Bruno: Both Sides Mis-Calculate On "Out-Of School" Factors
@mrpabruno Last weekend Ken Libby took to Twitter to ask the masses, "what would it take to draw up a 'peace deal' among 'reformers' and 'anti-reformers'?" Many of the immediate responses were unintentionally ironic in a discouraging way and demonstrated the considerable distrust between the two sides. And much of the subsequent discussion has focused on the often hostile "tone" of the debate.
But my sense is that the tone is as likely to be a symptom of the distrust as a cause. As I detail below, I think that reformers need to worry less about whether a problem is "in-school" or "out-of-school" and just try to figure out what's really best for kids generally. Anti-reformers need to avoid making too much of the in-school/out-of-school distinction to excessively minimize the importance of in-school factors.
Reformers, for example, seem to focus almost exclusively on changing students' in-school environments. Rarely, if ever, do you see the most prominent education reform organizations throwing their considerable power behind improving students' out-of-school lives. Anti-reformers see this focus on in-school factors and interpret it as evidence of malice and secret agendas. After all, if reformers really cared first and foremost about helping students, wouldn't they dedicate themselves to helping them outside of school as well?
I think that interpretation of reformers' motives is mostly incorrect, and that reformers have just made the calculation that it's easier to change schools than to address society-wide poverty and inequality in a comprehensive way.
Reformers seem to think, in other words, that one of the important things about the "in-school/out-of-school" distinction is that the in-school stuff is feasible and the out-of-school stuff isn't. But if the education reform wars have taught us anything, though, I think it's that addressing in-school factors is probably not that much easier. And I think addressing out-of-school issues would go a long way toward demonstrating to anti-reformers that reformers' intentions are pure.
The flip side of this is that anti-reformers often make too much of the in-school/out-of-school distinction, too. They'll often correctly point out that out-of-school factors are far more important to student achievement than in-school factors, but then use that fact to excessively minimize the importance of in-school factors. (My experience is that many anti-reformers won't even discuss in-school factors without bringing up out-of-school factors, which is an especially annoying non-sequitur.)
A recent article in Education, Finance, and Policy explains why the dominance of out-of-school factors doesn't justify dismissing in-school factors: in-school factors may be easier to change, and the effects of in-school reforms may still be quite large. (If the article is gated, there's a shorter version of the argument here.) The problem is that when anti-reformers misjudge the potential impact of in-school reforms, this will often look to reformers as stubborn loyalty to the "status quo".
So while reformers may misestimate the potential for out-of-school reform, anti-reformers often misestimate the potential for in-school reform. Each side sees the in-school/out-of-school distinction as more important than it probably is, and so appear to the other side to be operating in bad faith, and thus deserving of neither cooperation nor a civil tone. It's not really clear to me that the in-school/out-of-school distinction is very helpful to the debate, all things considered. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)