Back in June, my blogger, union and teacher colleague, JD2718 posted five versions of the old union song, Which Side Are You On?
By some odd coincidence, back in June the civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton and NY schools Chancellor Joel Klein held a joint news conference in Washington DC to announce the formation of a coalition with an agenda for school reform. It’s was not a new agenda.
Reported the NY Sun:
The coalition did not offer specific recommendations or a detailed policy agenda, but Mr. Klein said they would emphasize improving teacher quality, accountability, increased parental involvement, and making charter schools “viable” throughout the country. The group plans to hold forums at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer.
Mr. Klein and other coalition members signaled a willingness to confront entrenched policies like teacher tenure, even if it meant a conflict with unions. “We will take on laws, contracts, and other barriers to successfully educating our children,” Mr. Klein said.
The chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system, Michelle Rhee, was more blunt: “We are finally going to put aside the rights and privileges and priorities of adults” — and return the focus to children, she said.
Also appearing at the announcement yesterday was a former Colorado governor and superintendent of the Los Angeles school system, Roy Romer, and the head of the Baltimore schools, Andres Alonso.
You might not be surprised to know that the union hating, public school bashing Republican in sheep’s clothing, Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, swooned over the announcement.
“It’s not everyday that someone like Rev. Sharpton is willing to stand up and talk about the extent of the problem,” the executive director of the New York-based Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, who also joined the new coalition yesterday, said. “Essentially he’s saying there are no sacred cows.”
The good news is that earlier this year another coalition came together which produced a document with a very different agenda than the Klein/Sharpton one.
Describing itself as a Broader and Bolder Approach to Education, this coalition refuses to label schools and trash teachers.
The nation’s education policy has typically been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on learning, a theory embodied in the No Child Left Behind law, which passed with bipartisan support in 2001 and is now up for reauthorization. Schools can ameliorate some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement. Improving our schools, therefore, continues to be a vitally important strategy for promoting upward mobility and for working toward equal opportunity and overall educational excellence.
Evidence demonstrates, however, that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can substantially, consistently, and sustainably close these gaps.
To me there is great value in the emergence of these two clearly defined and clearly different visions. Some, even in our own union movement want to straddle the fence. But this will be hard to do.
People will be asking,
Which side are you on?