Stacey Childress Misses the Point

Stacey Childress, the head of New Schools Venture Fund, whose conference sparked the current row over the Left/Technocratic takeover of the ed reform movement, penned a reply to Robert Pondiscio.  While Stacey deserves credit for the level-headed nature of her response, which stands in stark contrast to much of the reaction Robert has received elsewhere, she unfortunately misses the point of Robert’s piece.  Robert is not questioning the desirability of diversity in the ed reform movement.  To the contrary, he is expressing concern about the development of a new Left/Technocratic orthodoxy in the movement that would, among other things, harm the political prospects of maintaining support from state Republicans who have and will continue to be essential for passing and implementing reform policies.

Stacey denies the charge.  She argues that it promotes rather than hinders diversity to have a panel discussing other important “social movements”:

The purpose of the session was to learn more about movements in general and hear directly from some people who are part of a couple of them…. Yes, the session included Black and Latino leaders working in ed reform (TFA alums and staff) who also are part of current social movements they view as intertwined with urban education issues.

Her reply reveals the problem. Let’s leave aside the fact that neither Robert nor I are concerned solely with that panel.  Frankly, I found Arne Duncan to be the most insufferable speaker at the Summit.  When asked to describe his three greatest failures as Secretary, he listed his failure to convince Republicans to spend more on pre-K, his inability to get Republicans to solve problems for undocumented college students, and the refusal of Republicans to adopt new gun control legislation following Sandy Hook.  Notice that all of his greatest failures were his inability to get Republicans to do the right things.  And notice that none of these are even K-12 issues.  And as a prime example of groupthink, Duncan was being interviewed by his former deputy, Jim Shelton.

And let’s leave aside that neither Robert nor I are concerned solely with New Schools Venture Fund or its conference.  We both argued that the ed reform movement as a whole has taken a dramatic turn.  If Stacey doesn’t think her conference is an example of that, then she can surely find confirmation in the hyperbolic reaction to Robert on social media.  More than 100 people, representing a broad swath of foundation-fueled ed reform organizations, have co-signed an “open letter” rebuking Robert and his essay.  Just a brief review of the Twitter feeds of these co-signers should convince anyone of the accuracy of Robert’s concerns about groupthink, ideological litmus tests, and lack of intellectual diversity in the new ed reform movement.

The main problem with Stacey’s contention that learning “more about movements in general” is beneficial is that it fails to grasp how broad and diverse coalitions are actually maintained.  The way you hold together a coalition of people who agree on some core issues while strongly disagreeing on other issues is by not raising or focusing on the issues on which people do not agree.  It’s like politically diverse families trying to get along at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  It’s best not to bring up or dwell on certain topics if your goal is to maintain family harmony.

Stacey may be right that some members of the broad coalition see a variety of “social justice” issues “as intertwined with urban education issues,” but other, conservative members of that coalition may have their own issues that they see as “intertwined.”  For example, conservatives might want to talk about their concerns about Affirmative Action, abortion, and promoting intact families as issues they see as related to urban education.  Panels on those topics at ed reform conferences would almost certainly hurt the building of a broad and diverse coalition, so those issues rarely come up and are almost never part of ed reform conference planning.

Most conservatives within the ed reform movement have the good sense not to plan panels around these tangential conservative movements.  Evidence for the Left/Technoratic takeover can be found in the fact that Stacey and other ed reform leaders no longer feel any restraint in highlighting tangential “social justice” movements in their conferences, organizational activities, writings, Tweets, and other activities.  They would be right to find efforts to highlight “conservative” tangential issues as a divisive distraction, but they are unable to see how the tangential issues they view as good might produce the same reaction in others.

Let me be clear, that by “tangential” I mean issues on which there is not broad consensus among those we wish to include in the ed reform coalition.  I am not offering any opinion here on whether institutional racism, poverty, police brutality, affirmative action, abortion, and two-parent households are educationally important or not.  My point here is not whether these are valid and related concerns or not, but that they are likely to divide and shrink the ed reform coalition if they are highlighted.

