Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eavesdropping: Essays by reform thinker Lisa Snell, written FOR pro-reformers


In trying to understand the reform movement, I have found it helpful to make the following assumptions.

1. Reform advocates are very smart. When senior school officials and Directors make decisions that seem crazy, unproductive, counter-productive, self-inconsistent, or just plain stupid or incompetent, I always reject stupidity, incompetence, stubborn attachment to impractical idealogy, and sadism as plausible explanations. 

2. Every decision and behavior of reform agents has, at its root, one of the following motivations or purposes:
  • direct or indirect business-income opportunity;
  • garnering public support for charter schools (charter schools being desirable, in  part, because they are a more productive business income opportunity than is providing services to public schools and public school districts);
  • training our disadvantaged and non-college bound youth to be submissive, effective, and reliable workers;
  • winning tax-payer subsidy of private-school tuition
  • disrupting opposition to and winning increased public support for reform
  • re-segregation of schools

These are some of the reasons that reform agents give to the public, and which I do not believe:
  • cost savings necessitated by a budget crisis;
  • serving equity and predictability;
  • a genuine, altruistic, non-self-serving desire to Close the Achievement Gap;
  • to win Federal dollars (e.g., Race the the Top Funds)

Often, but not always, I am able to explain actions, decisions, and preferences of the Superintendent and the Directors of Seattle Public Schools as serving one of these purposes. 

Sometimes I am stumped. 

I have found articles by Lisa Snell very helpful for showing me the link between otherwise inexplicable behaviors of reform agents and the purposes I list above.  In particular, her articles have helped me to understand how recent developments in Seattle Public Schools conform to and support reformist priorities.

Since 1994, Lisa Snell has been the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, "a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets."   Her biographical sketch appears at this URL:

Lisa has written many essays on the topic of school reform. From reading her essays, it is clear that she is writing for a pro-reform audience.  Go to  and click on any one of the three tabs at the end of the biographical sketch ("Studies | Blog | Op-eds") to find a complete listing of her essays. Her op-eds date back to 1999.  Over the decade spanned by her essays, one can see how the thinking, priorities, and strategies of the reform movement have evolved.

This is the first Lisa Snell essay that I read:   Defining the Education Market - Reconsidering Charter Schools; July 1, 2005;

This one essay makes it abundantly clear that for people such as Lisa and her intended audience, the foundational motivation for school reform (of the regressive type) is private business access to public-school-directed taxpayer dollars--in short, MONEY.

Questions for and requests to whileseattlesleeps blog readers:
  1. In your opinion, is my list of purposes (above) incomplete and/or off-mark? If so, please provide a specific non-comforming example of an action of decision by a reformist Superintendent or reformist Board of Directors. 
  2. Do you disagree that reasons of cost-saving, equity, predictability, etc., are not the genuine motivations for the unpopular actions and decisions of Seattle Superintendent Maria-Goodloe Johnson?
  3. Tell me if you agree (or disagree) with my assessment of this essay by Lisa Snell. 
  4. Report back to me and the readers of this blog any insights you are able to glean from her articles. 
I am particularly interested in comments and responses that pertain to Seattle Public Schools: where it is, where it has been, and, most importantly, where it is likely headed, which is to say, what quality of education will be provided by Seattle Public Schools in the future if we stay on the reform path.

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