Transcript of the Education Reform's Common Ground webcast

Editor's note: On June 20, 2016, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 50CAN, and Education Post hosted a timely, vital discussion about the policy agenda that ties reformers together across the ideological spectrum. Discussants included Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President of 50CAN; Valentina Korkes, Deputy Director of Policy and Strategy at Education Post; Vallay Varro, President of 50CAN; and Lindsay Hill, Program Officer for Education at the Raikes Foundation. Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, moderated. This is a transcript of that conversation. 

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Mike:

Good afternoon. I'm Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank here in Washington that also does on the ground work in the great State of Ohio. Welcome to our webcast, “Education Reform’s Common Ground,” or I think I just saw on Twitter somebody called it “Education Reform’s Live Marriage Counseling Session.” Whichever you prefer on that, but that is not the hashtag for the record. The hashtag is #educommonground. You can follow along on that hashtag on Twitter. I will being trying to do as well to try to get some of your comments and questions into the discussion. We'll see how that goes.

 

In recent weeks, as everybody knows, education reformers have taken to the blogosphere and to social media to debate some of the tensions inherent in an ideologically diverse movement. This was sparked by an essay by my friend and Fordham colleague Robert Pondiscio. Much of the discussion has focused on our differences, but what's been overshadowed is what we still have in common. That's what we're going to talk about today: the policy agenda that ties us reformers together across the ideological and political spectrum.

 

I want to thank our cosponsors, 50CAN and Education Post, for making this possible. Let me introduce our distinguished panel, and then I'll have a few words to frame the discussion. Maybe not so few.

 

First, we've got Derrell Bradford, the executive vice president of 50CAN. We've got Lindsay Hill, program officer at the Raikes Foundation. We've got Valentina Korkes, deputy director of policy and strategy for Education Post. Last but not least we've got Vallay Varro, the president of 50CAN. Thanks everybody for being here, and especially on relatively short notice.

 

Now my maybe not so short words to frame today's discussion. I think we all agree that the education reform movement has accomplished a lot over the past 10 to 15 years. In large part because of its involvement of people across the ideological and political spectrum. In fact, for a lot of this time, education reform has been held up as a rare case of bipartisanship in America at a time of increasing partisanship. I think we also all agree that there are some new tensions and that there's some real worries that this bipartisanship might be coming to an end, that we are facing some of the strains that happen in such a polarized environment, and that, if it came to an end, that would be very bad for education reform. That if ed reform is to survive and to thrive to keep moving forward, we need to stick together.

 

Let's talk a little bit about how we got to this point, about “a short history of the education reform movement.” Some people would go all the way back to A Nation At Risk in 1983, but for our purposes let's start in, say, the mid to late '90s. That was when many of the original education reform groups were getting off the ground, groups like Education Trust, the Center for Education Reform, Fordham, Center for Reinventing Public Education, Achieve, the Friedman Foundation.

 

Teach For America, after almost being strangled in the crib in the early '90s, was starting to grow. KIPP was starting to scale. Gates, Walton, and Broad were coming onto the scene. While there were a couple of different reform camps back then, some people more into vouchers and charter schools and others into what we used to call standards based reform, plenty of us were into both. By the late '90s, when Congress started working on what would become No Child Left Behind, a Washington consensus around ed reform had formed.

 

Folks on the left were willing to embrace the notion that even in the face of poverty, it was fair to expect all schools to get their students to at least basic levels of literacy and numeracy. On the right, folks were willing to except a federal role in ensuring that that happened. When George W. Bush, first as a candidate and then as president, said that we needed to “end the soft bigotry of low expectations” and “leave no child behind,” there was broad agreement.

 

From the late '90s into the 2000s, bipartisan ed reform was rising high. Charter schools and Teach For America both grew exponentially. The policy discussions were about how to extend No Child Left Behind and do more about high schools. We were talking about moving from highly qualified teachers to highly effective teachers. The PIE Network was born, founded by think tanks across the ideological spectrum. Ed in '08 outlined the contours of the next phase of reform. The seeds of Common Core were planted. The Widget Effect from TNTP captured everyone's imagination around teacher evaluation. Race to the Top gets enacted as part of the stimulus bill.

 

Back then, Republicans like Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich even said nice things about it, not to mention many Republican governors, and the unions and the system were, in many ways, on the run. Then in November 2010 in the Tea Party wave, Republicans take control of Congress and statehouses nationwide. Now, I would argue this led to a lot of reform activity, especially around school vouchers. We used to talk about 2011 being the Year of School Choice, but at the federal level things changed quite a bit. Republicans went back to their federalist principles. No Child Left Behind was seen as this bad example of “big government conservatism” and the Republicans didn't want anything to do with it.

 

Some of us on the Right encouraged this new way of thinking about going back to federalism after seeing the botched implementation of No Child Left Behind, what we saw as the overreach of Race to the Top, and especially, later, ESEA waivers. Then enter the Common Core wars, fueled in part by federal involvement, also perhaps by an ill-timed push for teacher evaluations. The coalition frayed even further.

 

Finally, on the left, Diane Ravitch’s turnabout and her new status as a cult figure put the issue of poverty back on the table. Reformers on the left found themselves having to beat back challenges from a newly energized progressive wing of the Democratic Party, questioning whether school reform was a neo-liberal plot to privatize the schools. There was also an embarrassing lack of diversity in the leadership of the movement. This despite the fact that it was largely communities of color that reformers were trying to serve and despite the fact that many people of color had come into the movement via Teach For America and “no excuses” charter schools. Long overdue initiatives were launched to make sure the movement's leadership became more diverse.

