Archive for the ‘communications’ Tag
re·form: noun 1. the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc.
In the wake of the Chicago teachers strike, many of us who follow education policy are wondering what the implications are for efforts to improve America’s public schools. American Prospect ran a thoughtful analysis of one of the few published public opinion polls, noting the disconnect between the perceptions of white professional parents and minority working-class parents. In addition to the points they make around historical relationships with unions, I think there may be another factor working against those would like to build consensus around what needs to change in our schools: the word “reform.”
Reform has always had an aggressive, judgmental and negative connotation. Reform schools are where we send delinquent children. The Reformation was an attack on corruption within the Roman Catholic Church that led to splinter groups who formed the mainline Protestant churches.
Is it any wonder that many of the teachers working in our schools react negatively to the notion that they are in need of reform?
The strongest and weakest teachers receive most of the public attention, but most people agree that the average teacher is neither wrong, corrupt or even unsatisfactory. We know that most teachers spend their own money to make their classrooms welcoming for students and to provide them with supplies. I have known more than one teacher who kept healthy snacks on hand for the kids who didn’t get enough to eat at home.
No, the majority teachers aren’t in need of reform. Nor, typically, are the schools in which they work. But it is clear from the data on graduation and college admission and completion rates that they need to improve.
im·prove: verb 1. to bring into a more desirable or excellent condition.
State and local education agencies use the term “school improvement” quite a bit–they rarely apply the word “reform” to their efforts. These administrators and politicians understand that they are much more likely to get the necessary groups to buy-in to their efforts by focusing on the positive. Who couldn’t use a little improvement, after all? No one is perfect.
One of the lessons reinforced by the polling around the Chicago strike is that urban minority public school parents support teacher unions and are suspicious of the education reform movement. The education reform movement will never be truly successful if it fails to engage the very families it purports to help.
As Eduwonk notes, the “reform unionism” field is littered with the bodies of union leaders voted out of office after appearing too accommodating with management or school reformers. But reform unionism had a powerful pragmatic argument in its favor: Until the Chicago strike the political choice for unions looked like accommodation and collaboration or irrelevance. Last week Lewis added a third credible option to the mix – strident resistance.
Perhaps it is time for the leaders of the ed reform movement to regroup and consider a new name; one that doesn’t bring to mind the feeling of being rapped with a ruler.
The saying goes: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. But, in communications, that is not always good advice. When it comes to the issue fueling talk shows across the country–women’s reproductive rights and services–the gunslingers are drawing damaging attention to themselves.
For decades, pro-life groups have worked steadily to erode access to abortions in a series of well-organized state-based legislative campaigns. Recognizing that the Supreme Court was unlikely to overturn Roe v. Wade and that national public opinion supported access to abortions, they made state legislatures in more conservative states their battlegrounds. This “knife” strategy has been extremely effective, because it kept the battle localized and didn’t mobilize opponents at a national level.
Over the last year, some pro-life supporters brought their knives to the national forum. First, there was the heated congressional debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Then, it appears one influential conservative group pressured Susan G. Komen for the Cure into cutting its funding for Planned Parenthood. In both cases, pro-choice organizations and women’s health advocates roared about the perceived attack not just on abortion funding, but to women’s health funding, particularly for low-income women. And, in both cases, they effectively rallied grassroots support to retain their funding.
The current debate about insurance coverage for birth control is one where both sides pulled out their big guns. The Obama administration decided to mandate zero co-pay coverage from all employers except for churches or official places of worship. This riled the Catholic Bishops, who’d been readying their weapons for months in anticipation. As a result of savvy strategic planning, they won an early concession from Obama who realized he did not want to be embroiled in a fight with men of the cloth in an election year.
At the same time, a law made its way through the legislature in D.C.’s neighboring Virginia that mandated vaginal probe ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. The degree to which this law insinuated the government between a woman and her doctor captured national attention, leading to a public retreat by the sitting Republican governor.
But, the real excitement came when Republican presidential not-quite-frontrunner Rick Santorum harnessed his bully pulpit to express his opposition not just to forcing religious employers to pay for birth control, but for birth control in general. This was capped off last week when Rush Limbaugh branded a Georgetown University Law student a “slut” and “prostitute” for advocating for insurance coverage of contraceptives by all US employers and universities.
In the span of one year, the debate shifted from abortion to birth control. In the span of a few weeks, it shifted from the boundaries of religious liberty to something reminiscent of the 1640s.
Pundits on both sides have speculated about whether it was Obama’s plan all along to lure the social conservatives into a birth control debate. The reason they think it might have been is because they sense, and a few recent polls bear out, that the Republicans may have just lost the women’s vote. Advertisers and Republican party officials pressured Limbaugh to apologize. George Will is now encouraging the party to shift its focus to congressional races.
I have spoken about this battle with women from all parts of the political spectrum, from the red state in which I grew up and from the blue state in which I currently reside. The one thing about which we all agree is that we can’t believe the presidential election has turned into a fight about birth control and a debate about whether the GOP is waging a war on women. But it has. Because when someone pulls out a gun, everyone pays attention.
For a play-by-play of the current debate, click here: http://dyn.politico.com/tag/BirthControl
Yes, this is the title of a book by political wordsmither Frank Luntz. While some on the left are aggravated by Luntz’s use of language for conservative gain (he coined the term “death tax” to replace “estate tax”), if you can put your politics aside, the man makes some good points.
Specifically: “it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” This breaks down further to “what’s in it for me?”
Two different talk shows on the Seattle-area NPR affiliate KUOW brought this point to life this week in their coverage of the proposed $20 car tab fee to help keep the current level of bus service. Yesterday, The Conversation was trying to generate listener interest with the following question: Should drivers have to subsidize bus riders? I was driving in my car (by myself) to work, and my immediate reaction was “Hell, no!” Our licensing and tag fees are outrageous to begin with, and I’m not signing up to pay more. Particularly since I have never ridden on a King County bus and possibly never will.
This morning, Weekday host Steve Scher asked the official behind the fee proposal this same question. King County Executive Dow Constantine responded that this isn’t about subsidizing bus riders, it is about supporting the road system–something drivers already do. He then explained how much more congested the roads would become if people who ride the bus today started driving. Suddenly, I found myself very much in favor of paying $20/yr to limit the traffic I encounter during MY commute and feeling grateful to the bus system for making MY life easier.
Kudos to Dow Constantine for his deft use of language to reframe a driver tax as a traffic-limiting investment. He clearly understands that if you want me to pay without a fuss, don’t appeal to my sense of civic duty. Show me what is in it for me.