Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why isn't opposition to "ed reformists" news?

As I opened my dead-tree version of the Wilmington News Journal today, it occurred to me that--aside from one piece on Nichole Dobo's Delaware Ed blog--the Gannett daily has completely ignored all the blogosphere controveries surrounding this year's school board elections, the candidates, and their supporters.

On a larger note, State media outside the blogosphere has also pretty much ignored resistance to education reform as a story.  Yes, the furor over Christina and State funding during the PZ dust-up got coverage, and, yes, from time to time a Delaware Voice column will be run authored by John Young or Frederica Jenner, but if I were a historian (oh, oops, I am) trying to write a history of education reform in Delaware from traditional media sources, I would almost completely miss it.  Why?

[I should be clear and transparent (if not as in Christina, ouch):  there are multiple items of the reformers' agendas with which I agree, others than strike me as innocuous or silly, and some that I downright dislike.  But this is a post about process, not product.]

The reason is almost exactly the same reason why--despite any school board election victories the resisters might win this year--Vision 2015 keeps rolling along . . .

Vision 2015 built one of the most effective coalitions in Delaware History.

It is obvious that the business and non-profit sectors are represented in the implementation team for Vision 2015, but here's the other part that is so significant:

Dr. Susan Bunting, Superintendent, Indian River is on the team, as is Howard Weinberg of DSEA.

Susan Bunting is widely acclaimed not just as the best supt. in Delaware, but also as one of the very best in the nation.  She was everyone's consensus pick to succeed Lillian Lowery as Sec Ed, and is rumored now to have turned Governor Markell down for the job--a second time.  And Indian River has gone big into the Vision Network, with five schools, and has seen positive results.

When you have the leading supt. in the State on your side, and when her district has serious skin in the Vision Network, and when she's publicly endorsing Mark Murphy as the new Sec Ed, then what you are NOT going to find is any other supt. in the State coming out against the reform initiative.  Theirs is a very small club, and she's one of the undisputed leaders.  Even reform opponents respect her, although they rarely deal with the disconnect of the respect for her versus her support for Vision 2015.

So Vision 2015 has that base covered.

Next, Howard Weinberg (and--by extension--Frederica Jenner).  I realize that I have been arguing strongly about the role of DSEA in monetizing school board elections, but I have also been coming to the realization that there is a significant tension between DSEA and its local affiliates on the issue of reform.  (I will be doing an extensive post on this in about a week.)

For now, suffice it to say that Weinberg and Jenner are not simply the official voices of DSEA who signed off on Race to the Top, but are also the people controlling the DSEA Advocacy PAC (and all those little offshoots with name variations on "Working Families") that have poured over a million dollars into Delaware elections during the past five years.

So, regardless of what the opposition might say, Vision 2015 has the official imprimatur of teachers around the State in the form of the leaders of DSEA.

Thus, when you've managed, for reporting purposes, to assimilate the superintendents AND the teachers' union, there's not much of a place for the resisters to go (and let us not forget that the Delaware PTA is also firmly on board).

So what has the resistance got?  The answer is three big gaps.

[Side note:  I am not bashing resisters here.  I am trying to explain why it is not getting much traction in the political process.]

Gap one:  

It has no name.  I'm serious.  Vision 2015 and Vision Network may sound schmaltzy to you, but they conjure up a specific image of a specific group of people with a specific--and recorded agenda.  The opposition is a loose conglomeration of fellow travellers including school board members, local teachers, bloggers, and some disenchanted parents.  I understand that the opposition doesn't want to be Vision 2015 in reverse, but it has to have some sort of coherent identity, and . . . .