I am also not trying to silence anyone, hinder their free speech, or demand “safe spaces” in which people do not have to confront issues.  People should feel free to talk about whatever they want and organize conferences in any way they think best.  But people have to understand that if they choose to focus on certain issues, they will narrow their coalition.  This would be as true if you wanted to emphasize alleged problems with affirmative action as alleged problems with police brutality.

You can decide to be the family member at the Thanksgiving table who lectures your uncle on the errors of his ways, but you will do so at the expense of family harmony.  And he will be less likely to accept invitations to future family gatherings or offer help on family needs.

It’s possible that Stacey and the co-signers of the “open letter” have just had enough of their uncle and don’t care about alienating him.  That’s fine.  But as I’ve argued in much more snarky fashion elsewhere, the adoption and implementation of ed reform depends heavily on support from state Republicans. You can’t alienate them and those to whom they listen in the ed reform movement without seriously weakening the political prospects for ed reform.  I am also puzzled by why the largest donors will continue paying for organizations, conferences, and staff who would rather lecture their uncle than maintain family harmony.

46 Responses to Stacey Childress Misses the Point

  1. Jason Bedrick says:

    I see that even Bob Sacamano signed the “open letter.” Such a shame.

    • George Mitchell says:

      The signatories to the open letter should list each piece of “education reform” legislation enacted due to their work in state capitols. No DC legislation need be cited; that would be oxymoronic.

      • Jason Bedrick says:

        Frankly, I didn’t even know that Bob had left his job at the condom factory to join the ed reform movement.

      • George Mitchell says:

        This must be an inside joke.

  2. George Mitchell says:

    Wisconsin had a unified school choice coalition for about two decades precisely because it followed the Rx described by Jay. When that ended the broad based coalition was kaput. It only takes one or two key players to unravel things.

  3. pdexiii says:

    There’s an insidious resemblance to the hijackers of the ed reform movement to the bandwagon riders who hopped onto the Black civil right’s struggle of the 50’s and 60’s, and I see the same objective: exploiting the struggles of…other folk to advance your self-interests for power thus control.
    As then, these are folks who spent most of their college time not being very collegiate, and now are equipped to only make a lot of noise through the power of social media vs. building/creating for themselves or society. If I were ever invited to a social gathering of these type it would be the last, because my intimate, empirical side of the ed reform story would be the gorilla in the room they never again want to confront.

    • George Mitchell says:

      “Ed Reform” means lots of things to people. The slice of the ed reform movement that can unite the greatest and most diverse number of “ed reformers” is school choice. The agenda and rationale is clear: (1) all else being equal, it’s better for parents to have more choices than fewer; (2) policies/legislation that expand educational options likely will have a net positive result. That kind of focus can produce real, tangible outcomes in terms of legislative action. When “ed reform” becomes layered with divergent agendas it ends up being a meaningless label. It instead become a means for individuals to promote themselves, make speeches, and generally to divert attention and energy from a single clear goal. That seems to be what is happening now.

  4. sstotsky says:

    It is possible that ed reform depends on state R’s. But in MA, our Secretary of Education Jim Peyser (R) once headed the New School Venture Fund (so far as I know) and is busy today dismantling every real reform he approved of when he chaired the state board of education in the early 2000’s. Those reforms established a record of improving scores for low-achieviing kids.

    And his boss, Gov. Baker (R) seems to be in approval. Was Peyser hi-jacked when he was at the New School Venture Fund?

  5. pbmeyer2014 says:

    With Donald Trump now the face of Republicanism, this is not the time to throw Republicanism at school reformers. Regardless of Trump, baiting African-Americans by attacking whites who support them is about as counterproductive as you can get. As someone who has worked in a small school district whose students are 30% black and 60% poor and whose staff is 95% white, I can tell you that blacks have many many legitimate “social justice” grievances that directly affect the education of their children. Sorry, but there are plenty of educational reform issues that need conservative attention without tilting at the windmill of race.

    • The most annoying example I cited of Left/Technocratic dominance of ed reform at the New Schools conference were Arne Duncan’s remarks. I can’t be sure, but I believe he is white. So, it is interesting that you and others choose to ignore that and act as if I was complaining about attention to race at the conference. I think you are doing that because you see race as some sort of trump card (no pun intended) that should end critical discussion.

