I've already shattered my New Year's resolution, which was to pay less attention to education topics of the day and reflect more on big picture issues, such as what does the failure of data-driven school reform mean, and what are its lessons for the inevitable next cycle of school improvement. But every day brings fascinating new research and political stories, such as Michelle McNeil's Success for All Again Wins Big, and Loses, in I3 Competition. And now I find myself replying to Alexander Russo's posts from last week.
Russo cites two great journalists, LynNell Hancock and Nicholas Lemann, and he calls on education writers "to remind yourself about what it takes to examine education issues fairly and dispassionately, with nuance and complexity and prepared to have your mind changed." He then says that "there's far too little of that going on right now," implying both sides of the education wars betray the conventions of scholarly research.
I followed Russo's links and found no evidence for such equivalency. Hancock's Uncommon Ground recalls Anthony Lukas' masterpiece, Common Ground, on racial violence in Boston. Both Hancock and Lukas challenge the simplistic assumptions of a "naive time," and wrestle with the great horror that can be released by racial conflict. Hancock describes the cavalier attitude of school reformers toward this history, "National school-reform notions from our last decade still wrap themselves in the rhetoric of civil rights. ... The preferred means to the end are now top-down management tools: rating teachers, adding layers of tests, closing failing schools, creating a scattershot collection of privately-run public charters in their stead."
Similarly, Lemann's Schoolwork criticizes reformers who portray "the reliable villain, in the form of the teachers’ unions, and a familiar set of heroes," including Geoffrey Canada, Wendy Kopp, and Michelle Rhee. Lemann criticizes the way that reformers (who. I believe, borrow from Karl Rove, whose methods he had previously explored) take details out of context to fit their neat story lines. He challenges their "unproven assumptions" that tenure hurts students and he cites the potential of more conventional approaches, such as Success for All, that show it is not necessary to blow up the system.
Thinking about Lemann reminds me of The Promised Land, and seeing Lemann in action twenty-something years ago.