“None of You is Special”

As the merriment of commencement commences, one if often inundated with tales of graduation speakers orating on how much students have accomplished, how much they can now achieve, all with a generally congratulatory tone for the impending graduates.

It seems Massachusetts’ Wellesley High School asked one of its English teachers to deliver the remarks to the graduating class of 2012.  And what did David McCullough, Jr. (the son of noted historian David McCullough) inspire his former students with?  Here’s some of it:

All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet.

Strauss includes the full text of McCullough’s (what’s the opposite of cheerleading) remarks.  It makes for an interesting read.

“No Criticism is Too Vicious and Too Fact-Free”

Earlier this week, CBS Radio star and White House expert Mark Knoller (@markknoller for you Twitter followers) noted that former President Bill Clinton, while at a political event, said “‘no criticism is too vicious and too fact-free’ for opponents to use against Pres Obama.”

It was one of the few times, particularly lately, when Eduflack really paused to reflect on something I had seen on Twitter.  Regardless of whether it applies to the Obama-Romney showdown this fall, one thing is true.  President Clinton’s statement definitely applies when one looks at education reform.
Yes, there is no criticism too vicious or too fact-free for opponents to use against education reform.  Or perhaps, to be a little more generous and to paraphrase a line from Seinfeld, when it comes to defending the status quo, it isn’t a lie if you believe it to be true.
Don’t believe it?  Take a look at the opinions and vitriol that follow education reform across the nation.  In state after state, those who defend the status quo issue the same lines and look like carbon copies of other status quoers.  
If one is for greater accountability, then one is pro-bubble sheets and only teaching to the test.
If one supports public school choice, then one is stealing dollars from our community schools.
If one demands increased parental involvement and parental rights, then one is anti-teacher.
If one calls for teacher evaluations, then one is anti-collective bargaining.
If one provides philanthropic support to improve public schools, then one must be a profiteer looking to make personal fortunes off public education.
If one highlights the achievement gap and the disparities in both quality and outcome for Black and Latino students, then one must be a race-baiter.
If one asks for public school improvement, then one must be trying to privatize the schools and enact a voucher system.
If one believes we can do better and wears the tag of education reformer proudly, then one must be an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Republican looking to take over the system.
Sadly, there are no attacks that are too vicious or too devoid of fact for the defenders of the status quo.  In our modern era of campaign politics, it is all about trying to tear down the opponents.  It isn’t about policies.  It isn’t about facts.  And it certainly isn’t about the students.  It is about protecting what one has, no matter how ineffective the system may be.
And what of the reformers?  They simply have to stand and take the attacks and the vitriol, no matter how ridiculous.  Try to confront it, and you merely encourage those status quo defenders.  Try to set the record straight, and any egregious statement you don’t address is automatically accepted as gospel.  
In politics, we keep talking about the need for an end to negative politics and a new era of debate and collaboration.  The same can be said of education reform.  This should no longer be an argument of who is anti-teacher, who is anti-accountability, and who defines what as a true public school.  Instead, we should be focusing on both identifying the problem and offering real solutions.
Defending the way we have always done things because that is how we have always done things is not a solution.  Now is the time for ideas, for promising practice, and for real solutions.  Now is the time for a debate robust in facts, not a time for fact-free attacks.

Are Unions Having a Positive Effect on Schools?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson, William Howell, and Martin West have an interesting commentary detailing the toplines of a recent survey they conducted on behalf of Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next magazine.

One question, asked by the researchers since 2009, was:
“Some people say that teachers unions are a stumbling block to school reform.  Others say that unions fight for better schools and better teachers.  What do you think?  Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”
On the whole, a fairly balanced question to a very challenging inquiry.  And the response?
Only 22 percent of those surveyed said that unions were having a generally positive impact.  And of those classroom teachers who were surveyed, only 43 percent said unions were having a positive effect on the schools.  
Even more startling, 32 percent of teachers surveyed said the unions were having a generally negative impact on the schools, but from only 17 percent of teachers holding a negative view of their union in 2011.
These numbers come when respondents were given five choices — very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, and very negative.
When given a choice of simply a positive or negative effect, 51 percent of those surveyed said unions were having a net negative impact on the schools.  Forty nine percent gave the unions a positive vote.
Discuss amongst yourselves how this data crosswalks with assertions that the unions are advocating for the interests of their teachers and their students …

True Collaboration on the Field

This morning I have the privilege of volunteering for Field Day at edu-son’s elementary school.  There is nothing quite like watching a group of kindergarteners through fourth graders run obstacle courses, do three-legged races, roll tires, and crab walk down the field.

I didn’t realize how hard volunteering would be, as I just wanted to watch my son compete (he ran the anchor leg of the sack race, by the way, and did just a stellar job).
But Eduflack was really taken by the collaboration that was happening on that field this morning  Teachers, administrators, and parents all working together.  All focused exclusively on the kids and their experience.
Even with all of the fighting and the concerns and the vitriol thrown around as part of the education reform efforts in Connecticut these past few months, all stakeholders were able to come together, work together, enjoy each other, and make a difference.
Yes, it was just one day.  Yes, it was just field day.  But for a few hours this morning, I saw what was possible.  How we can set aside differences to focus on the most important part of this whole equation — the students. 
Now we just need to figure out how to do it without a wet field.


Across the nation, the defenders of the educational status quo continue to push back on reform efforts.  One of their loudest arguments is that school choice and charter schools are somehow a ploy to help someone “get rich.”  No, to those status quoers, it isn’t about kids.  
Forget that most charter schools are run by not-for-profit organizations.  Forget that for-profit charters are illegal in many states.  Forget that philanthropic supports for school choice are but a fraction of what a given school district or state is paying for public education in a given community.  We want to believe in ghosts, things that go bump in the night, and that schools of choice must be some sinister ploy of self interest. 
Perhaps the best response to this “profiteering” line comes from Democratic consultant extraordinaire James Carville.  As quoted in the new movie The Experiment and highlighted in Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education blog, Carville stated:  
“The idea that the schools here in Orleans Parish are some kind of result of some scheming people on Wall Street you know, trying to get 40 percent returns is just ludicrous.  I just don’t buy it.”
No truer words have been spoken with regard to the misguided charges of profiteering.  It is just ludicrous.  And it disrespects those families and those kids who are looking for better options and better educations.