I took a journalism class in college where we were always taught to look for telling details. A telling detail was the kind of small, observable thing that was supposed to shed light on a larger truth about whatever we were writing about. The idea always sort of captivated me and I find myself spotting telling details from time to time.
A great example occurred to me yesterday when I checked in on the Gotham Schools website (which everyone should read every day) and read the headline, "On RttT Deadline Day, Paterson Proposes $1.1B in School Cuts." Think about that headline for a moment and what it says about the larger state of affairs for education reform and the reform agenda.
Race to the Top was supposed to be about encouraging states to do be innovative and aggressive about improving their educational performances. That's why Paterson spent a good portion of the day trying to get lawmakers to lift the state's charter school cap - an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful. But let's get back to the telling part of the detail. Mainly, that cutting $1.1 billion isn't seen as being as limiting to educational reform as the fact that the state only allows 200 charter schools. That's incredible to me.
I know that things like funding education are the kind of things that defenders of the status quo always do, but seriously people. Cutting per-pupil spending by 5% has to be considered an impediment to serious education work. Can we really race to the top without funding?
To be fair, I have no idea how to fix the state's fiscal fiasco, which seems to get worse each time I read a new report on how bad things are. So I get that cuts to schools were probably inevitable and that even a huge cut like this is only just a small portion of how much money does go to education in the state. I just marvel at the fact that no one saw the irony in cutting so much education funding while we were trying to show how education-focused we are as a state. That is a telling detail.