Reality Bites

An unwanted guest crashes Jeb Fest 2013: reality

Jeb Bush convened his annual National Education Summit in Boston last week and welcomed some 800 elected officials, think tankers, business leaders and vendors—along with a highly unwelcome guest who seemed to be everywhere. And no reader, it wasn’t yours truly. Reality was the party crasher at Jeb Fest 2013. From legal troubles for yet another member of Chiefs for Change to Rahm Emanuel’s *awkward* refusal to even refer to himself as an education reformer, reality was like a bad penny, turning up everywhere.

Opportunity vouchers
Jeb hadn’t even had a chance to utter his trademark *every child can learn* catch phrase before trouble checked in at the Sheraton. A New Mexico group announced that it was filing a complaint with the IRS over the *scholarships* that Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, the aptly named FEE, provides to policy makers and politicians who then lobby or testify on behalf of FEE-backed policies. In the cross hairs: Hanna Skandera, New Mexico education chief and likely next member of the growing *emeritus* contingent of Chiefs for Change. While elected officials lined up in Boston to collect their scholarships—think of them as vouchers that allow pols to flee their failing states—Skandera was a no show. Whatever Suddenly Came Up must have been important as she’d been scheduled to lead a tour to the Next Epicenter of Reform: America’s teacher prep programs…

Tony the friendly ghost
Meanwhile Chief for Change emeritus Tony Bennett, of the Indiana Bennetts AND the Florida Bennetts, was lurking around like a friendly ghost. No doubt he was debating whether to drop in on Strategy Session X – Accountability 2020: Adopting and Readying Transparent A – F Grading Systems for the Next Generation of Schools. I’m guessing he fled to the bar rather than endure the indignity of hearing the likes of Florida State Representative Erik Fresen opine that “The major element that provides a system of grading with any value is whether or not the measurement means something.” Why I think we can all raise our Sidecars to that…

Dance of the twerking lemons
Even when reality didn’t show her face she could often be detected right outside the ballroom doors. Take the keynote address by former US Solicitor General Ted Olsen who was there to sell the audience on the idea that the California case of poor students vs. teacher tenure is like gay marriage for education. Or something like that. Olsen told a familiar tale of Golden State schools that, while golden in his era, have sunk into deep decline because of what he termed The Dance of the Lemons in which poor students are saddled with the citrus equivalent of LIFO lifers. But that very morning had come word that a staggering 50% of students who attend public schools in the west are now poor, up 10% since 2001. So does that mean that there are more lemons? Are they dancing faster? Are they twerking? And of course the west isn’t alone in this dubious distinction. In the south too, where lemons have no right to dance, poor students are now the majority in public schools. Which means that whatever the outcome of Vergara vs. California, there will be one clear winner: poor students trial lawyers.

Who is that man in the Rahm Emanuel mask?
But it was special guest Rahm Emanuel who served as the confab’s designated buzz kill. While Jeb had earlier sung Rahm’s praises as the takes-no-prisoners mayor of Buck-Stops-Here-Istan, Rahm showed up with not so much as a hamburger tendril of red meat. Echoing a growing number of big city mayors for whom reform is now a “dirty ‘R’ word,” Rahm announced that he is no education reformer. And it got worse—much worse. He said that there had been too much blaming of teachers and too little talk about poverty, and that not all of the city’s public schools sucked. In other words, what???? Why did they put steak knives at every table setting if we weren’t going to have an opportunity to use them??? When board member William Oberndorf suggested that Rahm look to Milwaukee as a choicey model, Rahm looked as though he’d never heard of the place: Mil-What-Ee? And when ExcelinEd CEO Patricia Levesque asked Rahm to tell the crowd what he really thinks about Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis, Rahm. Refused. To take. The bait.

Existential Crisis, Inc.
Which raises the sort of existential question that might send a red blooded reformer to the bar in search of solace—and understandably so. If we can’t all agree that dancing lemons are the problem, indeed the cause of all problems, what is it that we actually hold in common? Other than the Common Core, of course, which everyone at Jeb Fest 2013 seemed to agree Makes Cents

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  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Fighting this is a huge, draining, constant battle and you teach us so much, with so much humor. “Why did they put steak knives at every table setting if we weren’t going to have an opportunity to use them???”
    I needed that.

