Al Sharpton and Obama pal Newark Mayor Cory Booker are among the members of a new alliance that places race in the center of the education debate and, as a bonus, argues that unions are a “significant obstacle” (in the words of the Times) to solving the problems of the schools.
No wonder NY School Chancellor Joel Klein signed on – in light of the problems he has with United Federation of Teachers in NYC. Geez, even the market oriented Gates Foundation has realized that dialogue with the unions is critical to reform unless you want your mission statement to end up in the circular filing cabinet of most local school districts.
Coming just a few days after the release of the EPI-led Bold Approach which called for a multi factor approach, the Al Sharpton race oriented effort is likely to bolster those within the Obama camp like Bill Ayers and Linda Darling-Hammond who think that repayment of 400 years “of educational debt” to people of color is the pre-requisite of any meaningful reform.
When I read about the race based approach of Sharpton, Booker, et. al, it occurred to me that they have more in common with the testing/accountability proposals from the right than at first might be apparent. Both seem to view schools as closed boxes and that what goes on inside the box is the most critical factor. Hence, the proposal of the reparations advocates to throw more money into the schools or the anti-racist groups to set up local neighborhood groups to watchdog school staff or the choice crowd’s effort to impose one size fits all testing regimes on teachers and students.
That reminds me of a story told to me some years ago by a group of nuclear physicists I was helping to organize into a union. They had been contacted by the Defense Department which wanted them to design a box that could contain nuclear waste safely for, well, forever.
The scientists first asked a simple question, where are you going to put the box? In a salt mine? In outer space? The Pentagon said it was none of their business. They turned down the contract and said, derisively, take it to one of the “beltway boys” – the contractors that line the beltway around D.C. that will, for a price, give you the answer you want. Their reasoning was simple and brilliant – there was no way you could design a safe box without understanding thoroughly the environment surrounding the box.
That reminds me of the broader social perspective that the Bold Approach brings to the debate that the race dominated or market driven models do not.