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Bruno: What's The Point Of The Network For Public Education?

2610473739_e1ac8f978bWhen Diane Ravitch announced the formation of her Network for Public Education last week, I was fleetingly optimistic that the group could serve as a useful alternative to existing well-meaning-but-frequently-misguided reform organizations.

Some days later this appears unlikely to be the case.

The existing crop of school reform advocacy groups have policy positions that are often dubious on the merits, but they manage to effectively set the agenda in part by having positive platform at all.

The NPE doesn't seem to stand for anything.

It is fairly clear what the NPE opposes because they list many of those policies specifically under their "mission": high-stakes testing, school closings, and private contracting.

What the NPE supports is much less clear. Their mission statement says only that they prefer "evidence-based reforms," a claim so vague as to be meaningless. (Would StudentsFirst say anything less?)

It looks very much like the NPE is an organization dedicated entirely to opposing other organizations. Fighting ill-conceived reform proposals may be worthwhile, but unless you are also offering an alternative set of reforms you are merely postponing their inevitable implementation.

If the folks at the NPE want to win policy battles they need to figure out how they'd like to see education improved so that reform organizations don't continue to fill up that idea vacuum with proposals of their own. That would also give supporters something to get excited about fighting for.

As the moment, unfortunately, the NPE seems only to be validating the (unfair?) stereotype that reform critics don't have any ideas for improving public education. And that state of affairs isn't good for anybody. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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Paul, this is the standard "reformy" line, undoubtedly crafted by the well-paid pros in the right-wing propaganda shops. But it's hooey. Parents Across America, Save Our Schools and the many other local organizations advocating positive reforms rather than destructive fads have written and posted extensively about what they support.

Apparently the reformy propaganda shops can't come up with substantive responses and have to resort to this patently dishonest line. But you have more to say than they do; don't cheapen yourself by parroting their bullpucky.

Caroline, if it walks like a parrot and squawks like a parrot, it's a parrot.

You flatter it.

@Caroline - I don't know what the official reform line on the NPE is - I haven't seen much comment on it at all, but I was also out of town when the org was announced so I may have missed it - so I don't think I'm "parroting" anything. I'd rather my thoughts be addressed on their own terms rather than dismissed as part of some sort of lazy conspiracy. (At least give me enough credit to think that I'd come up with my own bullpucky if I knew what I was saying had already been said equivalently by my reformy overlords. In general I try not to just repeat anybody, reform-oriented or otherwise.)

Regarding the substantive part of your comment, it may very well be that *other* organizations have substantive positive agendas, but since my post is about the NPE (and not those other organizations) I'm not sure why that's relevant.

"Fighting ill-conceived reform proposals may be worthwhile, but unless you are also offering an alternative set of reforms you are merely postponing their inevitable implementation"

If you had to think up this concern-troll line yourself, you must have missed the afternoon session at corporate sock-puppet training devoted to the resistance-is-futile argumentation strategy: train-has-left-station, inevitable-victory, etc.

The argument that your opponents have brought corporate take-over on ourselves, by not having thunk up better ways for your overlords to profit from our work as educators, has also been badly overmilked in tenure and evaluation wars.

I'm an original education reformer and agent of change, UCSC 1983, and my life has literally been dedicated to the positive reform efforts you claim you can't see. Here's a link to a summary put out by some colleagues in Chicago last year:

But let's be clear. The particular point of NTE is indeed to stop the corporate take-over, through political and community organizing. You are apparently writing from an alternative hired universe, where people aren't fed up, and won't rise up and join in such an effort on its own merits.

The truth is that "an appropriate amount of testing" IS something you can be for, not an absence of something. "Appropriate stakes tied to tests" is also something. What Paul says here--speaking of lazy--I have seen literally dozens of times. After SOS marched in Washington it was "the thing to say": "but what are they FOR?" they sniffed.

Being against overtesting is by definition being for appropriate testing. And as another poster noted, everyone from Fairtest to OTL to Broader Bolder have written pages and pages on what they're for. So has Ravitch. And so has Anthony Cody. And so will NPE, perhaps, when they're more than 12 days old (or whatever). A little soon for the autopsy, I think.

This argument could be made against the reform groups too, I suppose. "We know, your against tenure, but what are you FOR?" What would they say: "We're for getting rid of tenure."


If I say I'm for putting the car in reverse before we go over the cliff, you can criticize me for not having a plan to go forward, I guess. But you can't say I'm not giving directions. The presumption that pro-public schools advocates must come up with a plan to fix our failing schools without advocating equity or adequate funding or outside-of-school-social-supports because those things obviously don't count as reforms so we'll pretend taking such positions aren't positions at all seems blinkered to me.

At any rate, being virulently anti-overtesting may not impress the pundits, but at least in my state it has garnered a groundswell of support from parents and students. Turns out here in real life "There's too much testing and punishing going on" IS a position, and one that can build a movement and affect real change.

I think NPE is off to a great start. As far as efficacy, Glenda Ritz and other late victories illustrate that the "vacuum" can sometimes beat the "substance" of school reform even without NPE. NPE appears to want to bolster those candidates and initiatives, and that's something.

