Skip to:

Is There A "Corporate Education Reform" Movement?


My, God, how long has it been since you've visited any real teachers at work? Do you really think leadership isn't answerable to the members when they engage in outright betrayal like this? Yes, there is a corporate reform, and it's iWalking through our classrooms putting its jackboot on our throats. This isn't any "overly nuanced view" you're presenting, Leo. It's a mealy mouthed sellout. Randi has sold out the teachers who pay her salary, because she's already looking towards her next six-figure job. Brothers and sisters who read this intolerable affront to honest Union discourse, let's move her on up and out of office.

This analysis is quite doesn't hold together. Mr. Casey -- and Prof. Cuban -- require uninimity on every plank in order to acknowledge that there might be some sort of movement. The Democratic and Republican Parties do not have unimity on their their party platforms. Even among the very top members of each party, there are areas of difference. And yet there ARE Democratic and Republic policies. Not everyone in the reproductive rights movement agree on late term abortions, and yet there IS a productive rights movement. (And I can say with confidence what the reproductive rights position on late term abortions is.) Not all gun owners agree on all gun control proposals. And yet we know that there is a gun rights movement. So, Mr. Casey and Prof. Cuban have not actually shown that there's not a Corporate Education Reform Movement.

Hi Mary, Since you asked how long it's been since Leo "visited any real teachers at work," this is the first year in 27 years he hasn't taught in a NYC public school. Thanks for your comment, MD

Mr. Casey, There is no "taboo" on dialogue with the Gates Foundation, and I would be the last person to suggest there ought to be one, since that is what I engaged in last year. But this was an extended and often heated dialogue where core issues were brought to the surface. This was intentionally done in the form of a dialogue, so the Gates Foundation was directly challenged to respond to the concerns that were raised. And you equate this with Randi Weingarten signing her name to an article describing best practices in teacher evaluation alongside that of Vicki Phillips of the Gates Foundation? This is not a dialogue. It is a statement of agreement and alignment, where, from my point of view, none ought to exist. Randi Weingarten suggested in tweets afterwards that it was important to recognize that the Gates Foundation "sees big errors in what's going on now w/ evaluation." If, in fact, the Gates Foundation sees big errors, they need to first of all, take some accountability for their very active role in advocating for those "errors," and be far more specific about what those errors are. Otherwise all we have is bland statements from them that mean nothing in the real world inhabited by students and teachers affected by these policies.

"Allies are where you find them." Agreed. Your Phillips-Weingarten tale reminds me of something from a couple years ago. If I recall, Reg Weaver had co-authored an op-ed with Wendy Kopp. One of the top leaders in that union told me how the same "pollution taboo" emerged. * Per Mr. Cody's remark above, I'm curious if there's a differentiated approach by AFT to tweets and mainstream media. The tweets target the frustrated base (emphasizing anti-reform narrative, with retweets), and the MSM op-eds targets the voters (emphasizing solutions, moderation). That would make sense. Two audiences. But one cost may be that some in the frustrated base don't grasp the strategy.

If its not the "corporate reform movement" pushing mayoral control, charters, school closings, value added assessment and budget cuts then what is this unnamed force that controls public policy and weighs so heavily and with similar talking points on school workers, parents and students in cities across the country? Words are important. I challenge Leo Casey to name it. Of course there are differences among the corporate elite which those of us engaged in the struggle to defend public education and teacher unionism should take note of but that is not to say that we should loose sight of the forest for the trees. The true measure of the value of critical analysis in this context is its ability to inform and guide practice. We seek not a fetishism of nuance and data but an accurate assessment of the war being waged against public education, unionism and democracy itself to better defend ourselves against it. Larry Cuban, whose comments are approvingly noted by Leo Casey, is part of the charter school movement with which the AFT remains a part of. Readers shaking their heads in disbelief at the intellectual gyrations of Casey should ask why the AFT remains embedded with the charter school movement that in the current context is squarely aimed at dismantling and privatizing public education in large urban areas with a majority of Latino and Black students. The proliferation of charters follows the passage of legislation by the Clinton administration which granted hefty tax exemptions to hedge funds that invested in them. Charters encompass a variety of approaches but what is their principal role in the current context of the war being waged against public education and the learning, living and working conditions of the working class in the USA? Larry Cuban tells us that there is no corporate reform weighing down upon us by reference to the nuances that exist among the corporate elite but consciously or unconsciously this is a scholastic exercise in dissimulation and a justification for his own involvement with charters. Leo Casey embraces Cuban's smoke and chaff as his own because it is serves to aggrandize the AFT's approach of "triangulation" with one or another proponent of the corporate education reform; now Bloomberg, now Gates, now this or that charter operator. The effect of "triangulation" in stopping and reversing the attacks should be the focus of truly critical and valuable intellectual work by the AFT and Shanker Institute. But that is not happening. Instead our house intellectual is busy creating artful dodges and nuanced postings that obscure more than they reveal.

From the trenches, where campaigns are won, this overly nuanced view lacks the utility that the carefully crafted messaging that is inherent in painting corporate reformers with a single broad brush possesses. analysis is a ill-starred luxury when opponents have a substantial edge in resources and complicit, complacent, media.

Prof. Cuban criticizes a straw man when he writes, "I avoid such phrases as “corporate reformers” because they suggest far more coherence and concerted action than occurs in the real world of politics and policymaking." There's nothing wrong with the term "corporate reformers." This isn't an academic terms; it's a political term, a term that emerges in vivo, not in the ivory tower. The term also represents a step forward for those who oppose much of the corporate reform agenda. The first step in combating an idea is to name it. After 20 years of education reform, we have identified and labeled our enemy. That's progress. Talking about an ideology may sound like talking about a conspiracy, but they are not the same. Ideologies are patterns of thought that selfishly try to control discourse for particular ends. Like conspiracies, they are present, but unseen and unnamed, and hard to put your finger on. There doesn't need to be a conspiracy. There are an ideology and a movement. Corporate education reform is movement. A movement isn't a monolith. The largest movement in the 20th century was probably the Civil Rights movement. Was it a monolith? Did SCLC, SNCC, CORE, and the Nation of Islam agree on all tactics and goals? People may have sought the same ultimate goal racial equality, but they disagreed on many things. People with radically different beliefs protested the Vietnam War, yet we still talk about the anti-war movement. The same was true for the feminist movement. Our corporate reformers share a common goal--that of reforming education. It's okay if they focus on different means. They don't need a star chamber to come up with ideas, and we don't need labels with science-like precision.


This web site and the information contained herein are provided as a service to those who are interested in the work of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI). ASI makes no warranties, either express or implied, concerning the information contained on or linked from The visitor uses the information provided herein at his/her own risk. ASI, its officers, board members, agents, and employees specifically disclaim any and all liability from damages which may result from the utilization of the information provided herein. The content in the Shanker Blog may not necessarily reflect the views or official policy positions of ASI or any related entity or organization.