March 1, 2012


From: Jeanne Allen

Dear Joe and Mika:

Tomorrow you will host what appears to be another important show on K-12 education in America. Because we have been toiling in the education reform vineyard long enough to remember when the words “choice” and “accountability” were not even in the vernacular, your openness to airing these issues is welcome, indeed.

We’re pleased that CHOICE and ACCOUNTABILITY now appear to be mainstream watchwords of reform. Yet the opponents of reform are smart, so it also means the words are occasionally cheapened by overuse and misuse.

Perhaps tomorrow’s Town Hall meeting can tease out the real reformers from those who are simply waxing rhetorical. From our on-the-ground involvement in states, we know some of your guests are offering real leadership on reform, while others …, well, not so much.

Here are some questions to help you separate the wheat from the chaff – to tease out the real reform from the empty promises:

CHOICE: As we speak, African American policymakers and educators are gathered at a meeting in Washington to advance the goal of ensuring more and better options for children of color, who graduate at vastly lower rates, barely score “basic” on proficiency tests and are more likely to go to jail than go to college.

Despite this deeply dismaying picture of US education, NJ Governor Chris Christie’s Department of Education has rejected dozens of strong charter school proposals while hundreds of NJ schools are beyond failure. He has been very effective at getting folks off the beach in a storm. But Governor Christie has not succeeded in twisting enough arms to give vouchers to the poor so that they can escape from the state’s worst performing schools. This is doubly sad, since doing so would do much to stem the tide of closing Catholic schools.

Delaware Governor Markell’s Department of Education has discouraged applicants for charters in his state, putting them through the bureaucratic challenges that charters were created to escape.

How will Governor Christie’s plan get beyond the rhetoric? How will Governor Markell ensure new and better opportunities for children when so few charters are permitted or encouraged to start?

ACCOUNTABILITY: Teacher evaluation is the policy du jour. From Governor Malloy of Connecticut to Governor Jindal of Louisiana, state leaders are finally addressing the issue of teacher performance. But is it enough?

Will policies like those endorsed from New York to New Haven by the AFT really transform teacher quality? Or will this lead to a mere rhetorical gain and do little to move great teachers up and ineffective teachers out? How do evaluations by themselves ensure that only great teachers get retained and rewarded? (Hint: Performance Pay)

PERSONALITIES OR POLICY? Joe, since we worked together on the Hill, I have been witness to your passion and commitment to education. And I continue to see it in your resolve to showcase great successes, like Harlem Village Academies, as well as in your willingness to call out people like AFT president Randi Weingarten when their views clash with the needs of education.

If Ms. Weingarten joins you again tomorrow, I urge you to ask her to define what teacher evaluation really means when a teacher fails to demonstrate her students’ progress.

And if Reverend Al Sharpton joins you tomorrow, or at any time in the future, will you ask him if he supports real school choice? In reform forums across the country, he has been willing to talk tough. Yet to date, he has endorsed only one solution to help schools: more money. He has not favored school choices to help arrest educational decline. We would love to have Reverend Sharpton have a look at the work of the real grassroots, –such as the leaders of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) who are meeting in DC today. BAEO and others like them are working tirelessly to influence changes in policy that would ensure kids real, quality educational choices today.

For all your guests, we urge you to ask what measurable increases in educational quality and educational opportunity will come from their efforts? How many new quality choices have opened or will open? How many bad public schools are getting closed in their state? Which ones are saying “enough” to the teachers unions when it comes to pay for performance, not time in the classroom? Which evaluations really have teeth, and which can be easily spun?

These are the issues we are faced with today. Yes, we have a movement that is uniting many different voices, but we are also in danger of making it sound far better than it really is.

As Morning Joe fans, we salute your efforts to shine a spotlight on these real issues in reform.