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What, specifically, do you stand for?

September 30, 2010
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(Note: This post isn’t just a reflection; it also includes a survey at the end, about what you mean when you talk about school reform.)

At the suggestion of a friend, I went to a Stand for Children meeting last night. The school reform crowd I run with is naturally a little skeptical of this group, because of their connections to the “Billionaire Boys Club” (For example, the SfC Leadership Center has received over $5.2 million dollars from the Gates Foundation since 2005) and their support of certain tenets of the corporate school reform movement.

None of that was obvious at last night’s meeting, though, or from the promotional materials they provided. For instance, the brochure they use to solicit donations says things like “We’ve achieved important education reforms,” and “The more that adults stand together for children, the more lawmakers will support programs and reforms that give kids a fair chance in life,” and “The bottom line is this: Stand for Children works,” without getting into specifics of any kind.

Their executive director kicked off the meeting/panel discussion by sharing a story from a teacher at Montbello High School. The high-energy young teacher had been told by a dismissive administrator that “her heart was too big, and she expected too much from her students.” The story resonated with me– I know too well the kind of poor school leadership that has plagued this section of Denver. She continued her speech, speaking about how happy this teacher was to find a “place to belong” when she joined Stand for Children, and how important it is for adults to come together to do the right thing for children.

Her talk was followed by a young teacher who introduced the political candidates speaking on that night’s panel. He, too, spoke of how happy he was to find a place to belong, and do something bigger to help children. (At this point, I was still unsure of what any of this actually meant, though I did feel a bit like I might have walked into a cult meeting.) The three candidates (Christine Mastin, Chris Romer, and Angela Williams) all spoke of the urgent need to help children; and how they were thankful to this organization for finally getting adults together to stop making excuses and stand up for children; and how the children are our future, and we need to invest in our future and so on and so forth.

By the end of this part of the presentation, the only things I knew that I didn’t know walking in were that people in the room liked S.B. 191, and that Chris Romer is on the boards of so many charter schools that he struggled to remember the count.

While I didn’t learn anything else about the organization, the experience made me think about just how often we deal in glittering generalities when talking about politics, and school reform in particular. If I didn’t make a habit of critically analyzing the messages I hear, I probably would have donated to this organization on the spot. After all, I stand for children! I think adults should work together to promote the best interests of children, and feel we’re not currently doing enough to ensure their well-being. Save for the “Rah-rah! 191!” moments and some problematic turns of phrase from the politicians, I agreed with everything that was discussed. But after looking at their “priorities” list, there are a few areas where we definitely part ways.

Generalities in public policy conversations can be dangerous. This is especially true in the school reform discussion, where so many of the people with significant influence are talking about “other people’s children.” (At last night’s meeting, I was one of three–possibly two-and-a-half?– people of color in the room, and we were all middle- to upper-class. Yet, the heart-string-tugging statistics used to drum up support for their efforts focused on low-income students of color.) The main reason I’m so skeptical of many corporate reformers is that I know they often lack the kind of first-hand experience, relevant knowledge, and/or personal investment in the situation that could help them to think critically about the consequences of the reforms they promote. The road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions. If we’re all saying nice things that don’t really mean anything, or using fluffy words to hide another agenda, we’re just asking for (more) trouble.

With all that in mind, I offer this “Where I Stand” inventory! It’s a nod to those surveys people my age used to circulate via e-mail as tweens, but I think it might actually be helpful for clarifying our speech. I’ll post my answers as a model after I finish this post, and encourage you to fill it out and post it on your own blog, or in the comments. Include a link to your post in the comments if you do it elsewhere, and please let me know if there’s an important question you think I’ve overlooked. (And please, don’t wRiTe YoUr ReSpOnSeS lIkE tHiS! :))

Where I Stand” (A School Reform Survey)

Name & role:

What “reform” means to me, and why I think it’s important:

Where I Stand on…

The purpose(s) of schooling:

The school reform discussion (general thoughts):

How to create high-quality learning environments:

Recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers:

Accountability:

Standardized testing:

School choice:

Power & agency (Who should be in charge of schools? Who should have the most decision-making power?):

What I’d like to understand better:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2010 6:01 pm

    C0ngratulations on your blog. Great survey questions! When you post your 0wn answers, I will link to them on my blog. My blog is a little different. I think the national conversation is all over the place, and I think teachers need to take control of the conversation. We need to eliminate the topics that are side issues and that muddy the waters — teachers unions, blaming teachers, etc. Tenure is a side issue. As for accountability, I like a comment posted somewhere by a teacher from Finland, who said they don’t talk about accountability– they talk instead about “responsibility.” Very appropriate I think when we’re talking about teachers, who are actually the most responsible people I know, and who are charged with being responsible for young people 5 days a week — and who take their responsibility very seriously.

    I don’t believe in utopias, and I don’t think the federal government can build a national system that works better than local control does. I do believe that, as a whole, about 90% of our teachers are about the best quality people there are anywhere. I believe that if we leave it up to the local staffs and local districts who work “in the trenches” to solve these problems that they can and will. Hold principals accountable for getting rid of bad teachers (By the way, I just retired as a principal myself. I got rid of bad teachers.) Revitalize schools of education and the student teaching experience.

    Our main goal is to make sure that all students have the opportunity to get a good education. That means pre-school for 3 and 4 year olds. That would be the first step. It will take 20 years to solve the problems of school reform. Let’s focus on a beginning group of 3 and 4 year olds and take them through for the next 14 or so years, each year stepping up the academic rigor for them in the next year’s grade each year — because now they should be more prepared to be successful.

    By giving public education the “shock” treatment these last 9 years, the federal government has ironically slowed us down and made a mess of things. And I’m not a political conservative normally when it comes to government!
    http://www.inthetrencheswithschoolreform.com

  2. October 12, 2010 9:02 am

    We disbanded our local group (city level) of Stand for Children last year when we realized they really didn’t have OUR district’s best interests in mind. They support charter schools with no caveats when we told them that not fixing the way charters are funded in MA would hurt our district; they support standardized testing without questioning what those tests are really telling us; they support a lot of what the corporate ed-reform movement is pushing. When we questioned it – we felt that our concerns were dismissed.

    You’re absolutely correct about their literature, etc. Of course I support more funding public education, of course I want every student to have a good teacher, of course I think there should be high standards, and that the achievement gap should be closed. The trouble is that they have become a “front” group for the Gates Foundation and others – pushing their idea of what public education should be.

    To see where Stand’s funding comes from – check out this wiki:
    http://commonground.tiddlyspot.com/

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