The Education War: David Brooks Doesn’t Get It

A latecomer to the brewing battle for the soul of the Obama camp on education policy, David Brooks can perhaps be forgiven for not getting it. But when his column ignores the race based and anti-union message of what he alleges is the “reform” camp led by Al Sharpton and Joel Klein, a correction is in order. Incredibly, he provides no explanation AT ALL of why, of all people, Al Sharpton would agree to co-lead the Education Equality Project.
The reason Sharpton would join the project that includes Joel Klein and Newark mayor and Obama pal Cory Booker is that this group alleges that race is the key issue in solving education problems and that “teacher [union] contracts” are a major obstacle to reform.  Far from a reform this is the same ‘ol, same ‘ol – a narrow minded focus on the closed box of the school, as if hammering away at just what happens when kids show up at school really gets at the problem.
And that approach is an echo (although only an echo) of the really hard core race-based approach of those already in the Obama camp, Linda Darling-Hammond and Bill Ayers. Darling-Hammond views repayment of 400 years of “educational debt” as a key priority in education reform.  “Educational debt” is a concept rooted in the idea of reparations that was originated by Gloria Ladson-Billings in her 2006 Presidential Address to the American Education Research Association.  Ayers, too, has endorsed this concept.
And as I blogged here, that means the real reform group is the Bold Approach team led by the Economic Policy Institute.  They want to “open the box” and address the full set of issues that impact education outcomes. That is a far cry from the anti-union race based approaches of Rev. Al or the reparations-based “educational debt” proposal of Ayers and Darling-Hammond.
Instead, Brooks argues the meaningless porridge on the Obama website or in his speeches is just more of the status quo and equates it with the Bold Approach. If that were true, Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute would be Obama’s senior education advisor, but instead it is Linda Darling-Hammond.  (To her credit, Professor Darling-Hammond has also signed the Bold Approach statement, but that also seems in conflict with her support of the reparations-based “educational debt” concept.)
Why is that?  
Quite possibly it is because of Barack Obama’s many years of close work with Bill Ayers on education issues, particularly their six years of working on the distribution of $110 million dollars through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995-2001.  This the same Bill Ayers who argues that white supremacy is a critical factor in American life and that race must drive approaches to education policy.  The same Bill Ayers who supports, as does Darling-Hammond, the reparations-based approach to education reform.  That, unfortunately, is status quo inside the Obama camp.
For a “reality-based” critique of the Brooks approach read Eduwonkette’s response here. Here is the heart of her argument:

I really do hate my permanent residence in the reality-based community, but at least half of the achievement gap that exists between black and white students – the fact that the average black 12th grader performs at about the 16th percentile of the white distribution (a gap of about 1 standard deviation)- cannot possibly be attributed to the K-12 schools. Why? The average black student enters kindergarten testing at about the 25 percentile of the white distribution in math (a gap of .663 standard deviations), and the 35th percentile of the white distribution in reading (a gap of .4 standard deviations). “Squeezing teachers,” “dealing with teachers who don’t teach,” or “holding teachers feet to the fire,” I’m sorry to say, are not going to address that gap. And between kindergarten and 12th grade, kids are only in school 22% of their waking hours. It turns out that poor students’ slower rate of learning in the summer plays a significant role in increasing existing gaps.

Given the reluctance of the candidate himself to resolve the tensions between the different proposals, it looks like we are headed for a battle royale in Denver.

Obama, Liberalism and the Challenge of Reform – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com