But divisions over strategy, wrapped in ideology, loom as large as ever. The mere mention that the education forum and summit were on tap drew online comments about the connection of school reformers to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that generates model legislation for conservative causes.
Conspiracy theorists, opponents retorted.
Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey walked out early from the fundraising luncheon because he didn’t like what Canada and Legend were saying about the possibility of reform hinging on the ability to fire ineffective teachers.
Thomas J. Mertz, a parent and college instructor who blogs on education issues, expressed in a phone interview Friday his indignation over “flying in outside agitators who have spent no time in our schools and telling us what our problems are.”
Mertz said he also was concerned by the involvement of the Madison School District with events delivering anti-union, anti-public education, pro-charter school messages. The school district, for its part, took pains to say that the $5,000 it donated in staff time was for a Friday workshop session and that it had no involvement with the appearances by Canada and Legend.
Madison doesn’t need a summit to whip up excitement over the achievement gap issue, Mertz said when I asked if the Urban League events didn’t at least accomplish that. “It’s at the point where there’s more heat than light,” he said. “There’s all this agitation, but the work is being neglected.”
That’s a charge that School Board President James Howard, who says that the district might decide to mimic some of the practices presented at the summit, flatly denies. “We’re moving full speed ahead,” he said.
Caire told me that the school district and teachers union aren’t ready to give up their control over the school system. “The teachers union should be the entity that embraces change. The resources they get from the public should be used for the children’s advantage. What we’re saying is, ‘Be flexible, look at that contract and see how you can do what works.'”
Madison Teachers Inc. head John Matthews responded in an email to me that MTI contracts often include proposals aimed at improving education, in the best interests of students. “What Mr. Caire apparently objects to is that the contract provides those whom MTI represents due process and social justice, workplace justice that all employees deserve.”
If Caire has his way, Madison — and the state — are up for another round of debate over how radically to change education infrastructure to boost achievement of students of color.