I've enjoyed the last months where I pushed away from the computer when tempted to blog on the education reform dispute of the day and focused on coalition-building in Oklahoma City, as well as big picture analyses such as Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal. But the open conflict among reformers prompted by Robert Pondiscio is too valuable to waste.
I've communicated with enough reformers to know that their coalition is fraying. They've pushed an edu-politics of destruction based on the punitive use of test results in order to keep score in their competition-driven movement. Now, it is obvious that value-added teacher evaluations and their one-size-fits-all micromanaging have failed. Many or most, however, are still committed to high-stakes testing in order to speed up their rushed effort to close schools in mass.
Other corporate reformers seem to believe they can use their (admittedly brilliant) high-dollar public relations campaigns to drive the expansion of charters. They've finally realized that parents are preoccupied with what's best for their own children, not education policy. They are marketing to parents who can't stop the damage that the extreme proliferation of choice does to children left behind in weakened neighborhood schools, but who ignore test scores and seek safe and orderly schools for their own kids.
(By the way, teachers have been forced to do the same thing. Reform imposed an irresolvable dilemma. We can't just refuse to commit education malpractice and simply place our education values over the needs of our students to pass primitive high-stakes tests in order to graduate. So, to greater or lesser extents, we give into demands for nonstop remediation and try to minimize the amount of soul-killing, bubble-in malpractice that is required to keep our kids from ending up on the streets without a diploma.)
Being a classroom teacher, I always appreciated the way that my job forced me to make an extra effort to not judge patrons and other stakeholders who have different beliefs about education policy and other issues. Being a liberal in a conservative state, I've always sought compromise and incrementalism. And, that explains much of the reason why I feel more comfortable around conservative reformers as opposed to liberal and neo-liberal corporate reformers who demand that we progressives must all be "on the same page" in pushing "transformative" reform.
What I can't grasp, however, is liberals who assail other liberals because we won't use the stress of high stakes testing to overcome the stress produced by generational poverty. I still can't understand civil rights advocates who condemn other civil rights advocates because we oppose school segregation as a means of reversing the legacies of segregation.
Had the technocrats spent more time in the inner city classroom, and in the homes, hospital rooms, the streets and, yes, the funerals of our kids, they'd have known we needed more "disruptive" innovation like we need another gang war. Had they shared the joy of teaching and learning for mastery that builds on the strengths of our kids, they would not have dumped reductionist behaviorism on children. But, because teachers saw things differently, we were condemned as the "status quo," which accepted "Excuses!," and renounced "High Expectations!"
School reform has always been as anger-driven as it has been output-driven and market-driven. Even so, Pondiscio's hate-filled response to his erstwhile allies was shocking. It prompted a reply by Justin Cohen, who I believe has supported egregious policy errors, but who has belatedly acknowledged the nature of the "complex intersections of issues that most affect communities of color." In a reply signed by 75+ reformers, Cohen admitted to "the extraordinary flaws and shortsightedness in our own leadership for letting the field become so lopsidedly white through the early 2000s." Corporate reformers under-represented the communities that they hoped to serve. In doing so, they once again proved:
A movement of innovators and technocrats will never have the intellectual and moral power of a movement created by, and led by, the communities most affected by inadequate public schooling. And while there is an important role for allies to play in advancing the work of school improvement for poor students and students of color, an unrepresentative group will lack the critical insight and creativity that diversity and inclusivity bring to addressing complex problems.
A wiser response was issued by Patrick Riccards, aka Eduflack. He writes, "Pondiscio is correct in one important regard. Education reform is stronger when it has all political views and all ideological perspectives on the team." Riccards also admitted that, real world, reform is about:
Taking financial resources from already under-resources public schools to give them to charters who had previously promised to deliver a better education for fewer dollars. It's about attacking teachers unions, while trying to enlist parents who themselves are in labor unions and trying to convince good teachers to go to the very schools we've labeled as failing and hopeless.
Riccards nails it. Reform has been a "hearts versus minds phenomenon." Also, all of our kids deserve classrooms where the clash of ideas is promoted not prohibited. I would add that reformers assumed that we who believe that teaching is an act of love and must be built on kids' moral, creative, and full intellectual consciousness, not an unremitting focus on measurable outcomes, must be vilified.
Yes, reform has been about "believing stronger numbers and market-driven solutions can wipe away generations of institutional racism and inequities." I would only add it has also been about demonizing educators who have dedicated our lives to poor children of color. Pondiscio and many others seem more committed to extracting revenge against adult opponents than listening to students and families. Cohen and others seem willing to start extricating themselves from the edu-politics of destruction, but they don't want to break ranks with true believers in punishing some kids in order to perhaps help others. If they would listen to the wisdom of Patrick Riccards, we could start to reunite in a new era of school improvement that is worthy of a 21st century democracy.