The Name Game



By 08/23/2011

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It’s silly season again, and I’m not referring to the Republican primaries. No, I’m thinking about the all-out battle for proponents and opponents of “reform” to stick a nasty label on the other side and claim the mantle of truth and goodness for themselves. This is nothing new, of course (Sean Cavanagh had a smart piece in Ed Week about this in March). But the battle continues apace.

I just learned from Whitney Tilson that Steven Brill, for example, calls Randi, Diane, et. al “school reform deniers” (akin to those who once denied that smoking was the cause of lung cancer). I see what he’s going for but I’m sorry Steve, that one needs a little more work. (It makes me think of Holocaust deniers. Are the unions denying that reform is happening? Or that it needs to happen? Or are they trying to deny victories to the reformers? It’s all a little unclear.)

On the other side, of course, is the push by the Save our Schools crowd to make the “corporate reformers” slander stick. Boy does that one burn me up. Not just because it’s inaccurate. (Trust me, if we relied on the reform ideas pushed by corporations, we’d just be singing kumbaya about the need for professional development, the imperative for better results in STEM, etc. Corporations hate controversy; real reform is controversial; ergo, “corporate reform” is an oxymoron.)

No, what gets my goat is that those of us in the think tank industry are totally getting shafted. Where’s our props? There was a time when the unions and others would blast us think tankers as crazy right-wingers and “enemies of public education.” Then President Obama, DFER, and other lefties had to complicate things by embracing reform too. Hey guys, we were here first!

Moreover, we used to be able to paint the reactionaries as “defenders of the status quo.” Now Diane lobs that one against US–and she’s sorta right in that standardized testing, a competitive marketplace, and a greater focus on teacher performance IS the new status quo–at least in some locales. (Victory!)

But let’s be honest, there’s no easy way around this conundrum. But I will try to do my part. When expressing my opinion on a particular policy idea, I will refer to others as either PEOPLE WITH WHOM I AGREE ON THIS ISSUE or PEOPLE WITH WHOM I DISAGREE ON THIS ISSUE. Wait, that’s clumsy.

Never mind. Go reformers go!

-Mike Petrilli




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