Monday, December 15, 2008

Education Attacks on Darling-Hammond Don't Fit Obama's Post-Partisanship

This Huffington Post article by John Affeldt defends LDH and claims that I and others opposing her selection for the #1 or #2 position at the DOE are engaged in "a well-choreographed crusade", "old school divisive politics", "in-fighting and the backstabbing", etc. 

Darling-Hammond has spent 30 years pushing for a radical restructuring of public schools and the systems that serve them so that all students will have high-quality teachers and rich learning opportunities, not just well-off, predominantly white kids. To call her a defender of the status quo is like calling Lincoln a defender of slavery because he wasn't as absolute in opposition as were some on his team of rivals. The provocative rhetoric would also miss the fact that Lincoln, at the end of the day, alone possessed the unifying wisdom and skills to steer the nation to its most radical of reforms.

The partisans may be congratulating themselves on a well-choreographed crusade, but one has to wonder: what campaign were they watching win the Presidency? From the kick-off in Springfield, Barack Obama styled himself not just a little on Lincoln: rising above old school divisive politics; exchanging thoughts in respectful debate; taking the best ideas and humbly but boldly moving forward, building consensus along the way. By drawing so heavily from the old playbook, the hard-chargers may have just charged off the cliff--virtually ensuring Obama will be less receptive to their pleas.

Beyond the discordant tactics, much of the substance of their agenda similarly misapprehends the Obama style and vision.

Affeldt's article is well articulated -- but is nonsense.  He is confusing bitter, personal attacks with spirited arguments about who would provide the best leadership and has the best ideas to reform a system we all agree is broken so that every child in America gets at least a solid education.  This isn't personal -- I don't doubt for a moment that LDH cares deeply about kids and wants to do what's best for them.  And I don't even think her ideas are bad -- it's that they're so LIMITED!  She fails to appreciate that it's THE SYSTEM that's the problem and needs to be reformed and also fails to even acknowledge that there are WAY too many ineffective teachers who simply need to find other careers -- and that no amount of better training can change this.  She also doesn't understand that the power of Teach for America (and a handful of similar programs) is not just the direct outcomes (students learn more in TFA teachers' classrooms), but also that TFA is a remarkable recruiter of talent into a sector sorely lacking it.  It's NOT a coincidence that KIPP and nearly every important education reform organization was founded by or disproportionately staffed by TFA alums.  I could go on, but you get the idea...
In summary, if all of the reforms she proposes were adopted, I don't think it would move the needle much to chance educational outcomes -- but everyone would feel good about the pseudo-reforms and real reform would be derailed.  THAT'S why she and her ideas are so dangerous!
For more on this, see what I posted on my blog a year ago: 

Education Attacks on Darling-Hammond Don't Fit Obama's Post-Partisanship

A slickly-coordinated string of editorials and columns in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Republic, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere has poured forth recently, all decrying the possible appointment of Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education. Obviously responding to the same talking points, the pieces paint Darling-Hammond a status quo, incrementalist and anoint a new group of pro-merit pay/pro-testing/pro-charter school advocates as the hard-charging "reformers."

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