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Thompson: In Defense Of Calling It "Corporate Reform"

Diane Ravitch and Larry Cuban aren't just two of education's all-time greatest experts; they are among the world's wisest social scientists. They are largely in agreement on the substance of what Cuban calls the "business-driven, technocratic model of governing schools."

But, in Corporate Reform, Again and Again, Cuban's criticizes Ravitch's term "corporate reform,"  and his position must be taken very seriously.

I was previously surprised to learn that accountability-driven, market-driven reformers recoiled from the term "corporate reform." It is so tame in comparison to the charges routinely leveled at teachers. (The latest extreme example is a Newsweek reporter calling Randi Weingarten the “pedagogical version of Bull Connor.”)

Cuban uses the term "policy elites” to describe "loose networks of corporate and civic leaders, elected policy makers, foundation officials, and academics who circulate ideas consistent with their views of problems and solutions, champion particular reforms, use both public and private funds to run projects, and strongly influence decision-making."

I would have thought the word "elites" would be taken as the more derogatory term.

I read the term "corporate reform" as primarily an attack on its advocates' belief that corporate governance should be imposed on public schools. Cuban, on the other hand, reads it as a "charge that donors and policy elites are making profits and that money-making drives current efforts to privatize schools (e.g., Pearson, test-makers, technology companies for-profit charter schools.)"

Like Cuban, who notes the "mixed motives," of reformers, Ravitch makes a carefully crafted case about the dangers of profit-seekers and privatizers, while inventorying the damage done by their policies. We should all agree with Cuban's recollection of "prior failures of private, for-profit companies running public schools." But, I don't see that as an argument against the use of the words corporate reform.

The big problem with corporate reformers is not their successes in privatizing schools, but their unforced fumbles in public schools. As Cuban explained in a previous post, these elites In centralizing governance of schools, policymakers, supported by major donors, have squelched public and professional voices.   (Emphasis is Cuban's)

Cuban makes a similar criticism in No Responsibility for Oops! Donors and School Reform, which I'd say is an accurate and hardhitting turn of a phrase. He writes:

They have no accountability for their own “oops!” or dumb mistakes. When foundation grants fail to achieve the objectives officials sought, philanthropists turn their backs, shrug, and walk away. They have no responsibility to districts, individual schools, teachers, students and parents for hopes raised and dashed. Donors are beyond the reach of being fired or voted out of office. Yet as anyone knows from personal experience, admitting error is crucial to insights into a problem and, ultimately invention of better ways to solve it.

Apparently, Cuban is most allergic to the corporate reform label when he hears it as hyperbole. I read the title as a political phrase that went viral. It is less hyperbolic and more hyper-successful. It is our best rallying cry.
Teachers need to be bilingual. Today, our top priority must be the defeat of the test, sort, and punish school of reform. Harsh rhetoric may be an unfortunate by-product of the battle, but the real question is whether a term works in winning this regrettable conflict. Once we have beaten back bubble-in accountability, then we can limit ourselves to more constructive language. We can retire the words "corporate reform" and "policy elites."-JT(@drjohnthompson) 

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Addressing "reform" rather than "corporate":

This is in the San Francisco Chronicle stylebook:

'Avoid use of “reform” or “reformer.” “Reform” means a change for the better.

'A reform to one person may be a change for the worse to another.'

It's actually under "country-specific information/Russia," and nobody knows it's there; the newspaper uses "reform" frequently in the manner that's now being criticized. But it IS there. Duplicating this comment on the "reform" post.

A follow-up: In my view, "corporate reform" is a highly imperfect term, but critics of the package of policies commonly labeled "education reform" are struggling to deal with the flawed, misleading "reform" label.

Newspaper copy desks went around and around for years about the term "pro-life" -- a highly loaded propaganda term created by opponents of abortion, but one that became so common it started to roll off the tongue. If the solution had been simple, newspaper copy desks wouldn't have debated this for years.

"Education reform" is in the same category, but fewer people bother to debate it and it's often used without question.

Excellent point They played their high-dollar political cards very skillfully and got editorial boards on their side

Like the NYT reported today:

The Democrats’ widespread losses last week have revived a debate inside the party about its fundamental identity, a long-running feud between center and left that has taken on new urgency in the aftermath of a disastrous election and in a time of deeply felt economic anxiety.

The discussion is taking place in post-election meetings, conference calls and dueling memos from liberals and moderates. But it will soon grow louder, shaping the actions of congressional Democrats in President Obama’s final two years and, more notably, defining the party’s presidential primary in 2016.

“The debate will ultimately play out in a battle for the soul of the Clinton campaign,” said Matt Bennett, a senior official at Third Way, the centrist political group.

Using the words "corporate reform" can be beneficial overall, not just arguing against education "reform." It can rally blue collar Dems and the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

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