Update On National Reform

Over the weekend I jotted down some additional houghts about last week's NewSchools summit in San Francisco, including mostly issues related to the evolution of the school reform movement but also a little bit about where Rahm (and Chicago) fit into that picture.  (Speaking of pictures, this one is of Rahm waiting to go onstage (sitting next to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, btw) is from Twittter via @sethlavin.)

The issues I focus on below are (a) the newfound prominence given to the parent trigger, (b) the honest self-criticism about public engagement from NewSchools' Ted Mitchell, (c) the choice of Howard ("Storm The Bastille") Fuller as opener, and (c) the general disappointment following Emanuel's speech. Plus a reward video at the end featuring a discussion of reformers-turned-superintendents Cami Anderson and Kaya Henderson.  Charter networks are so 2005.  It's all about the "intrapreneurs" now.

*COMING OUT FOR THE PARENT TRIGGER:  It was notable to me that the organizers opened the summit with a screening of the parent trigger movie (“Won’t Back Down”) and an appearance by Parent Revolution’s Ben Austin, who also won one of NSVF’s annual awards.  From “Two Million Minutes” to “Waiting For Superman” to “Race To Nowhere,” the potential power of mass media to shape public option is clear, but the reform community has been publicly silent and privately dismissive of the trigger approach. Perhaps they’ve warmed to its potential or at least recognizing the danger of being left out of one of education’s few really “live” issues for 2012 – the kind of issue (along with cyberbullying) that fancy policy wonks don’t take seriously but journalists and debate moderators ask political candidates what they think about.

*CONVINCING A SKEPTICAL PUBLIC:  Wearing polka-dotted reading glasses and with a thick stack of notecards, NSVF president Ted Mitchell gave what I thought was a pretty good speech about the need for reformers to do things differently, and better. “While we were making progress on the ground, we were losing our case in the public opinion,” he said.  The claim that reformers have been waging a war on teachers has stuck.  “We have to scale our work, and convince an increasingly skeptical public,” according to Mitchell. To do so, reformers need to bring others into the conversation, including in particular teachers, whom Mitchell described as a natural ally. “We need to listen to what teachers are telling us, and we need to respond.”

*STORMING THE BASTILLE:  Inviting Howard Fuller to open the first full day of the summit was another interesting move, given his support for vouchers and his “storm the Bastille” rhetoric. In the past, Geoff Canada and Al Sharpton have played the role of elder black statesmen for the reform movement.  And Fuller is a big change from Canada – closer to Klein and Rhee.  Some people thought it was an inappropriate choice.  I thought it was a good reminder to reformers about the larger context in which they’re working – that they have to deal with impatient pro-voucher Democrats, one way or the other.  Next year, Derrell Bradford, the New Jersey reform leader whom along with Ref Rodriguez and Danielle Smith blew up Yale SOM 2011?

*POVERTY:  The attempt to address child poverty deserves credit, no matter how belated or superficial it may have seemed.  The reform movement has struggled mightily to figure out what to do and say about nonschool factors.  They showed a video in which kids said things like “I thought I was the problem,” “This school made me realize that I’m here for a reason,” “They make you recycle,” and “There’s a very huge light at the end of this tunnel.”  The logo at the end read Education>Poverty, which would make a pretty good t-shirt, if it isn’t one already.

*Several of those who were at one point the reform movement’s biggest names were notably absent from the mainstage (and most of them from the event, or perhaps avoiding me):  Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Jonah Edelman, Wendy Kopp, Steve Barr, Mike Johnston, John Schnur, Mike Feinberg, Andy Rotherham, John Deasy.  Schnur and Deasy and Feinberg were there, as was Barr. Schnur was part of a breakout session. Edelman got two minutes as a respondent to Fuller.  Part of that is summit organizers’ desire to find new people to talk, but my sense is that there’s also something of a changing of the guard going on -- away from charters and towards elected and appointed officials like Cami and Kaya -- or perhaps also some uncertainty about which way things are going.

