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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.  

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comIn 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. 


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Something else to not yet be thankful for:the message of this post seems to be about how surprising and somehow odd it is that social context reformers are fighting back effectively.

There's also a suggestion that our methods are somewhat sneaky -- working after-hours and focusing on particular websites -- as if that's wrong and we're trying to take an unfair advantage over the no-excuses reformers.

Something else to not yet be thankful for:the message of this post seems to be about how surprising and somehow odd it is that social context reformers are fighting back effectively.

There's also a suggestion that our methods are somewhat sneaky -- working after-hours and focusing on particular websites -- as if that's wrong and we're trying to take an unfair advantage over the no-excuses reformers.

I might be wrong but I think that after this afternoons report in the NY Post many voters who never thought about education reform one way or the other before will have an opinion, It won't be one that makes Gates, Obama, Duncan or Murdoch happy

Alexander, you have your David and Goliath aligned with the wrong parties. I'm surprised your understanding of influence in the reform debate and on education policy are so off-base. That's why the pushback. Teachers understand, better than anyone in education, the balance of power and influence from the wealthy/media on our schools.

Thank goodness you called those ruffians and bullies out. I was just mentioning at the club the other day how positively besieged we are with these shouters.

Myron Miner
Last Stand for Children First

Actually, Alexander, I wonder how you can stay on the side you're on, since you read all the stuff you post. What would it take for you to say, "No, I won't go along with that"?

Would this do it?
"Confidential Student And Teacher Data To Be Provided To LLC Run By Gates and Murdoch"

All those who thanked Alexander should read Flanagan's blog, then thank her.

As a school board trustee in New York, I've been finding this ongoing debate wildly frustrating. I oftentimes find myself in agreement with parts of both sides and in strong disagreement with both. My district has lived both sides. 10 years ago I ran for a board seat to help create a system of accountability in a system that lacked on. We appointed a visionary, take charge superintendent and upended existing mores and practices -- earning vitriol from our unions. But we stayed the course and today our administration, board, professional staff, and union leadership work collaboratively and in sync. Our battles today are aimed at preserving gains and continuing to make improvements in the face of a harsh,blunt, and unforgiving tax cap foisted on us by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and our witless state legislators. We battle against I'll conceived, contradictory directives emanating from our state education department -- which seems to exist solely to confound constituent school districts.

So while I see value in both camps. -- the real issues we face call for a more forceful effort to reach common ground against a multitude of forces, largely economic and governmental, that are converging to not reform public education-- but irretrievably destroy it --to the detriment of our democracy.

As a classroom teacher who has to buy toner for the printer, paper for classroom and other school supplies because more and more of our operating budget is going to support the increase of corporate subsidized charter schools, I would like the research data to at least show how much better they do than we; but it doesn't.

Dramatically increased enrollment at our school this year included cast-offs from charter schools and English Language Learners who are not accepted at charter schools. Last spring I got five students from Burma and Bhutanese-Nepali children during the week of the high-stakes state testing, who HAD to take the tests and counted toward our AYP. Ostensibly those students should have been able to enroll in the local charter in their area.

School nurses are being laid off mid-year in situations where there are children with medical conditions, psychological and behavioral issues that require medication as well as the usual injuries and childhood maladies, but not at charters. They do not share in the budget cuts.

Meanwhile we are held to the same standard of achievement as charter schools and miracle of miracles, according to research, we have been able to hold our own.

That's what life is like at Ground Zero; a Three-Card Monte, Poker-with-a-stacked-deck rigged Game resulting in a systemic starvation of public education.

The corporate reformers don't NEED to sound their trumpets as often because they are secure in the knowledge their plan to decimate public education is well in the works. We are hardly Goliath, rather we are more like Job.

If a few prominent voices are able to change the dynamic of the conversation about education reform even a little bit, I see nothing amiss in this because there is always the chance the right person or persons will stumble upon a few facts of the reality what corporate backed school "reform" is really doing at the level where it affects children and those who work with them.

"We may tell ourselves that these pressure groups and letter writers represent only a small percentage of the voters – and this is true. But they are the articulate few whose views cannot be ignored and who constitute the greater part of our contacts with the public at large, whose opinions we cannot know, whose vote we must obtain and yet who in all probability have a limited idea of what we are trying to do." -- JFK, "Profiles in Courage"

It is very unfortunate and extremely disappointing that this current administration has turned out to be more interested in listening to the extremely-wealthy few, rather than the "articulate few."

For instance, President Obama has met with Bill Gates repeatedly, and he accepted the gift of an elaborate party from Eli Broad, so it's pretty clear that Broad has been able to bend his ear. Broad also forged bonds with Arne Duncan many moons ago. Some of the result is what ED's top staffing consists of.


