Ideas: Beware Over-Use Of The "Anti-Reform" Wrecking Ball
Progressives might be feeling pretty good right now about the defeat or delay of various attacks (Waiting For Superman, the anti-strike legislation in Illinois, the parent trigger in Compton) and the emergence of several champions (Ravitch, Strauss).
But in my mind at least progressives are still spending so much time tearing down any and all possible examples of progress, a tactic that while useful may have reached its limits. There's always something wrong, or not good enough, or an extenuating circumstance or special treatment that can be used to explain things away. Where's the money coming from? What about the teacher turnover rate?
As you'll see below, I think it's time for a more positive, hopeful narrative, with a new set of examples and heroes illustrating an alternative path to success. But I'm not sure anyone's working on that.
Moving forward, I worry that those concerned about the current direction of reform will end up marginalizing or even discrediting themselves with the public through a continued tearing down education "success" stories when they need to begin presenting a more positive, compelling alternative.
Why? Well, no one likes a constant stream of scoldings -- no should know that better than educators -- and what little history I know says complaining usually doesn't work -- witness Kozol, or Hirsch, or ... yeah, I'm out already. But you get my point. (Sometimes the critiques against reform efforts also reveal a stunning blindness to the current situation -- slamming an effort that worked partially but still represented substantial improvement over the present.) A witch hunt against reform is still a witch hunt, even if it's in response to a witch hunt against teachers.
Where are the progressive versions of the reformy success stories like Harlem Children's Zone, or Urban Prep, or Sac High, or Chicago/NYC/DC? Where's the progressive version of Michelle Rhee, or Geoff Canada? Someone get on the phone to Central Casting and dial up some alternative heroes.
In the meantime, a change in rhetoric would be a good start. Tell us what you're for, tell us what a great school for poor kids would look like or how you'd fix a broken one. Make us believe, if only for a minute, that progress is possible. Because if you're against everything then you're not really for anything, or at least that's how many people will perceive you.