Sample of Feedback
Turning to the feedback, here's a sampling:
Thank you for addressing this topic. This is a great email – and it helped me to sort through some ideas that have been rattling around in my head for quite some time.
Boy, that one felt good. Working for [an ed reform advocacy organization], I get beat up by Dems and R's, so this email felt like I attended a social support group. Thanks Whitney.
I really applaud the sentiment of this email. I think you are right to bring these issues to the fore in an honest way.
Thanks to this email, I finally understand the push back, which felt so irrational to me. It now makes sense. However, as a Republican, it was painful to read your channeling of a black community leader. As you admit, this is a mischaracterization of Republican views/intent, and it saddens me to no end why both sides continue to create false dichotomies, including impoverished minorities.
Thanks for the very thoughtful email. I think you channeled the skepticism that many Black and Latino - and other people who think of themselves as progressive - leaders have when confronted with someone who allies themselves with "education reform." I am fairly regularly challenged on these grounds in the civil rights circles in which I travel.
You suggest that you don't agree with the skepticism - but it is pretty persuasive. I will be wildly curious to hear how people who care about education but are Republicans answer.
I really appreciate your comments, as a person of color, and one who has run organizations really funded by the rich White republicans, it has been extremely difficult to straddle the line between the community and the funders. And in my opinion, there is also sometimes a distorted and condescending view of the needs of urban students, where folks feel like they are experts because they watched season 3 of "The Wire". And this often plays out where there is a preference for schools that will (in my words) "civilize" the students -- they don't need arts and music or critical thinking -- they need to learn rules and to respond to behavioral cues, and order for these students is a prime goal-- where if you go to the suburbs -- to good schools -- that is not the case.
I realize foundational skills need to be taught, but in general the more I deal with the rich folks -- the less I want to (and I would assume that I am somewhat representative) so to get to real reform, there needs to be a bridge to this gap. I don't have the answer, beyond more esoteric ideas of real empathy for the students. But as long as we are in this place, there really is only so far that reform can go. Appreciate the note and I hope others will not react defensively but think hard about the words and solutions.
I loved this reply from Steve Brill:
This actually reflects one of the conversations I actually had with Bill Perkins when reporting for the book. It's almost like you were there.
A few months ago I had lunch with two [state university] professors interested in education, one of whom I know well and respect highly. They both believe that education reform is really a sneaky attempt by the wealthy to undermine public education in order to maintain the class divide.
Yes, I'm serious.
I was utterly astonished to hear this. Of course it makes no more sense than the right wing theory that Obama is trying to intentionally destroy the economy in order to usher in a socialist revolution, but apparently these two professors...and presumably legions more...have at least one thing in common with the Tea Party faithful: rock solid conviction.
As you note in your email, overcoming this misperception might be our biggest obstacle. (Well, that and countering the clever union propaganda that anti-unionism is synonymous with blaming the teachers.)
You are 100% on the mark-- this time :-) Our experience, from dealing with parents in [an urban district in New Jersey]:
- not only are they not aligned with the school choice movement
- but their experience of charter schools is that mostly they fail-- which is true in [my district]
- and they either don't understand vouchers (OSA) or they misunderstand them as a "Christie conspiracy," ultimately benefiting the "haves".
However, their spirit is amazing: a core constituency fiercely continues the decades-long fight to reform their catastrophically failing school system. The only hope is their years of frustration with a school system
And from a friend "who has been both a Democrat and a Republican and is currently enamored of neither!":
I'm surprised you didn't also note that "rich white Republicans" are commonly elected by voters who don't want many (or any) of "those kids" coming into their own "good" schools, creating choice policies and programs "for thee but not for me."
I also have to point out that combating poverty is not the only justification for school choice, any more than "saving the bluefin tuna" is the only justification for responsible stewardship of the planet's oceans.
And this from Bruno Behrend of the Heartland Institute:
As a (not as) rich (as you) white guy who grew up in the suburbs (Lake Forest, IL), I can sympathize with the gist of this post. But that is all we should do - sympathize.
The fact is that the local machinery protecting the bureaucracy-based jobs of urban school district is a powerful barrier to the advancement of their own disadvantaged community. In a microcosm, they are the 1% who got into the protected school apparatus, and their drive to keep their jobs are keeping the 99% poor, broke, and ignorant.
I wish this were not so, but that is how it is working out.
Take a $100,000 bureaucrat salary and ask how many kids could fill slots in new charters or Catholic schools with empty seats? Ipads/Tablets?
The 6.3 million people in public ed (nationally) are made up of 3.2 million teachers and 3.1 million "admin and support." By aggressively triggering failing urban schools to charters or other individualized options, we could drop that massive over-investment in make work jobs, and dramatically improve the lives of millions of disadvantaged urban kids.
Again, I sympathize, but if confronted with the urban skeptic on this "jobs" issue, I'd point out that they are clinging to a failed model that is going away anyway, and they should embrace the transformation that helps the many, not the few.
PS - IMO, Suburban Whites are the REAL power base supporting the status quo, and the progress made over the last few years has come from THEIR questioning of this failed system.
While we should never take our eye off the achievement gap, I think it is the suburban soccer mom who holds the key to reform. When they turn on this system, it will fall. Sadly, not all of their motives are pure. District lines keep out the "riff-raff," and they are quite happy believing their schools are good. They are very susceptible to the lie that charters and choices will hurt their kids.