Oh, those new conversations. Reformsters have been calling for them for years. back in the fall of 2014, new conversations were all the rage. There were plenty of reasons to be doubtful-- the old conversation had been mostly about how teachers had screwed everything up and should just sit down and shut up and listen to their betters. That, and the desire for a new conversation seemed to be linked to the drubbing that Common Core and the attendant testocracy were taking in the public square. "Maybe we should just talk about this," is so commonly spoken by people who are winning.
Then there was Education Post, the twelve-million dollar "war room" PR operation that reformsters like Eli Broad wanted to use to get their message out there, apparently feeling that guys like me blogging for free in our spare time were somehow unfairly silencing the billionaire investors in education. Education Post was going to start a "new conversation," but their logo gave away the game-- all megaphone, no ears. Education Post has its purpose and its goal and its budget, and Peter Cunningham, who runs the place, is an experienced guy who knows how to do the job he's been hired to do, and that's all well and good, but in its two years of existence, Ed Post has made it clear that actually having a conversation is not its primary purpose. They have their moments, but mostly they are there to push a particular reformy point of view. When Campbell Brown opened up her education website, she was at least honest about her intent to advocate for her point of view.
So whither the New Conversation?
Oddly enough, there are plenty of conversations out there. Individuals on all sides of the ed debates have found ways to interact and talk to each other like civilized human beings, and without having to give up their convictions to do it. It's pretty cool. Folks should give it a try. But that's just individual conversations, not connected to any particular central platform. Will we ever have our new conversation platform?
Fear not-- in just a few months, Dr. John Deasy, formerly the face that launched several million dollars' worth of disasters in the Los Angeles United School District, will be editor-in-chief of The Line, "a print and digital publication for K-12 education leaders."
The Line endeavors to share information and ideas from educators
for educators to encourage civil discourse and action around the most
challenging issues facing our nation's schools.
What does Deasy know about being the editor of a journal/newspaper/PR rag? Presumably nothing. But he's got... name recognition? And after all-- once he bombed out of the LAUSD superintendent job, Eli Broad hired him for the Broad Fake Superintendent Academy.
This new publication is a project of the Frontline Research and Learning Institute, which is in turn a division of Frontline Education. Frontline Education is in the software biz, and boasts 7,500 districts as customers. Their focus appears to be less on educating students and more on managing human resources, with software for managing absences and providing "actionable data." (Some day I want to find someone who is selling "inert, inactive data"). They offer advice about hiring and firing and even have a white paper (some day I want people to start issue green papers and purple papers) about the state of the teacher shortage.
Back in may, FRLI was proud to announce that it had added all sorts of "leading national K-12 education voices" to their advisory council, which mostly meant consultants, human resource officers, plus a couple of college professors, because FRLI is also a collaborative project with Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education. This is the second time I've come across Johns Hopkins providing research cover for a private corporation; I guess now that government isn't so big on supporting colleges, hiring a department out to private industry is the next best fundraiser.
Deasy is going to be leading a board of super-duper board of "acclaimed education leaders from across the country," and the list does include some familiar names. Dr. Andres Alonso (Harvard GSE), Dr. Tommy Chang (Boston Superintendent), Tom Boasberg (Denver Superintendent), Charlotte Danielson, Dr. Frederick Hess (American Enterprise Institute), Dr. William Hite (Philadelphia Superintendent), Dr. Vicki Phillips (Long-time reformster, currently between jobs), Andrew Rotherham (Bellwether Partners), and Paul Toner (Exec Dir of MA Teach Plus). The press release claims union leaders and former journalists, but I sure don't see them on the list.
Mostly what I see is a whole bunch of charter-and-privatization fans. This leads me to believe that this will not so much be an attempt to encourage civil discourse as it will be a concerted PR push in favor of privatizing public schools aimed at superintendents and other administrators.
Come March, I suppose we'll see. My money is on something not so much about dialogue and conversation as about PR and marketing for a particular solution. There's nothing wrong with that; this is still America, and probably still will be in March. But direct marketing is not dialogue, and propaganda dressed up as informative articles is still an obstacle to understanding, not a bridge.