Sunday, December 23, 2012

A "Kerfuffle" to Cover Education Reform's Greatest Secret

I am completely baffled by the recent "kerfuffle" on twitter and the blogosphere regarding the remarks of first Diane Ravitch and then later CTU president Karen Lewis discussing the tragedy in Newtown. EdReformers of all kinds are simply "outraged" over, well I'm not exactly sure, since it's not about what both Ravitch and Lewis actually wrote  Honestly, I'm too tired of this silliness to write it out in full here so please see what the great Jersey Jazzman said here and here as well as Peter Hart's piece on this insanity.)

It all started on twitter with David Rosenberg, a TFA vice president, who was absolutely shocked at the "reprehensible" language that Diane Ravitch used by mentioning the words "union" and "tenure" in her tribute to Sandy Hook teachers.

Originally from Kenzo Shibata, found on Jersery Jazzman's blog

As a business school graduate with plenty of experience in education PR and "Online Strategy," Rosenberg likely had a very specific goal in mind with his initial tweet.  He is, after all, an expert in "online strategy".  Like everything else TFA does, being the masters of PR that they are, I'm sure this was a well-planned defense to deflect attention from Ravitch's point.  As others have pointed out, it doesn't look good to have a history of bashing the very people now being lauded as national heroes.

But then things got really interesting when Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union chimed in.  Suddenly, we had Andrew Rotherham and others twisting Lewis' words into "Teach for America Kills"

And it is Karen Lewis' words which I would like to examine today, since those seem to be the ones that most offended the delicate reformers' sensibilities. She writes [emphasis mine],
Diane, et. al.
I have read these posts (alas I do not do Twitter), and I am struck by the lack of authenticity by the Rosenberg comment. Diane has been at the forefront of the desire to lift up the beleaguered profession of teaching in each and every post. She has drawn the connections between people who wouldn’t think of sending their children to public schools and their policies that are destroying the common good. Anyone who doesn’t know that in the marrow of their bones, doesn’t read her blog.
On the other, the educrats who do not agree with her, read her posts, too so as to keep abreast of her thoughts and are ready to pounce if they see an opening. There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.
The accolades heaped on a group of education missionaries, (hopefully with beautiful intent on the part of the TFA teachers) cannot go unchallenged. Diane does that. Day in and day out, she champions rank and file educators and the hard work they do. She has a special place in heart for those who see the value of the classroom and not as stepping stone to a more lucrative career or the opportunism of self-promoters like Michelle Rhee who, with her lies about her own classroom experience has catapulted herself into the welcoming arms of those who hate unions, tenure and anything else that provides due process and gives teachers real voice.
To David Rosenberg, Shanda! Shame on you for such a paranoid rant. If you had nothing of which to be guilty, those words would have rolled off your back.
To Diane – Keep speaking the truth!
Karen Lewis
As a quick aside, of COURSE, Rosenberg's statement lacked authenticity.  This is his job. He was simply managing the bad PR he felt was coming out indirectly against his organization and his reformer acquaintances.  

But it is this critique of Rosenberg's "false outrage" which does not extend to outrage over children being hurt and communities being disenfranchised due to Ed Reform that seems to be the biggest reformy rallying point.  Andrew Rotherham distorted Lewis' quote by inserting [Teach for America] into a line where it does not belong.  Campbell Brown is shocked that "Teach for America kills" after reading Rotherham's distortions.  When read in full, it is clear that was not the intent of Lewis' remarks.

But why are all these reformy people really so very very upset?  Why have they gone into full-blown attack mode over a few silly words?  It is because Lewis points us to the very real and very dangerous, even deadly, effects of the bad education policy these reformers push.   If the extent of the pain and suffering caused by "reform" were to get out into public consciousness, as it seemed likely to do in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Corporate Education Reform would crumble to the ground.  Sandy Hook challenged the very foundation of their claims regarding unions, tenured teachers, teacher quality, and the real problems in education.  And their impatient desire to attack the wrong problems has had a very real and negative impact on children.  It turns out Americans don't like stories of children dying due to violence.  Too many people were making the connections to the largely overlooked hundreds of black and brown children dying due to gun violence with the middle class kids who lost their lives in Connecticut.  The public was getting too close to the truth that education reform was contributing to the violence problem in this country.  This truth is education reform's greatest secret.

Those of us in the trenches see the repercussions of Ed Reform daily.  We know how teaching and learning has been compromised in the search for better test scores.  We know the trauma that school closures and mass staff firings inflicts on kids.  We know what happens when ignorant support of "choice" sends a child over gang boundaries or on unsafe bus routes.  We have seen the increasing devastation wrought by growing poverty and how ignoring it is hurting children.  We've talked to our students, heard their fear and their anger.  However, the greater public is still being spoon-fed "miracle school" stories, gushing love for KIPP and their "grit"-my-way-out-of-poverty line, the constant photo ops and Op-Eds praising reform, and the misinformation campaigns occurring around the country.  They do NOT know what we do.

