Whether it's ed reform or just plain old reform, there is praise to be given to anyone who speaks up for public education. I have respect for even those with whom I disagree because public education matters.
(I do have less respect for those in ed reform who do not want to have a dialog unless you agree to agree with them. That's happened to me on charter schools. I also have less respect for those who only want to tell one side of the story. Tell me the WHOLE story and then we can agree to disagree but ed reformers, taking a cue from conservatives will never say, for example, that there are any significant concerns with charters.)
The Times had a guest op-ed by Kimberly Lasher Mitchell last week entitled "There's no shame in being an education reformer." It was better than most ed reform writing and that's to Ms. Mitchell's credit.
I waited to write about this because I had submitted an op-ed that challenges some of her statements and was waiting to see if the Times would publish it. They did not and so I offer it at the end of this thread.
Ms. Lasher seems to take offense at any suspicious directed at her motives because she was once in TFA and worked for the Gates Foundation. She can be offended but she can't be surprised because those are two of the most uber-ed reform groups in the country.
She then hits deep and with some truth.
Judging by the fierce debates in the recent Seattle School Board races,
the term “education reform” seems to be looked upon with deep suspicion.
It is disheartening to hear how polarized, angry and even
anti-intellectual the debates about education reform and reformers have
become. The tone of these debates is counterproductive and does not
bring us together as a community to address the toughest issues we face
I agree the tone of the discussions can be counterproductive but that goes both ways (and I'll give examples in my op-ed). But it's a time-honored tactic of ed reform to use words like "angry" and "fear" to counter any argument. For the record, I'm not afraid of anything and not even necessarily angry - I'm worried and concerned.
What I find baffling is saying that the debates are "anti-intellectual." I don't get that at all.
Contrary to what you might read, education reformers are not all wealthy
philanthropists. They are not pushing a corporate agenda to dismantle
public education. They do not want to turn students and teachers into
test-obsessed automatons. They are not anti-teacher.
I know and I think most of our readers know that not all those who support ed reform are wealthy. I don't believe that those who support ed reform support all ed reform ideas.
But the reverse is also true. The power of ed reform DOES sit with some very wealthy, very powerful individuals and groups.
We then come to the funny part of her op-ed:
If anything, what they are is way too quiet. Education reformers have allowed a small group of people to control the debates and misrepresent their views and experiences. (Editor's note; her "way too quiet" was in italics and we print quotes in italic so red was added for her emphasis.)
Ed reformers too quiet? With the money and power they have to command attention? To create pseudo-education groups that somehow become "sources" for media? To prop up existing ed reform groups? Please.
And who is this "small group of people" she references? Is it the union? And how, pray tell, how does this small (yet powerful) group have the ability to control the debates? I'd like to know because it would surely help my work.
One party line of the ed reformers (and, disturbingly, one that Superintendent Banda seems to be using but I doubt he is an ed reformer) is this "children before adults" line (or "adult concerns" phrase. Anyone who says that there are large numbers of people who care about public education only because it suits their own personal needs is wrong.
You cannot separate that teaching IS a job but it's also a calling. But teachers do get to advocate for their workplaces and their jobs just as any other group does. I just don't believe that teachers (or others who support public education) are just concerned about their own livelihood.
Then she goes off the rails:
The rhetoric against education reform cites the influence of
corporate-backed funding. It is true that many education reform
initiatives are supported by wealthy philanthropists and foundations.
However, their combined contributions are a drop in the bucket compared
with what governments and unions spend. In fact, total philanthropic
spending amounts to only one-third of 1 percent of total K-12 spending.
Well, that's because "public" education is the government's job so certainly they spend a lot of money on it. I believe, via McCleary, that in Washington State, that IS the responsibility of our state government. She also doesn't state what "governments and unions" are spending their money on. Anti-reform?
She ends on a mixed note:
Doing so, however, will require a much more robust and open-minded
conversation. Seattle is known for its progressive approach to human
rights, environmental stewardship and marijuana, yet it maintains a
rather parochial view on education. Our region’s students and their
parents deserve a balanced and informed explanation by those of us who
support education reform.
Seattle has a "parochial" view of education? While other states (and districts) long for things like international education, Montessori and STEM, Seattle Schools has them. SPS didn't need the threat of charters to be innovative. Parents got that ball rolling DECADES ago with our alternative schools. Somehow Ms. Mitchell must have missed this.
I agree with the need for dialog so that more of us are united in more and better ways to educate all children. I myself have reached out to a couple of ed reform people only to be rebuffed or ignored. I'm not sure what else to do.
I also agree with the "balanced and informed explanation" by ed reformers but I'm still waiting to see that happen.
My op-ed to the Times:
I spent over 20 years being a public school parent in Seattle and
15 years as a public education activist, working for a stronger school
district and helping to raise awareness of education issues.
haven’t met a person yet who thinks all is well with our current public
education system. But ed reformers go a step further and call our
public school system “a mess”, “a cesspool” and other demoralizing
phrases. That kind of hyperventilated talk doesn’t help.
activists want to talk about it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Ed reformers will only talk about reform in their terms and not
fully-fleshed out ones.
Much of the ed reform talk is
just rhetoric – it’s words like “angry”, “afraid”, and the very tired
“status quo.” Noted ed reformer Michelle Rhee said cooperation is
“overrated.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently used Twitter to
lash out at “white suburban mothers” for not supporting the Common Core
standards. It’s gotten to the point that Stanford University even offers
a class on rhetoric and ed reform.
It’s hard to start a conversation with that kind of assumptive language.
also hard to deny the money in ed reform. On one side, you have the
Gates Foundation with $38B at their disposal. And then you have Diane
Ravitch, a former deputy secretary of education in the Clinton
Administration and her public education blogger colleagues. Who really
has the influence?
Besides the Gates Foundation, there’s
also the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation and the infamous Koch
Brothers and their shadowy group, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange
That much of ed reform is based on top-down,market-oriented
goals isn’t surprising given these groups.
amazing is that the fight against ed reform isn’t a small group of
people in any single area of the country. Parents in New York state are
pushing back against their children’s’ student data being placed in a
data “cloud”. Communities in New Jersey are fighting charter expansion.
In a strange bedfellows twist, Tea Party activists and other
right-wing types are allied with moms and others who don’t support the
new Common Core standards. This is a nationwide uprising that is not
going to stop any time soon.
Nearly 25% of American
children today live in poverty.* What’s interesting is that the wealthy
activists who are driving the ed reform conversation don’t seem to get
that poverty and its effects are real. That they believe a single good
teacher in a classroom (and Washington State has some of the largest
class sizes in the country) could change outcomes for those students
without help is baffling.
Activists believe teachers
should be in schools that are fully-funded and provide supports to
students with challenges. Activists believe the principal/teacher
relationship is a two-way street. Activists don’t believe in “grading”
schools any more than you would grade your legislator or city council
Finally to note - no other country in the world
is following the U.S. lead on ed reform. Not with charters, not with
testing, not with grading schools. In fact, Finland does just the
opposite of what we are doing in the U.S. and has the highest scores in
the world. All their teachers are in a union. Even China is backing off
on testing and homework.
It would be great to have both
sides meet and find common ground. But it’s hard for public school
parents to do that if they feel marginalized and shushed by those with
wealth and power.