Media: Reform Opponents Are Winning Online (For Now)
There's a strange dynamic going on inside the online education reform debate in which the well-funded reformers play the role of wimpy David and the scrappy traditional educators are Goliath. But the mismatch could change quickly in the new year, and if it does things will get noisier but also -- I hope -- a little more interesting.
As anyone who reads education sites or goes on Twitter knows, "reform critics" -- they're still working on a better term to describe their views -- have a slew of current teachers and veterans out there talking about their classroom experiences and opinions nearly every day. Nancy Flanagan, TeacherKen, Anthony Cody, and John Thompson to name just a few. It's not just that they're out there shouting randomly into the wind, either. At least some of them seem to be coordinated behind the scenes by SOS or PAA or Leonie's listserv, bird-dogging individual sites -- Caroline Grannan seems to have been (self-)assigned to this site -- and converging on a blog post or Twitter comment (as happened to me last week when I first posted on this topic). If past experience is any guideline, the comments here and Twitter RTs will come from them.
In contrast, reformy folks have lacked a SWAT team of feisty and prolific school-level champions defending articulating their message. The now middle-aged reform movement seems to have relied on institutional and organizational voices -- Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, et al -- and mainstream news outlets, where they dominate. But these voices are neither coming from the classroom nor active in the online debate during the days and weeks between mainstream news stories, which are an increasingly large part of the education discussion. This leaves others - think tankers and crackpots and Whitney Tilsons and such -- to fill in the empty spaces. But those folks aren't numerous or prolific or tenacious or, ultimately, credible enough, either. They are too self-important to leave comments on other sites, and too professional to post on weekends or after hours when everyone else with a day job is most active.
This imbalance may be changing as more and more reform efforts focus on advocacy, teacher voices, and (so slowly!) embrace social media. StudentsFirst did a decent job digging up pink-slipped teachers of the year to tell their anti-LIFO story and calling on supporters to write into Congress when the Senate was considering that ridiculous Harkin replacement bill. Stand For Children could press a button that would encourage its supporters to write or email or tweet, and at some point soon will see fit to do so. The CTQ has a bunch of teacher bloggers out there, many of them on a group blog at EdWeek -- which looks a little bland and slow by current standards but it's a start. The folks at TeachPlus have a teacher evaluation post up at HuffPost here, which is again a start. There's a charter-positive TFA alumni named MathInAZ over at Teach For Us.
I'm not taking sides here as to who's more right or more wrong (most everyone's wrong, far as I'm concerned). And perhaps there are bloggers and commenters out there I've missed in my looking and asking around. I put out a call for school-based reform-positive voices last week and am happy to continue to learn more.