 

Many of the newcomers to the movement were young, liberal, and idealistic, pulling the center of gravity of ed reform the left. Understandably, some of the newcomers, including, but not exclusively, people of color wanted to put new issues on the reform agenda, like structural racism, discipline disparities, and segregation. This, in turn, has made it harder for some of us on the right to feel at home in the movement, skeptical as we are of the way some of these issues are framed or the policies that get promoted to address them.

 

We all agree that greater diversity in the movement is a good thing, including racial and ideological diversity. We all agree that we can't invite new people into the movement and then tell them what they may or may not talk about or what issues they may or may not put on the agenda. How can we deal with some of the tensions that some of these new issues are creating? How can we negotiate these tensions without tearing the movement apart? How can we talk about things like discipline disparities and disagree over these issues without calling each other horrible names?

 

Of course it works in the other direction too. Some of us on the right have put new issues on the table like family breakdown or career and technical education, and that makes some people on the left very nervous. How can we talk about these sometimes explosive issues without creating an explosion?

 

So here we are. We've got this reform movement that's accomplished a lot but feels like it may be pulling apart ideologically. The question is: can the center hold? If so, can we identify it and nurture it? How can we agree to disagree about the other stuff without being at each other's throats?

 

That was a lot. First, to the esteemed panel: What do you think about that framing? Does that sound about right? Push back. Where did I get it wrong? Who wants to go first?

Derrell:

I got volunteered to go first so I'll go first. In true Derrell fashion I will not answer your question and instead answer one I would like to answer.

Mike:

You've had media training.

Derrell:

Here's my thing: I think all of this is a natural function of the cyclical evolution of what we do. The more clarity you have around the policy agenda, the easier it is to decide what you want to do and what you don't want to do. Right now there is, I think, very little clarity around the policy agenda both in a proactive way ... Look back, look at the things we did over the last 15 years. What did we like? What didn't we like? What do we think has been effective? What hasn't been effective? What do we think people have accepted? What have they rejected violently? Even this whole question of doing things that people like versus things they don't like is an important one. That's one set of bubbles.

 

Then the other set, we talked about it a lot, is the possibilities with ESSA. There's the question of what we did and whether or not people like it, and it's a question about what are we going to do now and are people going to like it. If you're in this inflection point where you don't know what you want to keep, but you absolutely don't know what you want to do, it's hard to build a consensus around those things. Those conditions, I think, are just accelerating what would normally be the general tension of a democratic movement.

Mike:

So you’re saying we've gone through this phase of reform where, for example, there's been big growth in charter schools and a lot of us have been involved in that. There's been these big fights over Common Core and we've been involved in that. That feels like that has settled down some. There's this new federal law that's given more authority to states. Now you're saying the policy agenda of education reform is up for grabs and so we shouldn't be surprised that there are fierce debates going on about what should be on that agenda.

Derrell:

Like every piece of policy, it's seen through the lens of human experience. If you are a person of color who cares deeply about your own safety when you're walking down the street, you will look at discipline policy just in a fundamentally different way than a person who has not had that experience. What I think people should take away is that all of this is natural. These conflicts are as old as we are. They are about human beings, so thinking they are new or exclusive to us is a mistake. This is going on everywhere, it's just not going on every place else in public.

Mike:

This is the marriage counseling part of the program, is that right?

Derrell:

That's right. Right now, people are just trying to navigate that in a way that gives us, again, I think a new center.  I think, people genuinely want the same thing, which is your zip code ... You don't have to win the parent lottery to get a great education and be free, it's just how we talk about that in this new normal is very new for everybody and it's also very intense.

Mike:

Lindsay, do you want to chime in?

Lindsay:

Sure. I would start by saying that all views represented by me are my own, not those of the Raikes Foundation. I think another layer I would add onto that is that we are leaving, hopefully, a pretty colorblind period in our nation's history. I think, coming out of the Civil Rights Movement, you saw a lot of people who actually felt like the politically correct thing to do was to not acknowledge race, to not talk about race at a systemic level all the way down to the inter and intrapersonal level. However, we still very much lived in a society where race absolutely determines life outcomes in a variety of systems and structures.

 

Trying to have a race neutral conversation about something like education is how we've been tackling, I would argue, education reform so far. I think we have made progress, absolutely, but I think it has been made in such a way that has made many families and communities feel as though they are being done to and not done with. I do feel as though we're at an interesting point in education where we can embrace all of the diversity that has come into education reform. We're starting to see, bubble up in the traditional sector as well, the diversity of thought, equity of perspective, and true inclusivity grounded in getting better.

 

I think insights from our families, from our students, and having conversations about the nuances of systemic racism, systemic oppression, teacher bias, it's a hard conversation to have, but I think because we share the outcomes of an incredible education system for all of our kids regardless of their backgrounds, we should be about that impact and the best and the fastest way to get there. We've been missing a lot of voices, I think, that could have offered us more nuanced perspectives on how things actually play out on the ground in communities of color in low income communities.

Mike:

To me, that makes a ton of sense, especially when we're talking about practice and we're talking about, let's say, charter school policy or school closures policy. It's incredibly important to know how the families on the ground are seeing it and responding to it and feeling it.

 

Separate question, though, is whether when we're talking about education policy, let's say, with politicians and policymakers ... I just think you're going to lose Republicans if you start talking about structural racism. If they believed that America was a fundamentally racist country, I'm not sure they would consider themselves Republicans. How do we do this in a way that helps us with what you're talking about, improve our practice without sending the message to a big chunk of the country, "Unless you agree with us on all these other priors, we don't want you as a part of this movement?"

Lindsay:

It's interesting. I was speaking on a panel earlier this morning...

Derrell:

You were outstanding.

Lindsay:

A man ran up to me afterwards and said, "Thank you so much. I'm a conservative and I believe in systemic racism." It was a coming out party. I think there are certain ideologies and realities about race, class, and privilege that transcend policies. I think there are a number of conservative folks I engage with regularly who believe that systemic racism exists. Because, again, their outcome is empowered kids, empowered communities, empowered families, if there are policies that, when implemented in a colorblind way, do actually play out in terms of increasing student outcomes, then they want to address it.

