Her latest sit-down is with one of the better-knowns of a new breed of "reasonable" reformer: Peter Cunningham, creator of Education Post. I'll confess I haven't followed Cunningham's site religiously, but near as I can tell he's running a farm system, bringing up a bunch of hot prospects to push back on folks like Jennifer and Peter and me and others who don't buy into the reformy argument.
Except that pushing back isn't the ultimate goal; instead, apparently, we're supposed to lay aside our policy differences on tenure and testing and charter schools, all for the sake of kids. Because, in the "reasonable" reformer's mind, there's just oodles of stuff we can all agree on.
Take, for example, school funding. As Cunningham himself has recently said:
Now that is a very interesting framework; it deserves some unpacking.Instead of a tiresome debate around accountability, we agree on simple measures of progress and shared responsibility among teachers, principals, superintendents and taxpayers.The only way to achieve this vision in a decentralized system like ours is with a much bigger federal investment. Today, 1-2 percent of the federal budget goes to K-12 education, while 16-20 percent goes to defense, when you include the wars. But education is the real defense industry of the 21st Century so let’s talk about shifting a few percentage points from unwinnable wars and unneeded weapons programs toward public education.Conservatives will insist we also talk about entitlement reforms that could shift dollars from the elderly to the young. We should all welcome that conversation, including those of us who no longer have kids in school and are busy tracking our retirement portfolios. Our collective interest trumps our self-interest.
What Cunningham is engaging in here is an argument I called Jonathan Alter out on years ago. Alter coined this position the "Grand Bargain": teachers would have to be held accountable in a system that he didn't care to define specifically; in return they would get "a lot more pay."
As I said at the time, the details in these grand bargains are never fully spelled out -- yet we teachers are expected to agree to them, like saps at the worst used car dealer you could imagine. Ask the teachers in Newark, for example, how their "grand bargain" worked out.
Cunningham isn't down at the teacher level, but his argument runs parallel to Alter's: we'll shift more money into education, so long as we get to keep expanding segregating "choice" systems, and keep ranking teachers using innumerate test-based measures, and keep closing "failing" schools (even though that is itself a failed strategy -- and Cunningham, of all people, should know this).
But notice where Cunningham gets his money for this grand bargain: either the defense sector, or, as an outcome of a conversation "we should all welcome," the elderly. But there is no mention in Peter Cunningham's world (so far as I can find) of raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for better schools for children in economic disadvantage.
Thank goodness I'm not an old, crusty cynic. Because, if I were, I would point out that Education Post is funded by multi-billionaires Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Walton family, and an anonymous plutocrat -- the very people who have benefitted from our historical income inequity and our historically low taxation rate on the wealthy.
What I'll instead focus on is this idea of "shifting a few percentage points" of the federal budget to education. Remember, Cunningham was a part of the Obama administration's first term; he was there back in 2009 when the fight to get stimulus money into the economy was being waged. In Cunningham's own words, President Obama was a champion of funneling more money into the schools:
See, there is common ground after all! Sure, us critics of "reform" may have a problems with the havoc that Race To The Top wreaked, what with its segregating charter schools and innumerate teacher evaluations and expansive and unnecessary testing regimes...
But RTTT was nothing compared to the massive amount of money the Obama/Duncan/Cunningham administration poured into education! $60 billion dollars! That's amazing...
Peter Cunningham wants us to believe that our neo-liberal president went to bat for expanded school funding and that, in exchange, we should support his plan of more tests, more charters, more closed schools, and more test-based teacher evaluations.
But the truth is more complex. Yes, President Obama did get that one-time shot of funds for schools; he then preceded to back off of a sustained increase in funding, leaving our nation's schools largely worse off fiscally than before the recession.
Overall per pupil spending in the US decreased both in 2011 and 2012 under the Obama administration. Maybe I missed it, but I didn't hear folks like Peter Cunningham making a big stink about this. Certainly, there wasn't as much ASCII spilled about funding over at Education Post as there was about how vitally important it is to implement Common Core.
I guess foisting new, "better" standards on schools is far more important than figuring out how to come up with the funds to actually meet those standards.
But if you happen bring up this incongruity, you're obviously someone who just doesn't care enough about the wee ones. At least, you don't care as much as Peter Cunningham:
How about this, Peter: are they the ones making excuses for a society that allows the largest child poverty rate in the developed world...
... while simultaneously overseeing an inequitable education funding system -- all while screaming for "accountability" from teachers and schools who do not have the funds necessary to educate all children?
Cunningham wants to have a "better" conversation about education.What he fails to understand is that he's having the wrong conversation to begin with. Because there are millions of people doing necessary jobs in our society who are living hand-to-mouth right now -- and a few more charter schools and a few more tests and a few more fired teachers aren't going to make their lives any better.
When Peter Cunningham is willing to stand up to his funders and look them square in the eye and say: "pay up," I'll answer his question about who the "real progressives" are. Until then, I can only dream about his problems:
Peter, you have all this money because they have all this money. And they have all this money because we don't get to tax them properly so we can fund schools and address childhood poverty.
Have you ever stopped to think about this?
ADDING: As if on cue:
I'm sure that just as soon as the unions agree to every policy of Cunningham's, he'll get right on to explaining how he's going to provide those resources...
Any minute now...