Monday, April 23, 2012

The Delaware education civil war . . . complete with victims

There are too many "sides" in Delaware public education.

Part of the reason is that there is no consensus surrounding exactly what the mission of public education in  Delaware was, is, or will be.  Are we creating entry-level employees for our corporations?  Prepared college freshmen?  Better American citizens?  Literate individuals?  Are we using the schools to lift up an entire generation of the downtrodden children and their families.  There is no consensus, and all too many people willing to say, "Yes.  All of the above."

Part of the reason is that we have tied ourselves in knots for two decades trying to figure out how to measure our success in doing . . . whatever it is we are doing (if we only agreed).  Performance Assessment.  Authentic Assessment.  Assessment drives instruction.  High-stakes testing.  DSTP.  NAEP. DCAS.  DPAS.  DPAS 2.  NCLB.  RTTT.  Teacher work samples.  Data coaches.  Teachers drive instruction.  Data drives instruction.  The General Assembly wants to mandate CPR and the History of Labor Unions.  Charter schools.  Magnet Schools.  School choice.  Neighborhood schools.  Vo-Tech schools.  Rodel.  Vision 2012 2015.  Delaware PTA.  Chamber of Commerce.  DSEA and associated PACs.  NEA.  Bloggers.  The News Journal.  University of Delaware.  School board elections.  State School Board.

I feel like I am doing some awful reprise of Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire."

You will notice that somewhere in there how we measure our success got mixed up with "who is in charge" and "who pays."

But that's not as bad as the other distinction we have drawn between us:  the idea that people on the wrong "side" [whatever that is] are enemies of children, God, and chocolate desserts, rather than people who want to do what's right for education as they define it.

Thus we engage in naming, shaming hyperbole, coarsened dialogue, and ludicrous allegations.  [I should know:  as a blogger I have done all of the above.]

Yet what has gotten completely ridiculous is the emphasis on the "sides"

On the one side, I'm told, we have the "ed reformists." who want nothing less than to make corporate profits from public education, who want to impose assessments on students and teachers, and to undermine local control in favor of some cabal run by the Federal Department of Education, Wireless Generation, Goldman Sachs, Arne Duncan, and Josef Stalin.  This group includes the Vision 2015 Network, Rodel, the DE PTA, the Delaware Department of Education, the Federal Department of Education, Governor Jack Markell, and a bucket of crabs (which will be used to resegregate the schools).  Oh, and this group sometimes includes the NEA and DSEA when the mood strikes them, there are deals to be struck, and there are rewards for the compliant.

On the other side, I've been lead to believe, are "the teachers" and "the bloggers" and the great silent majority of parents who haven't been asked for their very valuable opinion since 1972 when Richard Nixon bugged their phones to hear what was on their collective mind.  These folks want local control, teacher control, union control, Federal intervention (when they don't agree with something the various "other" locals did), research-based solutions, a monopoly on the support of candidates for school board or General Assembly [everybody else's money is tainted and should be sent back], and the right to sit seriously at the table with the people they have called racists and lampooned as wearing knee-pads to give blowjobs to their supposed Federal and corporate masters.  Oh, and this group sometimes includes the very politicians who are supposed to be kneeling for perverted sex acts, people who have actually attended Vision 2015 meetings, and PTA members/officers if they bring the proper notes to get in.

What these two groups have in common is money and organization.

The "ed reformists" have money to throw at charter schools, money to gain from offering data coaches, money to spend in political campaigns, and access to some really nice meeting rooms at UD that come equipped with sound systems and chilled, bottled water.

The "teacher/blogger/silent majority types" also have money, principally union money (DSEA, NEA, AFL-CIO, and others) that they throw into election campaigns by the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year through an interlocking network of nearly unaccountable and untraceable PACS, while screaming at the top of their chiefly blogger-inflated lungs that "the other side" is trying to buy the election.

Both sides claim to be advocating for children, which is intriguing, because the kids have no money (many of their parents don't either, right now) and fewer voices, and seem to be floundering no matter what we try.

The truly crazy part about this fratricidal education war in Delaware is just talking to people on "the other side" makes you suspect, and allowing somebody from "the other side" to support a political campaign, or visit a school, or show up at the General Assembly appears tantamount to becoming a terrorist who molest children before he blows up their schools.

Yet neither side actually knows (a) what works or (b) what we're all trying to do.

They just know the other side is wrong.  Deeply, dangerously wrong.

There have been too many arrows launched, too many attacks made, and two many apparently unforgiveable sins committed for everybody to sit down again at the table and start fresh.

And besides, the war is too much fun.  Who gives a rat's ass if fighting it is killing public education and too many children's chances?

The choice is not Wall Street vs the teacher's union, it's our children v our colossal crusading egos.

Parents, teachers, and children--even some educational administrators, corporate types, and union leaders--are getting pretty damn sick of it.

Unfortunately, those non-aligned parents and teachers are the ones without the money to throw into the fray, and without the time to devote to backbiting and mudslinging.

They're just trying to raise and educate kids, whether they know quite why or not, and whether the research supports them or not.

Because many of the people on both "sides" have forgotten them, and have forgotten the idea that we are (or should be) a small enough state for everybody to sit at the table.


Ed Diagnostician said...


Excellent post. I was laughing as I read it, not because I was think of my side, but because your use of hyperbole is so well placed. Makes it hit home. Thanks for a nicely written piece of provocative prose.

pandora said...

There's a lot of distrust on both sides - some warranted, some not. The solution is to get everyone talking, but I won't hold my breath on that happening.

The saddest part... it's the kids that lose out.

Pencadermom said...

So what would you do if you ran the zoo?
Are you going to the meeting on May 1?
I think it would be great for a wider audience to hear this.
Not that you don't have a great reader base, I'm sure you do :)
I mean parents, all of them. If nothing else, to remind us all of the victims of this war. I watch my kids play outside every day with kids from all different schools. They couldn't care less about any of this. What they do know is that there are people who criticize their schools. They see their friends pictures in the newspaper, they see their parents going to meetings and talking about it all. I, for one, am very aware of what I talk about in front of my kids. I admit, I wasn't really thinking much about it in the recent past. My oldest called me the charter police, or something like that, making fun of me obviously. I want to go to the meeting but not sure I want to talk, only to then read snarky remarks on either Kilroy or on the tweets that I followed from some of the other meetings. Words get twisted and misunderstood, and taken out of context.

Dana Garrett said...

"those non-aligned parents and teachers" Sounds a bit like a postulated Nixonian silent majority.

Coolspringer said...

Late (busy week, sorry) but THANK YOU, Steve. Again!

And do we stop sniping, get more people to move from following (passively and/or aggressively) to really thinking, and start seeing productive conversations that then lead to workable policies that function and get followed...? That's a lot of change.

But, I'm a pragmatic idealist...there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.