 

Education reform attracts a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. In thinking about incredible leaders like Brittany Packnett and others, there are people in this work who are working on education as a lever to true equity and equality as a country to social justice. I think keeping that conversation out of education is definitely polarizing and I think will weaken our community overall.

Mike:

That's right. The trick is, just as Brittany may be pushing on the social justice front, others of us may be saying the reason we support education reform is because we believe America is a fundamentally just country with great opportunities, of course with tons of imperfections, and our goal is to allow there to be opportunity for all kids. We want all kids to have a chance to enjoy the great opportunities America has versus where you have some people saying we want to encourage kids to be revolutionaries and we need to overthrow the system. Again, that's where there's been some consensus.

 

The tension is, we push too far on the left with the argument that we need a revolution, you're going to lose a lot of people on the right. Frankly, you're going to lose people like me who just think that we need improvement, but we don't need a revolution. That's the challenge.

Derrell:

I think that part of what you’ve got to add, though, is really just a question about how communication works. Oftentimes when I talk to people about how we engaged people who are not of color regardless of their party about issues that represent themselves and systems responding one way when white people are present versus another way when they aren't is not to leave with, "It's your fault." The moment I open up and it's like, "You, Mr. X, implicitly are the reason why these things are the way they are," there's no discussion.

 

Lindsay really hit on this, I think, well: what is important is couching the discussion in belief and the problem before getting at what your role may or may not be at it. That's a communications challenge. Admittedly, these things are so emotional. It's easy to be like, "Don't you realize that the fact that you breathe means that you're a part of this?" Because it is fundamentally a question of framing and community, I think, at a very high level, I think it is also fixable.

Mike:

Vallay, do you want to get in here?

Vallay:

Yeah. I will just jump in a little bit here just to say that I think policy is a fairly blunt instrument. In my time at being at the state level and working on policy, it's hard to find consensus amongst a broad group of stakeholders, much less a very small group of stakeholders, around what is the best policy positioning. I can only imagine that when we're talking about structural issues like race and institutional oppression that we have a variety of opinions on that. I think what we need to remember and stay grounded in is that what brings us together is this notion of what are we doing to make things better for children? If that can keep us together then we can have the nuance in the conversation around what is the policy instrument to use. If we can't stay together on that then what is all of this about?

 

I've got believe that people on the right and people on the left of this conversation want to have that conversation about what do we do for kids even though we come from different perspectives. I think it's the different perspectives that make the conversation rich and think about all of the different pieces that will need to make a whole picture for our kids. I do have a lot of hope that we're going to actually get this done, and I think you're right, Derrell, that the pendulum is swinging back. We're putting lots of things back onto the states, and so the states are going to have to help us come to some solutions here. That's going to take people on the right and left because those are the people who are sitting in state houses, making policies every single day.

Mike:

Valentina, tell me if this is right. I'm assuming from your Twitter feed that you would consider yourself a progressive and you have to face a lot of venom from other progressives all the time. Being called a “neo-liberal.” Help those of us in the center or on the Right understand what it's like to be a progressive in this movement. What are the pressures that reformers on the Left face from other progressives? Are there certain things that we do or say that make life difficult for you?

Valentina:

I'd say, yes, there are certain things that people who are of different ideological backgrounds that make my life a little harder, but I think it isn't unreasonable to explain to people on Twitter, admittedly difficult, that there are people within movements who have different perspectives and just because you and I don't see eye to eye on something doesn't mean that we can't be part of the same movement. Whether they listen to me on Twitter or not, they've made up their own mind when they come to me.

 

In terms of feeling pressure, the pressure that I feel as a progressive is internal more than anything else. I'm not getting newsletters from democratics.org saying, "You're a bad progressive because you believe in ed reform." The things that I believe and the things that I fight for and the pressures that I feel come from an internal place of wanting to make sure that children succeed and not just based on classroom policies or policies that are in our world and our policy agendas, but also ones that we're starting to bring in, like making sure that students feel safe when they're walking down the street because, if they don't, they're probably not going to succeed as well as the can, or make sure that they are using a bathroom that they're comfortable in and not being bullied for it, because otherwise they're not going to succeed.

 

When I feel pressure, it's internal.

Mike:

Anybody else on that one?

Derrell:

I am a Democrat, I get to vote in Democratic primaries, although not everybody believes it. In dealing with this pressure, particularly with my friends who are more progressive, more systems-focused, I would say, because I think I'm more liberty-focused, I try to do it in a way that is social and friendly. We can disagree on these things. I'm not the Lord of the Sith. It's cool. We can talk this through. That's the first, most important thing.

Mike:

I'm the Lord of the Sith. I get to play that role.

Derrell:

The second thing, though, is just that most people see the world and they see policy, again, through a lens that is their own experience. I am deeply invested in choice, not because I'm a neo-liberal corporatist, Nazi-ist, whatever the hell they want to call it, but because I went to private school! I got a scholarship to go to private school! Why am I going to be against somebody else having that same thing?! It's not a political position, it's just an experience position. If somebody doesn't want to agree with that because it doesn't align with party orthodoxy, that's not really something I can do something about, but I'm going to try to make it so that they'll at least understand why were are doing what we do.

 

If you work in statehouses, you know that getting somebody to not say that they hate you is almost as important as getting them to say yes. Because at least before they were like, "I hate that guy!," and then they're like, "I don't really know him that well." That's a victory. You might only get that victory because you shared an important aspect of why this mattered to you and that resonated with somebody.

