Three For Saturday: We’re All In Cahoots Edition!

A rare Saturday post, but deadlines beckon (Jane, I’m working!) me to the Eduwonk engine room.

Panic At The Pondiscio? Per the whole curriculum narrowing debate E.D. Hirsch himself weighs-in via the WaPo op-ed page today, read the entire thing, very important:

Those in Congress in charge of crafting revisions should understand that the law’s disappointing results owe less to defects in the law than to the methods and ideas schools use in their attempts to fulfill the “adequate yearly progress” mandate for all groups of students…

Despite the nonsense that set it off, this whole policy network question has sparked a fun debate in the comments section of this post, that seems to me well worth reading as it surfaces some interesting issues (though I’m going to have to start charging Dean Millot rent if this keeps up). But, can’t miss that just a week or so ago the bloggy chatter, led by Dean, was about whether think tanks accomplish much of anything at all, now it’s about whether they seemingly wield disproportionate influence? Can both those things be true?

And, speaking of the activities of the cabal, if you’re anywhere near the West Coast next week, the Ed Trust West conference is not to be missed. Per Kevin’s Carey’s Tangled Up in Kuh caution, full disclosure: I like Ed Trust West head Russlynn Ali, we’ve eaten together, had drinks, she’s met my wife, seen my children, she used to work with Kevin Carey who now works with me, I think we share funders but I’m not sure…we both dislike the designated hitter rule…

4 Replies to “Three For Saturday: We’re All In Cahoots Edition!”

  1. Yes, both not only can be true, they generally are paired up.

    It is entirely possible for a group to be irrelevant in the broad policy context, yet control all the relevant resources available for the group’s larger purpose. Even quasi-academics recall Henry Kissinger’s statement about faculty battles being so intense because the stakes are so low.

    Almost every movement reaches a point where there are enough resources available to make control of those resources worth fighting over. When that point is reached most movements do have that battle. Ironically, by winning that battle, the victors go a long way to making their movement less relevant. It was true of the anti-war movement, civil rights, and feminism. Why not here?

    I think that’s exactly what’s happening here in the slightly right of center of school reform. One faction has won control of the money, presence, relationships etc, and in the process disconnected itself from the grassroots. It’s a kind of anti-blob only smaller and only in control of itself.

  2. Perfect timing! Your quote should be put in the context of Hirsch’s argument. It was preceded by the introductory question, “Why has the No Child Left Behind law left so many children behind.?” It was followed by the concluding statement, “The revisers of No Child Left Behind, and all who are connected with our schools, need to be cognizant of – and do something about – the critical knowledge connection.”

    In between, following your …s Hirsch completes his sentence “this causes schools, as many complain, to teach to reading tests rather than educate children.” Now we could debate what this meaning of “this” is. I read Hirsch as saying, “the ‘adequate yearly progress’ mandate [of NCLB],” along with mistakes by schools that were even worse, caused “intensive test preparation by schools [that] has resulted in lower reading test scores in later grades. ‘Teaching to the test’ does not effectively teach to the test after all.”

    Nowhere in the rest of the article do you find support for the type of arguments you find on pro-NCLB blogs to the effect that low-income kids are at least learning something or that the bar is so low that it couldn’t have worsened the tesing culture. Nowhere in the article do you find support for “narrowing the curriculum” to teach reading. Nowhere in the article do you find support for the think tanks’ arguments that elementary test scores show that progess is being made.

    Instead, Hirsch points to 8th grade NAEP scores showing “the nation-wide pattern of stagnation and decline.”

    Contrary to the spirit of NCLB, Hirsch perceptively notes, “Language comprehension is a slow-growing plant. … The results show up later.” He points to the succeses in Massachusetts DATING BACK TO 1997 (emphasis mine) “that students (and teachers) should learn certain explicit, substantive things about history, science, and literaure, and that students should be tested on such certain knowledge.”

    I had a stunning “Say it ain’t so, Joe” moment a few weeks ago when Dean told me that he supported NCLB. Its possible that Hirsch would support some NCLB II provisons that would upset me just as much. But I think I could get over the disappointment. In fact, we could all get over a lot of our mistakes regarding NCLB and other issues if we really, really tried.

    In fact, Hirsch has complained about liberals who condemned him without really listening to his arguments. How silly does he think we were in rejecting his scientific arguments just because he sounded like a conservative?

    I can answer that question in my case. I was one of those liberals who rejected Hirsch until the AFT quarterly kept publishing his articles and eventually I had to admit that he was right and I was wrong, and I was wrong for the silliest of reasons.

    John Thompson

  3. It is entirely possible for a group to be irrelevant in the broad policy context, yet control all the relevant resources available for the group’s larger purpose.

    That’s true in theory, and an elegant theory. Problem is it just doesn’t comport with the facts in this case. Here, the landscape is more that these groups have some relevance though they don’t control the agenda and they get some but not the lion’s share of the resources.

    First, look at the groups on that list we’re debating. Ed Trust? They practically wrote the major parts of No Child Left Behind. Achieve? More than half the states are participating in American Diploma Project. TFA? They’ll have 6,500 teachers next year in their corps and their alumni are running schools, school systems, non-profits, etc…most observers consider them the most impactful human capital initiative in education today. KIPP? They’re arguably the nation’s highest performing, high poverty school district and have shifted the conversation about urban school reform. Fordham? Agree or disagree with Checker, we’re all fighting on the field he laid out a while ago. The New Teacher Project? Be sure to let the teachers’ unions in Milwaukee, New York City, California, etc…know that TNTP doesn’t get things done! Even little Education Sector, which is only three years old, can claim some victories in terms of impact on policy and practice in our space. All that said, we can argue about whether these changes are good ones and a quick look across the national scene shows that rather than one coalition or another dominating the space, it’s very up for grabs. That’s the point, the education issue is in transition and it’s unclear what the alignment of players will look like when it all shakes out but there are multiple policy networks, some established, some newer, vying for influence. And that sort of process is hardly unique to education it’s how political change happens across a range of issues.

    Second, in terms of foundation resources, as I pointed out below in our debate down there, about $1.5 billion is spent by education philanthropists annually. The groups we’re discussing get but a very small fraction of that — and smaller still if you discount for the really big players like Teach for America. And, they get an even smaller slice of the public resources out there; those flow to the groups mostly in opposition to these organizations. You can move the goal posts as much as you like about what is the proper baseline share of philanthropic funding to be arguing about (though the notion that it’s “center-right funding” is absurd), but unless you start with the money these groups get and work backwards (yes, they control 100 percent of the share they get, admittedly) –hardly a defensible approach — it’s hard to square the circle that they are dominating the funding landscape to any significant extent.

    In other words, these groups are neither irrelevant nor controlling all the resources available here. And finally, I suspect many of these groups would bristle at the right-of-center label and I’m surprised you’d use it. Fordham, no, but most of the others are populated by Democrats. The Center on Education Policy and Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights are center-right? Right! We could go down the list with most of them.

    Just because you clearly don’t get along with some of these folks doesn’t mean they control everything.

  4. I don’t understand your dislike of the designated hitter rule. It prolongs the careers of guys like Eddie Murray and David Ortiz. Besides, NL games, with the frequent changing of pitchers (pseudo-science at its worst) is downright boring.

    You need to give more love to the DH Andy!

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