Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joel Klein Doesn't Mean What You Think He Means

Jon Becker, first quoting Joel Klein:

“This is a game about power, and I think you have a vacuum on one side…She’s concluded — and I think with some wisdom — that there’s really no countervailing force that is well-funded, is well-organized. What I think she wants to build is an organization that can really step up and amass political support and play hardball.”

-Joel Klein, on the Political Education of Michelle Rhee

There is very little about educational policy on which Joel Klein and I agree. But, Klein’s point about Michelle Rhee and her Students First organization is spot on. There is a particular policy agenda that is carrying the day in education, and Michelle Rhee is quickly becoming the face and voice of that agenda. The early $uce$$ of her “movement” is unsurprising because it *is* the dominant agenda. Furthermore, as Klein points out, there is no organized counternarrative.

Um... yeah, but reading both these quotes in context I'm pretty certain Klein isn't saying what Becker thinks he's saying. That is, Klein doesn't think Rhee needs to build a $1 billion organization because there is no countervailing force against their side, that is, the "reformers." If they had no opposition, why would they need a billion dollars?

Klein's saying that there is no well-funded, well-organized force on the side of business-model reform. It is understandable that this is easy to misinterpret, since it is crazy-talk.

As Thomas Frank quotes Michelle Goldberg in the new Harpers

It's really common for the right to adopt paranoid versions of the legitimate complaints of the left...

And beyond that, both ed reporters and many progressive advocates have some kind of mental block about simply acknowledging that we can and do articulate our own agenda.

Also, you have to think about this from Joel Klein's point of view. Teachers unions are on their heels, but not actually dead. Reformers lose elections and legislative votes all the time. And when you try to, say, close 20 schools, a bunch of angry people show up. He knows how expensive it is to bus all those charter school people in, so someone must be shelling out a lot of money to bring the rest of those people in, right?

The fact remains that among actual humans (i.e., not hedge fund billionaires, editorial boards, the Center for American Progress, Democratic politiicans and reform (non-)profiteers), the agenda Parents Across America lays out remains the conventional wisdom:

Proven Reforms: We support the expansion of sensible, research-based reforms, such as small classes, parent involvement, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.

Sufficient and Equitable Funding: Resources do matter, especially when invested in programs that have been proven to work.

Diversity: We support creating diverse, inclusive schools and classrooms whenever possible.

Meaningful Parent Involvement: Parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels. We are not just “consumers” or “customers” but knowledgeable, necessary partners in any effective reform effort.

It didn't take a billion dollars to get people to believe those things, and frankly, a billion dollars won't change people's minds either.

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