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Scoundrel Al Sharpton, the Bad Penny Happily Spent By EduWeenies

Yes, yes – ‘education is the civil rights issue of our time.’ If the 40,000 variations on that theme didn’t sink in during the 2008 campaign season, I get 140-character reminders often enough via Twitter.

And when was the last time we saw any sort of civil rights crowd that didn’t have a well-coifed Al Sharpton at the front – or trying to muscle his way to the front – with one eye searching for the media and the other eye searching for a mirror?

Get used to Al in Education, folks. That ‘Strong Schools’ bit last year was the calm before the annoying, prolonged, ineffectual drizzle that’s a Sharpton storm.

Here’s a press release/e-mail I got the other day. I’ll parse it.

Hi Matthew,

Did you see that Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich came together today — and at the White House of all places?  The meeting was to discuss education equality and how to improve our nation’s schools.  It was a remarkable gathering and you can read about the event here:

Trios are good. Sometimes individually great men combine to make something greater – like the Three Tenors, or even Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting singing “All for One [and All for Love]” on The Three Musketeers soundtrack.

This combination – unlike the two cited above – has a weak, embarrassing link. Gingrich could be a classic Kenny Rogers and Bloomberg one of those successful but ever-evolving David Bowie types. Sharpton, however, is not to be taken seriously. He’s a bit like the ukulele player Tiny Tim, God rest his soul.

Can you imagine what song we’d get from Kenny Rogers, David Bowie and Tiny Tim?

And you can see footage of the event here: or here

I’d rather hear the song.

The meeting was in advance of education equality day, which will feature thousands of people coming together to demand education equality in Washington DC on May 16th:

Let me know if you have any questions.

Here’s one: Why does anyone in education take Al Sharpton seriously? How quickly we’ve forgotten his actions in the Tawana Brawley case, his outright racism and his lifelong defense of his actions. Don’t bother Googling for Sharpton’s apologies to Stephen Pagones, the others he accused of rape, defilement and hatred, New York State or the public. He’s never uttered any.

And how spineless we’ve become, especially in public education, not to hold a man like Sharpton to account. Sharpton’s prominent involvement in education issues shows how weak the field of education leaders really is – and how badly we need some respectable, heroic leaders.

I’m getting tired of scoundrels like Al Sharpton, but I’m more tired of the milquetoasts who let it slide. I’ll pass on “Education Equality Day” in lieu of celebrating “High Standards and Integrity Day.”

Some of us celebrate that one every day. Do you?

Wishing the Forum for Education and Democracy’s “Will We Really?” Campaign a Short Life

A teaser:

“If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have. Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.”

I receive many e-mails a day with press releases, requests for exposure, requests for help/organization/administration/web design – lots of things. I can’t always oblige, but I appreciate them. They keep me informed and alert me to blips on the massive radar of public education that I might otherwise miss.

And some of these notices are garbage. Well, not the notices/press releases themselves, but the events and initiatives they describe. The PR firms almost always do an excellent job.

Consider the following from the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is introducing a campaign called “Will We Really?” My e-mail response is after the jump.


January 6, 2009 (Washington, DC) – Just days before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a major education group is launching a national web-based campaign that challenges all Americans to transform the optimism of the election season into the promise of collective action to improve public education.

“Our goal is to build on the “Yes We Can” hopefulness of the Obama campaign, address the shared anxiety about our uncertain future, and channel both sets of feelings into actions that will help support our nation’s schools,” said Sam Chaltain, National Director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is sponsoring the campaign.

A short web film, an homage to the “Yes We Can” video that has been viewed nearly 15 million times on YouTube, sets in motion a national petition drive, available at, in which all signers commit to work with President Obama to honor four promises that must be fulfilled if we are serious about supporting young people and public schools:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education.

To honor America’s ongoing commitment to a democratic way of life, we must provide all young people with a high-quality, free education in schools that are designed to help students develop the skills and abilities they need to exercise a powerful voice in shaping their own lives — and our nation’s future.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance.

To honor America’s founding promise of “liberty and justice for all,” we must provide equal access to a high-quality education to all young people, regardless of their family’s money, race or power.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher.

To honor America’s commitment to its public schools, we must ensure that all young people have the same opportunity to learn from well-prepared, well-supported teachers, who are in turn empowered to exercise their professional judgment, and not just follow a script, when it comes to helping students learn.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care.

