The Pondiscio Kerfuffle Pt 1: Good luck with that, reform bubble

Consistent with my lament here, it happened again Wednesday of last week: I had productive momentum on a post about something aggravating me in education, then this — ‘The left’s drive to push conservatives out of education reform’, by Robert Pondiscio — appeared on my Twitter feed. Anticipating both where the piece would likely go and the amounts of debate/reflection that would inevitably follow, I knew clicking on the thing would be committing to an investment that would knock me off track…but there was no way I could resist.

And, well, Pondiscio’s essay did unleash quite a reaction. Really, I doubt that any person reading this space could’ve missed it. Nearly all of US edu-Twitter was buzzing about it by Thursday morning, after all, punctuated throughout the day by several notable ed thinkers’ blogged (and usually very negative) responses. Reformer Justin Cohen even posted an open letter requesting signatories to pledge they’d (1) thumb their noses at Pondiscio’s messages and (2) do better to bring balance to the reform conversation’s lopsided whiteness. By day’s end, it basically boiled down to this for Pondiscio himself:

https://twitter.com/rpondiscio/status/735931771439742979

Still, the discussion carried well into the weekend. Ed-reform-concerned minds like Chris StewartKathleen Porter-Magee, Marilyn RhamesJay P. Greene (x2), Brittany Packnett, Alma MarquezJenn Borgioli Binnis, et al, were weighing in through Friday, and a multitude of interested folks were revolving about their thoughts like little satellites, bouncing reflections off other satellites. (I was one of these satellites, for sure, going into late Friday evening and through the day Saturday.)

Of everything that was put out there, though, the one that resonated most with me most (aside from Pondiscio’s original essay, that is, for reasons I’ll elaborate on in a second entry) was this — ‘Pondiscio Raises Important and Fair Questions’ — by Erika Sanzi. I appreciated its urge for fairness and reason in this discussion, and its reminders to the pitchfork-sharpeners about the kind of walk-the-talk reformer Robert Pondiscio has been. And of key questions she pulls from Pondiscio’s essay, I’d definitely agree that these two —

  • Do issues of race and gender equity belong in these conversations about education reform?
  • Will conservative ed reformers be alienated by them?

— would be wise for the reform community to meaningfully sort out in their near future. For indeed, navigating the combination of the two points seems to be something reformers really just hadn’t anticipated or considered. (Incidentally: An above-linked Jay P Greene blog explains the tangle they’ve gotten themselves in quite well. Here’s that link again.) It’s like their eyes are always so focused on the ‘One Day’ finish line that they can’t help stepping on various sharp angles as they run down Education’s track. Little things, you know, like not inviting anyone but their own friends to their planning parties (as Justin Cohen & Co. can correct, but a damn lot more will be required than some weak internet petition), blowing past a bruised community’s input in order to improve its schools, and giving bigoted politicians donations and public awards for supporting your agenda.

(Pretty complex out here, isn’t it, guys? Are you sure your sheer talent and utter disdain for the status quo — you know, all those things you’re sure educators don’t have — are all you’ll need to achieve the turnarounds you envision?)

It’s something I can watch from a distance, of course, as I’m nowhere near part of the reform community bubble (which, really, is all this whole conversation concerns; matters like whose funders are getting involved/called, ‘something I heard while attending an NSVF summit’, etc., are all pretty far removed from the kids and teachers, after all, and that’s more where I tend to truck). Gotta be a TFA alum, supporter, rich person, or employee of some reform-y organization to get in on that, as far as I can tell, and I’m definitely not any of those. In fact, as I’m not sold on much of what the reformers in this bubble can or will bring to the long-term, genuine improvement of US education (my book, Education Is Upside-Down, explains why more thoroughly, by the way), there’s a part of me that hopes the bubble’s current roil ends up fracturing all inside it to smaller bits.

As I am fortunate to have the day off, though, and family time beckons, I’m going to leave off here. I’ll follow up with a Part 2 to this in a couple days to explain why Pondiscio’s piece — when applied to enterprise practices, however, not to various machinations and infighting within reformers’ bubble — struck me as important and valuable. (Then, you know, someday get around to that thing I was working on before all this popped up.) Have a great Memorial Day, y’all.

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