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As much to myself as to you

I’ve spent much of the last five days making sense of the two days I spent in DC last week and the last six months of my work with IDEA.

In two days of meetings, I met with the staff of three congressman, two senators, two folks in the Department of Education, the adviser to the education advisers of the 75 largest cities in the US, the interim director of the national PTA, the leaders of the National Youth Rights Association, and the head of policy and advocacy for the organization that brings together many of the state schools foundations.

I’ve been obsessed with understanding the educational landscape.  Who has the power to convene the kinds of conversations many of us want to see happen?  Who makes and who influences decisions that have the most impact on youth, communities, and schools?  If there are levers to create change, where are they and what do they look like?

I have had the opportunity to spend the last six months of my life fully engaged in these questions.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours speaking one on one, listening and learning.  This morning I even made a list of everyone I’ve spoken with just to see for myself how wide a cross-section and with what kinds of perspectives I’ve been talking to.

And so I sit, trying to make sense of both what I know and what I don’t.  Going to DC, I thought I had a pretty good sense of the educational landscape.  And maybe I do, but what leaves me struggling to find coherent sentences is feeling how wide the chasm is between where high-impact decisions are being made and where they are being felt and how little collaborative capacity exists to bridge that gap.

How will we meet a reality where:

  • The Gates Foundation has folks in and out of the Department of Education on a very regular basis but faith and civil rights groups advocating on behalf of millions are told they are “for the status quo” and don’t understand the real levers of education reform while both “sides” cite Dr. King?
  • The Annenberg Institute for School Reform will launch a National Center on Education Organizing at the same time the Hewlett Foundation will launch its Deeper Learning Initiative and yet neither knows about the others work and likely won’t end up coordinating to be in the same states and cities?
  • The National Education Policy Center is asked by foundations to write a paper providing guidance on what to fund and while their paper beautifully articulates funding inequities and the re-segregation of schools, it says not a word about what happens inside of schools or the kinds of learning environments that could systemically change root social conditions?
  • Voices of sanity like Linda Darling-Hammond and Pedro Noguera have little, if any, influence on current policy directions despite having the respect of so many different organizations – from the NEA, SBAC, to the NLC, and beyond?
  • Just over 500 million dollars will be split between WestEd and Achieve on behalf of two state consortiums to design new national assessments for 2014 while my generous guess is that at least 60% of teachers in our country couldn’t tell you anything about either organization nor tell you what ESEA includes?
  • A march to Save Our Schools is planned for July that might bring hundreds of thousands of youth and teachers out, but if told they “won”, there would be no clear or coherent direction of how to proceed amongst the individuals and organizations participating?
  • Too many of the organizations people count on or hope can help the situation are cash poor, have flimsy organizational structures, don’t want to play with each other or reach out to new organizations, and/or want to retain their status more than they want to build a strategic movement?
  • DOE staff and insiders get frustrated because teachers, organizers, and activists advocacy seems irrelevant or at least not timely, and likely it is?
  • Organizers, teachers, and community leaders feel like they aren’t listened to by the DOE and key decision makers, and likely they are not?
  • Chances are, no one is really poorly intentioned, there is just a significant gap between the point of planning and policy execution and the public dialogue?  Even with all our technology – we, the public, may just be way behind.  It seems like we don’t get it because we are catching up.  And it seems like they aren’t listening because they are thinking what we have to say isn’t relevant because the decision has already been made with millions of dollars already spent.
  • Federal policy has gotten so invasive that you can’t ignore it.  When principals and teachers are getting fired in schools because of conversations in DC, you can’t say (which I had) that policy conversations are a distraction?
  • Like-minded groups who care about student learning and healthy communities don’t yet have the collaborative capacity and the level of relationships and raw power needed to change the narrative and instead too often compete with each other for money from funders, buy into the language of schools as businesses, and fight amongst each other on small differences rather than finding common ground.

IDEA was not launched to create yet another education organization.  Our aim is to build collaborative capacity where little exists – even if at some point that means we need to combine or join some other effort.

At this moment, I don’t think IDEA’s initial analysis was wrong, it’s just that the impact of our collective inadequacy is clearer.

This summer, on my first official day on the job, Dr. Vincent Harding reminded a room full of people that we have to find the courage, the capacity, and the will to play better together.

