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Media: What "Reforming The Reformers" Leaves Out

image from graphics8.nytimes.comThere's not much to disagree with in Paul Tough's recent commentary on the state of education reform, though there are a couple of things to add:  (1) This isn't the first or only call for reformers to back off on the claims and excuses and beef up the supports and services part of their efforts.  Linda Darling Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Valerie Strauss, and many others have said much the same thing for quite a long time. (2) That the work is incredibly hard isn't the most complete explanation for the recent excuse-making, either.  Internal pressures to make (and defend) outsized claims are a key part of the underlying dynamic, as is the never-ending credulity for miracle stories by the press, public, and politicians. Also at play here is the reality that it's much harder to win funding and support for mundane-seeming things like nutrition programs and prenatal home visits than for ideas that are presented as "new" and "innovative." What's happening to the Promise Neighborhoods program that Tough's piece tacitly endorses is a prime example.   

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I was helping at a nutrition fair at a low-income urban high school, handing out free strawberries to students with stamped cards showing they'd visited X number of informational tables.

The kids eagerly asked if strawberries were going to be offered in the cafeteria (I was at a table run by the school meal program) and I had to say no, sorry, kids, we can't afford them. No more strawberries for you!

What if Bill Gates decided to fund strawberries for low-income schools instead of ed-reform fads and strategies for demoralizing teachers and undermining their professionalism...? Oh, just a silly thought.

Alexander's comments on "the never-ending credulity for miracle stories by the press, public, and politicians" and the difficulty of moderate, nuanced voices to be heard in a culture of polarization and limited attention spans are right on the money. A good case in point with regard to the former point is the recent coverage of Locke High School by the Los Angeles Times, which was once an impressive publication. Green Dot's press people let out that 488 students were graduating; the Times editorial pegs the number at 358, still an improvement over the old LAUSD numbers; then Ronnie Coleman, the departing principal, is quoted telling her staff that, of a senior class of 379 students, 256 had earned diplomas. By linking back to the state database linked in the editorial, I found that Locke's class of 2007, which was the last class that didn't suffer significantly because of our rebellion, had 354 students in it, of whom 280 graduated. The number graduating actually dropped, in spite of spending an extra 15 million dollars! And everyone, including the L.A. Times reporter, treats this as a rousing success! The truth in life sometimes gets so twisted as to defy credibility, if it were presented as fiction.

"Also at play here is the reality that it's much harder to win funding and support for mundane-seeming things like nutrition programs and prenatal home visits than for ideas that are presented as "new" and "innovative."

Absolutely a true statement. No one is opposed to "new" and "innovative" solutions; however, those terms seem to be misused as supports for assessment and data obsessions and interventions that have no evidence as supports. The amount of money allocated for such "innovation" ignores State and local budget realities. Who benefits from the funding? So far, as I see it, not the students.

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