      Look, I hate Trump as much as anyone. But after Trump loses, state Republicans will still control the legislative fate of ed reform. If you actually care about winning as opposed to posturing, then you should care about maintaining the support of state Republicans.

      • George Mitchell says:

        The obvious loser in this schism is urban students.

      • Greg Forster says:

        The juxtaposition of pdexiii’s comment above and Peter’s comment here is very instructive.

      • George Mitchell says:

        One option for conflicted social justice Ed reformers: stop accepting white philanthropy.

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        Jay, the only reason I didn’t respond to your comments about the Left/Technocratic dominance is because I don’t understand what you mean by “technocratic” — and thus don’t see it as relevant to Pondiscio’s complaint about whites and blacklives matter. Arne Duncan is an easy target: those three peeves of his are standard (and easy) targets for conservative ed reformers. I think you were the one who dropped the Pondiscio ball by not addressing his complaint about white reformers taking up the cause of black lives matter. As Kathleen Porter Magee reminds us in a new Fordham post (, it was conservative ed reformers who called ed reform the civil rights issue of our time….Have we dropped that mantra along with all the other social justice causes — choice, vouchers, good curriculum — that we have been championing these last 20 years? Just because one group decides to give the issue some time?

      • Lynn says:

        “If you actually care about winning as opposed to posturing” um, isn’t this supposed to about students and schools, not winning and loosing..?!?

      • Jason Bedrick says:

        Lynn, clearly the point of “winning” is because we believe our ideas are better for students. Those who care more about posturing and virtue signaling essentially care more about themselves than the children they claim to want to help.

      • Lynn says:

        “The point of “winning” is because we believe our ideas are better for students…” and what if you are wrong…?

      • Jason Bedrick says:

        Well, Lynn, in a system of choice, when parents make mistakes it can negative affect their kids.

        In your top-down government-run system, when bureaucrats or elected officials make mistakes, it affects hundreds, thousands, or potentially even millions of students.

    • pdexiii says:

      Yet none of those social justice issues do teachers have credentials to address those issues as they need to be addressed. Our impact is through our unrelenting, Kobe Bryant-esque focus on our students learning within our classrooms.
      As Coach Belichick says, everyone must ‘do their job,’ and right now from politicians, bureaucracies, businesses, places of worship down to families we aren’t sufficiently for those who need it most.

  6. sstotsky says:

    Could PBMeyer please list a few of the “legitimate social justice grievances” in education that he sees so I know what he is talking about? Sandra

    • pbmeyer2014 says:

      Legitimate question, Sandra. I consider social justice issues those which impact a class of student because of his or her race, color, creed, sex or economic condition. Do I need to elaborate on the short straw that girls drew from our public school system for most of our public school days? And I don’t suppose we need to go over the days of mandated segregation and the impact on African Americans. But we have yet to deal the disaster for blacks that followed Brown v. Board, the victory of Deweyesqe pedagogy, and the desecration of knowledge-based curriculum in our public schools — all of which have impacted poor blacks much more seriously than any other class of student. And it is ironic that one of the most important social justice arrows in the conservative quiver these last 50 years was shot by a liberal: E.D. Hirsch. With Core Knowledge he offered poor blacks the currency for school success that they would never have from Dewey’s customized education and the ever popular child-centered classrooms — all run by whites. E.B. Dubois said it best when he said that blacks don’t want integration; they want an education! And Martin Luther King warned about the power dynamic in the late 50s when asked what he thought about Brown v. Board. He thought it was bad to put the educational lives of black kids in the hands of whites. He was right. And based on Robert Pondiscio’s odd attack on social justice whites, I’d say King was right. Conservatives need to quit cutting and running from social justice legislation that could right the balance — No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and now, Common Core. Where I live, among poor blacks, each of those programs brought a modicum of education justice to kids who weren’t getting it in their otherwise liberal anything goes classroom.

      • Lynn says:

        “Martin Luther King warned about the power dynamic in the late 50s when asked what he thought about Brown v. Board. He thought it was bad to put the educational lives of black kids in the hands of whites.” Exactly why charter schools with private unelected boards are a bad idea. Give the school back to communities of color to control. Disadvantaged communities are disenfranchised by charters just as much as districts that ignore their input.

