Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The voice of corporate-style school reform

Peter Cunningham (right) flack for corporate reformers like Arne Duncan & Eli Broad
Last week, I got into a twitter spat with former Asst. Sec. of Education Peter Cunningham over the issue of school desegregation. He claims that in his heart he's for it, but that it's a lost cause. Better to stop wasting money and energy on fighting segregation and poverty and just focus on creating new "good schools", argues Cunningham.

He accuses me of fighting "yesterday's battles". I'll cop to that, I suppose. Then claims that I'm an agent of the status quo. That's funny.
He's a teachers union basher and part of the "no excuses" crowd who claims we're just using issues of racism and poverty as excuses to keep from working hard on school reform.
He even wrote a major piece on the topic, "Is School Integration Necessary?, published in U.S. News & World Report.

I maintain that concentrated poverty and racial segregation are at the very root of our country's school problems and that it's impossible to build "good schools", charter or public, apart from the ongoing community-based struggles for equity and against segregation.

Cunningham thinks I'm picking on him. He even claims that I and his many critics are "obsessed" with him. That's a little weird.
The reason so many progressives are taking aim at Cunningham is not that they're obsessed. Rather it's because he's become the main flack for corporate-style school reform.

I'll say one thing for him, he's prolific on Twitter (like me) and likes to engage with lefties. Sees that as his role.

He was the public voice and often the script-writer at the DOE for Arne Duncan's Race To The Top and his efforts are now totally underwritten by anti-public-school power philanthropists like Eli Broad and the Waltons. 

Now that Duncan has virtually disappeared from the education policy debate and the words Race To The Top are taboo for any politician hoping to win an election, Cunningham has become the most visible national target for public education advocates and social-justice activists.

He shouldn't be complaining about all the heat he's taking. That's why they pay him the big bucks.


  1. I agree with Cunningham. It is far easier to bash low income communities, public school teachers and unions than to alter the racist, classist structure of American society. He is welcome to blame public school teachers for the food and housing insecurity of their students. They are also primarily responsible for the proliferation of drugs and gang warfare. It is their fault that government regulations have been weakened to allow the most fortunate to increase their assets at the expense of the poor and the middle class. Come to Newark Mr. Cunningham and volunteer your services to teach the children and improve the schools.

  2. Peter is right. Unions are part of the problem, not the solution. Stop playing the race card moaning about poverty. Kids can't wait for poverty to end. They need good schools NOW!

  3. CPS Insider (Name withheld by request)August 23, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    Keep fighting "yesterday's battles". Keep your eye on the prize. We're with you.

  4. Thanks CPS Insider. Peter C. portrays us like we're those Japanese soldiers in the Pacific, still at it long after the war ended. But I think the freedom struggle is as fresh and young as ever.

  5. Peter sounds like a Koch brother. Remember what went down in Wake County a number of years ago? Koch $$$ went into an all-out campaign to try & re-segregate the schools. Didn't work then & that kind of rhetoric won't work now.

    And, BTW, public school teachers & their unions are responsible for the school-to-prison pipeline! &, also, for all & any pipelines (such as the one proposed & is being protested on Native American lands in N. Dakota).
    Also responsible for the mortgage-lending bubble, the Big Bank failures, Big Pharma & insurance scams & on & on.

    1. And don't forget the 9/11 attacks, global warming, and Donald Trump's naked statues. Totally the fault of teachers and unions.

  6. Let's talk about fighting yesterday's battles. How has the corporate reform movement helped the schools and the kids? More tests. Fewer teachers with larger class sizes. Privatization of many public schools which show no increase in those test scores. Privatization of maintenance personnel which has led to filthy schools. Cut in funding to many public schools in favor of charter (private) schools. Lowering of class size since teachers are indeed the cause of everything terrible in the world today. Besides, the majority are women and they don't need as much to live on as men. And teachers are servants who can do nothing productive except teach. Their salary should indeed be equal to that of the trash collector, a fine job but requires no lengthy investment in education. So let's look at corporate reform for what it is. The destruction of the public school system in this country and the siphoning of money to big business. That is Peter's battle.

  7. Mike, this piece shows that you and I actually have much in common. I agree that concentrated poverty and segregation are part of the problem. I'm just not clear on a political strategy to solve either one. Reducing poverty requires a lot of money and I don't see it happening at the federal or state level. Heck they won't even fund schools (kids) properly, so I can't see them spending more on welfare -- even though I would happily pay higher taxes for that purpose.

    Reducing segregation is an even bigger lift. It requires changes in housing patterns, school boundaries, how we fund schools, governance issues, and a massive shift in public behavior. Busing is very controversial and most people have stopped it. Magnet schools are only a limited solution that have the perverse effect of isolating the students most in need. Redrawing school boundaries to promote integration has also drawn resistance -- even in liberal enclaves like the upper west side of Manhattan. Moreover, too many Americans who say they support integration nevertheless make choices that perpetuate segregation -- moving to segregated neighborhoods, putting their kids in private schools, etc. Even people of color often make choices that perpetuate segregation, in part because they don't want their children facing the pressure of being different from the other kids in class. Hannah Nikole-Jones has written about it and I totally understand it. My big point is that kids in school today need to be educated to the best of our ability whether they are in segregated schools or not. Doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying to address both issues, but it absolutely means we have to continue to improve our schools, regardless of their demographics.

  8. Fascinating to me how it appears he thinks you're defending "status quo."

    There's a hint of his problem.

  9. Amazing. Cunningham understands the systemic problems of deep poverty, segregation and isolation. These are the conditions our students must survive day in & day out. One day a family has a home and the next day they are homeless. I've had students who had catsup for breakfast because there was nothing in the house to eat.

    Yet, Cunningham's ideas for dealing with that is as narrow as the southern segregationists in the 1960's - ignore the rot at the core of their racist legal & economic system. As if the system that perpetuates deep poverty and segregation is somehow a fixed state. Intractable. Oh, he adds, there's no political will to fix the rigged system. Thus, he & his posse in the 1% club think if teacher's just try harder all those other bad things will go away.

    Systemic inequality isn't even an afterthought. Pathetic.


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