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An unwanted guest crashes Jeb Fest 2013: reality

Jeb Bush convened his annual National Education Summit in Boston last week and welcomed some 800 elected officials, think tankers, business leaders and vendors—along with a highly unwelcome guest who seemed to be everywhere. And no reader, it wasn’t yours truly. Reality was the party crasher at Jeb Fest 2013. From legal troubles for yet another member of Chiefs for Change to Rahm Emanuel’s *awkward* refusal to even refer to himself as an education reformer, reality was like a bad penny, turning up everywhere.

Opportunity vouchers

Jeb hadn’t even had a chance to utter his trademark *every child can learn* catch phrase before trouble checked in at the Sheraton. A New Mexico group announced that it was filing a complaint with the IRS over the *scholarships* that Jeb’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, the aptly named FEE, provides to policy makers and politicians who then lobby or testify on behalf of FEE-backed policies. In the cross hairs: Hanna Skandera, New Mexico education chief and likely next member of the growing *emeritus* contingent of Chiefs for Change. While elected officials lined up in Boston to collect their scholarships—think of them as vouchers that allow pols to flee their failing states—Skandera was a no show. Whatever Suddenly Came Up must have been important as she’d been scheduled to lead a tour to the Next Epicenter of Reform: America’s teacher prep programs…

Tony the friendly ghost

Meanwhile Chief for Change emeritus Tony Bennett, of the Indiana Bennetts AND the Florida Bennetts, was lurking around like a friendly ghost. No doubt he was debating whether to drop in on Strategy Session X – Accountability 2020: Adopting and Readying Transparent A – F Grading Systems for the Next Generation of Schools. I’m guessing he fled to the bar rather than endure the indignity of hearing the likes of Florida State Representative Erik Fresen opine that “The major element that provides a system of grading with any value is whether or not the measurement means something.” Why I think we can all raise our Sidecars to that…

Dance of the twerking lemons

Even when reality didn’t show her face she could often be detected right outside the ballroom doors. Take the keynote address by former US Solicitor General Ted Olsen who was there to sell the audience on the idea that the California case of poor students vs. teacher tenureis like gay marriage for education. Or something like that. Olsen told a familiar tale of Golden State schools that, while

golden in his era, have sunk into deep decline because of what he termed The Dance of the Lemons in which poor students are saddled with the citrus equivalent of LIFO lifers. But that very morning had come word that a staggering 50% of students who attend public schools in the west are now poor, up 10% since 2001. So does that mean that there are more lemons? Are they dancing faster? Are they twerking? And of course the west isn’t alone in this dubious distinction. In the south too, where lemons have no right to dance,poor students are now the majority in public schools. Which means that whatever the outcome of Vergara vs. California, there will be one clear winner: poor students trial lawyers.

Who is that man in the Rahm Emanuel mask?

But it was special guest Rahm Emanuel who served as the confab’s designated buzz kill. While Jeb had earlier sung Rahm’s praises as the takes-no-prisoners mayor of Buck-Stops-Here-Istan, Rahm showed up with not so much as a hamburger tendril of red meat. Echoing a growing number of big city mayors for whom reform is now a “dirty ‘R’ word,” Rahm announced that he is no education reformer. And it got worse—much worse. He said that there had been too much blaming of teachers and too little talk about poverty, and that not all of the city’s public schools sucked. In other words, what???? Why did they put steak knives at every table setting if we weren’t going to have an opportunity to use them??? When board member William Oberndorf suggested that Rahm look to Milwaukee as a choicey model, Rahm looked as though he’d never heard of the place: Mil-What-Ee? And when ExcelinEd CEO Patricia Levesque asked Rahm to tell the crowd what he really thinks about Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis, Rahm. Refused. To take. The bait.

Existential Crisis, Inc.

Which raises the sort of existential question that might send a red blooded reformer to the bar in search of solace—and understandably so. If we can’t all agree that dancing lemons are the problem, indeed the cause of all problems, what is it that we actually hold in common? Other than the Common Core, of course, which everyone at Jeb Fest 2013 seemed to agree Makes Cents

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