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Who [sic] Will He Choose?

Cindy Lutenbacher letter
to New York Times:

I find it fascinating (or scary) that Mr.
Brooks dubs people like Joel Klein and Michelle
Rhee "reformers," while calling Linda Darling-
Hammond an "establishment" person.

Klein and Rhee want to "reform" education by
attaching all levels of significance to
multiple-choice tests and by endorsing the
unfounded notion that anyone can be a teacher.
Darling-Hammond, on the other hand, with a
lifetime of both classroom experience and
scholarly endeavors, has argued for reform
based upon actual evidence, reform that
understands what really matters, such as the
importance of genuine teacher quality and a
radically more encompassing vision of equity
and accountability.

Equally fascinating (or scary) is Mr. Brooks'
sly affixing of "establishment" and "anti-
reform" to teachers' unions, with the implied
message that teachers are not to be trusted
because they only care about one thing: their
own paychecks. He seems to miss the fact that
the unions have been, primarily, on the side of
the Rhee, Klein, and NCLB faction. Moreover,
as far as I can tell, the only teachers Mr.
Brooks trusts are those who want the multiple-
choice tests to become educational dictators.
I don't really know any such teachers, but I
hear they're out there.

I wish that Mr. Brooks and others with his
strange notions would spend time in the
classrooms of what the late Dr. Asa Hilliard
called "power teachers." Perhaps he would
learn not only the difference between "who" and
"whom," but also the difference between reform
that gives kids what they need and "reform"
that functions merely to satisfy corporate

Monty Neill Comment [on
this issue, not this article]:

Apparently to be for the current status quo of
high-stakes testing makes one a 'reformer' and
an opponent of the 'status quo.'

Time and Newsweek and the
Cleveland Plain Dealer - and there may
be more - in the past couple weeks have run
articles in which they define the privatizers
and testers and union-busters as 'reformers'
and those who actually work to improve schools
as 'status quo.' That is, the pro-testers have
defined themselves as 'reformers' and
successfully sold that disinformation.

Their solutions of testing and privatization
have been proven through the use of independent
test scores (NAEP) as at best no improvement,
while high-stakes testing which does not
improve learning outcomes does drive up the
dropout rate. Some "reform" or, not all
"reform" is improvement.

In addition to doing what we can to oppose the
nomination of major proponents of test-punish-
privatize, such as Arne Duncan, Joel Klein and
their ilk (their supporters are working
overtime to get them placed in prominent
positions in the Obama administration) and
supporting real educators for such positions,
we need to expose the use of 'reform' by the
promoters of high-stakes testing and the
privatizers. We need to point out that their
solutions do not work, that state test scores
gains are shown by NAEP to be mere inflation,
that union-busting is a reactionary solution
(states with unions spend more on schools and
do better), and that there are worthwhile
education improvement ideas. I would encourage
letters to the editor (keep them short and in
simple language!) when such claims appear in a
paper near you.

By David Brooks

As in many other areas, the biggest education
debates are happening
within the Democratic Party. On the one hand,
there are the reformers
like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support
merit pay for good
teachers, charter schools and tough
accountability standards. On the
other hand, there are the teachers' unions and
the members of the Ed
School establishment, who emphasize greater
funding, smaller class sizes
and superficial reforms.

During the presidential race, Barack Obama
straddled the two camps. One
campaign adviser, John Schnur, represented the
reform view in the
internal discussions. Another, Linda Darling-
Hammond, was more likely to
represent the establishment view. Their
disagreements were collegial
(this is Obamaland after all), but substantive.

In public, Obama shifted nimbly from camp to
camp while education
experts studied his intonations with the
intensity of Kremlinologists.
Sometimes, he flirted with the union positions.
At other times, he
practiced dog-whistle politics, sending out
reassuring signals that only
the reformers could hear.

Each camp was secretly convinced that at the
end of the day, Obama would
come down on their side. The reformers were
cheered when Obama praised a
Denver performance pay initiative. The unions
could take succor from the
fact that though Obama would occasionally talk
about merit pay, none of
his actual proposals contradicted their

Obama never had to pick a side. That is, until
now. There is only one
education secretary, and if you hang around
these circles, the air is
thick with speculation, anticipation, anxiety,
hope and misinformation.
Every day, new rumors are circulated and new
front-runners declared.
It's kind of like being in a Trollope novel as
Lord So-and-So figures
out to whom he's going to propose.

You can measure the anxiety in the reformist
camp by the level of
nervous phone chatter each morning. Weeks ago,
Obama announced that
Darling-Hammond would lead his transition team
and reformist cellphones
around the country lit up. Darling-Hammond, a
professor at Stanford, is
a sharp critic of Teach for America and
promotes weaker reforms.

Anxieties cooled, but then one morning a few
weeks ago, I got a flurry
of phone calls from reform leaders nervous that
Obama was about to side
against them. I interviewed people in the
president-elect's inner circle
and was reassured that the reformers had
nothing to worry about. Obama
had not gone native.

Obama's aides point to his long record on merit
pay, his sympathy for
charter schools and his tendency to highlight
his commitment to serious
education reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless
and in the past week
prospects for a reforming education secretary
are thought to have
dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently
include: Joel Klein, the
highly successful New York chancellor who has,
nonetheless, been
blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the
reforming Chicago head who
is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself;
and some former governor
to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the
deputy secretary.

In some sense, the final option would be the
biggest setback for reform.
Education is one of those areas where
implementation and the details are
more important than grand pronouncements. If
the deputies and assistants
in the secretary's office are not true
reformers, nothing will get done.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in
decades, there is real
momentum for reform. It's not only Rhee and
Klein --- the celebrities
--- but also superintendents in cities across
America who are getting
better teachers into the classrooms and
producing measurable results.
There is an unprecedented political coalition
building, among liberals
as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

No Child Left Behind is about to be
reauthorized. Everyone has
reservations about that law, but it is the
glaring spotlight that
reveals and pierces the complacency at mediocre
schools. If
accountability standards are watered down, as
the establishment wants,
then real reform will fade.

This will be a tough call for Obama, because it
will mean offending
people, but he can either galvanize the cause
of reform or demoralize
it. It'll be one of the biggest choices of his

Many of the reformist hopes now hang on Obama's
friend, Arne Duncan. In
Chicago, he's a successful reformer who has
produced impressive results
in a huge and historically troubled system. He
has the political skills
necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No
Child Left Behind
reauthorization. Because he is close to both
Obamas, he will ensure that
education doesn't fall, as it usually does,
into the ranks of the
second-tier issues.

If Obama picks a reformer like Duncan, Klein or
one of the others, he
will be picking a fight with the status quo.
But there's never been a
better time to have that fight than right now.

— David Brooks, with comments by Cindy Lutenbacher & Monty Neill
New York Times




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