Monday, April 15, 2013

The Great Disconnect

Pasi Sahlberg
I went over to the Hilton this morning to take part in the Reframing Reform Conference.  Aside from getting to hang out with some of my favorite school activists, I was interested in hearing the conference keynoter, Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. In Finland, that's roughly the equivalent in rank to Arne Duncan, although the comparison stops there.

Pasi is a real thinker and a man of action. I've been a fan of his ever since I saw this interview with Andrea Mitchell back in Sept. 2010. He told an astonished Mitchell that the secret of Finland's celebrated school success was essentially doing everything just the opposite way from current U.S. school reform policies. Some of the major differences:  Finland puts the focus on collaboration rather than on competition. Finnish education policy supports public good and equity over privatization and school  choice. The Finnish school system de-emphasizes standardized testing. Finland has implemented high standards for entry into the teaching profession, rather than using mass purges of the profession and school turnarounds.

The message was pretty much the same this morning. Sahlberg was introduced by corporate lawyer and CPS school board member Jesse Ruiz, who applauded with the rest of us. Was he being polite or does he really like what Pasi is saying?

Sahlberg was definitely being polite, even generous, towards his host. But still, his words cut through the basic premises of  U.S. corporate-style reform like a scalpel.

The breakout sessions that followed were led by some of the nation's leading advocates against public school privatization, and corporate ed reforms. Andy Hargreaves, Pedro Noguera, Jitu Brown, Ralph Martire, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Jeannie Oakes, Kevin Kumashiro and others, carried on the critique of  current reform policies right up until lunch.

Jo Anderson
That's when, at least for me, the the other shoe dropped. Arne Duncan's senior adviser and former IEA Executive Director Jo Anderson got up to introduce the lunch speaker, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA). But faithful apparatchik that he is, Anderson couldn't help but throw out a list of all the great things the administration is doing to support schools and teachers. I was OK with all of that.

But I almost fell out of my chair when Anderson offered that all of  "Arne's" policies and so-called reforms "were in step" with Pasi Sahlberg's earlier presentation. What!?

Anderson exited the stage before anyone could question such an outrageous proposition.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's the great disconnect between our Democratic administration's words and deeds. No need to go into detail on this. But there would be no better place to start than right here in Chicago, where all the blather about school reform being the "civil rights issue of our era" goes hand-in-hand with the whitenizing of the city and with accompanying massive school closings and disinvestment in communities on the south and west sides of the city.

Thanks, Jo, for offering a brief surreal counter to what was an otherwise interesting and inspiring conference morning.

1 comment:

  1. I know, Mike, I was there as well. It's one of those cases (as to what Jo said) of, "If I say it enough, it becomes true," or, "If I tell it to you x amount of times, you'll believe it." (I wonder how much money he makes? His 'do is perfection!)
    Smoke and mirrors, folks.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.