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Extreme Makeover: AFT Edition

Folks have been fawning over Randi Weingarten’s seeming embrace of education reform since her National Press Club speech in November, and Dana Goldstein has a must-read profile of the AFT/UFT president in the latest American Prospect.

Weingarten’s media makeover has served her well, leading many to do as Goldstein has and give her credit for talking the talk.

But that’s not the whole story.

For reformers, the real definition of reform – which we helped give life to in 1993 – is much more cut and dry than what is expounded here. Quite simply:

– The status quo embraces the existing system, and while members of the status quo will often advocate for policy or program changes, none of what they endorse will fundamentally change the balance of power between producer and consumer.

– Conversely, real reformers seek to fundamentally replace what is known as the school system with a system of schools that is accountable to those in power at each school, as well as to the parents, in whose hands the ultimate fate of their children depends.

By this definition, Randi Weingarten doesn’t even approach the notion of a reformer. On the continuum between status quo and reform, she has barely passed go.

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Not So Fast (Part 2)

DomeNewsweek’s Jonathan Alter was ahead of the reform curve in media coverage back when it was not a popular thing to do. He’s been an avid fan of great models that provide at least some power to parents, and lots of freedom from bureaucracy. He understands the problems with unions. He even uses the language I put forth four years ago when talking about what was once called “traditional” public education and instead describes it as “conventional,” which is more to the point.

Alter’s column this week puts some heft behind the selection of Denver, CO superintendent Michael Bennet to be Ed Secretary. Could we really have another Bennett in that office? We could have a lot of fun with comparisons, but for now, we’re struck by the uncritical gaze that the otherwise keen Alter has given to both Bennet – and his interviewee of the week – Bill Gates.

Both in Alter’s estimation are reformers. He says Gates told him he believes in merit pay – and yet I’m not fully aware of any policy groups that strongly push for performance based pay changes in law which Gates is throwing money behind. The Gates Foundation is financially and morally supportive of the work of Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and clearly Michael Bennet. But what superintendents can do is limited unless their state legislatures make it easier for them to free teachers from contract rules that limit pay and operational structures. Put in layman’s terms, it is state law that often dictates what supers do – state laws that teachers’ unions fiercely lobby for and against. We’re all for in-system reform – but one shouldn’t expect every super to be as heroic – or crazy – as reformers

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