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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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I'm your average American citizen that is discussed with the continued "adult" exchange of words, online or off. We forget what the center of our attention should be - pupils - and our responsibility to them. Both "sides" control the discussion while the middle ground, the common ground, sets the foundation for what is right.....when will all of you be ready to hear it? It's called the truth.

Well, Russo is never going to find as many active and passionate practicing teachers in favor of reform, for the simple reason that it goes against their personal interests. Human beings are supremely self-interested. Not many of them are going to lobby for the government to incentivize their own competition, or for the government to hold themselves accountable. Conversely, plenty of people will find all sorts of convenient reasons to argue that they themselves should never be accountable, or that their competitors are bad guys who should be discouraged.

If charters or vouchers become too common, that would mean districts hire fewer traditional teachers. Few people are going to lobby against their own employment interests, any more than Microsoft employees are likely to start a horde of blogs arguing that Google represents the future of the Internet and that Microsoft should go away.

That said, there are probably a good number of teachers who personally can't square it with their conscience to be against vouchers/charters, or who don't mind having their students take standardized tests, but they're not likely to be passionate enough about it to start their own blog or to descend on every education website to leave comments, etc. Similarly, there are probably some Microsoft employees who think Google really is a better company, but they'd be taking a personal risk (criticism from colleagues or superiors, etc.) if they were too open about their true feelings.

Stuart Buck says, "Well, Russo is never going to find as many active and passionate practicing teachers in favor of reform, for the simple reason that it goes against their personal interests."

Not really, active and passionate teachers are by definition in favor of reform -- the "no excuses" type of reform that puts all the responsibility for student learning onto teachers. Such teachers, according to the no-excuses dogma, recognize their ability to raise students' scores by the sheer force of good teaching and put away all their self interests to reach their goal. They would be rooting for all the bad teachers to be driven out, so the good teachers would be free to work their magic on the children.

Predictably, I'd encourage you to follow both CoöpCatalyst (http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com) and its authors' other projects, Alexander.

I'd also recommend looking for folks to follow from Connected Principals (http://www.connectedprincipals.com/), Voices from the Learning Revolution (http://plpnetwork.com/category/voices/), and the EduCon and IDEA tribes (http://educon24.org/ & http://www.democraticeducation.com/).

I'm not sure you'll find SWAT teams or armies at any of these places, but you will find a ton of on-going efforts to make school relevant for all learners. Part of what keeps these places off the media radar is that they are communities ready to speak with, include, and publish people ready for the kinds of work the sites support. Amibiguity isn't a dirty word at any of these places, either, which complicates #edreform copy.

Happy reading and happy New Year - keep the posts coming.


Like most of the corporate-reform arguments, this one by Stuart Buck doesn't stand up to logic and reality:

"If charters or vouchers become too common, that would mean districts hire fewer traditional teachers. Few people are going to lobby against their own employment interests..."

If charters and voucher-funded private schools took over as as public schools vanished, as the corporate reformers envision, the charter schools and private schools would hire teachers. If teachers currently teaching in public schools believed that replacing public schools with charter schools and voucher-funded private schools were a good idea and said so publicly, they'd increase their chances of being hired by those new schools. So why wouldn't they say so if that's what they believed? The implication that the teachers in private schools and charters are some kind of different animal is obviously not valid -- I know plenty of teachers who have taught in all those types of schools.

It's true that the currently faddish "innovation," online virtual schools where the kids stay home and (supposedly) work on computers, or "hybrid" charters where 100 of them are stuffed into a room with a paraprofessional, would put teachers out of work. I challenge every voice that promotes or endorses those schools to enroll their kids in one this minute or be publicly pilloried and ridiculed as hypocrites.

Caroline -- financial self-interest is obviously still at stake. Even if public school teachers took jobs in charters and private schools, they wouldn't get as many expensive benefits (such as the Milwaukee package worth an average of $100,005 per teacher per year).

Alexander -
You're probably not getting the love - because you present countering-view links, take a chance here and there w/some riffs/reporting and hence are not loved by those who want one point-of view (POV).

Would like more insight/interviews.

Wish you would report on SOPA - don't know if you have a conflict here.

Maybe I missed your posts on this subject- such a HUGE issue -

One of my 2012 resolutions: to comment more; to cook more . . . happy new year!

@Stuart, corporate-reform types are constantly claiming to support higher pay for teachers (than they get now), so now are you changing that story? You are all so confusing with your shifting stories.

@C.J., I don't think it holds up that public-school supporters complain that Alexander posts opposing views. We wouldn't read him if we didn't want to hear those views.

The voices to whom Alexander referred as "Goliath" basically think he's confused. Here we have individuals with day jobs, taking the trouble to make our voices heard as volunteers because we care deeply about the issues. Our adversaries (the adversaries of children and public education) are mightily funded and have the entire mainstream media and political leadership on their side. Alexander portrays us as "winning" in Internet discussion forums -- they usually don't try to engage us here, and would be at a big credibility and knowhow disadvantage if they did, as they are overwhelmingly people with no contact with or experience in actual schools.

Pointing out that we're "winning" in this forum is great. Calling us Goliath reflects an awful lot of confusion about the story and the imagery. (And many of us objected to being called "anti-reform" and discussed the issue of true, beneficial reform vs. fake, destructive so-called reform.)

Caroline, there's nothing more tedious than someone whose only argument is "Oh, you're a hypocrite, because someone other than you made a different argument somewhere else."

@Stuart, I have many solid arguments. That's only one of them. I can see why you find being resoundingly refuted "tedious," though you're nothing if not tenacious.

The fact is that the corporate-reform side constantly, endlessly (why, even tediously) claims to support higher pay for teachers, as long as they're "deserving," and of course, non-union.

The notion that you've "refuted" anything I said is delusional.

I said that teachers have a financial interest in opposing vouchers and charters, because alternatives to public schools would mean fewer jobs and/or lower benefits. You can't possibly refute this, unless you somehow manage to prove that all private and charter schools offer just as many jobs with just as much pay and benefits as do traditional public schools. But you can't prove any such thing; it simply isn't true, and you know it.

Of course I can't prove anything, @Stuart, but your fellow corporate reformers all claim that deserving teachers will have higher-paid jobs when they get nonunion charter school jobs and merit pay. Your argument is with your fellow so-called reformers, not me.

No, they don't all claim that, and even if they did claim that, deserving teachers could get higher salaries only if there were fewer teacher jobs to go around (no one is proposing to spend an extra $200 billion on teacher salaries to pay just as many teachers way higher salaries), which would mean that lots of teachers would have a financial interest in protecting a system where they at least get to have a job.

I hope people will get the message, and I hope the change will happen. This is a good read, worth my time spent in reading it! Thanks for sharing!

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