Thursday, August 3, 2017

Duncan's Blood Money

Matt Barnum this week reported on an extraordinary private meeting of many of the Big Guns of reformsterdom.It happened back in March; only just now are people talking about it.

Arne Duncan, John King, TFA, DFER, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, KIPP-- the twenty-five gathered folks included all these and more. Barnum reported that Shavar Jeffries (DFER) organized "in part" the meet, which says a bit about his ability to gather folks. DFER apparently still has juice.

The headline from the meeting was Arne Duncan's call for charter operators to refuse funding from the Trump/DeVos department, calling it "blood money."

Which is an odd choice. Blood money is money you get because someone has died, and the funding system for charters beloved by Arne Duncan absolutely depended on getting money by taking it from public schools, even if it killed them. Duncan's USED was, if anything, more pro-charter than DeVos, who much prefers vouchers. And when it comes to public education, the major difference between Duncan and DeVos was that Duncan at least pretended to say the right thing, while DeVos wears her disdain on her sleeve. But Duncan is not suggesting the moratorium because of any loyalty to public education. In fact, now that I think of it, maybe the somebody who has died, the murdered party that Duncan wants to avenge, is the federal education bureaucracy.

Not, says Barnum, that any charters are considering Duncan's idea [Update: at least two of the chains did not take a position at all]. So it's Arne doing what he has often done-- telling other people how they should conduct their business, even though he has no skin in their game.

But what was really intriguing about the account of the meeting was its purpose.

The overarching question at the March discussion, organized in part by Jeffries, was how education reformers should respond to the Trump and DeVos administration, including on issues beyond education.

And that's because...

The left-of-center charter school advocates who held sway in the Obama administration have a complicated relationship with DeVos, who backs charter schools but also private-school vouchers and, as a member of the Trump administration, is viewed skeptically by many. 

In other words, they were wrestling with the problem that some reformsters have struggled with since it Trump won the election-- how to distance themselves from people who are politically linked to the wrong party and the wrong end of the left-right continuum, but whose policies are completely in alignment. As long as these nominal Democrats were led by nominal Democrats in a nominally Democratic administration, they could go ahead and pursue fundamentally conservative education policies. But now DC is occupied by something kind of like conservative Republicans-- and when it comes to education they want all the same things.

This should not be a surprise. Let's go back the DFER founder Whitney Tilson quote about why it's Democrats for Education Reform:  

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

This meeting circled around the distinction we seem to be going with "progressive Democrat" reformsters are doing it for the social justice, but "conservative GOP" reformsters are doing it because they love the free market. I suppose on some level the distinction matters, but the actions they want to pursue-- eroding public education and the teaching profession in order to privatize the entire system-- are identical, and ultimately, if you and another person insist on punching me in the face, I'm not sure I care a whole lot about the difference in your rationales. Particularly when, as I believe is the case in ed reform, behind both punchers is another guy who doesn't care about either rationale-- he's just bet on the fight and he wants to make a buck. 

So it's just swell that Arne Duncan is so outraged at what's going on in his old department, but if he is imagining that there's some sort of huge disconnect and difference between the policies of his department and the policies of DeVos. In my punching analogy, Duncan is the guy who beats you up relentlessly for seven years, and then when some new kid comes in and kicks you, says, "Can you believe what she did! That's outrageous. Are you going to take that?!"

As Diane Ravitch has pointed out, DeVos rode to Washington on a thoroughfare leveled and paved by Democrats. For them to have their little private meetings where they clutch pearls about DeVosian awfulness is either monumental cynicism or stunning delusion. Either way, Duncan better take a look at all those checks he's cashing as a sought-after consultant based on his time in DC dismantling public education, and he'd think a little harder before he starts bemoaning blood money again.


  1. Duncan is banking on the meme that the average American has the memory of a fruit fly and we won't remember his devastating attacks on public education. And I love your beating up analogy (analogy, metaphor similie? Help me here, Peter).

    Keep the narrative going. I love your truth-telling posts!

  2. Arne is such a tool; I couldn't resist having a little fun with him. Cue the samba beat . . .

    "Sympathy For The Duncan"
    Please allow me to introduce myself
    I’m a man long since disgraced
    I've been around for a long, long year
    Stole many a child’s soul and faith
    And I was 'round when Barack O’
    Had his moment of doubt and pain
    Made damn sure Billy Gates
    Washed his hands and sealed his fate
    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guess my name
    But what's puzzling you
    Is the nature of my game
    I stuck around Chicago-land
    When I saw it was a time for a change
    Killed the schools and the CTU
    Parents all screamed in vain
    I stacked and yanked
    Held a point guard’s rank
    Helped the charters rage
    Teachers walked the plank
    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
    Ah, what's puzzling you
    Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
    I watched with glee
    While young Miss Hell Rhee
    Taught for just ten days
    Using masking tape
    I shouted out,
    "Who’s killin’ Public Schools?"
    When after all
    It is Bill and me
    Let me please introduce myself
    I'm a man long since disgraced
    And I laid traps for Pre-K kids
    Taking tests until they screeched No way
    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
    But what's puzzling you
    Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
    But what's confusing you
    Is just the nature of my game
    And every kid is just a data point
    And all us reformers saints
    As heads is tails
    Just call me Arne-D
    Cause I'm in need of some restraint
    So if you meet me
    Have some courtesy
    Have some sympathy, and some taste
    Be sure to use my Common Core
    Or I'll lay your schools to waste
    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guessed my name, um yeah
    But what's puzzling you
    Is the nature of my game,

    1. Well, that's just a thing of beauty. With your permission, I'd like to run it as a post so nobody misses it.