To honor America’s responsibility to take care of its youngest citizens – and to acknowledge the myriad out-of-school forces that impact a child’s capacity to learn – we must ensure that all young people are free from want, and have access to high-quality health care.

To encourage action on the local level, the Forum provides a list of easy steps people can undertake individually and at the community level in support of each promise.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you. What I pasted above is the tofu and soy-flakes [meat and potatoes didn't seem appropriate]. Here’s my e-mail response:

Thanks for the heads-up here, I appreciate it a great deal. It’s not easy to stay in the loop – even with the internet – without being in one of those policy centers like New York City or Washington.

But I’m going to pass on this one other than posting the press release [and this e-mail] on my website. This initiative is tripe.

Please share that, along with the following opinions, with the folks at the Forum for Education and Democracy.

Here’s a bullet-point review of the initiative’s four core principles:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education. The rhetoric in support of that point is baseless, useless and unclear. FfE&D hasn’t a clue what a “21st Century education” is – and hot air about a “powerful voice” means even less.

Stop that.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance. That’s one we all agree on, and I’ve yet to meet a serious thinker in education, on a large or small scale, who thinks otherwise.

The bit about “power” may work well in a college freshman’s Sociology 101 paper – or perhaps in an introduction to a Teachers College Press book, if we throw in a few typos – but it’s not to be taken seriously outside of either. If you want to talk about failed pedagogy [Whole Language or 'Investigations'-style math], abysmal teacher education programs and the fiscal mismanagement that keeps so many communities from the equality we’d all like to see, I will welcome the discussion [provided that the conversation doesn't include videos].

Not “power,” though. Take that one up with Maxine Greene, a third-rate grad student or one of the distinguished conveners.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher. Agreed. Nothing in the description, however, suggests that this Forum will take a hard look at teacher preparation programs – or the realities of teacher practice. I won’t join you folks in railing against ‘scripted’ curricula because some of it is very good, and some teachers desperately need it. These points are tendentious rhetoric, not critical analysis of pedagogy or administration. When the Forum cares more about objective analysis than the storybook dignity it’s invented for practitioners in public education, perhaps we can talk.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care. Again, we agree – though points about keeping children healthy are low-hanging fruits. Unfortunately, this has almost nothing to do with education. The failures that have necessitated the Forum’s examination of points 1-3, albeit a misguided examination, don’t bode well for our ability to solve healthcare problems short of increasing already-bloated per pupil expenditure by an obscene amount.

I’d go into more detail on that point, but the fiscal responsibilities and the financial realities on which points 1-4 depend were not elements of the proposed discussions.

If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have, and I hope the next one will be for a fairer, higher-quality initiative.

Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.



BREAKING VIDEO: Progressive Educators, Conservatives Fight Over Arne Duncan’s Secretary of Education Appointment

arne duncan, secretary of education nominee

It’s official – Chicago’s Arne Duncan will be the new Secretary of Education.

The Twittersphere is abuzz as are the blogs. There’s no shortage of Duncan-related link dumps. You can get started on your own personal Duncan Familiarity Web Research Project over at Mr. Russo’s This Week in Education. Oil your scroll wheels, kids – there’s a lot to see.

I’ve pulled two clips that represent the two camps pow-wowing on Twitter.

First, the “progressives,” who feel betrayed and saddened that a charter stooge like Duncan will run the DoE in President-Elect Obama’s Land of Hopenchange:

I see four little scamps in the video – I’ve named them Constructiraptor, CharterRage, Unionmartyr and Dewey. I’d be remiss if I didn’t honor ed school ideology properly with a little Dewey-worship.

Actually, strike that – our fuzzy little Dewey’s had a name change. He’s now Hornswaggle.

And boy, are they panicking. I assume that piece of food is a piece of medium-rare public teat.

Look at’em fight!

But the progressives aren’t alone. There’s horror on the other side, too. Ms. Malkin, a favorite of mine, has missed the mark badly. Following E.M.’s lead, she’s popped three Alka-Seltzers in her mouth – Bill Ayers, Everyday Math and the Annenberg Challenge – taken a gulp of blog-soda and shaken her head vigorously. Here’s the resulting Duncan-drool from Malkin and E.M..

I’m as sympathetic to those arguments as anyone, especially on the Conservative side. I don’t, however, conflate three problems into criticizing Duncan’s appointment – Malkin et al. have made a mistake.

These scream queens sum up the Conservative reaction:

And then there are the more sensible folks like the Democrats for Education Reform. Peep their statement on Duncan’s selection.

