Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It Rhymes With 'Tool'

UPDATED, 8/11/2011, 1:10 pm

Thursday morning in Washington DC -- the only city that could host such a vacuous, inane event -- the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is hosting (the hopefully one-off) "Education Reform Idol." The event has nothing to do with recognizing states that get the best results for children or those that have achieved demonstrated results from education policies over time -- but simply those that have passed pet reforms over the past year.

It purports to determine which state is the "reformiest" (I kid you not) with the only contenders being Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin and the only judges being: (1) a representative of the pro-privatization Walton (WalMart) Family Foundation; (2) the Walton-funded, public education hater Jeanne Allen; and (3) the "Fox News honorary Juan Williams chair" provided to the out-voted Richard Lee Colvin from Education Sector.

With the deck stacked like that, Illinois is out of the running immediately because its reforms were passed in partnership with teachers' unions. Plus it has a Democratic governor. Tssk, tssk. That's too bad, because Illinois represents the most balanced approach to education and teaching policy of the five states over the past year. And the absence of a state like Massachusetts from the running is insane. It has the best NAEP scores of any state and has a long track record of education results from raising standards and expectations, not by attacking teachers or privatizing our schools. But that's not the point here, of course. This is ALL politics. [UPDATE 8/11/2011: Yes, all politics. Mike Petrilli of Fordham says that "the lesson of Education Reform Idol" is --- ba-ba-ba-baaah ... ELECT REPUBLICANS. "When Republicans take power, reforms take flight."]

So I digress.... The coup de grace of ridiculousness for me is the inclusion of Wisconsin among the list of "contenders." What exactly has Scott Walker and his league of zombies actually accomplished for education over the last seven-and-a-half months OTHER THAN eliminating bollective bargaining rights, a historic slashing of state school aids, and a purely political expansion of the inefficacious school voucher program?

What's even worse than the inclusion of Wisconsin among the nominees is the case made by Scott Walker's office for the 'reformiest' award. As a policy advisor to the former Wisconsin governor, I am amazed by the brazenness and spin from Walker's office. I would expect nothing less from a political campaign. But someone's gotta tell these folks that while they theoretically represent the public trust, the content of their arguments suggests we can't trust them as far as we can throw them. And here in cheese curd land, that ain't very far.

A quick look at Walker's argument reveals an upfront invocation of Tommy Thompson (Wisconsin's version of Ronald Reagan) to pluck at Badgers' heart strings and make them long for the good old days of the 1990s (when the rich paid their fair share in taxes). It is soon followed by the refuted and refuted claims that Walker's deep education cuts "protect students in the short term" and give districts "tools" to manage the fiscal slaughter. Just read the well-respected Milwaukee school superintendent's opinion of such "tools." Then there's this gem: "Districts immediately began to set aside more time for teacher collaboration as well as money for merit pay." I'd LOVE to see the data behind this claim because as I am aware there is no state survey that measures collaborative time for teachers for starters. Walker's staff probably lifted it from a single school district's claims detailed in this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story -- claims trumpeted by dozens upon dozens of right-wing bloggers such as Wisconsin's own Ann Althouse -- claims which since have been exposed as "literally unbelievable".

The irony is that this event is taking place in DC just two days after the recall elections of six seemingly vulnerable, incumbent Republican state senators. The repudiation of Walker's slash-and-burn policies will be testament enough to the destructiveness of his leadership both for public education and for the Badger State as a whole. In Wisconsin, recall would appear to be a far more effective 'tool' than the tools tentatively running the show under the Golden Dome in Madison.

[UPDATE 8/11/2011: For anyone who cares ... Indiana apparently is the "reformiest" state. By reformers' preferred metrics, I believe this means that Indiana will have the top NAEP scores in the nation next time 'round. Right?]

Image courtesy of Democurmudgeon

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