Gap two:

It has no leaders.  You can make fun of Skip Schoenhals all you want, but he provides Vision 2015 with a visible focus for the public, and he is far more widely respected than most of the opposition would prefer to believe.  On the opposition side there is no statewide recognized leader.  John Kowalko perhaps comes closest in the legislature, but--let's be really honest here--John is a gadfly and not the day-to-day leader of a functional education reform opposition.  I love kilroy and John Young, but bloggers--even when they are school board members--do not qualify as statewide leaders of a major counter-reform movement.  And the various groups of teachers, as well as skeptical school board members scattered around the state constitute a muttering more than a voice.  The opposition has found no institutional spokesperson on the level of

Gap three:

It presents no alternatives.  This is important.  Thought experiment:  suppose the opposition is 110% correct and Vision 2015 will doom all of our children to a poor education forever, impoverishing them for life. So what's the alternative to the Vision Network that improve education?  You have to have a credible alternative besides saying that we need research-based answers or that we should just trust our teachers.  People are aware that schools are failing in many parts of the State, and they perceive the Vision 2015 people as at least pursuing a plan.  They do not perceive the opposition to Vision 2015 as doing the same thing.  That's why virtually every political candidate in the State stands up to salute Vison 2015--because nobody has presented a credible alternative.

I realize that some of my friends in opposition to Vision 2105 and Race to the Top will take offense at this post, because to them it suggests that they have to become like their opponents in order to succeed, and they will bristle at that.

But you cannot change the fact that the Vision Network has, as a political process, organized in textbook fashion, and whether you like it or not, if you want to change the direction of Delaware education away from their agenda, you're going to have to pay more attention to the process.

Last note (that people really really really won't like):  building that coalition took the Vision people several years, and it will take--even if the opponents started today--at least 4-5 years to build a counterweight organization.

You could call it Occupy Education.


Ed Diagnostician said...

nothing in your article makes me bristle at all.

I will say that offering an alternative is critical as you suggest, but I do disagree about the efficacy of trusting teachers or demanding research based solutions. To knock those is to suggest that it is OK to deploy non-research based "solutions" that may literally tear asunder a school and its community.

In effect, I see that statement from you arguing in favor of experimenting on children. To me, that is unacceptable.

After reading you pot I mostly want to ask you why is it OK for the "reformers" to not beheld to account for their ideas and the results. You point to Indian River's success, but I counter with is that success absolute or conjectural within the context of whether or nor DCAS scores are even a useful measure of success in a school or with a child.....

The problems about on both sides for sure, as you note, it's a Civil War.....but the side that has organized and played by the processes you note has something the resistors don't: money.

And speaking of money....the DSEA's support of RTTT is what Kilroy says it is,a political go along to get along stubt to ty and protect teachers from a runaway evaluation system. A stunt that is going to fail in my opinion. They are not resistors.

I am a resistor and calling me out as solution-less is certainly fair game, but it's no more specious than ignoring that the reformers have no evidence of success, just a network of monied organizations (Innovative Schools, Rodel, Vision 2015, Chamber of Commerce, etc)that subsist on diverting taxpayer dollars into companies and out of classrooms....all in the name of helping children.

As you know, I embrace the role of the rouge School Board Member Blogger. I know my limitations and my effect. I am #1 on the tote board in 2014 for electoral defeat. Somehow, I will sleep well again tonight. When you believe in your cause and you kids, fighting for equity and excellence in public education is an honor.

Fending of individuals and organizations that exist to laud themselves is a privilege.

pandora said...


"[I should be clear and transparent (if not as in Christina, ouch): there are multiple items of the reformers' agendas with which I agree, others than strike me as innocuous or silly, and some that I downright dislike."

Is the difference between you and Ed reformists.

And you're correct, "resisters" won't organize. Know why? In order to organize they'd need a message as simplistic (and as misleading) as ed reformers.

Ed Reformers message is: Traditional public schools have failed our children.

Resisters, in order to be effective, would then have to take the opposite argument: Charter schools fail our children.

Both positions, imo, are ridiculous, and neither has anything to do with children.

So... I wouldn't necessarily classify myself as a resister. I'd call myself wary. I don't want to get rid of charters; I want to find a way for them to co-exist and enhance traditional public schools.

I am not a true believer - and I have never trusted true believers. No one has all the answers, and those (true believers) who claim they do should be avoided at all costs.

Ed Diagnostician said...

