Education Opinion

Joining Top-Down & Bottom-Up to Make Policy

By Deborah Meier — November 13, 2008 2 min read
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Dear Diane,

Given that, in my own childhood, people of color couldn’t go up the front elevator of my apartment building in NYC’s West Side, Obama’s victory is an amazing, if belated, triumph. I still only half-believe it happened. But it’s also been a long, long time since we’ve had someone who is as thoughtful, reflective, smart, and knowledgeable in the presidency—of any color or party. That’s equally impressive. Obama is an intellectual in the best sense of that word. I’m proud to have been part of this election in so many ways.

And, one of the ideas Obama’s been playing with just so happens to be one that I, too, am fascinated by. How do top-down and bottom-up join together to make policy, not just run campaigns? In the latter, the “ideas” largely came from Axelrod and company, and we campaigners agreed to trust their judgment and carry out their “orders.” But once elected, our roles shift, and we need to think that shift through.

We need a combination of people who “think like a State,” in partnership with people of equal power who think like the recipients of too many orders, who know the ground well, and who see how the two actually interact.

You and I have equally good reasons for worrying about who gets the Secretary of Ed job. For example, it’s pleasing to see your name crop up occasionally as a superstar, Diane. But it’s funny to see it alongside a list that includes Joel Klein of NYC! I shudder to think we may be in for another, even worse, Rod Paige of Bush fame. The so-called New York miracle is as phony as the Texas one that ushered in Paige. By the time we exposed the latter, much harm had been done. We cannot afford a repeat of this.

We need a quick, brief statement—300 words?—on why NYC’s “reform” has been at best a waste of precious years, and at worst a disaster. Test scores have not risen, nor have graduation rates, nor has the content of education (which has merely been narrowed to test prep), nor the culture and climate of our schools, nor the achievement gap; meanwhile, economic and racial segregation have grown apace. We’ve got hard data to demonstrate all of this. We need to put them into simple order and spread the word.

The folks Klein pals around with, to use a campaign phrase, are not leaders in the field of schooling, education, or youth-building, but precisely the guys and gals who gave us our current fiscal crisis. Their knowledge of accountability, even in business, is shabby at best (and in Klein’s case very thin). There is very little first-hand knowledge of the public schools that educate the vast majority of our children among those he associates with and those he hires to make the big decisions. And there is no feedback that’s taken even half-way seriously. Even his record on spending needs to be exposed—who got what.

The voices of parents, teachers, and principals have been drowned out by a system that makes clear it does not know or care what “they” think.


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.