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Harvard School of Education commencement speaker draws protest

Students, faculty and alumni of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education are protesting the school’s choice of commencement speaker for his stance on education reform that relies on so-called test-based accountability.

Colorado State Sen. Michael Johnston 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.

Student and faculty opposition has led to other protests this graduation season. On May 12, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde withdrew as speaker at Smith College amid protests over IMF policies. Earlier this month, former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice pulled out from Rutgers University’s ceremony after complaints about her position on the Gulf War when she served under President George W. Bush.

In the School of Education case, the group objected to Johnston’s “vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers.” The graduate school’s commencement is set for the week of May 29, according to the school’s website.

Jill Anderson, a spokeswoman for Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Damon LeeNatali, Johnston’s spokesman, didn’t immediately return telephone calls and emails sent by Bloomberg News seeking comment.

Johnston, 39, is a graduate of Yale University and holds a master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is a Democrat and represents northeast Denver.

The internet and social media have given activists a hand in mobilizing support for their causes. An online petition and discussion group helped lead the drive to replace Lagarde at Northampton, Mass.-based Smith, using complaints that have formed the basis of protests against the IMF since the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago.

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