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The Ground Floor of the Titanic

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
John Maynard Keynes


In a recent conversation with an education leader I very much admire, a man whose political leanings I know to be centrist-Democrat, I was surprised to hear that he had approached the Republican candidate for governor during the campaign and shared some of his ideas about education reform. Really? I said. Oh yeah, he said. You have to get in on the ground floor.

The candidate is now Governor--and so for the next four (or, alas, eight) years, my friend hopes that his campaign contribution and an early meet-up will give him a voice, a place at the proverbial table.

What I'm wondering is: What if he gets there and find himself on the payroll, so to speak, in the building of a leaky, dysfunctional reform ship? What if he's getting in on the ground floor of the Titanic of School Reform: showy, well-publicized, attractive to investors--but doomed to fail?

The great federal ed-reform shipped launched by the Faux Texas Miracle a decade ago appears to be headed for some research-based ice floes. Plenty of evidence (here, here, here and here, for starters) that the S.S. Accountability is not only sinkable--it's not even sea-worthy. Will the Captain overlook the incoming messages of trouble ahead? Will inherent flaws in the ship-building process be obscured by overenthusiastic rhetoric and arrogance?

Don't want to go full-bore nautical metaphor here--it's as irritating as constant sports analogies--but seriously: What if the reform vessel you invested a decade's worth of time and money into appeared to be ineffective, at best--or even downright useless in getting us where we wanted to go? Would you sail on, emphasizing the need to stay on schedule? Would you offer federal money to states who agree to sign on as passengers? Would you launch a slick advertising campaign to allay concerns?

Or would you change course--even rebuild the ship?

It strikes me that the tide in policy rhetoric is shifting. Messages from Secretary Duncan's Press Secretary seemed designed to look and feel more like the kinds of things teachers and parents say--a kinder, gentler message. Even if policy initiatives are moving forward as usual, the reassurances are more skillful.

But the conglomerate of policy-makers and super-funders--known as "The Reformers"--have been in since the ground floor. This is not a even a partisan war. It's about protecting their intellectual and economic investment in what they see as a grand voyage.

Why change your mind about school reform, when the facts change?

Because we know who's the first to go down with the ship, and who gets into the lifeboats.

"Oh, they built the ship Titanic..."

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