Mike:

Let's talk a little about how this all plays out in politics, this argument that some of us have made that says, again, if we move too far to the left that you're going to lose Republicans, and that if you lose Republicans, we're dead because in a lot of these states, to get a charter bill passed or charters defended or to do a lot of these things, you basically need all the Republicans and a handful of Democrats because of the teacher union politics and all the rest. Is that compelling to you? That, to me, seems compelling, but what do you think? Vallay, do you see this in your states you work in? Maybe it plays out differently in bluer states. What do you think?

Vallay:

I don't think that that is a fair statement to say that we lose a lot of conservatives if we move too far to the left because, in fact, we lose a lot of progressive if we move too far to the right. On either end. It's a polarizing issue where the middle is ... I'm unsure where the middle is right now because the very liberals and the very conservative are almost reaching around and holding hands on the other side. It is a conundrum that I think we're trying to figure out in our states to say how do we work in a time and an era where this should be a relatively apolitical issue, but it's not. We haven't cracked that nut yet, and I think that's partly what's contributing to this larger conversation of we're going to lose people.

 

I think we've already lost them. I think it's a lost cause. If we can't get people to be on the issue of Black Lives Matter because they're too progressive, or if we can't get people to be on the issue of Black Lives Matter because they're too conservative, I'm not quite sure how to move forward. It is a corundum that we have to figure out.

Mike:

We are not the Black Lives Matter movement. I understand some people in this movement may support it, but we are the education reform movement. The answer is, in part, focusing on that.

Vallay:

I think you could parse it that way, but I'd like to think that is a broader issue. This is just about saving kids' lives whether you call it gun control and murder that's happening on the hands of police, or if you're calling it murder in classrooms. Derrell, you used this terminology this morning: you're just killing them over a longer period of time. I think that it depends on how you look at it, but I think that we would all agree that no good outcomes can come from the way that we're currently providing most kinds of education.

Derrell:

Can I add one thing? I think you got to bifurcate the effort to understand how this works. In everything that is both advocacy and legislative action, there are really two teams of people with different skills fighting over stuff. You have the advocacy world, which is people who, by necessity, are taking extreme positions. That's the deal because they're trying to raise consciousness about things that are deeply inequitable, or unfair, or that institutionally don't work. Then normally that articulates to a political class that deal-makes. Those folks are the ones who are like, "You might not feel good about campaign zero, but you need to feel good about changing something so that we have a better society."

 

When those two things are working naturally and in tandem ... I think one of our issues as a movement is that we naively thought in the beginning that we could do just policy and the people would adopt policy and make it happen. Then we got into strong advocacy because we thought that making a moral case solely would be the thing that made things happen. That didn't do it. Then we got in a legislative action and then thing started to happen, and now that the game has changed and now we're in this fully political thing, which is new to the prior three stages.

 

I don't necessarily think it's the advocate's job to build consensus all the time, although I do think it is unhelpful when we're killing each other in public over stuff all the time. That is our movement's political class's problem. Because they come at it from a different place, they should be able to wrangle this center more effectively than we can when we're out kicking doors in.

Mike:

Absolutely. We're going to get to it in a moment, start talking about what are the issues where there's still agreement. I think we would all say we all agree about high quality charter schools, for example. Do all agree about Black Lives Matter? Do black lives matter? Of course. But the Black Lives Matter movement? Many of us on the Right are very worried about what's happening in some of our cities with crime rates and murder rates going up. We worry that actually many people of color are now at greater risk. Now, is there a direct line? I don't know. Again, I'm not a criminologist. That's not my life's work. My life's work is education reform.

 

If you tell me that if I don't agree with the Black Lives Matter movement or the stuff that Brittany is doing in St. Louis, that I can't be a card carrying member of the reform movement, then, to me, that's a problem. Now, I may say that if you don't support KIPP or if you don't support the notion of high standards then we probably really don't have much agreement, but to me those are very different things.

Lindsay:

When I think about this, education is about humanity. It's about relationships. It's about human beings. I think what Black Lives Matter as a movement is saying is we are humans, acknowledge our humanity. That absolutely belongs in education. I think increasingly, actually, the research is showing that when kids of color, kids from low income communities, get access to content that is relevant to their life, their culture, their history, that shows them how they can improve their own communities, when they have access to more teachers who look like them. This matters.

 

I think if we try to strip conversations about race, about privilege, about oppression out of education, we're actually not going to get the outcomes with kids that we want. Again, if we have two different end outcomes, if your end outcomes is a thriving education system and my end outcome is social justice and my humanity being seen just as much as yours is and education is a pathway there, then if we see that things are getting results, we would both celebrate them, right?

Mike:

Right.

Lindsay:

Actually, the work that Brittany, for example, is doing in St. Louis is getting greater student results by implementing culturally responsive pedagogy, by training her teachers differently, by having real conversations about race, class, and privilege. Kids are learning more. Isn't that great?

Mike:

That's great. I can still disagree with what she's doing on the weekends if what she's doing on the weekends is advocating a position that I think might be dangerous, which is that there's a sense that it's going to lead to policing that is not as effective, or whatever that discussion is. That is a legitimate policy debate. It's an area where conservatives and liberals are not going to agree.

Valentina:

I can disagree about what you guys are doing on the weekend, she might not like what you're doing on the weekend as long as what you guys are doing during the week is still getting good outcomes for kids. #educommonground!

Mike:

There you go. Boom! Valentina. That is a good reminder about #educommonground. I have not been able to follow yet, but I will. I promise I'm going to give it a look in just a moment.

 

It also strikes me that some of the difficulty around politics right now is that we have cities that are probably, if anything, getting bluer, and some states that are getting redder. You also have this tension. I would think maybe St. Louis and Missouri are a great example that you have a legislature that has shifted to the right and you have cities that maybe have shifted to the left, and this has created that much more of a chasm. It's difficult in these issues.