So when Lewis highlighted the deadly repercussions of school reform in Chicago, where we have had these policies for even longer than most places and we know, intimately, the cruelty being inflicted on children and schools, it frightens reformers at the deepest level.  It is not a coincidence that CORE (the progressive caucus which currently runs the Chicago Teachers Union of which Karen Lewis is the head) arose in Chicago.  It is no coincidence that the historic teachers strike happened here.  We have already seen some of the worst of the effects of these policies and have had long enough to get really angry. 

Here was my response to Lewis' remarks:

Lewis was not speaking about TFA specifically, but about the Corporate Ed Reform movement as a whole with which TFA is closely aligned. And yes, the corporate education reforms plaguing Chicago for the past 10+ years have cost precious children their lives. The chaos caused by callous school closings, leading to sending children across the city to “choice” schools crossing gang boundaries has indeed led to increases in youth violence and yes, even deaths. The tragic beating death of Derrion Albert in 2009 is one prime example

It is the utter ignorance and arrogance of education reformers, including and especially TFA, which allows terrible policies to get passed. Churn in teaching staff after closings and turnarounds is dangerous to kids who need stability. Charter schools do not serve the neediest students and instead these kids are concentrated in schools purposefully underfunded and neglected causing ever more severe behavior issues in schools given fewer resources to help. Our district buys new tests and “data systems” instead of hiring more social workers, counselors, and nurses which my kids desperately need. Ed Reform creates environments of fear and stress with terrible new evaluation systems and sometimes even pay tied to test scores leaving the people who work directly with the children with less emotional energy to devote to them. Ed Reform also pushes more inexperienced, poorly trained teachers-as the war on veteran teachers, tenure, and unions continues-on the children who need experienced, well-trained teachers the most.”
Karen Lewis, as a teacher for decades and herself coming from one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the instability of "reform," knows all this too well.  She, like many of us teachers, parents, students, and community members who fight, have had first-hand experience.  (For more on the damage done by education reform in Chicago, I encourage everyone here to look at the work of Dr. Pauline Lipman out of University of Illinois-Chicago. Here is her latest book and one relevant paper.)


So I leave you with a message.  Attention all you outraged EdReformers: David Rosenberg, Cambell Brown, Andrew Rotherham, Jonathan Alter, Wendy Kopp, Justin Hamilton and anyone else feigning righteous anger over this kerfuffle, children are dying in Chicago.  Much of the increases in violence in this city have to do with the chaos caused by the education reforms YOU ALL advocate for.  Acknowledge that.  Write your blogs, sends angry tweets, speak out on television for THESE kids, not against made-up distractions like this twitter controversy.

Stop hiding behind your misinformation, your spin, your talking points, your complaints about tone, your phony research.  Come to where the kids are.  Listen to parents beg, plead, cry, yell, and chant to save their schools from closure.  Come to my psych hospital and hear children's actual experience of charter schools, of zero tolerance discipline, of school closures, of disinvestment in neighborhood schools, of poorly trained teachers in their classrooms.  Listen to parents and students who occupy their schools, hold sit-ins, or let themselves be arrested to stop school closures and charter expansion.

Sandy Hook reminded us all of the first thing we must remember about schools.  We must protect children above all else.  Like the Hippocratic Oath in medicine, we must "first do no harm" in our attempts to better education.  And corporate education reform IS HURTING CHILDREN.

It's time for some serious outrage over THIS reprehensible fact.  Then we can talk about the reforms our schools actually need.


  1. I would love for this to get picked up by the Times--I could see Valerie Strauss picking it up, but we need it in the Times too. Great work, Katie.

  2. An excellent article. Thank you.

    One minor suggestion: The first line of the third paragraph contains a dangling modifier that makes the it appear as if you are describing your self as "As a business school graduate with plenty of experience in . . . PR and 'Online Strategy.'" The referent of that introductory dependent element is the grammatical subject ("I") of the independent clause, and not "Rosenberg" (as I suspect you intended).

  3. Thanks for the suggestion, I changed it! And thanks for reading!

  4. Why are you not submitting or writing op-eds for the Tribune or the Sun-Times? We need your words out there for everyone to read, not just wholly devoted Ravitichians. Keep fightin' the good fight. Those Educrat bozos have no idea how strong and swift we truly are.. Merry Christmas!

  5. I agree. I wish more people could read this!
    Thanks for such a thoughtful analysis.

  6. A great post. Many thanks.

    1 small idea: The initial type of the 3rd section includes a misplaced modifier that produces the particular that looks as if you might be talking about oneself because "Being a enterprise college scholar with sufficient of expertise inside .Page rank and also 'Online technique.'" The actual referent of the initial reliant component may be the sentence subject matter ("We") from the main clause, and never "Rosenberg" (when i think a person meant).

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