The Hidden Hand in Oregon's Education System Revealed
Public education in Oregon, and around the country, has become both an important and divisive topic. COVID-19 lockdowns, classroom disruptions and violence, shifts in instructional content and approaches, and ongoing declines in student achievement brought many new faces into school board meetings. Education has become highly partisan as well, turning school board races into highly-funded, hotly contested events. Why is this all happening? And why now?
If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you the guy behind the declines in our public education system was Colt Gill, the former Director of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). As ODE’s leader, he was the very public face of the agency. When parents, including me, got increasingly upset with the direction of Oregon’s public schools, it was Colt Gill we spoke out against. While he took all the heat, there was someone on his executive leadership team who flew under the radar until now: Scott Nine.
Scott Nine joined ODE on July 30, 2019 as the new Assistant Superintendent of Education Innovation and Improvement. This role was created to manage the massive investment in Oregon public education that came from the passage of the Student Success Act (HB3427). This new law would increase education funding by over $1 billion a year due to the new Corporate Activity Tax, allowing schools to reduce class sizes, offer summer learning programs, feed more hungry kids, and more.
Fast-forward to today. Class sizes are still out of control, as are the students in them. Hundreds of millions flowed out to Community-Based Organizations with little oversight and dubious results. Schools provided free meals to all students, including those from families who could easily afford to pay.
Was Scott Nine just another inept leader or was this intentional? I argue it was the latter, and it is deserving of a thorough investigation.
Scott Nine’s allegiance to the Partnership for the Future of Learning
It’s important to briefly touch on what the Partnership for the Future of Learning (PFL), also known as the “Network”, that Scott has been deeply involved with since 2016. The PFL is essentially a coalition of progressive organizations and individuals who are transforming the public education system.
Here are some examples of the types and names of the roughly 400 organizations quietly participating in the PFL:
Foundations (aka Funders): Foundations for a Better Oregon, Southern Education Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and Stuart Foundation
Unions: National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), SEIU, Massachusetts Association of Educators, National School Boards Association, The School Superintendents Association (AASA)
Colleges / Universities: Roger Williams University, Bank Street College of Education, Harvard University, Metro Center at NYU, University of Colorado, UPenn, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Yale
Public Bodies: U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education (Georgia, Oregon, Maine, and Pennsylvania), Oregon Governor’s Office, Texas House of Representatives, Atlanta City Council, and Cincinnati Public Schools
Education Research: Institute for Educational Leadership, Learning Policy Institute, Research for Action, WestEd
Non-Profits: Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Center for Popular Democracy, Education Law Center, In The Public Interest, Save Our Schools Arizona, Reaching Higher New Hampshire, Alliance for Education
What is particularly concerning is the involvement of public bodies and officials, including Scott Nine, in a coalition that is promoting radical theories and practices and has an extreme, partisan bias. I believe this concern is legitimate given the evidence presented in the next section.
Did Scott Nine serve Oregon students or the PFL?
While this certainly won’t be an exhaustive list of the evidence collected so far, the goal is to paint a clear picture Scott Nine’s priorities and his allegiance to the PFL, rather than to the Oregon students he was hired to serve.
In this first example just a month after joining ODE, we see Scott Nine encouraging Marc Siegel, ODE Communications Director, to connect with Jenni Kotting. Scott just came to ODE from the National Public Education Support Fund (NPESF), which was the fiscal home of the PFL and where Jenni still worked.
This next email sent by Scott Nine went to several PFL team members and partners. Scott Nine had recruited another recent ODE new hire, Shadiin Garcia, to be part of the PFL’s “Network Assembly”, a 2 day event they hosted in Chicago, IL. Although Scott likely used the term “co-conspirator” when describing Foundations for a Better Oregon leader Whitney Grubbs, the more traditional definition of the term may be more appropriate. Don’t worry, the examples get worse as we march forward.
In December 2019, ODE released their guidance to Superintendents across the state on how they can apply for and use a portion of the Student Success Act funds referred to as the Student Investment Account (SIA). Scott forwarded this email to a set of core PFL members to acknowledge how much of their work has been embedded in this guidance.
On the surface, this could just be seen as a group of passionate education advocates who are excited to see their work coming to fruition. However, the devil’s in the details. In this case, we’re talking about some of the most progressive, radical thinkers in the education space. And as I’ve written about previously, some of these folks were involved in the fraudulent research produced by ODE.
In this July 2021 email exchange, we see Scott Nine re-introducing the discussion on Community Schools with the governor’s education advisor Lindsey Capps, ODE Director Colt Gill, and ODE Deputy Director Carmen Urbina. In that email he shares with them a collection of documents, videos, and other assets produced by the PFL and its partners. Minutes later he forwarded that message to Cyrus Driver, Jenni Kotting, Roberta Furger, Lauren Jacobs, and Taylor Moore, all core team members of the PFL.
