Monday, September 16, 2019

Chiefs For Change Would Like You To Shut Up

Chiefs For Change caused a brief flurry of attention by whinging a demand that people talk nicer about their pet projects. It's just one more sad episode for a group that was supposed to be Jeb Bush's Educational Justice League of America. It's been over three years since the last time I noticed they were headed downhill:

That's how you glower!
Pity the Chiefs for Change. They were destined to be part of the superstructure of educational reforminess that would help sweep Jeb! Bush into power, then be poised to cash in on uplift US education once he got into the White House. But now the Jebster's Presidential hopes have gone the way of Betamax tapes and the Zune, and Chiefs for Change is on the last leg of a long, downhill slide.

CFC was originally spun off of Jeb's Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), a group that lobbied hard for Common Core, school A-F ratings, test-based evaluation, and mountains of money thrown at charter schools. FEE started up CFC because they thought that the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the group that holds the Common Core copyright and was the figurehead guiding force behind the core's creation-- that group wasn't aggressively reformy enough for the Jebster.

Initially, the group was to be a new nexus of reform, but they were immediately beset by problems. And I'm not counting the naming problem-- did they think that change would never come, or once the change was the status quo, were they going to just disband? I mean, if your brand is that you favor change, does that mean you just keep trying to change the change that you just implemented? Do you ever say, "Well, hell, no-- we don't worked hard to install that policy and we surely don't want to change that!" I'm just saying-- doesn't seem like a very well thought out name.

They were having issues like chiefs who were caught misbehaving, and chiefs who were losing jobs, but I underestimated how long this last leg would last, but then, I always underestimate how far you can go by just pumping more and more money into the tank. Back in 2016, they had 17 chiefs, and were already loaded with a bunch of "formers." Now some of the new kids from 2016 have also gone on to become "former." Of the almost-forty chiefs listed, ten are "formers." And that's not counting guys like John Deasy, who has moved from LAUSD to Stockton Schools. But Glorious League of Washed-up Education Reformers (GLOWER) just doesn't have the same ring.

And don't worry about those failed formers, because may have moved on to cushy new gigs. Chris Barbic and Kevin Huffman are now with the City Fund, another uber-reform pusher. Hanna Skandera has been absorbed into the staff of GLOWER.

Chiefs is a reform supergroup, and like all the best supergroups, it's formed out of people who have all played in a lot of other famous bands. Teach for America. Broad Academy. Aspen. Top reform states like Tennessee and Colorado and, of course, Florida.

The original concept was a round table of movers and shakers on the education state level. Then they shifted down to where most of GLOWER's chiefs are district superintendents. A look at their four incoming classes suggests yet another transition is occurring. The next four cohorts still include superintendents and former state secretaries of education. But now we also see Executive Director of Detroit Children's Fund, Chief Talent Officer for Uncommon Schools, Chief Student Support Officer, Chief of Staff, and an Assistant State Superintendent of Assessment, Accountability, Analytics and Early Childhood (Louisiana DoE). There are several charter school officials. The group includes David Hardy, a guy who has been a turnaround CEO in Ohio for two years and has been an absolute disaster. And it is heavy with Teach for America grads.

These Future Chiefs (or perhaps we can say Future Former Chiefs) are part of GLOWER's leadership development program. So Chiefs is starting to look a little more Broad Academy-ish, sitting at the cap of the education reform parallel network of education thinky leaders and policy pacesetters. Because after you've had five weeks of training, you're ready to be a teacher, and after you've been in a classroom two years, you're ready to be in an important education leadership position.

Well, unless you hate having people say mean things about you.

GLOWER has a history of saying some dumb things. Never forget the time they proposed an awesome "web-based tool" that is actually a calculator to do subtraction problems (the damn thing is still there).