  2. AND, meanwhile back at the ranch in OK, we had as many as six revisions of our A-F grades. Every hour, a new grade. Superintendent Barresi, our Chief for Change, was in Boston, alternately praising her data system, and slamming anyone who dared criticize her precious system. One of our politicians, Clark Jolley, was there to brag on our A-F grades. Two years in a row, respected research scientists from our two major universities, have published peer-reviewed reports on the problems of this system. Their work is being dismissed in an editorial from our largest paper in the state, as a ‘tirade’.

    OUR policymakers were certainly ignoring Reality when she walked in the door.

  3. Wow! Terrific infiltrating and reporting!

    Small wonder Rahm is suddenly mum on “reform.” I think it’s finally sinking in to Rahm that no matter how much campaign booty he accumulates, the poor people of color whom he has marginalized, due to his privatization policies, as well as other progressive Chicagoans, are going to make this guy a one time mayor. He may have expected that a lot of parents of those poor minority students he displaced, when he shut down 50 neighborhood schools, would be sending their kids to charter schools. Most did not.

    Rahm’s latest plan is the expansion of charter schools into mostly white, middle and upper middle income neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest sides of the city, which he says are overcrowded, instead of constructing additions or new facilities. However, unlike with the charters for kids in poverty, where he gave away free buildings (for $1 rent) in low income and gentrifying areas, this real estate does not come cheaply, so charters have to come up with their own buildings. Since no skin in the game is what charter entrepreneurs count on, in order to make a pretty non-profit penny (for-profit charters are not permitted here) and the population Rahm is aiming to hoodwink into sending their kids to charters is not likely to find boot camps appealing, this is a plan that’s doomed to alienate even more voters and fail miserably. YES!

    1. Dead on analysis, and yes, Rahm will be a one term blunder no matter how much money he raises.
      Big Snow Storm: Bilandic
      Bogus School Reform: Rahm
      Just like NYC, Chicago is looking forward to electing a Democrat next time around. No more corporate suits.

  4. Thanks so much for this, especially the report on Rahm. He had a very bad week. Monday he ran all over Chicago from one smiling media event (all carefully staged) to another, avoiding carefully any venue he couldn’t COMPLETELY CONTROL. (A Rahm thing). But in his zeal to avoid anything really open to the public, he missed Chicago’s Columbus Day Parade.
    In Chicago, the Columbus Day Parade has always had a mayor walking up front since Al Capone was selling shorthand textbooks to the Chicago Board of Education (true story) back before his dementia ended his career. Chicago has always had lots of privatization with school dollars; this generation of corporate reformers just went over the top….
    So… Rahm missed the Columbus Day Parade, then showed up meekly at Jeb Bush’s event but shrank before the jobs ahead.
    Why? Rahm’s polling numbers have actually been going down since he headed down during the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. Even his own pollsters have been giving him the bad news, of course in secret. But there’s more. Since he closed all those “underutilized” schools (49 total) in May, he can’t go out in public without somebody booing him.
    The thing that guaranteed Rahm wouldn’t be marching with all those Italian patriots last Monday was that earlier he had been booed when he showed up at a Northwestern football game. Northwestern is his sort of alma mater (he got a masters there in communications or something like that). And Rahm’s media handlers can’t assure him that friendly faces will prevail in major events. So he’s into avoidance.

    1. Thank you so much Edushyster! And grazias to George Schmidt for a typically uplifting comment.
      Wow, power to the people! This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time.
      Although not all nose-thumbing at authority is subversive and progressive, much of it is. I remember years ago, when then-president Bill Clinton was coming to speak at graduation at the University of Connecticut (and perhaps get an honorary degree), they couldn’t give tickets away for that. A small band of students and alums eagerly lined up on the street before the stadium where the event was being held in order to chant “Inhale to the chief,” but that was it. Some years later a pair of Swedish exchange students studying at UConn were excited about going to hear then-president Bush speak somewhere in the state, and they could not believe that most Americans were not interested. Some of that was apathy, but a lot was, who gives a f*&%? If it were on my way, I would certainly go boo Rahm, Obama, Arne Duncan, and the rest. And maybe throw a lemon or two.

  5. I like the “twerking dancing lemons the best.” I also love Sidecars!!! You are the best Edshyster – so much material that deserves to be skewered in your impeccable style.
    Humor is the best defense against insanity.

  6. Thanks, Edushyster, for this brilliant, encouraging and hilarious post!
    Reminds me of the time I spied–er, listened in on–a Pear$on meeting at a hotel where we both happened to be. They were patting them$elve$ on the back for being “head and $houlder$ ahead of all the other te$ting companie$” with respect to their computer-generated te$t$ and $coring.
    We all know how well THAT works out.

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