@ Pandora

I agree, but charters are not really the problem, sure the law needs some work, but their existence is not inherently problematic.
By comparison, the policies being made and enforces the DE Legislature, DOE and State Board of Education that have little basis in research are choking our schools to death:

funding equity, busing, testing, curriculum, standards, school climate, school violence/bullying, teacher career pathways, administrator pathways, merit pay, untrained teachers coming in from alternative routes of certification (like TFA), Neighborhood Schools, re-segregation are the problems.....charters are sometimes a symptom, but generally do not cause the problem in DE education.

So, I am not going to organize or try to organize. Ideas have power. Pointing out that other ideas are bad has power. Being articulate, if not sometimes abrasive in the public space has power. Embracing the David v. Goliath mindset has power. I get ZERO power from being a school board member, just a 5 year platform to inject ideas.

Just like the corporate interests that control the landscape, the marketplace will embrace or reject my ideas. For sure you can't win them all, but little 'ol me got meetings electronically recorded, defended my teachers (for 11 days) against the Governors office in a way that shed real light on the nexus of bad policy and practice, have over 100,000 hits on my blog discussing and linking to thoughtful analysis of ed policy and have assisted in ensuring that the ARTC TFA pathway gets a formal review in three years rather than a lifetime license to bring untrained educators in Delaware's highest needs schools..all without a brand or a 501(c)4. Imagine that.

Steven H. Newton said...


Just so we're clear: I have a great respect for what you are doing, and i was not calling you out.

Nor do I expect you to organize the resistance.

This was a PROCESS piece, aimed at explaining to a lot of people who have asked me why nobody is covering or really talking about the resistance to ed reform.

My point is fairly simple (but apparently not so simple as I thought): the only way to derail such a process in the education world, once it has become politicized, is through a countervailing political process. Yes, you can raise issues and change things around the margins, but the machine marches on.

There is a current opportunity in Delaware, however, for such a resistance to coalesce. A lot of things have weakened the reform movement this year, not the least of which is its own over-reach. But the movement is not composed of stupid people, and they have resources, and they will adjust, and they will move more effectively next year to marginalize opposition.

Before that happens is the time to set up a counter-movement; I was just laying out the parameters as I see them.

pandora: I don't agree that an alternative would have to be as simplistic as "Traditional schools have failed" and "Charter schools have failed" to be effective.

There are a variety of ways to go about it (this below is very very rough and is only meant to give an idea):

--Education happens in the classroom. The Federal government needs to provide resources, not mandates.

--If choice is a parent's option, why does the State get to pick where the charter schools go?

--Charter schools for Everybody! It can only happen when we make all schools that good.

--Reforming education has more to do with teachers and resources than it has with corporatons and their visions.

pandora said...

I hear ya. I was approaching it from a Marketing standpoint. Bumper sticker slogans are effective. Probably too effective.

This was a Process piece, after all. ;-)

The ed reformers are winning on process - and a big part of that process is convincing (rightly or wrongly) that traditional public schools are failing our kids and it's time for something new.

Truthfully, ed reformers don't bring much in the way of solutions, either. They rely on everyone buying into their initial premise (traditional public schools are failing our kids) and then shoot from the hip - selling a variety of untested products under the guise that anything is better than what we have now. Powerful stuff, but hardly deep. Then again, I've never been a fan of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

pandora said...

Know what? It's time to get everyone to the damn table. I'm sick of these sides. It's past time to think about the kids. Yeah, novel idea.

Steve Newton said...


Vision 2015 would argue that they have brought everyone to the table. They have educational administrators, they have teachers' union reps, they have parents from the PTA, they have university types, they have corporate types, and they would say to you that they put out a call for everybody several years ago, and they have worked with everybody who showed up.

The problem is that they now "define" the table: the discussion about the future of Delaware public education, for better or worse (and by that I mean the discussion that has the practical ability and the resources to implement its conclusion) is occurring through the prism of the Vision Network.

This is especially true after Governor Markell has annointed one of them to be Sec Ed for Delaware.

In other words, what I am saying is that on any coordinated basis, that bird has already flown, leaving people with different idea only three options that I can see:

1) Construct a viable alternative, as I outlined in this post.