We don’t need to be in crisis, in fact going too fast to sign a pledge or a paper or to protest is part of the challenge we must address.  We need to build real alliances.  We need to find the 70% we agree on, the relationships that can handle some conflict, the strategies that have real impact, and the courage to ally and share.

IDEA is ready.  Are you?  Let’s get to it.


7 thoughts on “As much to myself as to you

  1. I am ready Scott! I was so impressed with your presentation at Goddard. And while I am still trying to figure out all the different hats in which I.D.E.A. wears, I want to be a part of the process. I am committed to helping in whatever way possible to associate myself with IDEA and the collaboration that is needed in order to bring, real alliances, real action and real change to the society and community, both locally and nationally, of education.

    Thank you for the work you do. It inspires me to continue in the work, each and every day.

    In Educational Solidarity,
    Casey K. Caronna

    Posted by Casey Caronna | February 4, 2011, 11:06 pm
    • Casey – it was so good to connect with you in Vermont. Here are some concrete things you can do to support IDEA’s efforts: 1) Start talking and organizing folks in your community (just email if you need some pointers on getting started but I think you know what to do), 2) Lay the ground for an “innovation tour” that showcases the bright spots and best schools/classrooms in your area. We are building our first tours in NY and Oregon and would love to have you jumpstart the effort in a new area and we can help it along. 3) Actively upload the best videos, research, tools, lesson plans that would help you or others to our new Eduvation Library. 4) Tell us how many hours a week you can commit to volunteering and we can give you some additional concrete ways to help that fit your skills.

      Let’s go!

      Posted by scottnine | February 5, 2011, 6:24 pm
  2. “The brave social concepts that lift society can work no better than citizens can understand and apply them.” Dr. John Jensen

    The Save Our Schools March is not a win / lose event. It is a demonstration to attest to exactly what you have pointed out, “the wide chasm without the collaborative capacity to bridge it.” A march such as this is the last great hope that common people such as myself have. It is Freedom of Speech in action. We have to believe we can make a difference. We must believe our unity still means something in America.

    What happens the day after? That’s up to the people. That’s up to you. You’ve seen what organizations can and cannot accomplish. How about giving we the people a shot at it? Would IDEA sponsor a follow-up? How about a behind closed doors hash-it-out event as a wrap up to the S.O.S. event? Invite the who’s who. Let them question us. No media. No sound bites.

    For citizens and organizations to help do what is right by our children, the bridge must be build by delivering sound principles and ideals in an understandable manner with doable actions to achieving the goal….step one, common ground.

    To once again quote John Jensen, “Outcomes are proportioned to the number of people involved and the unity of thinking among them.”….that’s not group think, that’s dialogue that reveals the common ground.

    In Educational Solidarity,

    Victoria M. Young

    Posted by Victoria M. Young, DVM | February 5, 2011, 4:33 pm
    • Thanks for writing Victoria. The march certainly can be a win – especially if there is attention paid to what happens before and after. Not scripting anything – but making sure the space is there to make something of all the energy and find ways to do more than just protest. I love your ideas about different kinds of follow-ups. Media/no-media – let’s get real and stop being afraid of having the conversations and then acting on our ideas. A real hash-out where we all struggle, argue, listen, and find new ways to work together sounds great and so necessary.

      I love what you’ve said, “to help do what is right by our children the bridge must be built by delivering sound principles and ideals in an understandable manner with doable actions to achieve the goal with step one focused on common ground.”

      Let’s make it real – Scott

      Posted by scottnine | February 5, 2011, 6:20 pm
  3. i’m in. i can’t not be in.

    Will Richardson jumpstarted an idea at educon last weekend.

    i believe getting parents talking is key. i think having a story is key.

    can we start there. i agree – we need to start listening to what each other are doing and start marrying some of these bold actions.

    Posted by monika hardy | February 6, 2011, 12:34 am
  4. Just to pick up on Monika and Will Richardson’s point, the lack of coherent counter-narrative is critical here. From where I sit, so many of the most energetic, geared-up young educators I see in highly-selective training programs believe that the only game in town, the only game worth playing if you are a player in the ed reform business, is the KIPP-modeled, Uncommon School-modeled, TFA-modeled no-excuses kind of schooling. There is only one party, and that’s the party they want to at.

    So working on creating a rocking good party, another party, needs to be part of the big plan.

    In solidarity,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 8, 2011, 11:35 am

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