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FOIA document shows that the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation paid $243,000 for the GRPS to get services from businesses that are part of the war on Public Education in 2017

November 13, 2019

Recently, the group Grand Rapids for Education Justice, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to get information on several issues.

One issue that the GREJ was interested in was funding, specifically funding that comes from either the business community or area foundations. You can see the entire document at this link

However, there was one example that stood out in this FOIA’d document. The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation contributed $243,000 to pay for the services of three separate entities that do “research.” The three organization, with the amount they received are: Cambridge Education $80,000, Basis Policy Research $90,000 and Tripod Surveys $72,150. In addition, the remaining $850 could be used by the GRPS at their discretion.

Cambridge Education

According to a 2011 MLive article, “Cambridge is affiliated with Mott MacDonald, an employee-owned management, engineering and development consultancy serving the public and private sector around the world based in the United Kingdom.” 

This is not the first time that the DeVos family has paid for Cambridge Education to come to Grand Rapids and influence what happens at the GRPS. In an article from Jack Prince, posted on this site inJune of 2018, Prince writes: 

Cambridge was sent to GRPS as a gift from the DeVos’ in April of 2012. As a result of a private paid business led audit of GRPS, Cambridge Education revealed that the district needed to restructure. In August 2012, the audit done by Cambridge Education revealed the district needed to restructure to deliver a better education to students reflecting current student population and to save money. That December the school board approved superintendent Neal’s district restructure known as the transformation plan. It should be noted that the origin of this so called restructure plan was a private for-profit company and not the result of some personal educational philosophy and awareness of superintendent Neal.  Somehow this plan became her plan when the name was changed to the transformation plan. Almost immediately the newly named plan garnered the support of local conservative politicians. “State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons R Alto and Sen Dave Hildenbrand R-Lowell Twp. have written letters supporting the Grand Rapids superintendent and school board’s planned major overhaul of the district to improve achievement and finances.”

The FOIA document doesn’t indicate what exactly Cambridge Education was hired to do  in 2017, but based on the previous work they did, they played a major role in restructuring the GRPS and creating what the GREJ has identified as a two-tiered school system.

Basis Policy Research

We have a better idea of what Basis Policy Research did with the $90,000 they received from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation to provide a service for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. According the Basis Policy Research website, it states:

Adults without a high school diploma are more likely to face limited employment opportunities and a lifetime of poverty. Educators are looking for ways to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and match them with interventions that can get them back on track. Grand Rapids Public Schools recently partnered with Basis to develop a customized, student-level early warning system that uses dropout risk factors to predict the likelihood that a student will fail to graduate: the Opportunity Index.

Our partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools resulted in the Opportunity Index, which tracks both a student’s progress towards graduating on time as well as their likelihood of being ready for success after high school (often called “college and career readiness”). It focuses on early warning indicators of a student’s progress towards these dual goals using scorecards that pinpoint each student’s progress from kindergarten through high school. Educators and parents are using this tool to identify students for support and to be able to target resources so that more students graduate on time and prepared for success. In an extension of this work, we also partnered with the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation to facilitate conversations around these scorecards among educators, parents, and students.

When you go to click on the Opportunity Index link, it takes you to the DeVos-funded group Believe 2 Become. However, that link says, WE COULDN’T FIND THAT PAGE. 

In addition, Basis Policy Research has three offices around the country and one of them is in Grand Rapids, specifically at 1059 Wealthy SE, Grand Rapids. I have called their Grand Rapids office on several occasions in the past week and the phone just rings, without going to voicemail. What kind of a business doesn’t provide people with an opportunity to leave a message? I also sent them an e-mail more than 2 weeks ago and still have not received a response.

One of the main researchers with Basis Policy Research is David Stuit, who is originally from Grand Rapids. Besides working for Basis Policy Research, Stuit seems to be rather connected to the Charter School industry. Stuit has a page on the website of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an organization which has received millions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, both of which have made it a priority to fund Charter Schools and private schools.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has also spent a great deal of money lobbying Congress on education policy that would benefit the Charter School Industry. 

Tripod Surveys

Tripod crafts surveys for students in order to evaluate their teachers. Some of the staff with Tripod used to work for Cambridge Education and it appears they operate from the same ideological framework.

One teacher evaluation site we came across says: 

In a study recently released in the esteemed American Educational Research Journal (AERJ), and titled “What Can Student Perception Surveys Tell Us About Teaching? Empirically Testing the Underlying Structure of the Tripod Student Perception Survey,” researchers found that the Tripod’s factor structure did not “hold up.” That is, Tripod’s 7Cs (i.e., seven constructs including: Care, Confer, Captivate, Clarify, Consolidate, Challenge, Classroom Management; see more information about the 7Cs here) and the 36 items that are positioned within each of the 7Cs did not fit the 7C framework as theorized by instrument developer(s).

While this is just a snapshot of the three companies that were paid for by the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, it demonstrates that they prefer to use their money to fund entities that are antithetical to public schools and public education. The big question is, why does the Grand Rapids Public Schools agree to utilize the paid for resources from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation and what does this mean for the future of the GRPS?

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