The Next Big Thing

The Springfield Empowerment Zone is light on results, heavy on hype and rife with red flags…

Barely had Massachusetts voters cast the last *nay* vote on raising the charter cap, aka the Last Big Thing, than the Next Big Thing was sweeping the Bay State. I speak, of course of the zones of empowerment, that suddenly have everyone who is anyone talking. The experiment in school turn around-ing underway in Springfield, headed up by education reformer magnate Chris Gabrieli, is now in its second year and has already put up impressive numbers. No reader, not the measurable results that were the occasion for the takeover. I mean *buzz* as they say in the biz. There’s Boston Globe sage Scot Lehigh singing the Empowerment Zone’s praises. Now here’s Chris Gabrieli singing his own praises. Here’s Governor Baker giving the EZ a shout out and proposing a statewide expansion. Here’s the Globe editorial page echoing the Governor’s call. Now here’s the front page of the Globe reporting on the growing momentum behind the Empowerment Zone crusade. Oh, and here’s Representative Alice Peisch, fresh off her turn as lead flog-stress for the Last Big Thing, filing the *enabling legislation* that will empower the growth of zones across the land. Continue reading →

Foundations Unfiltered

Megan Tompkins-Stange spent five years conducting confidential interviews with insiders at some of the foundations most involved in education reform. What they told her will surprise you. Or not… 

EduShyster: You spent five years interviewing insiders at some of the foundations most involved in education reform, and your new book Policy Patrons allows readers to *listen in* on conversations that are, let’s just say, enlightening. I want to give readers a taste by jumping right into a Gates Foundation official’s take on the chummy relationship between the foundation and the Obama administration—or as one Obama staffer describes it in a telling slip of the tongue, the Gates administration. 

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Megan Tompkins-Stange: I think this is one of the more interesting quotes in the book, because it’s quite self-reflective. On the one hand, the source is acknowledging that the close coupling between Gates and the Department of Education under Arne Duncan was great because it pushed their agenda forward. But on the other hand, they’re acknowledging that it’s somewhat problematic in terms of democratic legitimacy. It was my sense that most of the people I talked to hadn’t engaged—at an organizational level—with the larger question of *What’s our role in a liberal democracy?* or *Is this the right thing for us to do as a foundation?* They were so focused on the work—they talked about *We’re changing things; we’re moving the policy, look at all these things we’ve accomplished.* The democracy part of it was not really a part of the equation in terms of their day-to-day discussions. It was more about, *How do we get the elites who can really move this policy on board?* But it seems like that is changing now in a few contexts. Continue reading →