An Interview with Andrew J. Blumenfeld
A pro-reform young gun has his sights set high.
In a previous era, someone like Andrew J. Blumenfeld, 20, would have finished his college education and applied to Teach for America. Instead, the Princeton junior ran for and won a seat on his local school board back home in Southern California. He campaigned on a pro-reform platform and called on the district to provide better AP courses for students pursuing rigorous studies. Board members like Blumenfeld could become increasingly common in the next wave of school reform efforts, which are focusing much more on leadership and advocacy than on classroom- or school-level changes. Blumenfeld is cofounder of a group called Students for Education Reform, which has 71 chapters and a national office in New York City. Clearly, there are lots of Blumenfelds out there.
Q You've been compared to Michelle Rhee and Steve Barr. Whom do you identify with most? Or do you have another model?
A I'm inclined to say Michelle Rhee, but that's at least as much out of sheer admiration as it is due to a likeness between the two of us.
Q Why get involved in La Cañada USD, a small, wealthy San Gabriel Valley district, rather than a more disadvantaged community?
A I feel personally connected as a former student. Also, I've become increasingly convinced that more privileged districts often share the systemic shortcomings of disadvantaged public schools-more than they might be willing to concede.
Q Your campaign focused on the fact that LCUSD kids were taking classes on their own because the high school's offerings weren't good enough.
A Our high school has a small private school directly across the street, which offers night classes, summer school, and day courses. Unsurprisingly, families with the means take advantage of this option-as well as a significant amount of paid tutoring-where our courses aren't fulfilling their needs. We need to address these issues at a policy level.
Q Do you think that TFA and other not-yet-certified teachers meet the standard of being highly qualified for the poor and minority kids they teach? Or are degrees and certification not really the point?
A Teachers who advance student learning-regardless of the route they took to the classroom-are exactly what all students deserve. Study after study suggests that merely being certified is no promise that a teacher is highly qualified or-more important-highly effective.
Q You defeated an incumbent. What was the toughest moment in the election campaign? Did the teachers union come after you-either directly or indirectly?
A The toughest moments were those when I felt as if false information-about me, about my beliefs-was being told as truth in the community. The teachers union supported other candidates, but otherwise did not actively oppose my election.
Q How did you pay for your campaign? Did you have outside donors?
A With the exception of a few incidental in-kind donations from my family in the early days, my campaign was not self-funded. The vast majority of contributions came in the form of low-level donations, largely collected as the result of the many (upward of 35) events we held. I raised the most money of any candidate.
Q How do you address the conflict between young reformers, many of them affluent or at least well educated, and traditional educators, who are generally older and coming from the working or middle classes?
A I don't accept this "conflict" as a very real or relevant question in the work being done to improve public education. The challenges we face are big enough without unduly concerning ourselves with the personal histories
of those involved.
Q The reform orthodoxy-charters, value-added, turnarounds, anti-LIFO, pro-Common Core-is pretty strict. Are there any areas where you differ with the reform agenda?
A I think the only "reform orthodoxy" is that we need to return the focus of schools and education policy to putting the interests of students first. On this point, I am a devout believer