November 3, 2008
I’ve been getting a lot of ideas for what to call the nameless movement personified by Jon Schnur. The good news is that I think the descriptions are getting a lot more precise. The consensus points I see emerging: This set of reformers puts a primacy on data; is obsessive about getting rid of bad teachers, and views the democratic political process as a barrier. They are also young and bratty.
We are getting closer, but I do not think we are there yet. I define “there” as the moment at which you the readers have delivered me a single adjective that I can slap before “reformer” without feeling a twinge of remorse.
So, please send more entries! As you brainstorm adjectives, the best of the suggestions so far, which I’ve compiled below and which include superstar entrants including Joel Klein and Diane Ravitch, may help.
One set of suggestions included value judgments: A supporter said the “reformers” label is just fine, arguing that not all plans to improve public schools are equal, and so the best should be labeled reform while the others should… not be. Opponents came up with scathing descriptions like “teacher-bashers” and a reference to an Upper East Side bakery:
Up until the 1980’s there was a bakery on E. 86 Street in the old Yorktown/Germantown neighborhood. It was called the Kleine Kondeteri and they created light as air german confections. Maybe we should call them Klein and Co Bakery…light and airy, with the substance of a cloud.
Chancellor Joel Klein e-mailed to say he likes David Brooks’ description, “thoroughly modern do-gooders.” Klein also suggested another title: “the accountability and equity crowd.”
Diane Ravitch wrote to say the divide occurs along a liberal/conservative fault line:
the Klein group (including Schnur, Rotherham) are conservative reformers. They follow the business model of choice, accountability, deregulation, competition. Their ideas were born in the Reagan administration and nurtured at Heritage Foundation.
The BBA group are liberal reformers, who believe that we should make sure that kids and families have adequate social services, as well as a strong curriculum, effective instruction, dedicated teachers, good facilities, etc. This is the LBJ tradition.
Sarah Reckhow, a graduate student at UC-Berkeley, argued that the movement is defined by a “negative view of politics.” Reckhow pointed to Clay Risen’s Atlantic Monthly profile of Michelle Rhee, which lays out “two visions of big-city management” (Rhee and our gang subscribe to no. 2):
In one, city politics is a vibrant, messy, democratic exercise, in which both the process and the results have value. In the other, city politics is only a prelude, the way to install a technocratic elite that can carry out reforms in relative isolation from the give-and-take of city life.
Risen’s article is full of other useful descriptions of Rhee that also work for the larger movement: “a data-focused decision maker, less interested in politics as usual than a politics of results”; someone who sees herself “not as a politician but as a technocrat; a decider, not a negotiator”; an “obsessive e-mailer” with Wendy Kopp-like “zeal” for “message delivery.”
Keep the ideas coming!