@John - As I said before, talk about how *other* groups or individuals have this or that positive agenda is irrelevant. The topic of this post was the NPE. As far as I can tell, everybody is implicitly conceding that the NPE has no positive agenda to speak of by dumping the burden of a positive agenda off on groups and people that are not the NPE. "X has a positive agenda and also has some affiliation with the NPE" does not contradict the claim that the NPE itself appears to have no positive agenda.

To make matters worse, if all of these other, affiliated groups and individuals have their own, clear, strong, specific positive agendas, they should be deeply concerned at the possibility of being subsumed - in whole or in part - by the NPE which, conspicuously, has no such agenda of its own.

And "an appropriate amount of testing" is as meaningless as "evidence-based reform". Any amount of testing one prefers is, by definition, what one believes to be an appropriate amount of testing. Nobody favors "overtesting". This is a good illustration of my point. If the NPE laid out a vision for what they consider "an appropriate amount of testing", that would be a big step forward. Considering how sure some people are that there *is* a positive agenda here, they're doing an awfully poor job of laying out what it is.

Now, I think part of the issue is that there's not a really broad consensus among reform critics about a lot of these issues - like what an appropriate amount of testing is. But that doesn't really undercut the point I was making.

And - again, as I said - opposing some other agenda is potentially totally worthwhile. But if reform critics are going to start insisting it's *enough* they've already lost these particular battles.

"To make matters worse, if all of these other, affiliated groups and individuals have their own, clear, strong, specific positive agendas, they should be deeply concerned at the possibility of being subsumed - in whole or in part - by the NPE which, conspicuously, has no such agenda of its own."

Not to worry, Paul. I'm part of one of those affiliated groups. We need NPE and hundreds more too. This is about true movement building and public citizenship...something we haven't seen in so long it might be hard for you to recognize. Fortunately, many others understand.

This is a howler:
"To make matters worse, if all of these other, affiliated groups and individuals have their own, clear, strong, specific positive agendas, they should be deeply concerned at the possibility of being subsumed - in whole or in part - by the NPE which, conspicuously, has no such agenda of its own."

But we're not worried, you and your "well-meaning-but-frequently-misguided reform organizations" are. We have no such concerns whatsoever. Nice of you to make them up for us, but no thank you for your kind support and encouragement.

"the concern troll's message is: "I have some concerns about your methods. If you did these things to make your message less effective, it would be more effective."

"Reform" critics are not "insisting it's 'enough'" to oppose the privatization/teacher-bashing agenda -- that's a straw man.

Paul, you ARE parroting a cheap slap from the reformers -- the best they can do, but they do it with all their billionaire-funded propaganda firepower. You blew it with this post if you claim not to be about parroting propaganda.

A synthesis and summary of critical responses so far for those who don't want to read from the top of the comments:

- "The NPE totally has an affirmative agenda, but we can't tell you what it is."

- "It doesn't matter if the NPE doesn't have an affirmative agenda, but we're totally not saying that a negative agenda is enough."

- [A string of ad hominem attacks.]

On Twitter the NPE had a somewhat more germane and substantive response and says it's probably worth articulating its affirmative agenda more clearly and officially. E.g.:


No, Paul, you're unclear on the nature of an "ad hominum attack".

Nobody has said your comments are insincere and underhanded because your feet smell or you're an deplorable human being. That would be an ad hominum attack.

Instead, I pointed to the specific aspects of your argument against NPE's core mission that are insincere and underhanded. Thus, it is the arguments you make that call for a particular label, not the other way around. You pose that your attacks are a constructive criticism, when you actually are trying to undermine an organization with a clear mission, which you oppose. That's evidence to qualify you as a concern troll.

There's plenty of substance in all these responses, and you've answered none of it.

NPE: "There's a cliff ahead. Stop the bus."
Paul: "But where are your turn-by-turn directions, NPE?"

It will please everyone to know that in Volume 2 of the NPE newsletter out today, spokesperson Diane Ravitch listed no fewer than sixteen statements illustrating specific policy priorities that the NPE organization supports. In fact, all sixteen being with the words, "We support." I guess Paul will have to retire this line: "The NPE doesn't seem to stand for anything."

Interestingly, it turns out that the NPE supports exactly what Paul and everyone else knew they supported all along. Which makes the initial criticism seem all the more illegitimate. ("We all know what Ravitch and people who agree with her are for, but we're going to say that, oh my gosh, we have no idea what they are for. They must be only AGAINST stuff." You know, to discredit them over the fact that they aren't blindly on board with reform orthodoxies.)

Anyway, I'm sure Paul will be back with a post explain how, thank goodness, now we all know what NPE is for. The mystery is solved.

The good news is that the pointless and cheap criticism over this one issue will maybe end. Ravitch haters will have to move on to the next pointless and cheap criticism of those who don't buy Michelle Rhee's 'positive agenda.'

The link from the NPE is here, for the interested:


I'll try to get a post up about it next week.

@John - Since my point was that the NPE had not previously put out an affirmative agenda, I'm not sure how their putting one out *after* my post undermines my point. Much more so than the commenters on this post, Ravitch's language in that link acknowledges more or less what I was saying: we knew what the NPE opposed, but not what it supported (as opposed to what some of its constituent members supported, which is obviously not necessarily the same thing).

I'm glad the NPE has decided to put out a more positive agenda.

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