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Book Review: Mercedes Schneider's "A Chronicle of Echoes" Offers Tools for Defense Against Corporate Reform

Fans of Harry Potter will recall the most valuable class at Hogwarts: "Defense Against the Dark Arts." With her new book, "A Chronicle of Echoes," Mercedes Schneider has provided those of us working to defend public education with a work that could be called "Defense Against Corporate Reform."

A short year and a half ago a new blogger appeared, writing from Louisiana, with a flair for following the threads of corporate reform back to their sources. Mercedes Schneider's Deutsch29 blog  brought us research of everything from the state of New Orleans schools, to the funding of the Common Core standards, has uncovered information not often disclosed voluntarily.

Communities across the country are experiencing similar manifestations of well-funded "reform." School board and legislative candidates willing to close public schools and expand charters, willing to undermine due process for teachers and impose test-score driven evaluations, receive unprecedented donations from billionaires thousands of miles away. Teachers organized into newly-formed and well-funded "teacher voice" groups show up to testify at legislative hearings, in support of the elimination of due process. Reports issue at regular intervals from supposedly non-partisan "think tanks," proclaiming the public schools broken, schools of education hopeless, and calling for "disruption" via market forces.

Who are these people and organizations, and where did they come from? This spring, Mercedes has released her first book, A Chronicle of Echoes, which is a sort of handbook for understanding all the players in the corporate reform "movement." She takes them on one by one, and leaves none unscathed.

Mercedes Schneider is unusual in being both a classroom teacher and a skilled statistician with a PhD in applied statistics. 

This is not a book for the faint of heart. Joel Klein is introduced as "The man from which nothing good comes." Schneider perceives a public education system under assault by powerful, well-funded organizations and individuals. Her purpose is to equip those who wish to defend public schools with much-needed understanding of what we are up against.    

Schneider does not limit her research to the main pages of the New York Times. She delves into emails, income tax forms, dissertations, web pages and more to uncover details of the characters in her story. This is not a sympathetic treatment. It is an exposé - or more accurately, a collection of them.

Each of the 24 chapters is a story unto itself - an analysis of the methods and histories of characters educators have come to know; New York's queen of charters Eva Moskowitz, Wendy Kopp, Eric Hanushek, Paul Vallas, Chester Finn, David Coleman, Michelle Rhee, and more. Reform organizations are also revealed - TNTP, Democrats for Education Reform, NCTQ, Stand For Children, ALEC, and the big money behind them all, the big three foundations, Gates, Walton and Broad. 

This book is useful in two ways. Read from cover to cover, the threads come together and the fabric of the corporate education "reform" project becomes clear. By the time you are done, you will see some patterns emerge. Not surprisingly, when profits are promoted as an engine of reform, there is evidence of self-interest. There is manipulation of data, which Schneider's eye spots time and again. There is money at work, behind the scenes and in the open.

The other way the book will be used is as a reference. When you hear that Stand For Children or StudentsFirst is contributing to local candidates for office, you might turn to the chapters about these groups to learn how they have operated in the past. When Michelle Rhee next comes to your state and hosts a "town hall meeting," you can share some of the information in the chapter about her with the local media. This book is a tool, a guidebook to the sometimes mysterious but always resourceful world of corporate reform. When the first university course in "Defense Against Corporate Reform" is taught, A Chronicle of Echoes will join Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error as required reading.

What do you think? Is there value in such a guide to the characters and organizations seeking to transform our education system?

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