Thursday, June 24, 2010

drinking the kool-aid: thoughts on this blog's title and my opening days

I've decided to start a blog to keep a record of my experiences and reactions to my time in this program. I really feel like I've been thrown in the deep end with course work--just tons and tons of reading and assignments--so I haven't had much time to sit down and reflect, but I did have some reactions to our orientation days that I wanted to get down.

During the two days of our orientation, we had a lot of different members of the organization's leadership speak to us. Several of them repeatedly made remarks that made my ears prick up, and one especially stood out: "there are those that would wish to see us fail." I will have more to say at a later date on school turnarounds, I'm sure, but my initial impression was to feel depressed at how embattled they seem to feel.

After all, even though many people think that turnarounds are not a good model for school reform, can there possibly be people who care about education who WANT those school turnarounds to "fail," that is, to fail to serve their students? I doubt that this is the case. But the feeling of embattledness, the position that educators are not united in wanting students to succeed, permeates and poisons the education reform debate. This was evident in Steve Brill's caustic New York Times article about Race to the Top, and in many comment threads you read on the education blogs. Anyway, when the US Education Secretary, the President, the city government, and the heads of the district are all on your side (not to mention lots of private $$), then you probably don't have to worry too much about your naysayers.

We had an amazing panel of parents from a network school speak to us about their experiences. I think it was hard for a lot of us to be uncynical about how these parents were selected--they all had very positive things to say and they seemed to be some of the most active parents in the school. To be sure, some of them professed initial skepticism about the turnaround. But even though they weren't given any input before the school's "turnaround" (closure) was announced, they all agreed that now there is a lot of community input about goings on at the school. What they had to say about the changes that they've seen in their students and in the school community was truly moving and inspiring.

Over the next months and year I want to enter into this process with a pragmatic and open mind. I have some (informed) prejudices, but I want to be prepared to see what works and what doesn't, to feel like we all want students who have been underserved to succeed. If that is our mission, then no one will want us to fail.

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