Me? Well, I wouldn’t have chosen him, but we could’ve gotten much, much worse. Like Linda Darling-Hammond worse.

We’re in for a wild ride. I’ll criticize Duncan’s poor ideas and praise the good ones.

EdTechTalk Conversations: Digital Footprints, Personal Responsibility – and MKT

I was pleased to join hosts Lisa Parisi and Maria Knee on Episode 19 of EdTechTalk Conversations this Sunday. We spent an hour discussing digital footprints/online image of teachers – and whether they have a special responsibility to tailor that image to the profession’s standing – when private actions bleed into the public sphere, and a ton of offshoot issues that ranged from political to lighthearted.

I had a great time talking with them both and interacting with the live listeners in the chat room. If you haven’t heard ETT Conversations before, I recommend subscribing…

… when you pop over to listen to Episode 19, of course.

No Child Left Behind Debate at – Should We Scrap NCLB?

The education debate continues over at The topic at hand – the final in a month-long series on education – is whether we should scrap No Child Left Behind.

Jay P. Greene is moderating this debate. He says on his own blog, “Let them all talk.”

Ed is Watching is impressed by the star-studded cast of debaters:

“Panelists include Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, Neal McCluskey from Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, the Hoover Institution’s Eric Hanushek, and Elaine Gantz Berman from the Colorado State Board of Education.”

Below is the full press release for the event [fonts/layout from the original] – if you’ve got time and/or a well-reasoned opinion, weigh in.

NEW YORK – November 18, 2008 – The online discussion site NewTalk ( will host a fourth and final installment in its special month-long series of conversations on education. Centered on the possibility of ending No Child Left Behind, the three-day discussion will run November 18 – 20.

At its inception, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had worthy goals of improving teacher quality, raising achievement levels, and increasing accountability in education. However, implementation has proven problematic and positive results have been few and far between. This raises the question: should we scrap NCLB?

Before that decision can be made, it must be determined if the program’s failures have been the result of a lack of resources or something inherent in the program itself. Can NCLB be fixed, or should we discontinue the program and address its goals with new legislation? This and other important questions will be explored by a panel of education policy experts including:

· Elaine Gantz Berman – Colorado Board of Education / Common Good Colorado Board of Directors;

· Jay Greene – Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute;

· Eric Hanushek – Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University;

· Richard D. Kahlenberg – Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation;

· Sandy Kress – Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, and Senior Advisor to President Bush on NCLB;

· Neal P. McCluskey – Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom, The Cato Institute;

· Judith Rizzo – Executive Director and CEO, James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy;

· Andrew J. Rotherham – Co-Founder and Co-Director, Education Sector;

· Richard Rothstein – Research Associate. Economic Policy Institute;

· Martin West – Assistant Professor, Brown University, and Executive Editor, Education Next; and

· Joe Williams – Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform.

This is the closing installment in NewTalk’s month-long series on education issues. Previous discussions, now archived on NewTalk, addressed the following questions:

  • Do we need a new deal for teachers?
  • Why is there so much school bureaucracy and what can we do about it?
  • How can we restore order and respect in public schools?

Launched in June 2008, NewTalk offers a new kind of conversation: one that acknowledges reality, uncovers common ground, and finds a responsible way forward. It takes advantage of the Internet, letting each discussion unfold over several days with notable participants contributing from across the country. All conversations are archived online with participants’ photos and biographies. NewTalk site visitors can participate, too, offering comments and ideas, as the discussion evolves each week.

Recent NewTalk discussions have included renowned American leaders such as Mayors Michael Bloomberg (New York) and Shirley Franklin (Atlanta); former presidential candidates and U.S. Senators Bill Bradley and Bob Kerrey; American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; and a host of other high-profile thinkers with a wide range of expertise.

Among the completed discussions now archived on NewTalk:

· “How Can We Restore Americans’ Sense of Optimism?”

· “What Strategies Best Support Displaced Workers?

· “Obesity: What’s Needed to Encourage a Culture of Fitness?”

· “Should Test Results be the Main Focus of School Reform?”

NewTalk was created and is supported by the non-profit organization Common Good ( in recognition of the need to improve the quality of public discourse on a broad range of topics.  Both NewTalk and Common Good were founded by Philip K. Howard, lawyer and author of the bestseller, “The Death of Common Sense,” and the upcoming book “Life Without Lawyers” (Norton).

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