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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Night at the Kennedy School for A Single Political View on Education Reform

Tonight while leafleting for public schools in front of the Kennedy School of Government and Politics, someone handed me a ticket to the sold out event of the evening, featuring, in order of physical dimensions, Margaret Spellings, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, and John Podesta.  With both sides of the corporate jet represented on this "education reform" panel, it was to be an exciting evening, even though I did not get to ask my question.  Plenty of smart Harvard kids did, though, and the answers ranged from soapy to pugilistic to just plain dumb.  Good acoustics but lots of echo, if you follow.

It is obvious that Jeb misses his knife fights with the teachers' union in Florida, and it was clear that he sees himself as a friend of teachers, as long as they are not union members.  He got literally red-faced, really splotchy, when he talked about the need to "blow up" (his term) teacher certification requirements and professional preparation.  He was also visibly steamed at the idea of requiring urban teachers, anyway, to learn about "some 19th century history of education."  There were audible groans among the audience at that.  Anyone who thought George was the dumb one, think again.

As someone like me determined to see this corporate education reform snapping turtle put on it back and its head cut off with a good sharp pocket knife, I came away feeling hopeful.  For if they are not yet on their backs, they are definitely on their heels after the repudiation of Fenty-Rhee and corporate reform in DC.  In a demonstration, by the way, of how she learned nothing from the rejection of her poisonous persona, she said that she believed it much more important to communicate with politicians than with the public at large.  But really, there was definitely the sense that after 25 years, the air is quickly going out of this "reform" balloon, with Spellings noting that issues like merit pay, charters, data systems, accountability, no longer resonate or excite.  Wonder why. 

Rhee set the tone when she said that at present she has "mixed emotions," which says a great deal about her resilience or her arrogance, take your pick.  She indicated that her hope is to "crack everything open" soon, or risk the loss of momentum for the next 10 years.  So you may guess, as the new NCATE announcement would indicate yesterday, there is now being "incubated" a whole new Alien to cause further devastation to the public schools.  Something to get Margaret's mojo back.

I found it telling that Rhee became animated when she talked about using the current layoffs of workers to help bring down the "dinosaurish" policies like job security, seniority, and due process.  She is clearly the heartless wonder that has made her the poster girl for corporate education reform.

Margaret Spelling, sitting next to the diminutive and drawn John Podesta, had clearly been to the Dress Barn for this event.  She showed lots of leg and seemed sort of tired of the whole business of Margaret Spellings, Inc.  No, that's not a joke.  I had the sense that she would rather be at bar next door at the Charles knocking back a few and telling dirty jokes to Podesta.

Oh yes, there was a great deal of talk about cooperation "on at least one thing" in Washington to get a new NCLB, which Maggie noted is a toxic brand.  With both sides of the Chamber of Commerce softball team signed on, and with politicians in Washington now paid for with from same corporate stash, one must wonder why the darkish aura, or the visible embarrassment and impatience on the stage when John Podesta rattled on about data.  As master pols, Bush and Spellings, and Rhee to a lesser extent, can sense, I think, that the worm has turned.  Did I say that Rhee left for another engagement just before the question period began?

The youngsters there, if they learned nothing else, which they probably didn't, have to now know that the huge sucking sound coming from Washington is created by the near vaccum in the education reform leadership ranks.  Many of the kids there tonight want to be teachers.  Maybe by the time they are ready, educators will have a voice at shaping the future of American schools, rather than tonight's band of cynical, worn-out, and  bromide-spouting fools who go from city to city getting their meal voucher punched by the Eli Broad and Bill Gates.

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