Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (V)

Marc Dean Millot has written his last post in the series. Here it is without links:
Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (V)
-Marc Dean Millot:

This last post is not about This Week in Education editor Alexander Russo’s decision to pull “Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning” because Andrew Rotherham suggested a colleague at Scholastic should make it so. It’s simply a list of my reflections on reactions to this series.

Thank You. I must thank five independent educator-bloggers who offered their hands in friendship for open debate. My posts can be found at Jim Horn’s Schools Matter, Norm Scott’s EdNotes Online, The Frustrated Teacher, Tom Hoffman’s Tuttle SVC, and here at Borderland. The complete record resides at TFT. I could not have responded as quickly or broadly if they had not lent me their platforms and credibility with their readers – and done so even though we disagree on some important policy matters. They are the ones who took risks.

Now that this series is ended, I will end my guest column status on their sites and return to the school reform blogosphere sometime in the future. In the meantime you will undoubtedly see a few of my comments on others’ sites.

Effect. Convincing these unknown colleagues to borrow their blogs offered me a quick response to Russo’s decision and Rotherham’s blog posting. One upside of the “five-blog” strategy was the potential to reach a larger audience. The downside might have been that it was harder to follow the series, yet most of my colleagues reported higher than normal traffic when I posted on their sites.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I had hoped to generate some interest in the mainstream education media. Diane Ravitich and Anthony Cody did post on their blogs in edweek.org, but I have no reason to believe the national media is interested. If you think they should be, let you favorite education reporter know. Reader suggestions can have influence.

Silence. Before I go deeper into the blogosphere’s reactions, readers have probably noticed that neither Russo nor Rotherham recognized any of my posts on their blogs, or any blog. For both it was probably the best “communications” strategy. From their perspective, any response would simply add fuel to the fire and keep the story going. Neither has a credible rejoinder on the merits, and the blogger’s usual knee-jerk reaction – the snide remark, was unlikely to go over well. Accepting responsibility and fault was never in the cards.

However, we do know that someone with Education Sector has spent hours reading my series – see here and here, so ignorance is not a valid plea for Rotherham.

General Trend of Comments. When I had edbizbuzz.com on edweek.org I found that: comments were made by a tiny proportion of readers, opponents were far more likely to comment than “allies,” a good portion of negative comments were ad hominem, and that edwonks who might be the targets of my posts were well-defended by their “blogroupies.”

This was the opposite experience: a much higher ratio of commentators to readers, more vociferous agreement than disagreement, ad hominem attacks directed against Russo or Rotherham, and no comments from either’s entourage. My guess is more “destination readers” followed the series than might follow a typical site.

Russo and Rotherham: Both have had several years of non-stop edublogging; plenty of time to make friends and enemies. No one expressed great admiration for Russo, but there were few real attacks on him. Rotherham was a different story; he has a great many detractors. There are the usual suspects, like the Klonsky brothers, but quite a few people who do not blog expressed similar sentiments.

Conspiracies. The series definitely became fodder for those inclined towards conspiracies around Scholastic, the Gates Foundation and for-profit education. As I’ve written before I’m not inclined in this direction because I don’t think people are sufficiently disciplined.

I would say that Scholastic was the unwitting accomplice of a friend or colleague of Andrew Rotherham – no executive of any standing had anything to do with ordering Russo to pull the post. Maybe someday I’ll remember or figure out the guy’s name.

As for Gates, New Schools, their grantees, EdSector etc., my own experience with very large nonprofits is that senior staff can leverage their organizations in ways their presidents and boards can’t dream of. Instead, see a network of people – Shelton, Smith, Rotherham etc., with a similarly focused view of school reform from a similar subculture of philanthropy, similarly invested – psychologically or otherwise – in a specific group of grantees, working towards the same ends. It’s not a conspiracy so much as an open secret. They’ve never hidden themselves from the public, they’ve spent a decade daring people to challenge their positions. They are a case of emperors wearing no clothes.

Finally there is nothing like a coherent “for profit education industry.” It’s kind of like talking about the “United Nations.” The industry is divided at least between the multinational publishers, their local consultants and everybody else selling products, services and program. The first two groups want no change to the status quo and would be happy to repeal NCLB. The few, mostly weak, trade groups have badly fractionated the broader industry’s Washington presence. And within any segment of the industry there are literally hundreds of small for- and nonprofit organizations motivated by every force known to man.

Very few in the for-profit world are interested in running public schools – it’s a very unprofitable business. Having reviewed the economics of both the charter management and teacher training businesses, I would say the new philanthropy actually wants to push the burden of their own subsidies onto the government, via RTTT and I3. Finally, there’s just not a lot of exchange going on between the for-profits and the nonprofit represented by the naked aristocracy. Sure it exists, but its not very likely that anyone at for-profit Scientific Learning knows anyone at nonprofit KIPP knows anyone at for-profit University Instructors knows anyone at nonprofit Success for All knows anyone at Scientific Learning. With a foot in both worlds, I can say they are two different worlds and cultures – although they share the fee-for-service revenue model.

Hearsay. I did not explain the term in my first post because there was enough jargon as it was and, although I am a lawyer, I felt I could make my point without still more. But as reactions to the series progressed Rotherham’s post demonstrated the risks policy wonks face when they forget the limits of their expertise by managing to confuse a lot of readers. What follows is the best, simple discussion on point that I found online http://www.lectlaw.com/def/h007.htm :

[A] statement introduced to prove something other than its truth is not hearsay. For example, testimony may be offered to show the speaker’s state of mind.

Example: Dana and Bruce were fighting, and Dana shouted “Bruce, you are a lousy bastard.” Marla heard the argument and was asked to testify at Dana and Bruce’s divorce trial. Marla was permitted to repeat the statement “Bruce, you are a lousy bastard,” because it is not hearsay. It was not introduced at the trial to prove that Bruce has lice or is an illegitimate child, but rather to show that Dana was angry.

What I wrote was not hearsay at all. I introduced the information, not to prove “the fix is in,” but to show the state of mind of people interested in the RTTT and I3 grants program. If Rotherham, or maybe his contact at Scholastic, had looked the term up in a dictionary and reflected on its application to my column, you probably would not reading this post.

Censorship. There also seems to be some confusion about this word. At least one commentator suggested that Russo’s decision was not censorship. It was not “government” censorship, which is how most people think of the term. After reviewing various dictionaries on the web, Wikipedia offers a fair summary of its meaning:

Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor.

Readers can decide who the censor was: Rotherham, the Scholastic employee, or Russo. The net result was censorship.

Millot. No great opposition to me, actually a great deal of personal support. Some commentators had a very hard time accepting that I’m pro-market. Frankly, I think there is more common ground between those who share my view of a school improvement market and teachers than many educators believe. This would be a useful area for discussion and at least one blogger – Anthony Cody, has extended an invitation to have such a dialogue. We shall see.

Other complaints included too much detail, too much legalese, talking too much about me, and my use of the Millot-Russo email record.

Without going on and on (any more), some quick responses: The detail, legalese and autobiography were deliberate choices. I did not want to engage in a running, sniping, indecisive blog battle. Short items leave too many openings for misleading counterargument. I decided to take “one bite at the apple” with each segment of my argument; I wanted readers to have all the facts relevant to making up their own minds. Printing the email transcript was the hardest decision, but absent it, this would all be “he said, she said.” Russo’s termination of the contract without public explanation left me no choice, and he never disputed the record.

Would I do this again? Absolutely. And if you ever face the decision to sit this out or dance – I hope you’ll dance.

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