*Interesting to find out that reformers aren’t just starting their own teacher prep programs – Relay, Match, etc. – they’re also getting appointed to run existing ones. Though I don’t know if he identifies as a reformer or not, at least one TFA alum present at the summit is head of a traditional teacher prep program.  It's a pretty eye-opening thought, having a TFA alum head an ed school.  Are there others? It seems like a smart way to go, considering the lessons reformers have learned about creating small new organizations (charter networks) and hoping that the big legacy institutions (school districts) will spontaneously adapt.  And of course, there are lots more candidates going through traditional programs than alternative ones.  Of course, not many reformers have PhDs or even EdDs that are usually required to move up the ed school career ladder.

*There wasn’t much buzz about Rahm Emanuel at the reception after his conference-ending appearance.  His remarks and answers were repetitive sound bites and there was a massive disconnect between what he was talking about and the turmoil within the Brizard team and the teachers union and all the rest.  He’s only been in office for a year, and I think most folks are going to take a wait and see approach.  He’s got the authority to do all sorts of things – charterize the district, implement a city-level version of the parent trigger.  But it’s been a bumbly, stumbly first year, what with the awkward rollout of the extended day and the staff shakeup around Brizard.  There are some good people working on district change in CPS.  There could be a strike.

Your reward for getting this far is a video of the Chris Barbic, Cami, and Kaya segment, hosted by Walton's Jim Blew:

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  • We'll probably be talkiing about the same issues ten years from now, but only with different catchphrases and au courant labels.

  • I was struck by the Mitchell's statement that "reformers need to bring others into the conversation". It does seem true that these folks have bought themselves a school system using craftily leveraged foundation money; and they have bought the power to talk as if they decide who gets into the conversation about education. But as a CPS teacher my daily experience is that these folks have bought themselves little more than the ability not to listen to anyone who isn't a member of their club. They have the ability to issue orders to legislators, then to issue counter-orders to administrators, to instill a general lack of confidence in any kind of orders and to create fear of not following orders, no matter how absurd they may seem. We down here in the districts live in a world that looks a lot like the Hunger Games. Not only is there a question about how these "reformers" got to decide who gets into the conversation; but we ask why anyone who really cares about young people and about the possibility of civic education would want to legitimize this "conversation" by accepting an invitation into it.

    There is already a conversation going on, if you can still hear it above the din created by fake grass-roots education reform outfits. It's a conversation that has been going on a long time and teacher are in it everyday.

    I'm not sure how teachers lost control of the national, state, and local conversations about schooling. I haven't been a teacher long enough to know. But at some point, something that can only be called hijacking occurred. The problem is not the awful, ignorant, juvenile teacher-bashing rhetoric that has characterized the "reform" movement from the outset. That's bad, but as teachers we handle that in the classroom all day long. It's the question of legitimacy. Having neither proved that they earned their control of our schools, nor proved subsequently that they deserve it, we are now being asked by reformers to join their "conversation". I think most dedicated teachers take this question very seriously because we know a fraud and a climber from a real teacher. For years now, all we've had is cleverly manipulated statistics that exaggerate the positives and diminish the negatives of privatization and outsourceable testing regimes presented as "reform" agendas. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into this propaganda stream and one has to ask "why?" Is it a just a gamble? Is somebody positioning themselves to make a killing when the schools collapse under the weight of this so-called reform? Or is it simply the well-meant enthusiasm of the philanthropist who mistakes the opportunity for influence for the likelihood of success? On what is the confidence of reformers based?

    That disingenuousness is what has done the most harm, I think; the manipulation of evidence and the use of extreme, often deceptive tactics to crush opposition has eroded the possibility of trust on which any conversation here must be based. So no amount of graciously-coated arrogance is going to overcome the lack of credentials that the "reformers" bring to the table. That's the real conversation and it isn't up to the reformers who gets in.

  • Alexander your summary of the New Schools summit was nicely done. Did any of the people or "reformers" at the meeting address the fiscal collapse of State governments in California and Illinois for example and the implications for the survival of charter schools if they face direct cuts in public funding?

    Rod Estvan

  • Seattle's new superintendent refuses to embrace charters and TFA:

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/and-then-there-was-one/Content?oid=13526952

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