If you watched Star Trek, you will remember the Vulcan ‘mind meld,’ which was just what it sounds like: a technique that allows two people to share thoughts, experiences, and everything else one finds in a mind. While this doesn’t qualify for a complete mind meld (some differences still remain), the Democratic and Republican school reform minds have melded so much that John Podesta, founder and chairman of the Center for American Progress, who was president Clinton’s chief of staff and and co-chair of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential transition team, is giving a keynote address at Jeb Bush’s fifth annual reform summit.
The Excellence in Action Summit, the work of former Florida governor Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is scheduled for Nov. 27-28 in Washington D.C. (If you wanted to go, it’s too bad; registration is closed but keynote speeches and general sessions will be live streamed.)
First up on the agenda is a discussion about (what else?) vouchers and tax credit scholarships, because that is what matters to Bush and his like-minded reformers. The official name of Strategy Session 1 is “Reaching More Students With Vouchers and Tax-Credit Scholarships,” and the writeup says:
Whether you are an advocate of education vouchers for all or believe special scholarships should be reserved for students in failing schools, the debate on school choice is one that matters. States across the country are enacting new reforms and expanding those that already exist to ensure vouchers and tax-credit scholarships reach the kids who need them the most. Join these state lawmakers as they discuss strategies to keep up with the growing demand from families for quality school choice options.
President Obama and his administration don’t support vouchers but they do back many of the reforms that Jeb Bush pushed when he was governor in Florida, such as an expansion of charter schools, merit pay for teachers and standardized test-based accountability systems — none of which have proved to be a systemic fix to what ails urban education. They have been a boon, however, to businesses which are finding new ways to make money in public education.
The foundation website says this about the summit: “As the Foundation’s flagship initiative, the Excellence in Action Summit annually convenes the best and brightest from around the world to share strategies to improve the quality of education for all children, everywhere. This one-stop shop of policies and practices offers an opportunity for lawmakers, policymakers and advocates to learn the nuts and bolts of reform.”
The attendees are actually state superintendents (including John White of Louisiana and Tony Bennett of Indiana, who was just voted out of office by voters tired of his aggressive Bush-inspired reform agenda) as well as legislators, current and former governors and foundation officials. Naturally, there are no classroom teachers to discuss how the nuts and bolts of reform play out in actual schools.
Of course, Obama himself shared a stage with Jeb Bush in Florida last year and hailed him as a school reform champion, saying:
We are also honored to be joined here today by another champion of education reform, somebody who championed reform when he was in office, somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen — Jeb Bush…The truth is I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service. And we are so grateful to him for the work that he’s doing on behalf of education. So, thank you, Jeb.”
Podesta’s organization describes itself like this on its website: “The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.”
It would be hard to find a less progressive group of people with which to mind meld on school reform.