Derrell:

Just broadly, though, you could look at the presidential process and see that. I'm just going to put it out there: I'm not fan of the Donald.

Mike:

Neither am I. #NeverTrump.

Derrell:

More common ground! In the beginning I'd be like, "What is going on with this?! This is crazy!" Then after a while I was like, "There's just something I don't know." There's something I don't understand which set off this whole ... There was some real introspection about it. I have deep problems with this guy being the totemic of the unrest, but there's this unrest whether or not I agree with it or understand it fully.

 

I'm highlighting that because I think the country right now is a place we don't understand fully. It specifically is a movement. Out of the last 15-20 years, I think we've been focusing on trying to understand better issues that track much better with kids of color who didn't win the parent lottery, who live in places where income inequality's a big deal, opportunity to jobs is a big deal, and education is a problem. We define this as a blue, industrial, urbanized problem that we want to deal with, but there are more facets to this than that.

 

There's a kid in West Virginia right now who's probably really getting screwed. We don't know anything about what is going on with that kid. I don't know anything about what's going on with that kid. I know we've had this conversation the whole time about maybe some states are getting redder, some states are getting bluer. I would just say America is turning into a place that is a different place than it was four or five years ago and we got to update what we do to meet that change, because if we can't then we'll be trying to force old things on people who don't want them and who won't support them, and that is bad. That's bad for the consumer and that's bad for us.

Mike:

I'm peeking at Twitter a little bit. I'll say, some good stuff, but also people still throwing a lot of shade out there. We'll talk about, again, how can we agree to disagree without being so nasty to each other? Maybe it's just Twitter. Maybe this would've happened back in the '90s if Twitter had existed back then too.

 

What do you guys think? Is part of the reason this blew up recently because everybody's nerves are on edge because of Trump? Do you agree with Derrell that that is a huge factor, what we're all feeling and going through?

Valentina:

Yeah. I have a harder time finding common ground with people of the party that have made Donald Trump the presumptive nominee. That's a really difficult pill to swallow, that's a conversation that I want to have with my conservative friends, say, "Are you planning on voting for Donald Trump? Let's not talk for a few months because I can't stomach the idea of that." It makes it really hard to think about finding common ground with somebody who wants him as a leader. That's very difficult for me personally because he believes in the opposite of everything I believe.

Derrell:

I also think this is a question for the political class too. As much as I'm totally on the same page as Valentina is with this, can't understand it. I'm a person who believe in a lot of market focused ideas, I would say, that are unfortunately being championed by this guy as shorthand right now. To me, our political class understands, it has to understand, in the future, if we want to change the regulatory framework in which our kids live, thrive, fail, or die in school, we are going to have to work with people that right now are supporting this guy. That's not a punt, that's just cold. That's the calculus of politics. I don't like it. If you don't want to do that then the answer is to do nothing, and nothing is, I think, unacceptable to everyone.

Mike:

I asked you earlier help explain the progressive world to us conservatives. I can explain a little bit maybe on the Right. Again, I'm a #NeverTrump guy. I think he's a despicable human being, I think he has no policy agenda, and I am just horrified by the things that he has said about all kinds of different groups. I know people who are going to vote for him because, number one, they're scared to death of Hillary Clinton, or, number two, because they are discounting most of what he has said. "He doesn't really mean it," or, "It's all a show." They're exciting by the prospect of a non-politician, or they like the slogan “Make America Great Again,” or they think that it's going to be healthy for the political system to get shaken up.

 

Again, I strongly disagree with that analysis. The point is, you don't have buy into Trump's racism, which is what it is, to support Trump. If you have those friends and family on the other side of the Thanksgiving table, again, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. This goes again for our conversation, ed reform: give each other the benefit of the doubt.

 

Why don't we transition to the part of the program where we talk about issues in education reform to find out where the center is, as Vallay said. Can we still say, "Where do we agree?

Derrell:

Is there a magic word? Is a chicken going to fall down from the ceiling if we find agreement?

Mike:

The would be amazing. Audrey, in post-production for the taped version.

 

Let's start with high quality charter schools. Yes?

Valentina:

Yes.

Mike:

Yes?

Derrell:

Yes.

Lindsay:

Yes. With the caveat that I think ... I think a lot of charter networks are also realizing that they have been doing things to communities instead of with communities. I think as long as folks are truly willing to be shaped by the perspectives, needs, and assets of the communities in which they're operating, then I'm fully for families making the best choice.

Derrell:

Can I add some color to that, because I think this is really important? This is an ESSA question as well, I think. The more prescriptive we are, the less people seem to like it. When we say, "This is the school that we specifically think is good, this is the charter school we think is good. We're going to replicate that school," people hate us. The opposite of that is saying we're going to create the conditions for you to make the school that works best for you, and that condition is chartering. That, to me, I think is a question we just have to deal with as a movement. What's the question of quality? For whom? For what? Around what? I think we need to talk about that going forward too.

Mike:

Let me push on this a little bit because there are some people within the reform community that have attacked Success Academy, that have attacked even KIPP, that have attacked No Excuses charter schools because of the way they teach or because of their discipline approaches, et cetera. These are schools that are getting tremendous outcomes for the people they serve, they're changing life trajectories; shouldn't we give them the benefit of the doubt? Now maybe again I'm coming at this from a policy ... I'm a policy guy, so I try to not overstep my bounds and say, "If those educators are getting great results, I'm not going to second guess them." I feel like if you're going to go after Success Academy or you're going to go after KIPP, I'm not sure if you're actually in the reform movement. Is that too strong a statement?

Lindsay:

Yes.

Valentina:

Yeah.

Mike:

Let me hear it.

