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Events: Weekend Thoughts On NSVF 2012

Nsvf2012 logoWe're still waiting for the Howard Fuller and Rahm Emanuel videos but, with the benefit of a couple days to reflect, here are some thoughts about last week’s NSVF summit that I haven't seen elsewhere:  the newfound prominence given to the parent trigger, the honest self-criticism about public engagement, the choice of Howard ("Storm The Bastille") Fuller as opener, the general disappointment following Emanuel's speech.

Plus a reward video at the end.

*COMING OUT FOR THE PARENT TRIGGER:  It was notable to me that the organizers opened the summit with a screening of the parent trigger movie (“Won’t Back Down”) and an appearance by Parent Revolution’s Ben Austin, who also won one of NSVF’s annual awards.  From “Two Million Minutes” to “Waiting For Superman” to “Race To Nowhere,” the potential power of mass media to shape public option is clear, but the reform community has been publicly silent and privately dismissive of the trigger approach. Perhaps they’ve warmed to its potential or at least recognizing the danger of being left out of one of education’s few really “live” issues for 2012 – the kind of issue (along with cyberbullying) that fancy policy wonks don’t take seriously but journalists and debate moderators ask political candidates what they think about.

 *CONVINCING A SKEPTICAL PUBLIC:  Wearing polka-dotted reading glasses and with a thick stack of notecards, NSVF president Ted Mitchell gave what I thought was a pretty good speech about the need for reformers to do things differently, and better. “While we were making progress on the ground, we were losing our case in the public opinion,” he said.  The claim that reformers have been waging a war on teachers has stuck.  “We have to scale our work, and convince an increasingly skeptical public,” according to Mitchell. To do so, reformers need to bring others into the conversation, including in particular teachers, whom Mitchell described as a natural ally. “We need to listen to what teachers are telling us, and we need to respond.”

*STORMING THE BASTILLE:  Inviting Howard Fuller to open the first full day of the summit was another interesting move, given his support for vouchers and his “storm the Bastille” rhetoric. In the past, Geoff Canada and Al Sharpton have played the role of elder black statesmen for the reform movement.  And Fuller is a big change from Canada – closer to Klein and Rhee.  Some people thought it was an inappropriate choice.  I thought it was a good reminder to reformers about the larger context in which they’re working – that they have to deal with impatient pro-voucher Democrats, one way or the other.  Next year, Derrell Bradford, the New Jersey reform leader whom along with Ref Rodriguez and Danielle Smith blew up Yale SOM 2011?

*POVERTY:  The attempt to address child poverty deserves credit, no matter how belated or superficial it may have seemed.  The reform movement has struggled mightily to figure out what to do and say about nonschool factors.  They showed a video in which kids said things like “I thought I was the problem,” “This school made me realize that I’m here for a reason,” “They make you recycle,” and “There’s a very huge light at the end of this tunnel.”  The logo at the end read Education>Poverty, which would make a pretty good t-shirt, if it isn’t one already.

*Several of those who were at one point the reform movement’s biggest names were notably absent from the mainstage (and most of them from the event, or perhaps avoiding me):  Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Jonah Edelman, Wendy Kopp, Steve Barr, Mike Johnston, John Schnur, Mike Feinberg, Andy Rotherham, John Deasy.  Schnur and Deasy and Feinberg were there, as was Barr. Schnur was part of a breakout session. Edelman got two minutes as a respondent to Fuller.  Part of that is summit organizers’ desire to find new people to talk, but my sense is that there’s also something of a changing of the guard going on -- away from charters and towards elected and appointed officials like Cami and Kaya -- or perhaps also some uncertainty about which way things are going. 

*Interesting to find out that reformers aren’t just starting their own teacher prep programs – Relay, Match, etc. – they’re also getting appointed to run existing ones. Though I don’t know if he identifies as a reformer or not, at least one TFA alum present at the summit is head of a traditional teacher prep program.  It's a pretty eye-opening thought, having a TFA alum head an ed school.  Are there others? It seems like a smart way to go, considering the lessons reformers have learned about creating small new organizations (charter networks) and hoping that the big legacy institutions (school districts) will spontaneously adapt.  And of course, there are lots more candidates going through traditional programs than alternative ones.  Of course, not many reformers have PhDs or even EdDs that are usually required to move up the ed school career ladder.  

*There wasn’t much buzz about Rahm Emanuel at the reception after his conference-ending appearance.  His remarks and answers were repetitive sound bites and there was a massive disconnect between what he was talking about and the turmoil within the Brizard team and the teachers union and all the rest.  He’s only been in office for a year, and I think most folks are going to take a wait and see approach.  He’s got the authority to do all sorts of things – charterize the district, implement a city-level version of the parent trigger.  But it’s been a bumbly, stumbly first year, what with the awkward rollout of the extended day and the staff shakeup around Brizard.  There are some good people working on district change in CPS.  There could be a strike. 

Your reward for getting this far is a video of the Chris Barbic, Cami, and Kaya segment, hosted by Walton's Jim Blew:

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It really does bother me that poverty hasn’t been addressed in depth until very recently. And the way they handled it in that video, it felt more as though they were tackling it as a rhetorical device rather than an actual issue that needed to be addressed. I know the idiom “better late than never”, but is that really the case here?

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