Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Over at This Week In Education, Russo did a follow-up to his post on the battle for online presence between reformers and those perceived to be against reform that I blogged about here.  In it, he shares his response to the unexpected flurry of comments that he believes supported his position that those against reform efforts currently have a more visible and effective online presence.

Nearly all of it came from those opposed to current reform efforts, which sort of proved my point. They were confused by my praise, simultaneously pleased and disquieted at having their efforts acknowledged, angry at me for praising them using code words like "feisty." They denounced the post, then bragged about it, or did both at the same time. (One thing is clear: they hate being called reform critics or reform opponents, which I understand but to me seems an uphill battle without a better alternative that someone will actually use.)

Reading his post followed by viewing a video that Amy shared with me about Stand for Children and then an eduflack post on It Takes an Educational Village created more dissonance for me.  The video (sorry you need to go to the site, I still can't get them to embed) was developed by Rethinking Schools, an organization that Russo would probably label as against reform.  The intent of the video is to show how Stand for Children has gone from a grass roots organization fighting for poor children and increased public school funding to one that is now funded by those in the forefront of the reform movement.

What happened? How did Stand morph from an organization with a focus on children’s health issues, nonschool factors, and research-based school improvements to an organization that pushes core elements of the corporate destruction of public education?

Stand has seen an enormous influx of corporate cash. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began by offering a relatively modest two-year grant of $80,000 in 2005. In 2007, Stand for Children received a $682,565 grant. In 2009, the point at which Stand’s drastically different political agenda became obvious, Gates awarded a $971,280 grant to support “common policy priorities” and in 2010, a $3,476,300 grant.

They go on to identify other organizations providing support such as the Walton Foundation.  You can read their description of the change on their web page here.  The video and article do a good job of painting Stand as completely aligned with corporate reformers.  On the other hand, in this editorial from a Rethinking Schools Newsletter you can  get a sense about who they are and what they are fighting for.  They describe the current situation in the words below. 
For defenders of public education, that civic courage must enact the realization that our schools can only be saved if they are simultaneously transformed. Teachers must ensure that our unions and professional organizations stand on the side of children and parents—that we embrace an expansive democratic practice that engages community members as vital allies and addresses the deep inequities beyond the schoolhouse door that imperil the well-being of our students.
Contrast this with words from the Stand for Children web page that describes their work.  I see some similarity in the words being used.
We have more than a decade of experience working together with parents, communities and organizations as partners. Together, we elect state legislators and local officials who will be champions for education. We deliver policy victories at the state level. And we follow through to ensure new policies are effectively implemented in public school classrooms.
Finally, I'll share this eduflack post that laments the fighting and speaks to the need for collaboration with the community as did the Stand for Children and Rethinking Schools words above.
Ultimately, it really does take an educational village to improve our public schools. Teachers, parents, community leaders, policymakers, taxpayers, the business community, and students all have a vested interest in seeing our schools improve and our kids succeed. And all have a potential role they can play in the improvement process. Now is not the time to say I can do this myself, and try to walk the road alone. We need all the help we can get.

As I read these posts it is ironic how using similar words by these diverse organizations leads to such different responses.  All recognize the need for change that requires a collaborative effort, but the behavior is not consistent with a collaborative approach.  Reading and reflecting on these pieces results in more dissonance for me and concern for the future of public education.  No one is positioned to win this battle wherever it is being fought.  There is too much money to ignore the influence that the corporate reformers bring to the table and there is too much knowledge and commitment that educators bring to expect anything but a protracted fight.  In the mean time, energy is wasted and finger pointing increases.  One would think that those on both sides are too smart to continue this battle, but that is not the case.  Maybe we need a new language to describe the need because the current words are not bringing us together.

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