Chris Barbic of the Tennessee Achievement District has been out making the interview rounds of late. One of his primary themes has been the tone surrounding the conversation on education. He’s been lamenting how people have lost sight of the kids and that they are the only ones that matter. He’s really bummed that people say awful things about reformers and himself. Of course, there is not a single mention of the role the tourists, as I’ve taken to calling reformers, play in this conversation. Its the classic everybody but I set the tone argument.
In a recent blog post Peter Greene is brilliant in labeling the reform movement as tourists. (http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2014/12/homeostasis-tourists-stability-and-feds.html?spref=tw) Just like tourists they go into an area and impose their agenda and views on the natives and then get indignant when the natives snap back. Think about how the French react to American tourists. Where do you think the term “ugly American” originates? Instead of trying to understand the ire of the native though, the tourist just labels them as uncooperative and hostile. They decry, “If only they would get into the 21st century!” Hmmm…sound familiar?
The other caveat in the tone discussion is the lack of honesty on the tourist side. Like classic bullies they are willing to scrap until someone actually punches them in the nose. I get labeled as obtuse and acting like a bully on occasion, but the truth is I’m just tired. I’m tired of the condescending rhetoric. I’m tired of the parlor tricks and most of all I’m tired of the lying. That weariness leads to the lowering of the filters and I’m sorry Chris, but you just happen to be one of the worst offenders. You are condescending and rude to dissenters until they call you on it then you stand by awkwardly singing Magic! “Why you gotta be so rude? Don’t you know I’m human too.”
Lets take a look at this past week, for examples. The ASD was set to announce their next round of takeovers. Do they do it on a Monday morning when we can all read about it and discuss? Do they even do it in the middle of the week? No, they do it on a Friday at 5pm, a time traditionally reserved for delivering bad news. The reason being that nobody reads the paper over the weekend and by Monday something else has replaced the story in the news cycle. Hence the name, Friday afternoon news dump. You’re not supposed to know that though.
How about Chris’s lament about not focusing on the kids enough. It wants you to forget a few things. Public education is not just about immediate needs i.e. reading on grade level, generating test scores etc. Schools should be reflections of our society. If schools are being rigged so that society is further stratified how are we watching out for the kids? If we demand that all kids go to college even though the job market doesn’t support that, how are we watching out for the kids? If we narrow their focus to just the measurable and deny them the life broadening experiences of art, music, industrial arts, how are we watching out for the kids? All you’re supposed to know is that he cares and the rest of us are out representing “adult interests”.
Their is another part of Peter Greene’s article that really hit home for me. So much of the reform rhetoric is about leaving something behind. Charter’s constantly tout themselves as a means to leave poverty behind but what happens to what’s left behind? Are those communities left to languish? Do we use our commitment to the kids as an excuse to do nothing about the ever widening income gap in America? Its interesting that in underdeveloped countries we focus on educating females because they will stay in the village and raise the level of education for all while in America we preach abandonment.
Take a look at the schools the ASD is poised to take over. Barbic says its all about the kids, but the ASD is only taking over one class a year starting with the incoming class of fifth graders. That means that all those kids who he’s lamenting that we’ve failed, he’s just written off. The only kids the ASD is concerned about are the ones coming in that can generates numbers to justify his savior complex. The others will be left to languish and try to find their own way. MNPS probably won’t divert more resources to their school either because, well that’s an ASD school now. Forgot to mention that part huh?
I was always taught not to judge people on how they interacted directly with you but to judge them on their interactions with others when they thought you weren’t watching. Barbic has touted LEAD schools for their experience with the EL population. Well I was at the Neely’s Bend meeting and not only was there an insufficient number of translators but initially they were very selective with what they translated. None of the speakers that were critical of the ASD were translated. Hmmm…is this a sample of that LEAD school experience or just something else that was forgotten?
In a recent Op-Ed piece Barbic called out critics for misleading people about Charters being privateers.
We saw fliers handed out with false data about ASD schools. We heard charters being called profiteers, even though all of our charters are nonprofit public schools. State law prevents for-profit charters from serving students. This false information leaves parents angry and confused, and even sadder, it drowns out parent voices.
Well lets look closer. Rocketship is an ASD partner right? (http://tn.chalkbeat.org/2014/09/08/rocketships-nashville-debut-highlights-tennessees-place-in-the-charter-landscape/#.VI8G62F0xnI) Rocketship buys buildings under a private corporation that in turn leases to the “school”. (http://www.shesellsnashville.com/2014/12/11/andre-agassis-fund-acquires-murfreesboro-pike-building-murfreesboro-tn-real-estate/) They kind of move the money around a bit so they look like non-profits. (http://www.tnledger.com/editorial/article.aspx?id=72653) So Chris is this another something you forgot or….oh yea I’m working on tone.
Lastly but certainly not least, is the ASD’s focus on data. Chris is out championing his data but when confronted with it, well it doesn’t exactly tell the complete story. Both School board Members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering confronted the ASD on their data at the recent meeting. By the way Chris, this is what elected officials do. They dig into arguments and make sure that the people who elected them have their voice heard. This democracy thing is really a pain in the butt.
Well the scores the school board member’s presented didn’t jibe with the ASD’s. Barbic’s answer. Frogge and Speering were using the raw scores. You didn’t get an accurate picture until you added some good old value added voodoo, which by the way has proven to be highly unreliable. (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/problem-value-added-measures) Oh well, so much for data. You argue data while we argue that data can be manipulated and then when we confront you with your own data it becomes, well you know data can be manipulated. Its like living the Bugs Bunny episode of “Rabbit season. Duck season.”
Are you starting to get the idea of why the tone has gotten so ugly? If you had a friend who was constantly giving false information and when confronted about it just shifted the parameters of the conversation, would you spend much time hanging out together? Would you continue to give them the benefit of the doubt when they spoke? Would you introduce them to new people? Its time to supply the same criteria to Chris Barbic and the Tennessee Achievement School District and actually the whole tourist movement. You claim to want to have a conversation but you refuse to facilitate it. Stop lying and we may want to hang out more.
I don’t think that’s going to happen though. At least not with out the intervention of elected officials. Chris Barbic doesn’t believe that he has to answer to anyone. He believes that he has unchecked power to take what ever school he wants and the only accountability is internal “We’re going to hold ourselves accountable for results. There will be no such thing as slow failure in the ASD. If after three years our schools are not improving at an acceptable pace, we will replace them.” That’s not acceptable and we should demand that our lawmakers review the ASD’s Charter. That’s what I’m going to do and I hope all of you will join me. This predatory entity needs to be reigned in.