It seems like no one can resist making comparisons between what's going on at Occupy Wall Street and what's going on in education reform. And you can't blame them. Some of school reform's most well known names -- Mike Bloomberg, Whitney Tilson, Boykin Curry, Bill Gates, Eli Broad -- are quite literally members of the 1 percent (albeit Democrats). Many other reforms aren't One Percenters but have enough of the trappings -- Ivy League educations, Rhodes Scholarships, Bain and McKinsey pedigrees, a corporate style of dressing and speaking and a certainty and rigidity about their ideas -- that they are easily lumped in. Many of their ideas -- public school choice, performance pay, and competition -- have capitalist trappings.
In her article Why Not Occupy The Schools?
, Dana Golstein explains that the comparisons don't really hold: "The dominant ethos of the school choice/Bloomberg/Obama reform movement is one borrowed not from Wall Street, with its desperate lust for profit, but from Silicon Valley, with its commitment to meritocratic innovation that—yes, of course—earns money, but also serves the public."
That doesn't mean that there aren't problems with school reform, or troubling similarities between reformers and One Percenters. (Indeed, Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft are despite all their trappings just as focused on money making as any other company.) Reformers should take heed of the fact that at least some teachers and parents readily confuse them with Wall Street, and that the situation is proving so easy for oppents to use against them. They should reflect on the possibility that they, the respectable class, have been "taught to believe in their own goodness
" in ways that may be limiting their ability to acknowledge issues and blinding to the views of others (via Tom Hoffman). The self-censorship and lack of public dissent within the reform community is really quite startling. Reformers should acknowledge that some of their ' favorite ideas -- online learning, 1:1 tablet initiatives, common standards -- would bring millions to big education companies.
At the same time, reform opponents need to make sure not to discredit themselves by trying to turn Democratic-funded philanthropies and well-intended nonprofit CMOs into Wall Street or heartless corporations, or to rush headlong into the arms of teachers unions and organized labor groups that, when all is said and done, have largely gone along in creating a system that does not do right by parents and poor children in particular. School districts, elected officials, and teachers unions have done much too little for poor children for much too long to ever be mistaken as defenders of all that is good and just.