      • Jason Bedrick says:

        ^ This is nonsensical. No one is forced to go to a charter school. Parents choose to send their kids there. Ask those parents and you’ll find that they have more of a voice at charters with their “private unelected boards” than at their assigned district school, where their vote every other year is practically meaningless.

        You yourself admit that the districts ignore their input. So why exactly would political governance be an improvement?

      • George Mitchell says:

        Nonsensical about sums it up.

      • Lynn says:

        Charters drain resources from the already under resourced district schools, then it does indeed disenfranchised them. The problem is not the students that the charters skim off the top but the impact on district schools as a resukt. I agree in some places, elected school boards are not listening, but not true in all cases. So let’s fix the voter disenfranchisement, not destroy the schools….

  7. […] carried well into the weekend. Ed-reform minds like Chris Stewart, Kathleen Porter-Magee, Jay P. Greene (x2), Jenn Borgioli Binnis, et al, were weighing in through Friday, and a multitude of interested […]

  8. sstotsky says:

    Thanks for replying Peter. But I really don’t understand what you consider a social justice grievance.
    1. Girls do much better in school at all grade levels–especially in reading and writing. More girls than boys graduate from HS and go on to college. What is the problem in the schools, from your perspective?
    2. I am very familiar with Core Knowledge (for K-8) and with what was done, independently, in MA to address MERA (for K-12). Content knowledge was stressed in both, not downgraded. Common Core has almost NO content in its ELA standards. If there were a place to note a social injustice, the imposition of Common Core’s ELA standards and tests would be at the top of the list.
    3. Please list a social justice grievance today that needs to be fixed and can be fixed by what could be called an education reform. Sandra

    • pbmeyer2014 says:

      Hi Sandra. I had used the example of “girls” as a social justice of the past; just as I had used mandatory segregation as a social justice issue of the past. But I suggested that the plight of poor blacks continues to be an important social justice issue and it is so because it is systemic and requires the kind of action that is implied by the term social justice (i.e. a government action). Charter school laws, in my book, are examples of social justice laws. NCLB regulations requiring districts to keep — and make public — test results broken down by race and demographics was a hugely important social justice action. (I was in a room filled with African American parents when a representative of Education Trust read that section of the law and the room erupted in applause and cheering!). The last major social justice issue, from my point of view, is curriculum. As long as we deny poor blacks a coherent and comprehensive knowledge-based curriculum we are denying them their equal rights to an education. (Yes, Common Core is a huge failure because it did not deliver such curricular specificity.) That’s why, in this context, Robert’s impugning of black lives matter (even if it was meant as a criticism of white reformers) was misdirected. We should be doing everything we can to show African Americans and their white supporters why choice and good curricula are the social justice issues that they should care about. all the best, –peter

      • pdexiii says:

        Yet it’s those very reforms that the people about whom Pondicio was speaking are at best indifferent to those reforms, if not openly hostile to them. Coherent, specific content and school choice are painted as reforms of the ‘education privatizers,’ thus are opposed by this liberal wave of ed-reformers.

      • George Mitchell says:

        Nothing prevents “social justice education reformers” from presenting a specific agenda and seeking legislative approval. If they don’t want to team with “white conservatives” to seek reforms centered on choice they don’t have to. I’m still waiting for the first specific social justice proposal. There has to be something more than speeches and conferences, right? They have specific ideas, right? They have worked to build legislation alliances and coalitions to get them enacted, right?

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but the Pondiscio post that prompted all the who-ha used “black activists” or “black lives matter” 7 times in the first five paragraphs. His is NOT an essay about social justice or conservative causes: it is about black Americans having the gall to stand up and ask the white-run education system to pay attention to blacks who have — please present evidence to the contrary, somebody — gotten royally screwed by the white-run education system for, roughly, the last 150 years.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Thanks for proving Jay’s point, Peter!