This time the Chiefs, like any good supergroup, has pulled out one of the Top Ten Reformy Hits-- the call for a better conversation. This has been a standard all the way back to the days that people started saying Really Mean Things about Common Core (so, 2013-ish). Can't we be more civil? Or, let's start a website that will start a new conversation. In fact, let's try that one again! Or can we at least have one about my product? Occasionally these calls have involved some honest self-evaluation by Reformsters. But mostly these calls for a more civil conversation have been born out of a couple of beliefs:

1) The current conversation is not going our way, and our people are sad.

2) The problems we're having selling our programs are strictly PR issues, and have nothing to do with the substance of what we're trying to push. We need some breathing space to roll out our new pitch.

3) We have completely forgotten all the things we did and said to piss people off in the first place.

The Chiefs are out of the Common Core business and now spend most of their energy pushing school choice, so the recent backpedaling of formerly reliable Democratic choice allies has made them sad. And really, they're not entirely wrong when they attribute some of this to "the cynical nature of today’s presidential politics." (Raise your hand if you think any of Cory Booker's education positions have ever been motivated by deep, sincere thoughts about education.)

Their call for an "end to toxic rhetoric" is pretty straightforward. It is not a call for a better conversation that recognizes there are intelligent humans of good will on all sides. No, their argument is that they are right about school choice and therefor they should get their way without mean people saying things that keep GLOWER from getting its way. They oppose "attempts to undermine, misrepresent and politicize sound school choice policies and practices." They do not acknowledge that all school choice policies have been promoted through political means, or the kind of extra-political means in which political power is used to circumvent the political process ("Hey, declare mayoral control so that we can get all these other elected officials out of our way.") Nor do they acknowledge that undermining and misrepresenting public education has been in the school choice playbook since Day One ("But we must have school choice to rescue students from the terrible public schools and the terrible teachers that are in them!") We could get into a whole discussion of the many many many ways that choice and charters have failed, or the real costs to public schools and those students left in them. But no-- after making their case:

That is why today we are calling on policymakers across the nation to end the destructive debates over public charter schools. Proposed caps and moratoriums allow policymakers to abdicate their responsibility to thoughtfully regulate new and innovative public school options: like banning cars rather than mandating seatbelts. They are a false solution to a solvable problem.

So, it's not even tone policing. It's not "you'd do better if you didn't use such harsh language." It's "You people are wrong so you should just shut up and let us have our way." No room to debate or disagree. And no willingness to consider the possibility that, as with their previous failed support for the Common Core, the public has finally figured out that their great idea is not so great. After all-- a cynical politician may be a lousy leader, but he still makes a great weathervane.

They admit that some choice systems haven't worked out, with no accountability, lack of oversight, and increased segregation. How that is supposed to come to light if critics of choice never speak up is not clear-- perhaps we're just to assume that the chiefs have all the bugs worked out and we can trust them. And they do note some of the contributing factors like redlining and the separation of high-income neighborhoods from poorer neighborhoods. But they aren't interested in fixing those issues.

In fact, chiefs stick with the old "opportunity" dodge. The argument that we should provide every child with the opportunity to attend a great school. Well, no. We should provide every child with a great school. Talking about "opportunity" and "access" is a dodge. If we put out food for twelve people, it's meaningless to argue that we gave a thousand people the opportunity to eat.

This is the problem with so much of modern ed reform-- solutions that don't actually solve anything. School choice is the daylight savings time of education policy; you can move the clock around and change your measurement of time, but the sunlight in a day only lasts as long as it lasts. If you have a small blanket for a big bed, you can get a bigger blanket, or you can have long frustrating conversations about who gets to be covered by the blanket. And if the conversation gets really frustrating, you can accuse the people who disagree with you of being toxic, and demand that they shut up while you charge the folks in the bed to have you cover them with a scrap of blanket.

1 comment:

  1. "some choice systems haven't worked out, with no accountability, lack of oversight, and increased segregation." Unless we hold them accountable along with everyone else, insist or compeptent oversight & supervision and inclusiveness, we will continue to suffer poor results in any place. I am a public school kind of guy and I happen to also believe in some choice for the sake of the kids and according to their needs and interests. It remains true that one size does not fit all in spite of past failures.