The world of reformy stuff has altered my life; specifically, it has changed my daily routine. In the morning before school, I read. At lunch, I read. And sometimes in the evening, I read. And when I need a break from reading, I write.
There are soooooo many powerful writers out there covering the world of education, the high stakes test-driven status quo, and the many fronts in the ongoing battle to reclaim public education. The long list to the right of this column only scratches the surface. And to stay fully informed, I also read the work of the corporate champions of the high stakes test-driven status quo, the various organizations that fight and claw to keep the dream of educorporate schooling alive. So I've had plenty of opportunity to see what separates the two groups, what distinguishes the Network for Public Education from, say, StudentsFirst or TFA or any of the groups that shoehorn "Education" and "Quality" into their names.
The difference is money.
So many of the supporters of Reformy Stuff are bought and paid for. So many of the opponents are not.
If the Gates Foundation woke up tomorrow and discovered that all its money had turned into, I don't know, expired gift certificates for a free breakfast at Denny's, support for CCSS would collapse. If the Common Core and Teach for America and the Charter Movement had to survive on actual merit, this whole fight would be over in a week. If rich white guys couldn't buy studies and then buy other groups to study the studies and then buy organizations to praise the studies, the support for Reformy Stuff would evaporate.
You would think that the acolytes of meritocracy would want to say, "Look, if our concepts cannot survive in the marketplace of ideas strictly on their merit, then they don't deserve to live." But they are fans of another sort of meritocracy, one in which money proves one is a virtuous person, and therefor one's every idea must have merit and deserve to be rolled up in twenty dollar bills that are then shoved down less virtuous throats.
I watched and read about the Network for Public Education conference, and I can't help noticing that it does not include any people who are getting rich off fighting reformy stuff. In fact, I see quite a lot of people spending their own money and uncompensated time to fight this fight.
In the meantime, "I completely waived my speakers fee today and traveled at my own expense because I really believe in my message," said no Michelle Rhee ever. "Fixing schools" is making some people wealthy.
Time after time, Gates Foundation and other sources like it plant money in the ground and a group springs forth, ready to say whatever they are paid to say. People are making very good livings pushing this stuff.
But others of us are fighting it for free. I'd love to say something moving about how our righteous virtue in the support of a good cause gives us a homespun Davidian strength that no Goliath-like corporate heartless hucksters can overcome, but I don't think so.
I think Diane Ravitch has it right. They have to lose. The Masters of Reforming Our Nation's Schools are like farmers who have had to fill their field with plants that they bought at the store and transplanted on their own. When those plants die, they go back to the store and buy more. But every plant they buy and transplant fails.
They have bought (and bought and rebought and bought again) the illusion that they know how to raise those crops, but the truth is that they haven't a clue and every thing they have tried has failed, turned dry and dusty in the hard sun of reality. The successes they have enjoyed depend on nothing but a large supply of money, and eventually they will either run out or simply tire of spending it. What success can they point to that they did not prop up with money-based illusion? What words of support can they point to that haven't been paid for? What would happen to it all if the money went away?
The Reformy Stuff movement has no roots. Where roots should be there is only a large and impressive supply of money. But for those of us on the other side, there are roots that go deep, roots that were already planted by our love and passion for education and that have driven deep long before the fake foundation farmers came along. They can only keep this up as long as they can afford to pay for it. We can only keep this up as long as we have breath and brains, fingers to type, voices to speak.
It's not that their dependence on money makes them evil or dirty. Their dependence on money makes their movement unsustainable. But those of us fighting back and teaching and blogging and talking? We can keep this up all day, every day.