Thursday, February 05, 2009

Is "No Comment" the Best We Can Do?

At the EduCon Sunday morning panel, at some point Gary Stager said something like "Obama's goal should be to give every child in America the same kind of education his children will get at Sidwell Friends School." Fair enough, although if Obama set that goal I'm not sure how how seriously it would be taken. But he arguably did the next best thing yesterday: the President, the First Lady, and the Secretary of Education went to Capital City Public Charter School, a well-funded, public, progressive charter school in DC, an Essential School and an Expeditionary Learning School, and the President said "This kind of innovative school…is an example of how all our schools should be," which is pretty much exactly what Gary wanted him to say, minus Sidwell's ivy and inner light.

The Expeditionary Learning folks managed to get out a press release, and I goaded Jill into getting something up on, but overall, the educational blogging community, including progressive bloggers, have all but ignored this statement, despite the often frenzied tea-leaf reading regarding President Obama's views on education.

That opponents of progressive education have not brought up the philosophy of the school the President praised is not surprising; that advocates of progressive education have also not brought it up is discouraging. Doyle isn't happy that he picked a charter with many upper-class kids and lots of outside funding. I'm not sure if that's everyone's concern, although it puts one in a bit of a pickle for figuring out exactly what kind of school it is ok to praise. Do you have to find one that gets no special funding, has exactly the same resources and population as the urban average and is unusually successful? There aren't many of those and then what does that prove? That the status quo is alright if we work harder? Certainly one necessary step in increasing school funding for all schools is going to well funded schools and pointing out how successful they are.

Regardless, nothing from Gary, or Sylvia, Clay on, Will, or David, or Chris, or Scott or Steve or Miguel and Wes is sort of off-message. Nothing from either Klonsky, Public School Insights, Doug, or Schools Matter. Is there something about this school that I'm supposed to know? Is it heated with a kitten-fired furnace or something?

I'm not saying this means I'll love everything Obama does in education, but for the past few years we've only been hearing about how awesome "no excuses" reform is and how we just need to crack down and TEACH HARDER. It has been a long time since a President has praised progressive schools. We need to embrace this moment and use it.

Sidebar: I suspect one reason they went to CCPCS is because the family seriously considered it for Sasha and Malia, and if that process went very far I would imagine it would start to take up some serious time for the school staff and faculty. And I also suspect that it would have been impossible for the girls to attend the school in its current location -- the upper school at least, which is located above a drug store. That's not really going to work for security purposes, and while the school could and probably should be moved, that would drag the family into the middle of an ongoing DC city political dispute. So anyhow, a presidential visit would seem to be the consolation prize.


Gary said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the shout-out.

Please don't read too much into my lack of blogging. For one thing, Blogger is hosed for me, my feed is broken and I'm trying to start over on a redesigned blog on a different server. No conspiracy there.

On more substantive matters, I am on-record as saying that thus far there is no evidence that Barack Obama's education policies are indistinguishable from those of the Bush administration.

Where you saw good news in Obama's visit, I was more cautious. Of course CES should scream victory from the rooftops, I find it equally fascinating that the school he visited is a charter school, not a public one. One could easily divine meaning from that factor.

I've written about how Obama and his friends are fond of union-busting, Michelle Rhee, merit pay, TFA and other ridiculous ideas destined to make public education worse, not better. His Education Secretary and the subordinates whose names are being rumored are terrible choices. Much of the money for education in the stimulus package will codify more testing, name-calling and teacher-bashing.

Is there any evidence that Obama actually understands the difference in educational philosophy, say between KIPP and CES?

I voted for Obama. I gave him money. I went to the Inauguration. I hope he doesn't let the children of America down.

The jury is still out.


Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Gary,

I'm reading into the general (lack of) reaction, not just you.

I suppose the question is whether one can pry apart looking at this as an Obama observer and as an advocate of progressive schools.

I don't so much think that this proves that Obamas policies will be perfectly progressive, although I do think it reveals something about his personal preferences.

But as progressive schools advocates, I think we should be trumpeting that our very popular President said some very nice things about a progressive school. We haven't seen much of that lately.

And I do think people are underestimating the impact of Obama's Annenberg Challenge experience. I don't see how you could be the chairman of the board of a fairly progressive citywide school reform effort and not understand, say, the difference between KIPP and CES.

Anonymous said...

As one of the "either Klonskys," I'm not sure what your upset with me about. That I didn't take notice of Obama's visit to a progressive charter school.

True enough.

But, unlike some, I have not jumped on Obama about his education stuff, even his disappointing appointment of Arne Duncan. I am still a supporter, and my blog demonstrates it.

I think in many ways it is too early to be too critical or give to much praise.

Meanwhile, call your senator and save the education funding in the stimulus bill. After that we can discuss pedagogy. Right now I'm into the pedagogy of school funding.

Gary said...


I agree. CES should engage in all of the shameless self-promotion it can generate.

On the merits, I've yet to hear Obama say anything progressive about education and I'm increasingly impressed by how it could be possible to sit on a board (of which The President has proclaimed not to have known the other board members) and remain ignorant about education matters.

Look at the Gates Foundation. I'm not sure they can tell the difference between KIPP and say, The Big Picture Schools.

Chris Lehmann said...

Um... I'm swamped?

Anonymous said...

You seem to be expecting all of us progressive edubloggers (techie and otherwise), to be responding mighty quick. I dearly love Doug Noon, but I also blog with him at In Practice ( and let's just say, those posts he writes read as thoughtful and well-constructed for a reason, he takes a long time to produce them.

I wasn't on your list, but like Doug, I'm a teacher in the classroom. I'm pretty fast in response to stuff, but I need a good week at least to find out about stuff like this (I tend to get it from my reader which is backed up by about 100 posts - so thanks for bringing to my attention), and I usually write my stuff over the weekend. I think you have a valid criticism, for two-weeks from now, but it seems a bit pre-mature now. I've already blogged that based on what I've seen at (, there's some interesting sub-text language, but until we see what the reauthorization of ESEA looks like, I'm withholding judgment. Unlike Gary, I think the fact that he went to a progressive school, rather than KIPP is a good thing, and saying that all kids should have that type of education is good too, but I've worked around politics too long, I wanna see the "money" and the plan, not just a talking point.

Oh, BTW, I thought of you when I saw this post on an econ blog:
I figured you'd get a chuckle out of it.

Thanks for adding a name/url option for identity on your comments!

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

Since you were kind enough to link me (despite my "counter-productively cynical and negative reading" of the POTUS visit), only seems fair I pop on by.

If it's any consolation, my life's love has been throwing columns and words at me this evening. I don't mind stirring things up in the blogoshere--I don't like stirring things up under my roof.

Our state's school report cards came out today. Like most schools, we did OK, but not OK enough, so I may be even surlier than I was last night.

You call me cynical (and assurances to the contrary here won't change that, but come on down to the shore and I'll buy you a Guinness anyway), so I'll swap my cynicism for your disingenuous description of the CCPCS as "a well-funded, public, progressive charter school"--it's simply not truly public.

I'm interested in public schools. I'm interested in this country. I'm interested in what it means to lead a good (and happy) life.

I'm also interested in fruitful conversations.



Charlie Roy said...

Perhaps the edcucon statement of Arne Duncan as the an example of "social promotion" hits the nail square on the head. Time will tell but at least the visit to a CES school is a step in the right direction.