Valentina:

I have a two-fold response her. I think you have to be looking at they're getting great outcomes. How are you measuring outcomes? Are you looking at the whole picture or are you just looking at achievement and growth? Are they still happy, healthy, thriving students? I think the other thing is Lindsay's point that are the families in that school despite the no excuses environment, or are they there because that's something that the parents want for those kids and something where those students thrive?

 

I think the good thing about Success Academy and the good thing about all charter schools is they aren't being forced on families so that model isn't being forced on the people who are there. If that's the only good option that they have and parents are there despite that, then I do think that they need to talk to their parents and talk to the community and make sure that that's what they want.

Lindsay:

I also think there are a number of these CMOs that have, in the last few years, started going back and interviewing former students and really saying, "What was your experience like in college?" Many are saying, "I was not prepared." I think you're seeing KIPP, Achievement First ... A lot of these networks actually are going back to the drawing board. Why would they need to do this? Because it wasn't enough for kids. I think, again, they were realizing we've had some gaps, we were just focused on academic standards, and there are so many other aspects to student aspects and health and happiness.

Mike:

I love that. I think that's exactly right.

Derrell:

That's the benefit of the model. That's the point.

Mike:

Yes, that these organizations have the DNA to ask those questions and constantly wonder, “How can we get better?” Maybe this approach that we've taken, we've overdone it on some of the structure and then the kids can't translate how to do well once they don't have that structure in college.

Lindsay:

Or maybe we don't allow kids to talk about their ideas and the fact that their family members are being murdered on the street and they can't learn in that environment.

Mike:

Totally. I agree, Lindsay, again, if that is related to long-term outcomes. If a school comes to the conclusion that says, "We're not going to talk about those things in school," or, "We're going to talk about in a way that is different than how you would want to talk about it." We're going to focus on, instead, this message that says you are facing all kinds of challenges in your home and community and it is unfair that you have to face these, but we're going to focus on what you can do to overcome it.

Derrell:

That's why choice is awesome.

Mike:

That's what choice is about is that we support empowering educators to try these different approaches and see what works instead of trying to say that we think now that every single charter has to take this particular approach.

Lindsay:

I'm not saying that.

Mike:

That's important.

Lindsay:

I'm saying that they need to be responsive to their communities.

Mike:

High quality charter schools with an asterisk. Or is it a chicken?

Derrell:

With flair. With nuance.

Mike:

High standards. Tough tests. We're still good on that? Everybody good on that?

Lindsay:

Say that again. Sorry.

Mike:

Lindsay's been up since very early. We're losing her. She had to take a red eye.

 

High standards. Tough tests.

Lindsay:

Again, I think we need to unpack what are the ways in which we let students demonstrate whether or not they've mastered something, if it's largely forced that they take ... Again, I am not an anti-testing person. I believe they are incredibly important both for our students' growth and for teachers to adapt and get better, but I think there are many different ways that people show that they're good at things and I think our system doesn't allow for that.

Derrell:

Imperfect, but vastly better than nothing. I think we have had this conversation about ... I happen to care about annual testing where the data is just disaggregated by subgroup. Then there are the tests that matter to everybody else. Selective high school, entrance exam, ACT, SAT, the Gifted and Talented Test, the magnet middle school. It's not that testing doesn't matter, it's that our accountability framework is substantively built around tests that we care about that nobody else cares about.

Mike:

Which might be a problem.

Derrell:

It could be a problem.

Mike:

ESSA now says opens the door to this notion, say, "Let's talk about other indicators that we can look at." I think we all know it's going to be hard to find ones that are going to really stand up and be valid, and reliable, but that's part of the conversation. We're good on standards and tests?

 

Test-based accountability. To still say that, despite what my friend Jay Greene has been arguing lately, as far as we know, kids are still better off if they're in a school where the school's making a lot of gains, progress over time, than if they're in a school that's not. Again, it's not everything. We should try to find other indicators too. If there is failure year after year measured by all these different ways...

Derrell:

Something's got to happen.

Mike:

Something's got to happen. In the charter sector, that's going to mean shutting down some charter schools.

Derrell:

I can't read your paper, and I might be a little contrarian on this, but I do believe that if you care about test-based accountability, teacher evaluation is the number one thing that's killing test-based accountability right now. I've worked on teacher evaluation policy, I care about it, I think we should measure things that matter to us, but these two things, they live close enough to one another that teacher eval looks like it's going to try to take testing out. Given the option, I'd rather have the information than the rubric. If somebody is like, "You could have a value added system to measure teachers or you could have annualized test data that told you what was going on with kids," I would take the latter.

Mike:

That's good segue. That is where I was going.

Derrell:

I did not see it! I couldn't tell.

Mike:

I was not going to propose teacher evaluations because there is a big debate in ed reform with many of us feeling like you do, that it has actually caused some big problems. Not sure we've actually gotten a lot out of it.

 

Let's talk about other teacher stuff. Let's talk about teacher effectiveness. For example, the notion that somebody could get lifetime tenure regardless of performance; is there general agreement that that's a bad idea, that there should be an ability to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom with all the caveats that you got to make sure that it's a robust system?

Derrell:

I agree deeply with myself that that is true.

Mike:

Yes?

Lindsay:

Yeah. I think if we can figure out how to have conversations about race, class, and privilege in productive ways ... I think research, again, is increasingly showing that teacher biases, teacher mindsets about kids matter a lot. Instead of making teachers feel like they are terrible people for having biases and actually normalizing that, that all human beings have biases, all human beings have to unpack this and work at it, would allow for teachers to develop in those areas and become even more effective, but we keep those conversations very separate. They're pedagogical conversations about teaching and we don't really talk about the fact that many teachers are scared of their black male students or whatever the issue is. I would want to focus a lot more there. Again, I think increasingly the research is showing that teacher empathy and these things can be built.

