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The New Letter to Friends of The Center for Education Reform No. 104

NEW Letter to Friends of The Center for Education Reform
No. 104
December 2012

Dear Friend:

As I sat training to New York City this month to tape a segment of the John Stossel show on the unintended consequences (which aired December 6th on Fox Business), I began to take stock of the state of the movement. I had reached out to Stossel about an idea — one that frankly gives me a heavy heart — and he immediately invited me to come talk about it. I told him on the show that, “Even the charter movement is so afraid to make a mistake. It fears risk because they are so afraid that if they don’t show themselves to be the very, very best, then they will go out of business. But the reality is, risk is in every great innovative business. It’s what makes America tick. And so when you want high quality, you want to take a risk on someone who wants to start a school.”

This risk-adverse behavior what now has created the “Charter Blob.” Remember the Blob? This was the term first coined by former Education Secretary William J. Bennett, author and media host, that we borrowed and put to more public use, who described the education establishment as a scene from the movie with Steve McQueen. The Blob — it grows itself, shows up everywhere. We described it years later to clarify the term, to teach more people about it…

“The term ‘Blob’ cropped up years ago when reformers began trying to work with the education establishment and ran smack into the more than 200 groups, associations, federations, alliances, departments, offices, administrations, councils, boards, commissions, panels, organizations, herds, flocks and coveys, that make up the education industrial complex.

“Taken individually they were frustrating enough, with their own agendas, bureaucracies, and power over education. But taken as a whole they were (and are) maddening in their resistance to change. Not really a wall — they always talk about change — but rather more like quicksand, or a tar pit where ideas slowly sink out of sight leaving everything just as it had been.”
And education reform activists, then, were the farthest thing from the Blob.

When conservative activists began creating unique alliances with inner city, African-American leaders over empowerment back in the early 1980s — on tenant management and housing and school vouchers — no one ever envisioned that someday, we’d have a movement that is nearly choking itself to death. It was readily acknowledged and understood then that rules and regulations that aimed to hold people accountable really just stood in the way of real empowerment and freedom for people to live lives full of integrity. Public housing tenants wanted the authority to make their housing like a home, to be able to service their own needs, to develop a sense of ownership and pride. Public education parents wanted the authority to shop for the kinds of schools one often (allegedly) found in the suburbs, or where more advantaged folks lived.
The empowerment crusade of the 80s influenced the school choice movement of the 90s, and gave birth to the Ed Reform movement we have now, but with much less clarity and much more confusion than ever before.


Arizona. So it is that charter schools in Arizona must do data input into a system created by the often-scorned WestEd. ALEAT is used by all schools in Arizona must use to apply for Race to the Top or any other federal funds. The Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona sits on the WestEd Board. That same superintendent, elected, served in the state legislature before and was a champion of charter schools.

Ironically, ALEAT was supposed to “streamline” things. Only in a Kafka novel would this be called streamlining. The system requires schools to use the predetermined formats, though many fields are nonsensical, and/or don’t apply. There is never an option to say “not applicable.” You have to enter SOMETHING, even if it is totally irrelevant to your application. There is not one place where schools can add text for clarity. And many fields must be entered multiple times. To give an idea of the madness, a charter operator in a remote, rural area of Arizona had a broken scanner. She could not scan a document that needed to be uploaded to the ALEAT system. Could she mail it? No! They wouldn’t allow that. In the middle of a hectic school day, she had to drive 45 minutes to the closest Kinko’s to have it scanned.

Oh well, that was the end of it, right? Nope; she had scanned multiple pages at the same time in one large PDF. They wouldn’t accept that either. She had to drive BACK to Kinko’s and scan them each separately. How is this helping Arizona children get a great education?

Regulatory Creep. A Colorado activist and pioneer wrote me back in 2009 ….

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