2) Get into the network of Vision 2015 and try to affect it from the inside.

3) Continue to be the irritant, and feel good about what you are doing without seeing any major systemic movements away from the groupthink. That's OK--even honorable--but it is not terribly effective.

The other alternative is for the teachers to retake control of their union at the State level, for the parents to do the same, and internally transform the Vision partners out from under them.

And if we do move school board elections to November, all we will be doing is ensuring the election of more pro-reform candidates.

Ed Diagnostician said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Diagnostician said...

I did not think you were calling me out at all. In fact, I read your post as sort of a call to action. I agree with pretty much every point you made about process and just used your post to pivot on ideology.

Ed Diagnostician said...


re #3): Dead on about the groupthink thing!

Also, 100% agree on the November election red herring.

pandora said...

Red herring, or not... something has to change. And, in case no one has noticed the ed reformers are winning anyway.

Strategy wise... resisters have nothing to lose by moving school board elections to November. If anything, they would gain an audience ed reformers ignore for a reason.

As it stands now, ed reformers will continue to pick off candidates/board members one by one. How's that working for ya?

Move the elections to November and make everyone work for the voters they ignore and count (desperately) on not to vote.

Just sayin'

Ed Diagnostician said...

indeed they are winning. Moving elections to Nov will have them win faster. They have the $$ and access to campaign tools that local community members who want to serve in a voluntary elected position for the benefit of children mostly don't have.

So, in the booth, underr which column do you place the candidates names? D or R? School board elections are not party affiliated and the folks that pull a donkey or elephant "all" lever may elect the school board person by happenstance without engaging the issue at all?

You can make the argument that the informed people will still come out, but now the rabble could mindlessly sway the election just like they often do in November anyway.

I guess it boils down to how the community feels about the position and even more interestingly its electors. As you know access becomes and issue as school board elections are not from a pool of registered voters but of residents with positive IDs. If November rules come with moving the election, we ow disenfranchise some people. I wonder who those people are?

I know I'm rambling, it's just not so cut and dry for me.

pandora said...

So, in the booth, underr which column do you place the candidates names? D or R?

Let me put on my political hat... I can tell you which party at least 70% of school board members belong to. So, adding a D or an R after their name isn't that difficult.

School board elections are not party affiliated

Why yes, yes they are. For the most part. We just pretend they aren't.

Can we please stop pretending that politics isn't involved in school boards? That all school board members are somehow above politics. That simply isn't true. Politics are becoming the driving force behind these elections.

John, I love ya, but you need to see that school boards are political, and have been for quite some time.

And, going back to the point of Steve's post and keeping my political hat firmly in place... changing the process for resisters might very well begin with changing the election date. If I were you, I would take the fact that we live in a blue state as an advantage, and play it for all it's worth.

Ed Diagnostician said...


Love ya too, but please know this: Ds and Rs are both the problem on "reformer" issues.

From Bush's NCLB to Obama's RTTT, what a mess.

Coolspringer said...

I'm another on the "wary" list. I wasn't really brought up to raise hell. :) I may favor some ways more than others but overall to me there are ideas and practices to keep and lose from both (all?) angles.

Like the DSEA, Rodel also has many components and projects and they are by no means made up of drones any more than the DSEA.

Anyway, mainly I wanted to add a point - there IS organized resistance to corporate ed reform in the same cloth of the scattered resistance, it is national and Delaware has an affiliate. They have next to no funding as far as I can tell, but they are pretty organized, and their vision goals are clear and admirable, important. I think it's fair to say that much resistance has been fueled by their organization and the work of those involved with them, especially post-Waiting for Superman.

National: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/what-we-believe/

Delaware PAA affiliate: http://www.communities4educationde.org/

I haven't seen the local affiliate get a lick of press. Maybe that is by design, I don't know.

And I think there is room for more such affiliates watchdogging various aspects of where vision (and Vision) is falling short. Not sure all those things will or should all fit under one group's umbrella.

Steven H. Newton said...


Interesting links, thanks. I need to look these over.