It is odd the way corporate school reformers obsess about the tone of conversations.
I know that I have been known to raise my voice now and then. But that has more to do with the fact that I frequently forget to put in my hearing aids and I talk louder when that happens.
There are things I am passionate about, however. I am for preserving public education, which many of us consider a basic component of a democratic society.
Defending and expanding democracy seems more important than ever these days.
There is this debate between the corporate reform Fordham Foundation’s Robert Pondisco and former Arne Duncan advisor Peter Cunningham. It’s appears in Education Next, a website that promotes privatization and is run by the usual corporate reform suspects like Frederick Hess, Michael Petrilli, and Chester Finn.
Peter Cunningham runs a site of his own, funded with more corporate money (there seems to be an endless supply), that supports charters and “choice.” Cunningham’s shtick is to decry loud voices when neighborhood schools get shuttered. Can’t we all just get along?
And so in the Education Next debate, he criticizes Pondisco for pitting charters against vouchers.
Given President-elect Trump’s stated desire to radically expand school choice, a robust debate about charters and vouchers is needed and welcome, but let’s begin by remembering that movements grow through addition, not division. Manufacturing a battle between charter and voucher supporters doesn’t help the school choice movement or kids.
With Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, neighborhood public schools aren’t even in the equation. Why get into a fight over charters versus vouchers? We can have it all! Don’t manufacture a debate between vouchers and charters, whispers Cunningham, when the real target is the neighborhood public school.
Neighborhood schools are what the right-wingers like to call government schools. Y’know. Like government cops and government roads and government health care (which the rest of the industrialized world seems to enjoy, but not us).
Another corporate reform heavyweight, Frederick Hess of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, is also outraged at those loud voices that oppose the Betsy DeVos pick to be Education Secretary.
To appreciate fully the tenor of the response to DeVos, one should know that the national education debate usually proceeds with a modicum of civility. A year ago, when President Obama nominated former New York commissioner of education John King to be secretary of education, King was greeted courteously and approved rapidly by the Republican Senate — despite King’s troubled tenure in New York, one that featured a disastrous rollout of the Common Core. In fact, King’s warm reception followed seven years of troubling activity at the Obama Department of Education itself
.It’s worth recalling, also, the greeting how Arne Duncan, Obama’s first secretary of education, was greeted when nominated in 2008. Duncan, who had never taught, had served for seven years as superintendent of schools in Chicago — where he presided over some of the nation’s highest-paid teachers, mediocre student outcomes, and a massively underfunded pension fund. As a basketball-playing buddy of Obama’s, Duncan could have been attacked as nothing more than a Chicago crony. Instead, the response to Duncan was glowing. In the New York Times, reporter Sam Dillon wrote: “Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice as secretary of education.” The Wall Street Journal’s Collin Levy termed Duncan “the CEO of the Chicago public schools and the ultimate diplomat.” Levy wrote: “Fans also note that he helped raise the cap on charter schools to 30 from 15. . . . He’s known for a flexibility that allows him to float between the traditional Democratic strongholds and the new wave of reformers in the party.”
A revisionist history if there ever was one.
The reaction to the Duncan and King choices by Obama for Education Secretary may have been smiles from the New York Times, but not from those of us who fight for democratic control of public schools.
Education progressives battled Duncan and King for eight years.
In fact, it was Frederick Hess and the AEI that were in love with Arne Duncan.
Back in 2010, Hess and Petrilli penned a love letter to Arne Duncan.
Duncan’s was a speech unlike any we have heard from a U.S. Secretary of Education-Republican or Democrat. He said resources are limited, embraced the need to make tough choices, urged states and districts to contemplate boosting some class sizes and consolidating schools, and didn’t spend much time trying to throw bones to the status quo.
Duncan called for wide-ranging reforms in the name of cost-effectiveness. He said, “The legacy of the factory model of schooling is that tens of billions of dollars are tied up in unproductive use of time and technology, in underused school buildings, in antiquated compensation systems, and in inefficient school finance systems.” He rightly argued that schooling had to abandon the notion that reform is always bought and paid for with new dollars and argued that it’s essential to think of technology as a “force multiplier” rather than a pleasing add-on. His to-do list was comprehensive and spot on. He said, “Rethinking policies around seat-time requirements, class size, compensating teachers based on their educational credentials, the use of technology in the classroom, inequitable school financing, the over placement of students in special education—almost all of these potentially transformative productivity gains are primarily state and local issues that have to be grappled with.”
In one speech, this (Democratic) Secretary of Education came out swinging against last hired, first fired, seniority-based pay raises, smaller class sizes, seat time, pay bonuses for master’s degrees, and over-bloated special education budgets. Which means he declared war on the teachers unions, parents groups, education schools, and special education lobby. Not a bad day’s work!
To be sure, Duncan has control over almost none of this. Still, this is classic bully-pulpit stuff, and we expect it will resonate big-time in state capitols all over the country. When the unions start busing in kids, parents, and teachers to rally against increases in class size or pay freezes, expect a lot of Republican governors to start quoting their good friend Arne Duncan.
So I am saying that Peter Cunningham and the rest of them notwithstanding this is no time to lower our voices.