While most still aren’t aware of what Community Schools are (think about schools as becoming one-stop shops for other services like healthcare, mental healthcare, food, clothing, housing, and education for all ages), it’s concerning that he sees the large investments by California as being proportionately less than Oregon. To help connect the dots, Oregon is essentially trying to turn all public schools into Community Schools, but without calling them that by name.
On a related note, here are a couple of other email exchanges involving Community Schools. The first is between Scott Nine and Kyle Serrette, the Community Schools Campaign Manager for the National Education Association (NEA), which was then forwarded to ODE Director Colt Gill soon after Scott joined ODE.
The second email about Community Schools came from the PFL in May 2023, and it paints a very different tone. In this message, Jenni Kotting writes about how “partners have started noticing troubling critiques about community schools”. Worse yet, she goes on to write, “…the kind of negative narrative we want to disrupt” and then provides links to two tweets from Moms for Liberty Co-Founder Tiffany Justice and education advocate and “A Time to Stand” podcast host Kelly S.
This next message really demonstrates how Scott Nine and others in Oregon are using their positions and influence to advance the goals of the PFL. In this case, it starts with a “call for nominations to co-create a vision for racially just accountability and assessment”, put out by PFL Associate Director and Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez. As you’ll see in the full email thread here, there’s some back and forth between Pooja Bhatt (Co-Founder of SeeChange LLC and now Education Initiatives leader for Oregon Governor Tina Kotek), Aimee Craig (other Co-Founder of SeeChange LLC), Scott Nine, and others in the PFL.
As you’ll see in the entire exchange, Foundations for a Better Oregon and the regional network they’ve established in Oregon are highly influential when it comes to steering the direction of Oregon’s public education system. What’s also interesting to note is Aimee Craig is a partner in the PFL (joined 2018), as is Pooja Bhatt (joined 2021).
While Scott Nine was deeply involved in the PFL before and after joining ODE, he was invited to take part in a new Strategy Council the PFL was forming to help with their “Strategy Regeneration” process. A few days after receiving the invitation from PFL leader Cyrus Driver, Scott confirmed he received “official permission” to participate in this additional capacity.
Finally, I wanted to wrap this up with a very recent email, sent just a couple of months before Scott Nine decided to leave ODE. This exchange started with Cyrus Driver reaching out to Scott to share their Breakthrough Report, which was one of the key outputs from their Strategy Regeneration work mentioned earlier. While it is a fairly lengthy document, I highly encourage those willing to invest the time to give it a read as it details how the PFL is shifting its strategy over the coming years, how they intend to more fully “activate their network”, and frankly how radical and biased they are as a collective.
As I mentioned earlier, it is extremely concerning to have public officials at the local, state, and federal level who participate in this intentionally under-the-radar network that has a very clear agenda, purpose, and worldview. There is much more to cover on this topic, but I do hope this helps raise more awareness to the size and scale of the problem.
What do you think?
What questions come to mind after seeing the examples of Scott Nine’s priorities and actions while in such a powerful and influential role for Oregon’s public education system? Do you feel he was serving the true needs of Oregon students, or fulfilling the desires he and this ideologically-aligned “Network” had?
Please share your questions and thoughts in the comments below.
Finally, for those interested in seeing more examples, I have included many more in the section below.
Addendum: Additional evidence of undisclosed conflicts and commitments to the “Partnership” rather than Oregon students
Just click on any one of the links below to see copes of the emails / documents:
Scott reaches out to PFL leaders and key players for “research, papers, or thinkers” on COVID-19. Cyrus Driver, leader of the PFL, offers to connect him with a guy who “is the real deal”. (I sincerely hope this isn’t why our COVID-19 response in Oregon schools was about the worst in the country)
If you really want to understand more about the PFL, you can read the 59 page report by ORS Impact and Equal Measure
On the heels of Oregon Governor Kotek’s announcement of making a significant investment in literacy, Scott Nine shares resources from PFL partners with several ODE leaders & staffers. He also reaches out to the PFL team to arrange some meetings.
While the PFL operates in most US states, their strategy singled out California, Georgia, and New Hampshire as “key places” with very specific approaches. For example, they targeted underperforming schools in Georgia to be turned into Community Schools.
Defense and offense against who? Anyone who disagrees with their transformation of public education.
Scott Nine and Shadiin Garcia, former Executive Director of ODE’s Educator Advancement Council, send an audio recording to Jenni Kotting of the PFL team to create an Op-Ed for them that essentially shows their vision of how the Student Success Act funds should be spent
Warning: It’s an over-the-top equity-fest, and they wrap up by saying everything is due to white supremacy
Scott Nine sends an internal, ODE email thread to PFL team member Jenni Kotting to show how a PFL-led podcast on education equity during COVID-19 is informing the ODE Director’s actions on “distance learning guidance/policies with equity”
Finally, if you’re interested where the Student Success Act funding went, you can see the ODE provided infographic below.