One hallmark of reformsterism has been the relentless insistence on data and research. Decisions must be data-driven, while programs must be research-based. We must make the delivery system of education just as scientific and mechanical and bloodless as a toaster assembly line.
Which is why it has been so curious to see all the reformster feelings on display. Deep feelings. Heartfelt feelings. Just the announcement of the departure of Arne Duncan and his replacement by failing-upward poster boy John King has been a feeling-fest. Just, really, all the feels.
Duncan's announcement included a whole list of things he loves. With tears. The Politico profile is just full of the feels, with Ted Mitchell tearing up, and a hammering home of a point often made about Duncan-- that he just cares so much. He cares about kids. In fact, some folks in the USED circle are certain that nobody anywhere on the planet cares about the kids as much as Duncan does. And I can actually believe that, well, he thinks so. It would frankly explain a lot-- Duncan the righteous crusader who doesn't have to listen to anybody because nobody cares like he does. And so Duncan can ignore all the research based evidence that would suggest VAM should be data-driven over a cliff-- he can ignore that. And he can keep puzzling over why schools have become so test-focused even as lots of people try to tell him. And he can keep bragging about only the United States Education Department-- not teachers or schools or even parents-- will tell the truth about how kids are doing.
All of that because Duncan just cares so much more than everyone else.
And the feels just keep on coming as we contemplate the anointing of John King, who like many beloved reformsters before him (looking at you, She Who Will Not Be Named from DC) does not have a single actual success to his name. King's track record includes charter schools that are a showcase of charter worst practices, shoving vast percentages of students out the door (in violation of USED policies) so that the few students they are willing to teach can bring in good numbers. King couldn't deal with the public, couldn't work with teachers, and had to bail out of New York as a failure in the state education leaderly post.
But King has a story, and his story is (and I say this without irony) absolutely a great one. Tough childhood, turned around by a dedicated teacher, making his way up in the world. Go over to Peter Cunningham's $12 million reformster PR site, and the headline "Because I believe in all kids, I support John King" leads to an article that is mostly John King telling his story (also, a bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves-- what the heck does believing in children have to do with thinking John King would make a good USED sort-of-secretary). Never mind that King does not consider whether his beloved teacher could survive and save other young John Kings under current USED policies. The story gives all the feels.
And now reformsters are trying to build a groundswell for King with tactics like #ISupportJohnKing on the twitter, and the tweets (before the hashtag was hijacked by public education supporters) have been all about "believing" and "the children."
In fact, so far, I haven't seen any support for King's Congress-sidestepping appointment that are based on research or data. Nothing to say how his great policies in NY helped students, or how he has shown his ability to manage the sort of detail and policy that a USED acting-like-a-secretary must manage.
The support is all about the feels. He ran a charter school (but let's not talk about how, exactly, that worked out-- don't bring up the data because that's just mean). He has a great, touching story. He believes in all the children of the world. That is all great, and lord knows I'm not above poking readers in the feels now and again, but my dog also has a great story and loves every child he has ever met, believing that they all have godlike powers, and my dog would make a terrible part-time-pretend-secretary of education.
The folks in DC occasionally opine that they would like policy ideas judged on merit, and lots of olks in these debates ask that things not be made personal (which, despite my general tone of mockery, I actually agree with). But if you want those things, you can't also ask that players be judged on their personal qualities, and you can't claim to be making decisions based on "I know this guy and he's Good People."
Duncan and King will both have to be judged on their policies and their effectiveness in working well with stakeholders, not on their feelings. I am in no position to judge the latter, but the evidence about the former does not speak in their favor. Instead of trying to give us the feels, how about showing us some evidence? It's not tat feelings and motivation don't matter-- but when you keep punching me in the face, I'm not so interested in how you feel about it.