attempt to transform local schools districts into an education model developed by investors in the ed-tech and student loan industries.

Focusing their efforts primarily on New England states, Nellie Mae has established nonprofit organizations like Vermont’s Partnership for Change and Maine’s Educate Maine to disseminate their message and lobby for policy change; has poured millions into consulting groups like the Great Schools Partnership and Reinventing Schools; and has even provided funding for full-time reporting positions at public broadcasting networks in Maine and Connecticut.

Nellie Mae has even found a way to get students to help lobby for them.  In Burlington, high school students can take a course in school redesign, in which they (yes – the students) can serve as real-time consultants to teachers in their district.

Given the scope of Nellie Mae’s efforts in Vermont, one has to wonder: do Burlington/Winooski citizens know they are victims of an onslaught of corporate-sponsored propaganda?

According to this article, there is evidence of at least some growing tension between the Partnership and local community members.

In 2015, some Burlington school board members questioned the Partnership’s decision to play a role in the school board elections.  According to the article, the Partnership helped plan the candidate forums aired on the local news station, and made sure that each candidate took a public stand on the partnership. They also put together a voter guide in English, French, Nepali and Vietnamese, and even attempted to put together a job description for the local school board position  – without input from current board members.

When questioned about his support for the Partnership, school board member Mark Barlow asked: “Are you just an educational initiative or a political initiative?”

Of course, it’s even more than a political initiative – but given the level of strategic deception they employ, it’s understandable that local community members would have trouble knowing what they are dealing with.

From Maine and beyond: we’re pulling for you, Winooski-Burlington. Keep pulling back that curtain.



Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

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