Mike:

I do think you could get broad support for that. I think some of the recent research around gifted education and the teacher bias and identifying gifted kids ... Maybe this is just me, but I think myself and other friends of mine on the Right who care a lot about high achieving kids, especially low income high achieving kids and kids of color, and so the notion of how can we overcome those biases to make sure that kids of color and low income kids are getting access to gifted and talented programs, to extra resource, et cetera, so that when it comes time to take that magnet school's entrance exam there's actually a pipeline and there's a group of kids ready to pass that test. I think there's a lot of potential there.

 

This is good. This is the kumbaya part of this. This is good. People on Twitter are going to hate this. They want us at each other's neck. I'm watching you. I know it. I can see it.

 

Innovation! Blended learning! Are we all in?

Vallay:

Yeah. I feel like, blended learning, innovation ... I love the idea. I don't know if I've seen great proof points yet. If there are them out there, I may not have seen them, but I like the idea, I like the ability to be able to provide that choice within a curriculum or within an approach for schools. For some families and some schools it really works, and so more kudos to them. We want to keep seeing that. I don't want to squash the idea at all, but I do think that it runs this risk of ... When we say "innovation," is that code for something else? Let 1,000 flowers bloom and no accountability. I think I'd prefer to have the conversation around accountability within that structure of let 1,000 flowers bloom.

Valentina:

I think your guys' report with the National Alliance and NACSA is really good just evidence for why we need accountability around that.

Mike:

That was on the fully online schools.

Valentina:

That's right, full virtual charter school.

Derrell:

The one thing I would say about this about the word "innovation" is that innovation is shorthand for more tools than a toolbox. Like anything, you can create something amazing or something terrible with a tool. Doesn't mean the tool was fundamentally bad. Some blended is great, some blended isn't. I would argue that that is the natural evolution of learning how to use something new. What you want is to figure out how to be better at it or good at it faster in a way that validates the tool. Innovation, I think everybody's for it. The question is what do you get out of it? What's being produced? If it isn't working, how do you stop it fast?

Lindsay:

Again, I think then, through an equity lens, typically innovations make it to certain kinds of schools first and certain kinds of communities. I think within tech and some of these other spaces, we need to be having a lot more conversations about who gets access to what.

Vallay:

I would say the willingness to look at what success looks like within the innovation model and how that gets couched or not couched as success.

Mike:

You really are all in on the “corporate takeover of our schools.” I'm glad. Green light to that. Just kidding out there!

 

Last one: school funding. Now this is one where I will say I am with you on the argument that our system has structural racism. This is a good example. If we are spending less money on the schools where children of color go than other schools, then that is structural racism, it's wrong, and we need to end it. There's been some of us who've been active over the years in trying to get support for some kind of weighted student funding system.

 

I think there's an opportunity for a grand bargain here too. That you could say to folks on the Right, to Republicans who support charter schools and vouchers, to say, "How about a school finance overhaul that's going to result in much more equitable funding for charters and vouchers?" Remember, charters get 80 cents on the dollars, vouchers it’s probably more like fifty cents on the dollar, and in return for making sure that all schools that are serving children of color, serving low income kids get their fair share. Is that something that should be at the heart of the policy agenda going forward?

Derrell:

Just to jump to go on it. I support your position on this, but probably for a different reason. Because I've also been in places where we've weighted student formulas and we funded poor kids at insanely high levels and nobody learns anything. It's got to be more and different, not just more.

Mike:

You're talking about New Jersey.

Derrell:

I might be talking about New Jersey. Taking a policy position that is about creating the conditions instead of determining the outcome I feel like is probably the place we want to be as movement. If you say, "We're going to fund schools in this way, but the distribution is parent-driven and sector-agnostic," to me that's awesome. That's where you want to be. Then you build all the stuff around it so that people have good information about it, they can make informed decisions about those things. I think all of our policies should start looking that way. Create your own good in a way that has a framework but that is treated equally by government or by funding streams or wherever. I think that's a good place to be.

Mike:

Others?

Derrell:

I won't speak for everyone else.

Mike:

Do you see this in the 50CAN states? Is there energy now for school funding reform? Seems like, the states, they have more money than they've had recently.

Vallay:

I don't think we see it across the board, but certainly in some places where folks want to have the conversation, that there is an ability to bring student funding, as well as other issues to the table so that we're trying to bridge that divide. From a strategy perspective, is that a smart way to do it? Maybe, so that we can keep building the coalition and broadening the tent so to speak a little bit. Is it a necessary conversation? I think we can all agree that, yeah, we need to have that conversation. How you look at it depending on where you are and what the tools are available for you will probably mean different outcomes, but I think generally we can all agree that our schools need more resources.

 

Recently traveling to Hawaii, just looking at the school buildings, I'm reminded of the fact that we need to have that conversation is very real ways, and not just because the schools are rundown or whatever. In light of saying there's a huge teacher shortage, and we can't recruit enough teachers, and much less teachers of color to fill over 1,600 positions in the State of Hawaii. That is just insane to think about between now and the start of the school year, they'd have to be able to figure out how to do that.

 

Their starting pay is really high compared to other states, but we somehow can't figure out how to keep those teachers in those classrooms. It begs this larger conversation about what is happening in those school buildings, this is just not about Hawaii, but Hawaii was the latest thing on my mind, and what are we equipping those teachers and principal with and what are parents asking for. I do think that there is a larger conversation that probably needs to happen. Probably see it in waves across the country because some states feel like they've done it, they had the conversation per pupil funding and where it goes. We might beg to say, "Let's have a different conversation about what that looks like." I can see that it's going to be coming.

Mike:

Any other issues we want to talk about?

Derrell:

World peace.

Mike:

There you go again, Derrell. By the way, Stacey Childress is giving you guys a hard time. “There's a puzzling disconnect between the growing number of high performing innovative schools and the #educommonground conversation.” She thinks you guys are not optimistic enough about blended learning.