      • sstotsky says:

        I am still trying to figure out what specific measure would be considered an education reform. A rehash of the past doesn’t give us a clue about what to do today. Nor is ESSA giving us anything that could be considered a reform? What can a local school board do that it couldn’t do 4 years ago, say? If “ed reformers” can’t come up with even a short list of specific measures (not a list of complaints about our educational history), maybe the problem lies with our “ed reformers”, not with beleaguered administrators and teachers trying to teach something to all kids.

        Let me try again. Here is what Peter wrote: “NCLB regulations requiring districts to keep — and make public — test results broken down by race and demographics was a hugely important social justice action. (I was in a room filled with African American parents when a representative of Education Trust read that section of the law and the room erupted in applause and cheering!).” Exactly how has that breakdown helped blacks to read and write better? I understand the stats called attention to something any teacher could have told you without the stats. But my questions is: How did those stats improve the education of black children?.

      • Lynn says:

        How are culturally biased tests that label black and brown students as failures and the school as a failure helping improve the situation? You don’t need a standardized test to know that gaps exist and the existence of data that shows gaps doesn’t do anything to change it. The problem is not that conservatives have been left out of the conversation, the problem is that the progressives have been tricked in to thinking these reform ideas work for social justice, not against it.

  9. […] Jay Greene answers Borgioli Binis’s question. Conservatives don’t disagree that issues of poverty, racism, and police brutality are relevant to education, he writes; they just have very different takes on those issues that could needlessly divide the ed reform coalition. […]

  10. Anne Clark says:

    Ed reform lies somewhere defined neither by Democratic nor Republican orthodoxy, and neither liberal nor conservative viewpoints. The bipartisan reaction to Race to the Top, Common Core, and PARCC/SBAC, and the exaggerations on both sides of the aisle to score political points with their bases, demonstrates to me that those of us who hope to make progress in ed reform are fools if we think we don’t have to constantly work hard to find the common ground, and make the necessary compromises to make progress.

    Charter schools are often sold by conservatives with the promise that they will cost less – while charter school supporters regularly deride their underfunding. You’ll get my support for charter schools, but not for a change to all state and local ed funding to convert to vouchers for 100% parental choice. And I have no problem with charters getting the same per pupil as traditional public schools – but I don’t support online charters getting that same funding. Am I an “ed reformer”?

    Reformers clamor for higher academic standards, but then change their tune and talk of “local control” if they don’t get the standards they want. I support strict accountability for academic outcomes and funding, with minimalist requirements for how schools get there – but I don’t buy into 100% local control without objective measures for taxpayers paying the bills. Am I an “ed reformer”?

    Reformers label schools failing via standardized tests, yet complain if those tests are developed with federal dollars vs. developed by private contractors, or are mandated from either the state or federal government. I support the continued refinement of PARCC and SBAC, as well as other tests to get better information on our students’ achievements. Am I an “ed reformer”?

    There is a whole spectrum of ed reform from the 100% choice/voucher, free market right, to the educational equity left. We’re all reformers. The question is whether we can recognize our differences while still working to get things done by finding our common interests. If we can’t, then our students will be the ones who suffer.

    For example, I fought to keep the standard algorithm in the Common Core math standards when they were recently reviewed in NJ. Sure, I would have rather had NJ go with a completely different set of math standards altogether that didn’t have the dog whistles for constructivism. But, I was faced with the choice of constructively fighting for something achievable vs. taking a “pure” position that would have been ignored while the standards were gutted.

    No one showed up in NJ to fight for the retention of foundational US historical documents in the ELA standards, nor Shakespeare and American playwrights – and so they were expunged, while “reflection” was added as being so much more important. No one showed up to support these “conservative” elements of the CCSS ELA standards because the right in NJ rather rail against the Common Core without bothering to see what elements they might like.

    I’d say both the left and the right have gone off the rails in ed reform of late, and it will take strong leadership from organizations on both sides to begin again to find common ground. It has been a particularly frustrating period of lots of nonsensical rhetoric, and too little substance.

  11. sstotsky says:

    I am still trying to figure out what specific measure would be considered an education reform. A rehash of the past doesn’t give us a clue about what to do today. Nor is ESSA giving us anything that could be considered a reform? What can a local school board do that it couldn’t do 4 years ago, say? If “ed reformers” can’t come up with even a short list of specific measures (not a list of complaints about our educational history), maybe the problem lies with our “ed reformers”, not with beleaguered administrators and teachers trying to teach something to all kids.

