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Where are the Results from Sitting Down with Stakeholders?

May 12, 2011

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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Middleman, M. Ed. permalink
    May 12, 2011 2:06 pm

    The following is an email I just sent to Anderson Cooper at CNN:

    Mr Cooper,

    My name is Dan Middleman. I am a teacher in Raleigh, NC. I am contacting you because I have long admired your journalistic integrity on a long range of issues. One of those issues where I feel you are lacking, however, is the one most dear to my heart: Education. There is a lot of rhetoric being thrown around these days in the discussion of how to teach our children (particularly in the public school setting).

    We’ve seen over-hyped documentaries featuring people who have been proven (through actual research) to be false messiahs using methods that have been proven (again through research) to be ineffective. We’ve seen pundits and politicians and news magazines making claims about how public education can be turned around if we just got rid of some bad teachers and replaced them with young, energetic graduates of the Teach for America program. As if that alone would solve all our problems. Regardless of where you stand on this issue personally, you have to admit that the subject of education now-a-days is a sexy one. Everyone gets heated up when talking about how to get us closer to Finland and Singapore in math and science.

    When CNN chooses to cover this topic, I’ve seen people that espouse opinions that have no basis in research or reality. Bill Bennett believes that Teach for America is the solution, knowing full well that most of those teachers leave within 3 years. Is that a foundation on which to build a nation’s educational system? Fran Gallo fired all of her teachers at one school in Rhode Island. I never heard anyone on your network ask questions of her plans to improve the school, or her timeline to get it done. Do you really believe that all the problems of that school were related to teachers? My point is that I’ve heard a lot of one sided conversations with little research to back up the opinions. And that’s where you come in.

    I am proposing a conversation on your show involving the folks on one side of the debate – Bill Bennett, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, and anyone else you can think of – and a group of actual, real life, experienced teachers from a group called Failing Schools (please check out their website at

    Please consider this proposal, as it will gain you huge credibility in the world of the beleaguered public school teacher. But be warned: These actual teachers will come armed with actual facts (as opposed to made up ones) and show a whole other side to this argument that doesn’t get heard on your network.

    Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Dan Middleman, M.Ed.

  2. May 12, 2011 6:31 pm

    I love the question: “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?”

    We really shouldn’t even have to ask, “if not…” His experiences absolutely should. I have a feeling they don’t, though.

    • markfriedman1 permalink
      May 12, 2011 7:23 pm

      @ Reflective Educator-I most definitely share that feeling. Thanks for the feedback and support!

  3. May 15, 2011 9:08 am

    Education is really under attack, it is very alarming. I am a special education and general education teacher in Southern California and I am really concerned. We need people to listen, but as Diane Ravitch recently stated when being on a panel with Rhode Island’s education secretary, the reformers won’t listen, they simply go on with their own agenda.

    I just started a blog in an attempt to keep my fellow educators informed of events and happening in education that matter to them, I am learning as I go. Visit if you get the chance:

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