"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is Deborah Gist Serious?

I need some help.  I had a mini-debate with someone on Twitter the other day, and one of us is likely very confused about the current education debate.

I've been under the impression that the Education Equality Project and the Broader, Bolder Approach to education are competing viewpoints in regards to how we should improve the public schools.  I was under this impression because both "camps" (if you want to call them that, and some people don't) have noted they're competing agendas; because writers across the political spectrum have commented on their varying viewpoints; and because a review of their policy documents, boards, and other available information suggests they have distinctly different - and often times conflicting - viewpoints on many significant issues. My informal mini-debate opponent claimed she didn't see them as competing agendas, just focused differently.  And my mini-debate opponent is on EEP's board, but also is also a BBA signatory.  If you haven't figured it out, my mini-debate opponent is RI's Deborah Gist.

Readers can check out Gist's full Twitter feed in order to see the full text of our brief little debate.  I'm actually going to give her some credit for a few things that she said: she doesn't buy into the notion that there are "reformers" and "defenders of the status quo"; she says she's concerned about testing (in light of this article); and I think she deserves credit for being willing to engage with people that criticize or question her on social media outlets.  Please don't assume that me giving her credit for those things means I think she's right on a lot of issues, that I approve of her work, or that she's won me over as some sort of convert; on the contrary, I'm even more concerned about her given her assertion that EEP and BBA are somehow not competing agendas and really just "focus" on separate areas.

Here are two concrete examples of her denying the competing agendas of EEP and BBA:

As I mentioned in my introduction, lots and lots of people see these as competing agendas.  For example, David Brooks noted it in a NY Times piece; BBA co-chairs shot back with their own response, which included this statement:
Our approach does not represent the “status quo,” as Mr. Brooks proclaims. The approach endorses “school improvement plus” and focuses on the three “plus” areas of early childhood, health, and after-school and summer programs, while the competing Education Equality Project promotes the “schools only” strategy that is the current policy.
And there's the Pat McGuinn piece from Rick Hess' blog (also posted on the EEP blog), the Paul Tough piece from Slate, and a whole lot of other folks who would agree there are some really big differences between these two groups.  In the above quote, the BBA co-chairs call EEP a "competing" project, and below you'll see a tweet from Marcus Hall, a (former?) Program Associate at EEP:

I finished my brief debate with Gist knowing that one of us was misunderstanding the differences (or lack of) between EEP/BBA.  I'm inclined to believe I'm right, and I've presented evidence - from BBA co-chairs, EEP, and a plethora of writers from across the political spectrum - to support my point of view.

Why does this matter?  As far as I'm concerned, we have a highly influential public official making statements that fail to acknowledge the gross difference between two competing reform agendas.  Of course, readers will know I strongly favor the Broader, Bolder Approach and I'm not a fan of DFER (which shares many characteristics - and board members - with EEP).  Suggesting there aren't really significant differences between the two agendas is highly misleading, and it really doesn't help the public understand the debate in the education policy arena.  It floors me that Gist can see these as agendas that are not competing with each other.

Is there something I'm missing here?  Fill me in...

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