Yesterday I engaged in an unexpected exchange on Twitter with Justin Hamilton, who is press secretary to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
It started after I retweeted a blog by master-teacher Nancy Flanagan. Nancy’s blog took issue with a listing of the up-and-coming stars of American education, which focused heavily on the entrepreneurial sector and forgot teachers. Nancy listed some of the outspoken teachers who are emerging stars in the profession, like Julie Cavanaugh and Brian Jones, two New York City teachers who starred in “The Inconvenient Truth Behind ‘Waiting for Superman.’”
When I retweeted Nancy’s blog, I asked “Who will transform education: entrepreneurs or educators?”
I don’t have the exact sequence, but Jersey Jazzman (one of my favorite bloggers) recapitulated the tweets and blogs here: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2012/05/weasels-in-department-of-education.html?spref=tw.
Before long, Hamilton responded to my tweet by saying that we should not choose between entrepreneurs and educators, but should count on both of them to transform education.
We then had a lively exchange, in which I made clear, in tweet after tweet, that my reference to “entrepreneurs” referred specifically to the for-profit education industry, which seeks to get rich by coming up with new ventures in education. In our twitter exchange, I referred specifically to the for-profit charter industry (most charters in Michigan for-profit) and also to the for-profit cyber charters,which make big profits and get poor results. I asked why Secretary Duncan has never spoken out against the depredations of this industry, which uses lobbyists to buy access to children.
Hamilton responded with an ad hominem tweet, saying that I was an entrepreneur because I get paid to make speeches and to write books.
That seems to be the default position of the U.S. Department of Education, to go personal when they can’t defend what they are doing. A year ago, Secretary Duncan claimed that “Diane is in denial” after I debunked his claims about miraculous turnarounds that happen by firing the staff. (See my earlier post “Psychologizing Female Critics”).
My takeaway from our exchange: the US Department of Education welcomes for-profit entrepreneurs and will never turn its back on them, no matter how paltry their results or how constricted their definition of “education.” The advance of corporate greed into the education sector, in my view, has nothing to recommend it. Corporations will seek to replace teachers with computers, will shave costs wherever possible, and will deliver a product that is as cheaply produced as possible in order to maximize profits. I fail to understand what that has to do with education, as I understand the meaning of the term.