I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weasels In the Department of Education

Weasel words are flying out of the Obama/Duncan Department of Education tonight. Here's the story:

First, Diane Ravitch tweeted the most important question right now in the education world:
Who will transform education: entrepreneurs or educators? 
Which links to a piece by Nancy Flanagan which, again, asks this most important question in our current education debate:
So--Sara Mead is again highlighting 17 "up and coming" edu-preneurs who will "lead the transformation of education in this country in the coming generation," in her Policy Notebook blog. Mead says she:
...built this list by asking for recommendations from people I respect in the education field, including my Bellwether education colleagues, leaders of education reform and policy organizations, writers and analysts, and, most importantly, last year's list of Next Generation Leaders.
Her list includes many "founders" and "executives" of charter schools, non-profits created to demean collective bargaining and teachers' control over their own profession, rising neo-liberal stars in higher education and psychometrics--and players in the USDOE's efforts to "respect" teachers rhetorically, if not in policy. Those up and coming in the new "opportunity culture" of the wide-open education marketplace.
Who's left out? Career teachers who want to restore their own autonomy and purpose. Creative public school administrators working tirelessly in challenging situations, under crushing policy constraints. Parents groups organizing to save their kids from endless, pointless testing. And of course, anyone who belongs to a teachers' association--or questions the chipping away of America's best idea: a free, excellent, fully public (not partially privatized) education for every child.
Why not create another list of Up and Comers, built on recommendations from readers' respected colleagues, leaders in honestly progressive, grass-roots reform, National Board Certified and other recognized teachers, important voices speaking out about media- and money-fed policy myths? Wouldn't it be much more balanced, not just edu-preneurs looking to build another start-up? [emphasis mine]
So Nancy and Diane are both asking the critical question before reformyists right now: why are policies being driven by people who aren't actual public school educators? Why is the conversation dominated by those who don't teach in public schools?

Enter Justin Hamilton, the current Press Secretary for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, with a truly ridiculous tweet:
False choice, I would hope both RT: Who will transform education: entrepreneurs or educators?
Really, sir? You're going to tell me both entrepreneurs and educators are going to be part of this "transformation"? Perhaps, then, you can explain this, via Valerie Strauss?
President Obama hosted an education roundtable at the White House on Monday and I’ll give you one chance to guess who wasn’t high on the guest list.
Below is a list of people who were invited to the event, which was described on the president’s schedule this way:
“The President hosts an education roundtable with business leaders, Secretary Duncan, Melody Barnes, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell.”
The invitees, according to a news release from the White House, include:

· Marguerite Kondracke, president & CEO, America’s Promise
· Alma Powell, chairwoman, America’s Promise
· General Colin Powell, founding chairman, America’s Promise
· Craig Barrett, former president & CEO, Intel
· Glenn Britt, CEO, Time Warner Cable
· Steve Case, former chairman & CEO, America Online
· Brian Gallagher, president & CEO, United Way Worldwide
· William Green, president & CEO, Accenture
· Fred Humphries, senior vice president, Microsoft
· Rhonda Mimms, foundation president, ING
· Kathleen Murphy, president, Fidelity Personal Investments
· Ed Rust, CEO, State Farm
· Randall Stephenson, chairman & CEO, AT&T
· Bill Swanson, chairman & CEO, Raytheon
· Laysha Ward, foundation president, Target
· David Zaslav, president & CEO, Discovery Communications
· Former governor Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education
· Anne Finucane, chair of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Bank of America
I'm still waiting for the invitation to the summit where I and twenty of my fellow teachers get to advise the President on all of the problems with American business and how they should act more like us if they want to save the economy.

The sad fact, of course, is that we educators have been almost completely left out of the debate about education. We are patronizingly told how important we are, then left to figure out how to teach in our underfunded classrooms, while the Very Serious People gather in wood-paneled rooms and figure out how to use bubble tests to screw us out of our workplace protections.

Fortunately, Diane was not taking this garbage lying down:

 I have never met a teacher who looked for ways to make a buck off his/her students, like for-profit orgs now prowling for $.
2hDiane Ravitch ‏@DianeRavitch
  I have never met a teacher who welcomes for-profit entrepreneurs into management of education. Only ALEC & allies.
 It's sad that Obama administration takes teachers for granted, continues mindless obsession with hi-stakes testing & privatization.
 I disagree; US DOE should not be promoting for-profit entrepreneurs. It is not your role. Remember equality of ed opportunity?
Oh, snap! Well, when you get beat down this good, the only chance you have is to try to weasel your way out of what you plainly just said:
 so, it's not a bad word or a bad way to approach life
 for instance, I would say you are an entrepreneur: passionate about education, but still find time for books, writing speaking
 I know plenty of teachers and others who are entrepreneurial. It's not a hat exclusively worn in the private sector.
Now that is some high-quality weaseling. Because it's very clear that an entrepreneurial "approach to life" is NOT what either Diane or Nancy was talking about. They were talking - very specifically - about the influence of a corporate mind-set on our current education policies and debate, to the exclusion of those who actually teach the kids.

Can you tell that the patronization of teachers by folks like Justin Hamilton makes me just the slightest bit nuts? That I am so damn sick and tired of people like him patting me on the head and pretending to have my best interests at heart? That I'm done with education summits in government and at think-tanky conferences and on my TV that exclude me and my colleagues?

The only comfort I take is that I know these people can't help themselves; once in a while, they can't help but slip up - like Justin did tonight - and tell the truth about what they really think. And what they think is that the people who are looking to make a buck off of America's kids deserve to set the policies that govern schools, and that teachers need only nod their heads and say, "Yes, sir! No, sir! No excuse, sir!"

All the weasel words in the world can't hide their lack of respect.


UPDATE: Diane Ravitch herself weighs in. And just happens to add:
 I don’t have the exact sequence, but Jersey Jazzman (one of my favorite bloggers)...
I will be shamelessly repeating that sentence for years to come!


ongoingly said...

Wow. This is a powerful post! I just saw it on twitter and had to comment. The question is: how do real educators, not reformy philanthro-vultures, demand a seat at the table? Actually, here's another question...WHY do real educators have to demand a seat at the table? I'd love for the President to answer that one...

Unknown said...

Anther one of your bests JM.

"I'm still waiting for the invitation to the summit where I and twenty of my fellow teachers get to advise the President on all of the problems with American business and how they should act more like us if they want to save the economy."

John Y. Jones, Ph.D. said...

Excellent points made by yourself and Dr. Ravitch. Your message, however, is somewhat undercut by the ad for the for-profit Virginia College at the top of the blog post.