    • pbmeyer2014 says:

      Understanding the past is hardly “a rehash” of it; and properly studied, the past would certainly shine some light on current efforts. NCLB, for instance, was a hugely important program for our little school district, but the program was left in the policy dust by Washington pooh-bahs — as they moved on to the next shiny coin (RTTT). What can a local school board do? Everything! As I used to tell the folks in my district when I was on the board, there is no law against having a great curriculum. Of course, I might as well have been speaking Swahili because in fact no one in the district knew what a good curriculum was and there was no incentive to find out. Common Core, as you know, turned into an empty vessel with tests to match. IMHO the two most import education reforms are old reforms: choice and curriculum. It doesn’t matter whether they come from “ed reformers” or beleaguered administrators and teachers, but they have to come. cheers, peter m.

  12. pbmeyer2014 says:


    I’ve been on the “choice bandwagon,” since spending a year at the U of Chicago in 1975! I was studying history, but my best buddies there were studying under Uncle Miltie himself. I read “Capitalism and Freedom” that year and never looked back. My concerns with policy and curriculum are concerns for kids in the current system. We still have thousands of kids to take care of, even if the system is broken. cheers, –peter

    • matthewladner says:


      Many of your fellow tribesmen are not so broad-minded and make absurd cases against parental choice despite the fact that it has been a consistent delivery mechanism for traditional curriculum. The question is not whether you should be concerned with curriculum, but whether your traditionalist tribe has a realistic view of how to advance your preferences. It seems to me that they continually overestimate their own influence and underestimate the much greater influence of those with different preferences.

      Thus the gosplan approach continues to disappoint like clockwork. Meanwhile if you create strong mechanisms for parental choice, as we’ve done in Arizona, traditional curriculum schools sell like hotcakes and build a constituency. This strikes me as a much better look than watching Hirsch acolytes cry in their beer (again) because pluralist democracy fails to bow to his expertise.

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        Hah! Who exactly are my “fellow tribesmen”? And I guess I’m not familiar with their absurd cases…. But much of these arguments, IMHO, are ships passing in the night. Or to quote William F. Buckley Jr. paraphrasing Austrian ex-Communist Willi Schlamm: “The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.” We have similar problems in education debates. The trouble with public education is government; the trouble with choice are charter operators.

      • matthewladner says:

        The grand poo-bah himself for one, but it has been my observation that anyone who begins to mumble about “structural reforms” has a serious deficiency in their understanding of the workings of a pluralistic democracy. I’m a fan of CK and have two of my children in great books schools, but EDH once described himself as “practically a socialist.” I couldn’t care less about this about other than his limited grasp of politics seems to involve grabbing the “commanding heights” of curriculum a la the British Labour Party and the build the New Jerusalem of Education.

        Strangely enough this fails over and over and over again with one grandiose disappointment after another- Goals 2000, NCLB, CC etc. A bit more humility and an embrace of pluralism would serve the of improving curriculum better than cooking up the next Wile E. Coyote master plan to impose your preferences on everyone only to have it disappoint (again).

  13. pbmeyer2014 says:

    Matt, you’re right to suggest that Don Hirsch’s “socialism” shouldn’t detract from his education philosophy, but I fail to understand what you mean by his “grabbing the `commanding heights’ of curriculum” or how that makes his socialism so pernicious to education. Perhaps you could find an odd line of his here and there advocating for national policies pushing curriculum, but I’ve never seen him as a top-down policy wonk. Even the dreaded Common Core, which has been bashed by the right, is not a curriculum; in fact, the CCSS states clearly that it is up to the individual schools/districts/states to write their curriculums. Is it perfect free market choice? Of course not. But while we’re waiting for the free marketeers to build their shining city on the hill — oops, a thousand cities on hills and in valleys — we shouldn’t be denying kids stuck in the gulag the right to have the best education money can buy; and that would be CK.

  14. […] conservative reformers such as Jay P. Greene argue that even discussing Black Lives Matter and social justice issues causes division when the focus […]

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