Joel Klein and Al Sharpton wrote an open letter to Barack Obama and Arne Duncan that appeared this morning in the Wall Street Journal. And I have just a few questions about this:
- How can the sitting chancellor and a long-time civil-rights activist claim to be railing against "the entrenched education establishment" when you could reasonably conclude that they are The Establishment?
- Why do they think that placing a column in the WSJ establishes their anti-establishment street cred? That newspaper isn't exactly an underground pamphlet.
- Isn't Klein the type of guy who already has Arne Duncan's cell number? They're fellow urban superintendents, they've talked at meetings, and you assume he could call Duncan up at any time, and probably get Obama's number as well. So why do they need this open letter--do they feel this deep psychological need to pose as Village Voice rebels with a cause?
Klein and Sharpton are setting up a straw-man opponent. In my masters class in the fall, one of my students argued that accountability is well-entrenched as part of the public-school policy script. Whether you want to use Tyack and Cuban's "grammar of schooling" or Mary Metz's "real school" language, I think there's a case to be made that anyone who claims that accountability is "new" is in denial and as punishment should have to watch three or four consecutive playings of an inane 1980s adolescent-rebellion film.
So someone who is less establishment than Joel Klein would be... anyone? Anyone?
This is the kind of message opponents of anti-Klein/Bush style reform should hammer on relentlessly. Overall, the failures of the past eight years have justifiably been stuck on the Republicans. Education is one of the few areas where they and their allies might dodge the taint. Don't let them. One key to their rhetorical strategy is pretending that they are still outsiders, standards-based accountability hasn't been the coin of the realm for fifteen years, etc.