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Foundations: What To Think About C4TE's Collapse?

Screen shot 2012-10-22 at 12.50.26 PMReform critics reacted gleefully last week to the news that Communities for Teaching Excellence, the Gates-funded advocacy effort in support of its teacher quality initiative, was being de-funded (LAT, LA Daily News), a reaction that was  predictable but sort of sad and short-sighted.  

Why so?  First and foremost, the outcome explodes notion that reform foundations like Gates are all-powerful, which is obviously untrue but is a myth that seems convenient to repeat. Can't be all-powerful and occasionally ineffective at the same time. It's also a reflection of the reality that advocacy groups have proliferated as much as C4TE has failed.  So if reform critics want to call the creation of tons of advocacy groups a success, then fine go ahead.  

Last but not least, trashing the efforts of folks like Yolie Flores, the former LAUSD board member (pictured) who took on the task and has dedicated her career to making schools better for poor kids, seems inappropriate coming from mostly white liberals sitting in front of computers or giving speeches.  You can read more about Flores in the LA Weekly and Scholastic Administrator (who sponsors this site), and a blog post of mine about her disagreement with LAUSD and Deasy over the changes to PSC ( John Deasy's Mystifying Labor Deal).

One last thing: a couple of people have written me suggesting that the downfall of this latest effort was comparable to the failure of EDIN'08, a comparison I get but would quibble with.  Yes, advocacy is a dicey business and folks bigger and better funded than Gates have spent scads of money in other arenas and walked away without much to show for it. The highs and lows are higher in advocacy than they are in policy and program worlds.  But I don't believe that EDIN'08 was such a big failure as conventional wisdom would have it.  And, an important difference to me is that EDIN'08 was organized around a national campaign, the presidential elections, whereas the Gates teacher quality advocacy effort was focused on the individual Gates districts without any substantial national component. 

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I have to respond to the characterization of critics of so-called education "reform" as "mostly white liberals sitting in front of computers or giving speeches."

Speaking for myself (admittedly a white liberal), I spent the years that my kids were in K-12 urban public school (1996-2012), while working part-time for pay, volunteering in all kinds of settings working to support and improve their diverse schools. I volunteered in classrooms, in many fundraising activities, in many parent leadership/empowerment activities, in community meetings, on school and district committees, at events such as school fairs, and on and on -- all deeply involved in the life of our diverse urban public schools and our community. Eventually I connected with similar parent volunteers around the nation, thanks to the Internet, and we teamed up to co-found Parents Across America.

All of the parents I met up with in that effort have been just as deeply involved in the real world of classrooms, schools and the community as I have, almost all in high-poverty urban districts.

There's no way to measure this, but I deeply believe we have been far, far more involved than the leaders of the so-called "reform" movement, who are largely folks with no experience whatosever inside schools and classrooms. Many of them -- if not most -- attended private schools, sent their children to private schools, and have never set foot in a public school classroom except on a dog-n-pony-show tour. (Yes, I know Michelle Rhee taught for a few months in an actual high-poverty urban classroom, by her own description working incredible miracles during that brief time, though no one but her remembers anything about those miracles.)

In my own case, my younger child has left for college and I've gone back to work full time, so my involvement will be changing, but I really need to correct that inaccurate statement about critics of so-called "reform."

My understanding (and I am informed in this matter) is that the Gates Foundation, while de-funding C4TE, has not given up on its teacher appraisal advocacy efforts across the United States; instead, it is apparently giving up on the national advocacy group that C4TE has attempted to be, and will focus on supporting a number of more local groups instead. In all likelihood C4TE had some internal benchmarks in terms of popular impact that it failed to meet, and is closing for that reason. This is consistent with the ethos of accountability-based management that C4TE (and similar groups) has been promoting, in which case this well intended group, led by a woman who has shown heroic courage in support of the underprivileged, is choking on its own medicine.

Nobody on our side thinks Gates or his minions are "all powerful" at all. We're winning our schools back, right from his teeth, and this is good news. Are you so far lost in your spin game you've forgotten that everyday truth still exists?

Where do you get this peculiarly prissy notion that there's a struggle being waged on typewriters among warring notions, anyway? You're off on your own planet in your advocate-heads, moderating a zany debate nobody is having, while real people, in all kinds of colors, are teaching and learning inside the schools your "advocacy" is trying to rip apart.

Here's what we're actually writing about that:
http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/22/letter-writing-campaign-shows-frustration-with-obama-education-policies/

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