Where are the Results from Sitting Down with Stakeholders?
Anthony Cody’s inquiries and Sabrina’s analysis of the various responses to our collective outcry of criticism towards Arne Duncan’s letter to teachers last week proved valuable. The responses and resulting dialogue have been thought-provoking to say the least. As Diane Ravitch correctly illustrated, our response to Duncan (as well as other corporate reform ed leaders) should be based on what they do rather than what they say. The evidence and grounds for critical investigation and assessment should always be grounded in any leadership’s policies, practices, and actions more so than the ever-abundant rhetoric manufactured in these elite circles.
In that spirit, I began interrogating Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton’s response to the growing argument that Duncan was insincere in stating that he would work together with students. This has been part of an ongoing strategy employed by Duncan and others in which there is a claim of engaging and respecting stakeholders such as students, teachers, parents, and community members. We have frequently witnessed leaders who claim that they are invested in genuine cooperation (what type of cooperation?) with a diverse group of stakeholders, only to have these same leaders’ execute actions that betray their own fraudulent rhetoric. Hamilton defensively stated that Duncan “…had visited 169 schools in close to 45 states” and that “everywhere he goes he sits down with parents, educators, education stakeholders, community members”.
This statement begs a few pressing questions. First, has dialogue, feedback and communication during Duncan’s visits to “…169 schools in close to 45 states” influenced the Department of Education’s policies? If so, how and if not, WHY specifically? If sitting down with “…parents, educators, education stakeholders, and community members” is indeed occurring in the way Hamilton describes, whose voices are truly valued and whose are not? What types of stakeholders are invited, included, and hold crucial input into decisions in these types of conversations? Whose voices and input are valued in the planning that happens behind the scenes as well?
This very line of questioning has frequently come up when leaders claim a district will ” develop a robust process to engage the community” on any particular issue or public concern. Questions we frequently raise at the Community Education Task Force in response to this include, “What exactly will that process look like?” and “Which stakeholders specifically will have input into the development of said process and the resulting decisions?” After all, if the “key stakeholders” that are truly valued and respected in these processes are members of or primarily speak for the elite business-community, it sounds like we need to struggle for a different frame of reference in developing our process from the beginning.