Derrell:

We were for blended learning!

Mike:

Maryellen Butke says, "Empathy and understanding missing in conversation. First step in leadership is not action, it's understanding."

Derrell:

I thought you were all over empathy.

Valentina:

This conversation at large is fairly empathetic.

Vallay:

I agree.

Mike:

You see how this is? You see how it feel to be attacked?

Valentina:

I understand.

Mike:

You empathize?

Valentina:

Yeah.

Mike:

Last question is back briefly to disagreement. There are going to be issues within education reform where we disagree. Let's talk about discipline disparities as one of them because this is one where I decided to engage and raise some questions about some of the current reform efforts. I have tried to do so based on evidence and respectfully, and I've gotten called a racist, I've gotten accused of dog whistling. These are by people within the education reform movement.

 

The question is, when we have issues like that that are explosive, and I understand this is a tough issue, how do we have this conversation more productively, respectfully, how do we agree to disagree? Do you have thoughts on that? Tell me the truth. What can I do so that I stop obviously upsetting some people so much? Or is it possible? Is it that they just don't want me talking about my perspective?

Derrell:

I really should pass the mic on this, but it's important only because I've written some stuff about it. I'm a board member of Success, and so we talk about discipline a lot. Discipline policy has not been my main lane on anything, but my views are evolving as I learn more about it. I would say it's a sophisticated problem. I disagree as I'm learning with some people I care about a lot, and the way I make sure that this doesn't blow up is that we talk about it.

 

What I don't do is write the piece and call the person I know who disagrees with me an asshole and then publish and not tell them I'm going to do it. It's hard to hate up close. Just as people who are trying to get to an outcome that is best for kids, which might not be the one we have now ... It might not be the one we have at Success. Success is the one we have right now. I'm open to talk about it. Let's talk about it. The inertia right now is to just blow somebody up without talking. I think that has a great place when there's people who don't agree with us. I think it's more problematic when it's among people who do agree with you and with whom you're trying to find a consensus on the way forward. Because on this thing, lower is very likely better. The question is how much is a different question? Let's talk about...

Mike:

Lower suspension rates or fewer disparities...

Derrell:

Let's talk about it instead of just me saying you're wrong, you telling me I'm wrong, and then we go to our own corners.

Mike:

Other thoughts? Again, it doesn't have to be particularly on this issue. Could be on others.

Valentina:

I think an important part of it is either admitting, or recognizing, or owning in some way the differences between your position and the position of the people arguing against you and how things like this ... A few months ago I think you wrote about IUDs and how your position as a white male is different from that of the people who would be receiving the IUDs, or, in this case, discipline. I just think acknowledging, validating, and saying, "I recognize that this doesn't happen to my community, I recognize that this doesn't happen to me personally, and so my experience is different from yours," is a really good starting place.

Mike:

I can take that advice.

Lindsay:

I think, again, our education system is not neutral. It was designed to track and sort kids and it was never designed for kids of color. I think we are asking the system to do something that it cannot do, that it was not ever designed to do. It's not a broken system; it's getting the exact results it was designed to get. I think for me to have a productive conversation, again, regardless of politics or ideologies, it's got to start from a place of ... Education is a right. An equitable, fair education that empowers me as a person and makes me feel like I belong is important. Our schools are not set up for that right now and our country is not set up for that right now.

 

I find that really getting out of offices like this, although it's beautiful, and being in schools, being in community, shadowing students, having that real ... Cutting through all of the BS and being with kids and families in their homes, in community; that's where learn about the nuances of how all the policies we advocate for actually play out on the ground of what families' hopes and dreams are for their kids, of what kids' dreams are for themselves. I think it's easy to stay theoretical and it's easy to argue, but every single day kids are not getting the education they deserve and that's having very real consequences. I think grounding our conversations in real communities, real people, real stories and getting it out of the clouds is a way to have a much more productive conversation than we have been so far.

Mike:

I like that a lot.

Vallay:

I'm not sure I can add much more here except I think that on this particular issue of discipline that there are probably a whole host of other sub-issues that we don't typically look at. Whether we want to call this race issue where we talk about white/black, or Latino/black, or Latino/white or whatever race you want to put into the X column here. When you peel back the onion layers a little bit and you're looking at these issues as structural issues and you look at all of the different kids who are sitting in classrooms, we can probably say that there's a lot of commonalities between all the black and brown kids. Trying to figure out how do we have those conversations in light of this context around what are your family experience, what are your shared cultural experience, all of that stuff, will help us to have a more nuanced conversation than just saying this issue of discipline.

 

That is a very shallow, generic way of thinking about it. What are all of the issues underneath that and all the sub-groups of people who are affected by it one way or another. That way we can find common ground from that perspective.

Mike:

To acknowledge that subtlety it means coming up with the right policy can be difficult, because we all know that policy is such a brute instrument.

 

Thank you so much to our fantastic panel. I hope that we have modeled what it may look like to have this conversation and do it in a productive way. This is surely not going to be the last conversation. I hope there are others. Happy to join others as a participant instead of a moderator, and I do hope though that we can keep this going. I think we all agree that we are strong together, that if this movement fractured ideologically, that would be bad for kids, and so figuring out a way to keep it together and to keep learning from one another ... On all sides of the ideological spectrum we have perspectives we can learn from and our own personal lived experiences we can learn from and keep that going.

 

Because, again, there's over 6,000 charter schools that would not be here if people in our shoes 25 years ago didn't get it together. Likewise, every state would still have these low crappy standards and super easy tests that people had. There is progress. We see some progress in the test score data and the graduation data. We see some progress. We have a long way to go, but we're going to get further faster if we stick together.

Thank you very much. I'm Mike Petrilli from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.