No Mo Mojo?

School reform lost its mojo? Great headline to Robert Pondiscio’s column, and Pondiscio is always worth a read.

My favorite part was the reconsideration of Michelle Rhee. Frankly, that’s overdue, given that the unexpected happened — Vince Gray kept Kaya and Rhee’s reforms and it all paid off, based on federal testing. Must drive the AFT/Rhee critics crazy. The unions thought they had finished her off with the mayoral elections. Hindsight can be a b____Her reforms are working, especially with the considerable tailwind provided by Kaya. Had Rhee not come to DC the district schools today might resemble Detroit’s, and everyone would still be shaking their heads and muttering: What can you do? Have to first cure poverty. That was the DC narrative for decades, and everyone went along with it.

Has reform really lost its mojo? Hand wringing over John Oliver’s piece is a symptom, he argues. Who cares what a comedian says? I’m not so sure. The “pushback” movement is on a roll now, enrolling many white upper-income opt-outers in the anti-charter movement. In MA the unions seem to be doing a good job scaring those same parents: Charters could come to Newton and compromise your wonderful schools! As a result of that, I think the referendum to raise the cap faces less than 50-50 odds of winning.

The overarching theme of the pushback, as I know from watching Randi Weingarten mount a 16-part twitter attack on the commentary I wrote with David Osborne, is that charters are corrupt failures. Just put together a list of failures (and there are many to choose from), as Randi did, and somehow that negates the positives we cite in Denver, L.A., and many other cities. No logic needed. Just make lists and raise the volume.

Therefore, seeing Oliver mimic the union playbook is worrisome. That kind of influential humor fuels the shift of the “progressive” left against charters. And that translates into votes in MA.  (The question I keep trying to get answered: Just how did denying better schools to poor kids become a “progressive” cause?)

So while Oliver’s diatribe may not be journalism (If I put together a list of horrible traditional public schools and cited that as the norm, I’d be fired (…oh wait, I don’t have a “real” job), it’s an important cultural shift that can’t go unanswered, for a very simple reason: If the cap doesn’t get raised in MA, thousands of students will get denied seats in the nation’s top charters there, such as Brooke. And that’s not nothing.