Mapping Shadow Government: Regents Research Fund

Back in August we set up a Shadow Gov Working Group on LittleSis, inspired by Obama’s Open Government Working Group established in 2009 and his administration’s hot pursuit of Edward Snowden, who worked for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.  The research group investigates corporations that tend to profit from the privatization of government, first focusing on Booz Allen. Gin’s analysis of a $6 billion corporation that relies on government for 99% of its revenue but doesn’t hire lobbyists is definitely worth a read.

The Albany Times-Union reported last week on the New York State Education Department’s “shadow government:” a think tank advising the Board of Regents and Commissioner John B. King on educational policy, but funded entirely by private foundations.

Unlike Booz Allen, the Regents Research Fund is a nonprofit organization that doesn’t receive taxpayer funding.  Its staff (called “fellows”) are meant as supplemental advisors to the Education Department’s public officials, not replacing any public sector positions.  Critics say the fellows may be more concerned with the education reform agenda of their sponsors than what’s best for New York schools, and not subject to public accountability.  In 2011, for example, the Board of Regents adopted the fellows’ recommendation about the role of test scores in teacher evaluations over those of a task force made up by 63 educators from around the state.

One of the fellows told the Times-Union: “There aren’t a whole lot of us out there with this training and experience.”  I wondered what she meant.  There are more than 200,000 teachers, not to mention principals and other administrators, in New York State alone.  What kind of experience was she referring to?  Who are these extraordinary fellows?

The NYSED website was no help; it contains no information about the fellows or the Fund.

The New York Times reported back in 2011 that of the original eleven fellows, six had never taught and the other five had a total of ten years of classroom experience.  Clearly teaching wasn’t part of that special experience.

Alan Singer wrote Monday about the Fund in the Huffington Post, including the names and backgrounds of 17 current and former fellows, who I quickly added to LittleSis.  Four of those had no discernible experience in education before joining the Fund.  All the rest gained their experience at the NYC Department of Education (6 fellows worked there), Teach for America (6), New Leaders for New Schools (3) or the College Board (2).  Aha!

Thirteen of seventeen known fellows at the Regents Research Fund previously worked for at least one of four educational organizations.

It turns out that employees are not all these organizations have in common with the Regents Research Fund.  They also share plenty of interesting relationships to funders:

  • Teach for America receives funding from the Gates Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation, Tiger Foundation, Carnegie Corporation and GE Foundation, which also support the Fund.

  • New Leaders receives funding from Fund donors too, including the Tiger Foundation and Carnegie Corp.  One of its directors, venture capitalist Joshua Lewis, is also an advisor to the Gates Foundation.

  • Fellow Anu Malipatil has a second job at Two Sigma Investments, a company chaired by John Overdeck, who sits on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation.

  • Michele Cahill is currently vice-president at the Carnegie Corporation, but before that she served as senior counselor to Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC Department of Ed.  Fellow Amy McIntosh was his deputy chief of staff around that same time.

  • Sharren Bates previously worked at the NYC Department of Ed and the Gates Foundation.

When considering the question of who the fellows serve–their funders or New Yorkers–it helps to know how these folks are connected to those funders.  If you want to keep digging, join the research group and start by building out the profile of the College Board.  Let us know what you find out!