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Thompson: Coherence Vs. Dynamism (Or Both)

One-size-fits-all Fordham's Mike Petrilli shows another way out of education's "day to day vitriol" with his "One Size Fits Most."  America needs both, the "Coherence Camp," which looks to curricular coherence and professionalized instruction to improve our school systems, and the "Dynamism Devotees," who want to "unbundle" schooling.  Linda Darling Hammond, Marc Tucker, and David Cohen would draw upon international examples and create national standards and a handful of national curricula.  I am not convinced that our low-poverty schools are broken, but I am confident that the Coherence Camp would produce real improvements.  Rick Hess, Paul Hill, and Tom  Vander Ark could encourage choice schools that "make it easy to drop out of the "One Best System."  The Dynamism Camp would produce failures that lead to "poorly served school's (and kids)," but unsatisfied parents could then return to the "One Best System."  It is equally certain, however, that creative disruption would produce incredible success stories.  None of those thinkers specialize in the lowest-performing 10% of schools.  On the other hand, perhaps it would be easier to turnaround our toughest high-poverty schools if we concentrated on their problems, as they really are, and not politicized solutions designed to please data-driven reformers, while not antagonizing traditional reformers too much.- JT (@drjohnthompson)Image via.   


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Is Vander Ark going to make another $1.5 million disappear while encouraging choice schools, on top of the $1.5 mil he already did make disappear in a supposed effort to open a school that fizzled? Aren't we being a little forgiving to entertain further discussion of him as a charter operator?

Vander Ark has gone into business. Referring to him as a "thinker" rather than an entrepreneur is disingenuous, and in line with the past few columns you've written.

The movement of for-profit venture funds into public education, the prison industry, and other arenas is an important and historic feature of the new political landscape. Under cover of the "public-private partnership", wreckers have siezed regulatory and budgetary control of a vital public resources, and are milking billions of dollars from them even as they undermine both cohesion and dynamism. They sow an atmoshpere of fear, uncertainty, doubt and lies through their relentless, agressive media campaigns.

Every time you lay out this false landscape, the considerable respect I had developed for your work drains away.

Did you really write, "It is equally certain, however, that creative disruption would produce incredible success stories," John? Is that really certain? What about the thousands of creatively disrupted children in NYC who don't get to be part of Potemkin Academy, and are left with stacks of rejected applications? Or the ones in Florida, relegated to for-profit online junk learning from Mike Milken's K12 inc?

Business opportunists try to kick public schools down, so they can buy up the wteckage with public funds. To call these activities "creative disruption" is a bizarre and unfounded assertion, and the claim that disruption equals "dynamic" progress reeks of 1984.

Are you excited at the prospect of Hurricane Irene, since Katrina's disruption was so useful in clearing the way for the "success stories" you're promoting in New Orleans (which turn out to be inflated hype)?


I am just as certain that creative disruption is going to produce great things, just like it will produce fiascoes. Vander Ark is a thinker who I disagree with. He is an entreneur who is pushing a political agenda that I oppose. In my opinion, he also is a carnival barker in a field that produces a lot of them. He and Paul Hill will continue their worker-bashing regardless of whether we can work out common ground with principled reformers.

You closed with the distinction that I would draw. Hurricanes happen, just like failures in educational institutions. I see that as an unfortunate fact of life. "Reformers" like Vander Ark are trying create Educational Irenes and Katrinas to destroy the "status quo." I think that's the height of arrogance.

I do want to restore creaticity and creative dusruption by students and teachers in neighborhood schools. And if there are charters that also encourage those thinking skills, I celebrate them.

The best way to encourage the good in charters, and discourage the bad is to: a) unionize charters, and b) use the political arena to restore some of the regulations that Duncan ill-advidedly destroyed. Charter caps were a good common sense approach. We needed to modernize, regulations, and we still do. Most of the time, however, when we end some outmoded regulations, we should simultaneously craft new ones. But we can't unring those bells. So, we have to think anew.

Yes, I'm wrestling with ways to get out of this educational civil war. Historically, social justice, liberalism and unions have advanced in tandem, during presidential administrations that gave them cover. Many of my thoughts will prove to be pipe dreams if the Duncan administration doesn't become more evenhanded. He's essentially given out weapons to attack workers, children, and families, and he done so because those people work in schools, and somehow workers in schools have become less worthy than workers everywhere else.

How we get there from here, I do not know. In this post I made the point that we should invest in the Coherence Camp, hopefully disengage in some of this civil war, and let those who want to invest in the Dynamism Camp. I could have used the cliche, "You are not the problem I'm not the problem, the problem is the problem." Of course, I hope to pry away the Hesses and the Petrillis from the Hills and the Vander Arks, but my argument doesn't rest on that. Bennett in Indiana, for instance, with his blood in the eye use of charters to break unions doesn't care about the points raised by Petrilli or my desire to find common ground with him. With or without allies, we have to fight those anti-worker policies.

Your formulation, "We can't unring those bells," is faulty. So is, "This is a done deal, get used to it," and my favorite, "It's like a bus. It's coming, and you're going to be on it or under it." That's just arrogant propaganda. Unless you're actually just a concern troll all along, blow your nose on that white flag and stuff it in your back pocket. There is no surrender to negotiate.

We can take back our schools, right out of the sprung trap of the public-private partnership. There are (at least) four contract areas where our specific and determined clarity can block them. The pretense that their business expansion drive must be accomodated in our educational discourse is stupid or cowardly.

The first and biggest is "high-stakes" data tracking and management services. This includes the Cognos (IBM) "Data-Warehouse" contracts in Massachusetts, which just got our former Speaker some jail time. IBM and Wireless Generation in New York City can also be checked by the courts. Every time that happens, our ability to break through the media buyout and inform our people of their tax-sucking regulatory power grab increases. The cheating scandal is the tip of the corrupted "data" iceberg.

Second, the "non-profit" money laundering fronts for for-profit consortia, charter operators and contracted service providers can be shut down by legislative action (like the charter oversight bill that barely failed in the New York legislature this year). We just legislate that the financial disclosure laws which govern any public money expenditure will apply to public money which passes theough a non-profit intermediary. It will pass this time. We have a heart-breaking case here, in Chelmsford, MA, where $30 million in special education money disappeared down a corrupt "non-profit" front, and people are waking up.

Third, the Gates-Pearson "E-learning for the Common Core" partnership to reduce the curriculum to computer game software, validated internally by its own mandated assessment instruments, has to be stopped by actual teachers, students, families, and communities.

And finally, online "provider" scams urgently have to be stopped in their tracks. They're bleeding our education budgets, and providing nothing but a netbook and access codes for their junk-learning programs, for about 70% of the flesh and blood per diem for low-income children who "never even walk through the door". I actually take some credit for exposing Kaplan's sickening hidden K12 "in District" online school contractor. They finally sold it to junk bond felon Mike Milken's K12 inc because their own brand was so toxic.

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