In his first speech since being named chancellor, Dennis Walcott poured on the charm, asking everyone to “dial down the rhetoric” and giving no hints of any new reforms he’s planning.
Walcott spoke at Columbia University’s Teachers College on Saturday morning, filling in for ousted Chancellor Cathie Black, who was originally scheduled to speak as part of the day-long “academic festival.”
Carefully avoiding new policy announcements, Walcott focused most of his speech on trying to bridge different sides in the reform debate. He told the crowd about his childhood in Queens — noting that he grew up, and attended public schools, in the same borough as ex-Chancellor Joel Klein — and the role that great teachers had in his success.
“Unfortunately that’s not a storyline we hear as often as we should, especially when it comes to education,” Walcott said. “The conversation we hear about is poor versus the wealthy. Charter schools versus district schools. And who is to blame for the failures of our education system.
“People on both sides of this debate have been guilty of contributing to the current polarized atmosphere,” he said.
“The poisonous debate is hurting our children, plain and simple. And they don’t have time to wait for us to grow up,” he continued. “The problems facing our schools are extremely complicated. They can’t be summed up in 10-word sound-bites. And above all they can’t be solved until we start listening and working together.”
So the men you have worked both with and for - Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein - have NOT been majorly responsible for poisoning the debate?
How about some of the "reformers" and charter operators you have worked with - like Michelle Rhee and Mistress Eva Moskowitz?
How about the men who are funding so much of the corporate reform - Bill Gates and Eli Broad? Are they not part of the poisoning problem when they talk all the time about having to fire "bad teachers" as the only way to solve public education problems?
And how about the Davis Guggenheim film so many of these people were involved with that demonized teachers and traditional public schools while exalting Rhee and charter schools with false data and phonied up stats?
Walcott needs to be called on this when he does it - because what he is doing is the same thing Paul Krugman noted people on that right do when they been called on their shit by opponents - they accuse people of being "uncivil".
The corporate education reform movement has had its way in city after city, state after state and in federal education policy for at least the last ten years.
The results - increased standardized tests (but stagnant test scores), diminished curricula but increased test prep, traditional public schools pitted against charter schools for money and space, an accountability movement that only holds teachers, administrators and schools accountable (but never children, parents or politicians), and an education system that is rife with fear and loathing as business CEO's replace education professionals in leadership roles and run their schools like businesses - speak pretty much for themselves.
There is nothing "poisonous" or "uncivil" about pointing any of these things out.
There is also nothing poisonous or uncivil about pointing out how charter schools do not serve many of the neediest students or students who need the most services, how KIPP loses 60% of its black male students from the 6th grade to the 8th grade, how despite all the advantages of money and power that the charters have, they STILL do NOT outperform traditional public schools.
There is also nothing poisonous or uncivil about pointing out how Michelle Rhee faked her own test score gains as a teacher and the Rhee miracle (and legacy) in D.C. was actually based on cheating.
There is also nothing poisonous or uncivil about pointing out that test scores plummeted under the reign of Klein and Bloomberg here in NYC or how the achievement gap between white and Asian students and black and Hispanic students was the SAME when Klein left than it was before he got here.
Walcott calls the pointing of this stuff out "poisonous" because it does not serve his interests well - he wants to move reform forward as the nicer, kinder reformer, a sort of anti-Klein, if you will.
Bloomberg thought Cathie Black was going to be his anti-Klein, but she turned into a p.r. disaster worse than Klein, so now he's got Walcott to do the dirty work in a "civil" way.
But make no mistake - the destructive policies are the same. And so no matter how "nice" Walcott seems and no matter how much we might want to ratchet the debate down and be "civil," remember that the very same people who have been demonizing teachers and traditional public schools and unions are STILL running the corporate education reform movement, STILL throwing in their billions to bust the unions and privatize the system and make teaching into an an at-will job with no protections and no dignity, STILL working the politics behind the scenes to get what they want.
There is nothing either civil or nice about any of this no matter how much Walcott smiles and coos and says nice, soothing words about changing the tone of the debate.
If he REALLY wanted to change the tone of the debate, he would open up the policies FOR debate.
But he has said repeatedly, he will not do that.
So let us acknowledge that the poison and vitriol from the reform side continues.
And let us acknowledge that Dennis Walcott, nice guy that he may be, is FULL OF SHIT when he opens his mouth.