UPDATE: Sen. Michael Johnston responds magnanimously via Facebook:
I was honored to be invited as the convocation speaker at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I am even more excited to keep that commitment. In this moment, perhaps more than ever before, American education needs to foster open dialogue between people who share values but differ on strategies, and my speech will focus on our efforts to find that common ground. I have always found I learn the most from those who disagree with me, and because learning is more about listening than talking, I have also asked Harvard to setup an additional space and time for open dialogue so that I can hear from and learn from students on all sides of the issues. That spirited back and forth was what I loved about Harvard, and is one more reason that I am eager to return.
Bloomberg's Dan Hart reports via the Denver Post:
Students, faculty and alumni of Harvard's Graduate School of Education are protesting the school's choice of a Colorado lawmaker as commencement speaker because of his stance on education reform that relies on so-called test-based accountability.
State Sen. Michael Johnston, a Democrat representing northeast Denver, was chosen last month by Dean James Ryan to speak. The school is being asked to rescind Johnston's invitation and to create a more transparent and inclusive process for choosing future commencement speakers…
The Washington Post explains what has students and alumni at the Harvard Graduate School of Education so upset with Sen. Michael Johnston:
Johnston, a former Teach For America corps member in Mississippi and a high school principal in Colorado, received a masters degree in education at the graduate school and was a co-founder of the reform organization New Leaders for New Schools. He became an informal education adviser to then-Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 election campaign.
As a state senator in Colorado, Johnston has pushed legislation to promote corporate school reform and was behind a 2010 law mandating that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation come from student standardized test scores (through a method known as the value-added method] that has been sharply criticized by assessment experts…
From the statement signed by students and alumni opposing Sen. Johnston:
We are deeply disappointed by this year’s choice for the HGSE alumni convocation speaker: Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston. Given HGSE’s mission “[t]o prepare leaders in education and to generate knowledge to improve student opportunity, achievement, and success,” we are concerned with the underlying principles and values being communicated to the student body and public with this particular invitation. Senator Johnston embraces a vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers, a vision that we believe ultimately harms students and communities. In addition, we feel that the choice of Mike Johnston is emblematic of an institutional direction at HGSE that seems to value the voices of policymakers and researchers over those of teachers, students, and community members, which we find extremely troublesome.
In turn, we are asking you to do three things:
1. rescind the offer to Sen. Johnston,
2. make the process for vetting future speakers more transparent and inclusive of a diversity of perspectives, and
3. create more public venues where Sen. Johnston’s vision of education reform can be discussed, debated, analyzed, and unpacked.
There's no question that Sen. Johnston's signature education reform law, SB10-191, has proven both divisive among Democrats and troublesome to implement–as legal action over the law at Denver Public Schools shows. On the other hand, many of the battles presently taking place over education in Colorado concern very basic matters of adequate funding for public schools after years of cuts, and Sen. Johnston has consistently been on the pro-funding side of those. Beyond education, Sen. Johnston has been by accounts a strong and articulate liberal Democrat–befitting the urban electorate he represents.
That said, the changes to education policy Johnston has championed in Colorado, particularly with regard to "teacher accountability," aren't considered "reforms" at all in some education circles. We'll be very interested in seeing how Johnston responds to his critics at Harvard.