After years of abuse any public school teacher in their right mind would take your back handed compliments as just that. But I will give you a break and acknowledge that millions of dollars of anti public education propaganda has affected us all. If anyone here wonders why they have been doing what they do just follow the money trail to the billions of dollars worth of tests, textbooks to teach to the test, real estate scams on charter school properties, and now online virtual schools that funnel those billions out of local communities into corporate pockets who are essentially acting as non-citizens as they make money regardless of the damage it does to our children and their home towns. Lets talk about democracy for a moment and see if top down mandates and financial threats to starved local governments give local control to parents and teachers and students. Or does control belong to the wealthy and the distant power centers in state and national legislatures paid for by the wealthy? If you want a different path to follow we are offering it: look at the current research and look at examples in the US of the thousands of excellent public schools and the international examples like Finland that do the opposite of our system very successfully. And last look at our poverty rates compared with other nations with our wealth. That will require a concerted effort that includes the schools but does not exclude the rest of society as current deform does. Corporations might even have to start paying taxes! But first we have to stop the bulldozers and steamrollers of high stakes testing being used to destroy our public education system. We have to get rid of that system before we can go back to educating our children instead of training them to take tests.
This is from a teacher commenting on her own time with no extra pay or organization telling her what to do. Just the reality of the classroom and the tragedy of what is happening to our children urging her on.

Hope you'll check out CTQ's new blogging site transformED--which aggregates the blogs of 11 solutions-focused teacher leaders, along with our twitter feed @teachingquality, which highlights teacher leaders' perspectives on policy & classroom practice.

These venues--in addition to our Teaching Ahead collaboration with Education Week (mentioned by Alexander Russo in the article)--are helping to get teachers' voices out there.

Of course we need to do much more to engage teachers in speaking out about the public schools our students deserve. And we are hard at work. Thanks to Alexander for highlighting our efforts!

Braden Welborn
Communications Director
Center for Teaching Quality

P.S. transformED can be found at http://transformed.teachingquality.org. Enjoy!

No I don't think reform opponents are winning ... yet. The reformers, the politicians, the the corporatists, superintendents, as Anthony Cody pointed out, are stonewalling.
But that's really all they can do now; we have at least gotten them to the point where any debate opens up the issue of the Emperor's clothes. Really, what can they say to the public and the parents. A politician who open up this issue at at townhall meeting will get clobbered. So they have no choice but to remain silent.
And the reformers have lost the parents. What parent groups (except for a few local charter schools) are meeting to passionately push for high stakes testing, narrow standards, and value-added evaluation. And no one is really trying to convince them anymore.
So we may not be winning yet, but I think it's ours to lose now. The Barbarians are at the gates!

Helloooo! Here's a TFA alum, standalone Harlem charter principal blogging and on Twitter, commenting on policy AND a voice from the classroom. Don't ignore my tiny voice. Wish more of my colleagues were doing the same. www.harlemlink.org/blog

Rhee-diculous assertion; these Corporation Education Reformers have massive funding. They toss money around and create charter schools with one purpose in mind; PROFIT. Their problem is that they really know very little about Mastery Teaching. Time will prove that the fruit they peddle is rotten when one finally reaches it's core.

One truth we need to remember when it comes to the modern ed reform movement is that what we are seeing now is one brick in the long haul plan devised by corporatist reformers many years ago. In effect, parents, teachers, administrators and anyone who has any hopes of bolstering the effectiveness inside the public school house are finding themselves as "boiled frogs." By the time we notice the reforms, the super structure is already in place, the dollars have already been allocated and the legislators are already bought.

This post is not a deceleration of resignation as much as a call to action. Mr. Russo has it wrong when he states "It's not just that they're out there shouting randomly into the wind, either." By and large, those who wish education reform was more student centric and less corporate centric are by and large a collection of disorganized pockets of frustration and dissent. By Contrast, Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst lauds the group's focused and highly organized letter writing, phone and email blitz that has resulted in being the dominant source of information and schema building of largely ignorant legislator in States that have championed the Corporatist reform agendas.

It is time to awaken the sleeping giant that is us. If there is any hope at all for stopping the madness, changing the course of ed reform and developing policy that benefits ALL CHILDREN, not just the charter or sliver spoon students, then we need to galvanize our collective voice, stand up and roar. What say ye? Where shall we meet - SOS, PAA? Without a collective gathering of reasoned thought, unified purpose, solutions based action items, then we frogs are not only boiled, but served up as well, and we only have ourselves to blame.

One quibble, @Dave -- I question whether StudentsFirst can actually be called a "group." Does it have any actual members or is it paid staff doing that letter-writing, phone and e-mail blitz? Rhetorical question, because we all know the answer.

The group functions by posting petitions on change.org and Care2 with deceptive formats -- anti-teacher petitions with titles purporting to call for higher school funding. StudentsFirst pays change.org and Care2 to redirect signers of pro-public-education petitions to its deceptive petitions. If they're caught off-guard and duped into signing (as has happened to most of us), they're listed as "supporters."

That tactic is such an open admission of failure to engage actual people on the ground that it would make StudentsFirst a laughingstock if it weren't so ****ing rich and didn't have such a high profile in the press.

You are forgetting a very important group: parents. I am a parent of public school students, and I run a Facebook page/Twitter feed called NJ Parents Against Gov Christie's School Budget Cuts. That's the issue that first got me involved, but since then I've been posting about the overall privatization agenda of the so-called reformers. No one "organized" me or my 600-plus "followers." I'm not part of anyone's SWAT team. I have no professional interest in education of any kind. I just have this thing about the rich and mighty destroying important public institutions. So whether I have 600 followers or 600,000, I will continue to inform myself and others about efforts aimed at undermining my kids' schools and attacking their teachers.

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