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Edbizbuzz Discloses Involvement in Presidential Campaign

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I’ve noted that I am a pro-market, pro-NCLB Republican repeatedly (here and here for example), so it should come as no great surprise that I’m aligned with the Republican candidate. Since April of 2008 I’ve been providing input to education advisor Lisa Graham Keegan that is relevant to the school improvement industry. It's a pro bono activity for this small businessman, I am not exactly part of the inner circle of John McCain’s campaign, and I have not been commenting on the candidates.

Although I will not comment on specifics, and my views are hardly the last word on any matter of campaign policy, it’s no great leap to figure out the kind of advice I might offer. I am not your typical “education” Republican (listen here for example), but if you’ve read my "Letters From" on edbizbuzz.com starting in April of last year, listened to my weekly podcasts since 2005, subscribed to any of my firm’s information services since 2004, worked your way through my list of publications since the early 1990s, or come across me in any of my previous jobs in the k-12 policy arena, you know the issues I think about and my positions.

Since I was approached by Lisa – whom I’d met in the course of my intermittent yet long period of working on charters, I’ve avoided saying or writing anything direct about the Presidential candidates. First, I did not want to be seen by the campaign as pushing positions I might advance with them by repeating them at large, nor do I want edbizbuzz readers to see me as a shill for the campaign. Second, there wasn’t all that much I had to say about the campaign. Third, I had other things to write about.

I’m hardly in the media’s eye, but I do correspond with a lot of people in or connected to reporting on public education. So far, I have not been in a position where I’ve been asked what I think about the campaign, nor have I had reason to add my two cents as a partisan. According to the rules I live by, either would require me to explain that I have skin in this game.

I do want to start writing about campaign issues in a more direct way after my annual August hiatus. I do expect media contacts to start asking questions. Im an advsor, not a spokesperson, yet however minor my role in the development of Senator McCain’s education policy has been to date, I think it’s better for all concerned if the relationship is placed on the table at a time when it is least likely to influence or be influenced by campaign events - or be characterized as such.

1 Comment

I'm sure I'm not the only person who sees you as their favorite conservative education analyst. If you can, please see if Ms. Keegan can tone down the anti-union rhethoric that she expressed during the NPR interview this week.

I reviewed some of your most profound comments, and its interesting that I was most impressed by your critique of an ideologue who I believe still defines herself as a Democrat. You could do a great service by calming down true believers on the Right and the Left. I'd love to see you participate in a Democratic Administration, where you could deliever messages like the following:

"I do not support the “better, faster, cheaper” model of district centralization adopted by Fenty and Rhee, the strategy they have employed to put it place, or the Chancellor’s approach to managing the process.

“Better, Faster Cheaper” Central Control is Not the Only Business Strategy

The pursuit of high performance through centralization reflects a profound misunderstanding of quality assurance in professional services – which depends on staff buy-in and loyalty and cannot be accomplished through indoctrination and fear. Efforts to control quality by monitoring adherence to a preferred approach in an area as complicated as the teaching and learning process is not only a fool’s errand, but endlessly expensive (see here)...

In selecting this course, the Mayor and Chancellor highlight a fundamental split in what market-based reformers have taken away from the history of American business. One “school of thought” sees urban school reform as another form of corporate turnaround controlled from headquarters following a takeover. Assisted by highly capable management consulting firms, they see ways to cut overhead and support costs, and streamline operations. Teachers unions are no different a partner or obstacle than their private sector counterparts. Superintendents Mark Roosevelt, Joel Klein, and Chancellor Rhee fall into this category, along with financial intermediaries like New Schools making grants to form Charter Management Organization, philanthropies like the Gates and Broad Foundations that fund both, and for-profit Education Management Organization founders like Chris Whittle.

Techniques developed to analyze business operations have a direct application to school districts, but districts are not private corporations, and not simply because the product is educated children. There are technical and socio-political reasons why business turnaround models cannot be taken “off the shelf” and applied to public education.

... they and clients are having a hard time forcing the round peg into the square hole.

Although there are vast political differences across those who advocate for vouchers, independent charters, contract schools or giving principals in traditional districts greater control of school operations of school districts, they constitute a second market-based school of thought favoring decentralization. Their business model is not the turn-around specialist’s, but the portfolio manager’s. The idea is to place decision making over the allocation of resources that go into teaching and learning at the level closest to the consumer, and to winnow or expand the portfolio based on financial and academic performance.

This approach reduces risk, because it does not rely on a single solution. It recognizes that there is no “one best way.” Different customers and different employees have different needs. It creates a competitive basis for continuous improvement and encourages product development (see here). Above all, it offloads responsibility to decide about what constitutes quality onto parents and government standards about school performance - and eliminates considerable costs."

I hope I edited your statement fairly. On rereading it, it is so good that I just have one question. Why don't you work with Obama, a candidate that could give your ideas the serious reflection that they deserve?.

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