Facebook Twitter

A great debate — make that, Wiki-war — over an Obama adviser

The Wall Street Journal reported last night that a Stanford professor, Linda Darling-Hammond, will chair Obama’s transition team studying education policy. This sounds unremarkable, but just like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are lightning rods, so is Darling-Hammond.

The main reason is that Darling-Hammond has been consistently skeptical of the nameless movement‘s efforts to shake up public schools. She has criticized Teach For America, the alternative certification program for teachers; criticized high-stakes testing, and criticized No Child Left Behind for narrowing the curriculum. The passions these criticisms elicit is sometimes unbelievable. About a year and a half ago, I watched a grown man clasp a grown woman by the shoulders, look her in the eye, and vow to work together to prevent Darling-Hammond from being named U.S. Education Secretary. You can find vitriol pretty easily on the Internet, too.

The vitriol accelerated to another level altogether when Darling-Hammond’s was the first name to emerge as education adviser to the Obama campaign. “Reformers” were placated when it turned out that Jon Schnur, the founder of an alternative principal-training program and one of their own, was Darling-Hammond’s co-chair on that advisory board. It’s possible that right now, the WSJ story is repeating that pattern: Maybe Obama has abandoned his Team of Rivals approach and tossed Schnur to the sidelines, but equally possible is that Schnur will once again turn up as Darling-Hammond’s co-chair.

Whether Schnur joins her or not, Darling-Hammond will stir up emotions. The best evidence is her Wikipedia page. The front looks uncontroversial, but turn to the “discussion” tab, and you will find a brewing debate, including edits that became heated this summer and continued as recently as late October. A telling comment is from an aide to Darling-Hammond, who explains why she has stepped in to try to scrub a long section on Teach For America that had been named “Controversy”:

I represent Dr. Darling-Hammond and have posted a comprehensive bio on this page today. When this page was originally created, it was done by someone who posted entirely on and clearly cares strongly for Teach for America (TFA). I respect that passion, but Dr. Darling-Hammond’spage is not the approproate [sic] place to wage a debate on TFA. Out of dozens of books, hundreds of research publications and uncountable articles, this is *one* report, conducted more than three years ago. Dr. Darling-Hammond’s work — which encompasses not just teacher education, but school redesign, district redesign, principal preparation, leadership education, and assessment — was not accurately represented by the previous post. While there is no objection on anyone’s part to a debate on research, this debate belongs on the TFA page, not Dr. Darling-Hammond’s page. That research publication is only one of hundreds of projects Dr. Darling-Hammond has published on and devoting her biographical page to it is not appropriate. –Barbara McKenna; June 6, 2008

The main Wikipedia editor advocating on behalf of this “Controversy” section, “Flyte35,” does not give his or her name, but does say he is a Cornell graduate living in New York City.

UPDATE: Alexander Russo reported that Linda Darling-Hammond might be named head of this advisory board before the Wall Street Journal got it confirmed.