The Bank of the Federal-Academic Complex

The battle for education reform is being occurring along three major axes — power (among States and Districts), childcare (among Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers and Parents) and money (Teachers and Publishers). Tradtionally, Teacheres were able to oversee all three of these axes through united front organizations they created — such as the NEA, AFT, NPTA, and Districts whose boardmembers were elected by the NEA, AFT, and NPTA activists. Unfortunately for Teachers, Democrats created a new power nucleus which is now overseeing a radical transformation in the teaching profession.

In 1950 President Truman created the National Science Foundation, and in 1979 President Carter created the Department of Education. As outline in Jonathan Cole’s excellent book, The Great American University, the NSF was created to use America’s excellence in the practical sciences to better society. The Department of Ed was a tentative move to subsidize teachers while removing a small amount of power from both States and Districts.

As the NSF & DOE matured together, it created a federal-academic complex unlike any other player in the political economy of education. DOE bureaucrats wanted more power, the NSF “Research Directorates” wanted more funds, the academics who won NSF grants wanted more freedom to research, all these players interacted with advocates for childcare. The Federal-Academic Complex contains interests at least as aligned as other blocs such as “teachers” or “publishers,” so is capable of political action, but it became interested in all of the axes in the education debate (power, childcare, and money), due to its diversity of operating environments.

In short, the interlocking relationships between DOE and NSF stakeholders created a federal-academic complex, or “bank.” Both Parents and Large-Scale Consumers of Education Workers were always able to translate their interest in childcare into money, but the DOE/NSF (“the federal-academic complex”) made it easier to translate their interest in money into political power over education. The same of course was true for Districts and States, who had the standing Federal-Academic complex to lobby and influence. Likewise, Teachers and Publishers could invest funds (and expected funds) harvested from education funding and translate that into power through the Federal-Academic Complex.

With the exception of States (who viewed the Federal-Academic Complex as essentially an arm of the federal government, and so focused on opposing it), every rational actor began using the bank of the Federal-Academic Complex to pursue its interests. States rationally opposed the Federal-Academic Complex, other rational players rationally used it. Teachers, suffering from the lobotomy of low wages and arrogant in their united front organizations, stupidly saw the complex simply as another source of profit and ignored the changing political landscape.

Districts put up propaganda posters in favor ofhe NSF and DOE, and fawned over funding for NSF Computer Labs and other sources of funding that could be used to weaken State power. Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for a better educated workforce. Publishers, observing the possibility to increase their revenues, used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for changes that would require buying more goods and services from publishers. Parents, the easiest of all forces to satisfy, slept soundly knowing that entrance of a new force meant it was even less likely would have to care for their own children.

Politically naive teachers imagined the Federal-Academic Complex would mean higher pay without greater responsibilities. And so they voted in blocs in favor of intiatives that aggrandized the Federal-Academic Complex, and subsidized the step by step the encirclement of their own united front organizations.

9 thoughts on “The Bank of the Federal-Academic Complex”

  1. The talk about the power axis reminds me of one of my own education beefs; the tendency people have to try (and too often succeed in) winning such fights by tying them into larger ideological conflicts. If school districts as rule are better at certain tasks, great. If state or federal officials are, just as well. Winning on bias risks putting power in the hands of people who can’t use it (or are likely to abuse it) and feeds larger disputes we can’t afford right now.

    It’s a vain complaint; everything seems to get settled that way, anymore. And when power is already being misused or abused, people have good reason to form and act on such biases. Still . . . :>P

  2. Very true.

    Few people are cynical enough to actually believe that it is right to divert resources from children and into their own pockets — but we as a species are built so that our biases naturally make us tend to support positoins that benefit us and oppose positions we don’t. [1] Of course we are not robotic about this — there is ‘error’ in the process — but once we aggregate up to groups the ‘error’ will tend to cancel out so we are left with economic incentives. (A great example is this blog post [2], which attempts to emphasize the diversity of views within the anti-reform movement, but if you add them all up, you’re left with traditional labor agitation).


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