The Letter From: Reflections on My First BlogYear
Although it joined the edweek.org blog line-up in September of last year, edbizbuzz celebrated its first anniversary on March 7, 2008.
I started the blog for two reasons.
First, I have a point of view of school reform based on market principles derived from experience and analysis. It’s not a perspective that fits easily into the current institutional framework of education policy debate. The web-enabled information services I provide to my clients – reporting on school improvement RFPs; summarizing key policy documents influencing market development; and listing relevant announcements from government, political company and research organizations are not appropriate for editorials. I was right to think that blogging offered the medium I required.
My second point is related to the first. The blog has great potential as a way of decentralizing the education policy discussion. Up until the internet, you needed a printing press, a physical office, a recognized institution, and a flair for theatrics to get any kind of a hearing via the print media. The money required to enter this “marketplace of ideas” can only be amassed by groups motivated by self-interest. I’m not happy with the institutional nature of the discussion, knowing that every argument for and against carries a huge amount of baggage the average informed citizen simply can’t unpack. In this environment, policy choices are artificially constrained, bifurcated and charicatured. Money matters more to outcomes than merits.
To open up the debate, I decided edbizbuzz would: invite guest columnists whose opinions I don’t share; attack difficult issues head on, rather than tread lightly around what the left or right (or any institutional dichotomy you can think of) finds politically correct; be subject to readers' comments; encourage comments from those who disagreed with me; to treat all comments seriously; and to be ready to change my mind, admit my mistakes.
In effect, I decided to treat edbizbuzz readers the same way I treated colleagues in every other job I’ve had – as resources. Since 2004, my business has been virtual and largely me – a very big departure from places like RAND or New American Schools where I spent the first 20 plus years of my career. Looking back on the year, I now realize that my approach to blogging fills a need for ongoing give and take on ideas with a diverse set of colleagues.
The main change I have made over time is to move away from one-paragraph postings and lists of what I think readers should “check out,” to essays that address issues I consider important. If readers want to: be guided to what to read, enjoy clever put downs or shout outs, check out the opposition, or keep up with the latest edu-gossip or ed-trivia – the blogosphere offers an enormous range of choice. If readers want to know what’s out there to review, but want to decide what to read themselves, they should consider becoming clients of School Improvement Industry Announcements. I think my competitive advantage/core competence/value-added in the blogosphere lies in offering a different perspective, taking contrary comments seriously, and doing my best to offer evidence that might persuade readers to think differently. The decision has definitely shrunk the audience for edbizbuzz, but I prefer it. This blog is not profit center for my company, I’ve always recognized it would be a cost center – and, if it adds to profits, it’s a very indirect approach.
After more than a year I can say a few things:
I have been fortunate to find a good many online colleagues with ideas that oppose, reinforce and change my own and who can make their case on the merits.
I have a backlog of essay series I need to finish, and that means I need to be either more selective about my topics or write shorter essays. I’ll try both.
I am still surprised by people who assume I support their group, politics, ideology, or interests just because they agree with some argument I’ve made. I give those who post comments the courtesy of a Google search to learn something about why they write, what they write. I have given edbizbuzz readers every opportunity to find out more about me – indeed I am accused of saying too much as self-promotion. Simply Googling me pretty much lays out what there is to know. Why folks don’t take advantage of the resource, I don’t know.
For the record: I am not about to defend conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, for-profits, nonprofits, investors or philanthropists, just because of their status as such. I favor markets over central planning and demonstrated improvements in student performance over marketing or ideology. I’m not an apologist for companies with unproved products, districts with bad strategies, poorly run charter schools, failed investment strategies, or outdated union policies. My criterion is simple: does the policy or action promote a well-ordered market driven by educational results?
I am conflicted about my decision to treat all comments equally. On the one hand, I think it’s important if we are going to honor arguments based on their merit, rather than their proponent. On the other hand, it can encourage the drive-by potshots of people with little to do but cruise the blogosphere for kicks.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of blogging has been not knowing precisely where debate will lead, stumbling into the odd hornet’s nest, and finding myself in places I would not have considered to be education policy.
It’s been a learning experience, and I plan to keep learning.