Thursday, July 23, 2015

ME: Reformster Drive By

One of the basic premises of reformsterism is that nobody who actually lives in your state or district already knows what your community needs to do about education-- you must bring in an expert. So a whole cottage industry of traveling education consultants/experts/talking heads has sprung up, despite the lumps of cognitive dissonance floating in this ideological soup (when the phone rings at Fordham, and someone is looking for a reformy expert on how the states should have more power over ed reform, do the Fordham folks ever say, "Hey, you have the know-how and wisdom to operate your district without help from DC, so we aren't going to go there"?)

Examples of the smaller fish can be as instructive as the whales of the consulting expert industry. And so, let's travel to Maine and meet Vicki E. (Murray) Alger.

Alger will be in Maine to present on Friedman Legacy Day, a totally not-made-up holiday that will be celebrated by the Maine Heritage Policy Center in Portland. On July 31, Alger will be talking about The Future of School Choice in Maine. Admission to the luncheon meeting is a mere $25 for non-members. The event starts with the usual blurbly excesses:

Allowing parents to choose which school their children attend is a common-sense measure that has been shown to promote educational growth and achievement, and foster healthy competition among schools. 

None of those things are true. Heck, even the adjectives (common-sense, healthy) are not true. But it lets us know which brand of baloney is being served right up front. Why is Dr. Alger (because, of course, she's a PhD) here in Maine? She's not only going to sing the praises of choice, but she is going to let these Mainesters know how their state is doing, choice-wise.

So who is Vicki E. (Murray) Alger? Is she some sort of Mainey expert on school choice? Well, of course not. Why would you call on someone local to explain your local issues? Alger lives in Phoenix, Arizona. But her reformy credentials are impeccable.

In 2003, Alger received her PhD in political philosophy from the Institute of Philosophic Studies at the University of Dallas (a private Catholic college in Texas). I could not find a profile that covered any of her adventures before grad school. The Institute statement of purpose contains some awesome language, like this:

The IPS attempts to correct the tendency in higher education at the Ph.D. level toward increasing specialization at the expense of utility, ever more barbarous and repugnant technical jargon at the expense of intelligibility, and indifference to the need human beings have to make good choices in life. Yet the primary aim of education, so we assert, is to supply useful knowledge, expressed with clarity, and ordered in accordance with a notion of the good. 

Alger taught some college courses and lectured here and there before landing at the Goldwater Institute as the Director of the Center for Educational Opportunity. She went on to do her thing at the Pacific Research Institute and the Platte Institute for Economic Research, eventually spending enough time on the rubber chicken circuit to land a spot on the Friedman Foundation's Speakers Bureau. She has written (or co-written) a number of books, including Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Reform, and she is apparently working on a history of the US Department of Education. She has even written a work for ALEC.

Like any good one-person industry, she has an LLC (I've got to get that done one of these days). They/she are/is dedicated to transforming education. Here's what they can do for you!

Vicki Murray Associates LLC is committed to helping your organization translate limited-government free-market principles into effective education policy and practice.

Our team provides specialized research expertise with a proven track-record of advancing and informing key education policies, together with real-world experience in developing effective web-based applications.

But by far my favorite of Alger's side affiliations are her fellowships at the Independent Institute and the Independent Women's Forum. Right Wing Watch calls the IWF "an anti-feminist organization" that houses a bunch of lady right wing "scholars." But I've looked at the IWF website, and I call them fabulous!
Remember when Bic came out with a pen "for her" and was promptly eviscerated by the Amazon reviewer hive mind? Well, we may now know where those designers went after that debacle. The Independent Women's Forum looks like it might be part of the website for Ladies Home Journal, if LHJ had built a website in 1962. It's a shade darker than Barbie pink, but boy is it pink. And every headline is rendered in a swoopy, soft, pretty font. They would like you to "help lead the charge against the so-called 'War on Women'" and join a network of women who "value limited government, free markets, personal liberty, and responsibility." But also, they like to shop. And-- most awesome of all-- they invite you to subscribe to their newsletter, the IWF Weekly Roundup, "Where Being Right Is Fashionable." 

Why spend so much time and interwebs stalking on a reformster who is a C-lister? Because here once again is the pattern of affiliations, connections, and general insider world of reformsterism, a big machine that keeps sending out folks into local settings to tell community members why they need someone to come in from outside to give them an educational makeover (but not somebody from DC-- nosirreebob). 

And you can make an actual career out of this. Again, I have no idea where Alger grew up or did her undergrad work, but a policy PhD and she's been supporting herself just as a thinky talky writey pusher of free markettry. It's a career as a professional outsider, without any real ties to the industry whose rules you'd like to rewrite, a career in which one never actually does anything except give other people advice about how to regulate other people who are doing the actual work. And all of it done, not in the spirit of inquiry like a scientist trying to understand What's Going On Here, but with a specific agenda to push. 

The bummer for me is that I'll be arriving in Maine for a few days vacation about two-or-three hours after Alger does her luncheon thing. It would have been nice to go catch some wisdom and see her in action, but I don't think I'm going to make my wife get up four hours earlier just for that privilege. And somehow I doubt that she's sticking around all that long. Vicki, if you're reading this, I'd be happy to meet you for dessert or coffee or something later in the day. Just give me a holler, unless I can't afford the cost of a meeting, in which case, I wish you well.  And if any of my New England friends can make it, please ask her for me where she grew up.


  1. Well, since you can't join Alger's luncheon, you might check out this tasty spot instead:

    Happy travels.

    BTW, speaking as a legal grunt, an LLC is an "it" not a "they".

  2. Wonder if she'll have time to hobnob with the I'm-about-to-be-impeached Gov. Paul LePage? He had been busy importing many of Jeb!'s fine FEE ideas to the state before this current morass: