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No Contractor Left Behind? Or No NEA Credibility Left Behind?

Here's the flyer that's got the edblogs buzzing -- apparently handed out at the liberal blogging convention known as YearlyKos, at which the Democratic presidential candidates appeared (more on this later). Sherman Dorn calls the flyer sloppy and sensationalistic. The Quick and the Ed says that moves like this make it hard to take the NEA seriously.

I thought I gave credit to Yglesias for the claims about sensationalization. My point was different...

The idea that people in involved in major k-12 institutions have relationships with each other and politicians is hardly news.

The same could be said of teachers unions, school boards and state education agencies. Indeed if the leaders of those institutions did not have lobbyists and political allies, they wouldn't be serving their members very well.

It's no different for the private sector institutions of k-12. Pearson and McGraw Hill hold well over half of k-12 textbook market, and have to a greater or lesser extent for a century or so.

Placing Voyager and Ignite in some sort of league with these two giants, reflects a profound misunderstanding of market dynamics. The Voyagers and Ignites of the world want to take market share and growth from the other two - plus Houghton Mifflin Riverdeep Group, but so far they are a bit like fleas on a hippo. Their market effect on the quality of products, services and programs in the market is infinitely small.

It's certainly the case that the group shares a view that the private sector should have a role supplying goods and services to public education. And when you get right down to it, no teachers union is proposing that teachers should be required to assemble DIY curriculum. Ask Expeditionary Learning/Outward Bound how well teachers took to that idea.

So as best I can see, this leaflet doesn't pass the "so what?" test. We are going to have private sector participation embedded in the classroom. We do now. We have for a century. The question isn't "whether or not," it's what "kind and why?" See: http://www.edbizbuzz.com/blog/_archives/2007/5/14/2948926.html

sorry if i misled readers as to your true intent, sherman -- i'm sure they'll figure it out once they get to your site.

thanks for the context, dean -- you and i have talked about this a lot, and it's an important and helpful reminder.

The "so what" test is that it seems to have all you bloggies talking about it. If it's irrelevant, why are you all so worried about it? It's just a flyer at a Kos book table. The reason is, of course, that this is not just the usual business involvement we traditionally find in education. This regime is unsurpassed in its use of government, and the DOE in particular, in funneling billions of dollars and much control over public education, to politically connected contractors. Hello profiteers. Bye, bye democracy. In Iraq it's Blackwater. In public ed, it's McGraw and company, precisely the kind of groups (large and small)that you see on the flyer. The NEA is right on in pointing this out. It's their members who bear the brunt of croneyism. Why are you,Marc, and Sherman Dorn so worried about this little leaflet that your underwear is riding up? Is the NEA the first to point out these connections? Isn't congress investigating Reading First as we speak? Looks like the flyer struck a nerve. Good job, NEA.

To Crazy Dave:

My underwear is in place. I write about it because it's one of the things I do for a living, but specifically I wrote about this because, like you, some people seem to think it was the highest and best use of NEA funds to inform its members and the public. That struck a nerve.

The flyer is the equivalent of a slogan, great for the choir, but pretty useless for bringing new folks into church. As I pointed out, it's kind of a hypocritical slogan. I'd prefer readers to look at real issues that are a bit more complicated.

The real issue here is: what's the best way to develop and distribute content for the public school classroom? What kind of a private sector does the NEA want in education, or does it want the private sector out altogether?

OK, you don't want Blackwater running security for contractors and the State Department, and you don't want Halliburton making meals, or doing laundry, or running truck convoys. I guess you want the military to do those things, as it did in World War II and Korea. There are very high costs associated with maintaining that combat support capacity in a peacetime military structure, but it's a plausible option. I'd rather save the money by contracting out for the function in wartime, to free up funds in peacetime for things like education, but your solution would avoid overpaying contractors when we end up in a war.

But if you don't want Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Voyager or Ignite providing educational content for the classroom, how would you propose to provide it? Teachers stopped building their classroom curriculum from scratch a long time ago. Do they want to start up again? Is that a good idea?

I'm open to alternative means of supplying educational products services and programs to the classroom. I'm certainly among the first to admit that the current system isn't providing the mix we want or the quality we need. I've spent a lot of time on edbizbuzz.com looking at the abuses in Reading First.

But it seems to me that when you trash the private sector providers as a group, you are under some obligation to come up with a plausible alternative for getting the right educational materials into teachers' hands.

Otherwise your critique is just Shakespeare's "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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