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.]
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 . . . .
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
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.