About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Reform: Will Reformers Ever Broaden Their Agenda?

image from www.esquire.comGeoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone was their front.  They might have loved "The Wire" but they didn't incorporate any of its lessons into their agenda. Skyrocketing child poverty rates didn't persuade them to pay more than lip service to broader social issues. Even universal preschool was too broad a challenge for them to take on in any meaningful way.  

You might think that  the last few months of awareness-raising around class would finally change all that -- would finally make poverty and other social issues a stronger part of the reform agenda.  But it won't be a quick or  easy shift, and it won't necessarily be popular even if it's adopted. It's hard to change the way you think, harder still to admit it publicly and operationalize new thinking.  

This recent Esquire article notes that while the US has less social mobility than all the other OECD countries besides Italy and Britain class issues can still be hard for people to see and respond to because they're so entrenched and so at odds with self-perception: "The emerging aristocracy remains staunchly convinced that it is not an aristocracy, that it's the result of hard work and talent. The permanent working poor refuse to accept that their poverty is permanent. The class system is clandestine."


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

A significant advance might begin with, first, removing any lingering demonization in the United States with the connotations of the words "socialism" and "socialist" (which has led to odd coinages like "societal" when "social" would do perfectly well), and, in tandem, distinguishing properly between "liberal" and "socialist". The failure to do so leaves the American left engaging in odd verbal gymnastics; the right successfully trashed "socialism" in the 1930s, and "liberal" in the 1970s, leaving the left disconnected from substantial ideological theories, movements and texts overseas and instead left mumbling about being "progressive" in incoherent, uncoordinated masses camped out pointlessly about structures of power that successfully repel them like so many unwanted gnats, in contrast with more successful contemporary gatherings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Education reformers have their hands full with their current agenda - an agenda still being bitterly opposed by powerful special interests, as demonstrated by the recent contretemps in NY over teacher evaluations. This idea that reformers have to fight every battle every day would kill the effectiveness of the movement.

There's a lot to rebut in that comment, @Josh. (Looks like the corporate-reformers have scrambled to hire a sock puppet.)

-- The fads currently being pushed by corporate education reformers are not effective. The work that keeps so-called-reforms' hands full largely consists of false hype proclaiming their fads effective, and trying to trick the wider world into believing that. The false hype does deceive a lot of forces, so in THAT arena, the corporate-reform sector has been quite effective. Just not at improving education.

-- As usual, the notion that billionaires, the mainstream media and the leadership of both political parties are some kind of underdog battling the "powerful special interests" (like me) is -- oh dear, what adjective even does justice to that level of dishonesty? I'll just avoid hyperbole and say that it's inaccurate and misleading.

Back in December, Diane Ravitch and Rick Hess happened to write contemporaneous columns which touch on this problem from opposite sides.

Diane discussed a paper by Duke University professor Helen F. Ladd, titled "Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence." http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2011/12/scrooge_and_school_reform.html

Rick defended the role of for-profit providers in education reform, which he felt was being unduly discredited by the blockbuster exposes running in the Miami Herald and NY Times that week

Alexander’s question can only be answered if corporate reformers are willing to examine the connection between these two pieces. Professor Ladd raises it herself, in a NY Times editorial that accompanied the release of her academic study. She notes:

"So why do presumably well-intentioned policy makers ignore, or deny, the correlations of family background and student achievement? "

She goes over a few obvious stumbling blocks, then makes this observation:

"...A final rationale for denying the correlation is more nefarious. As we are now seeing, requiring all schools to meet the same high standards for all students, regardless of family background, will inevitably lead either to large numbers of failing schools or to a dramatic lowering of state standards. Both serve to discredit the public education system and lend support to arguments that the system is failing and needs fundamental change, like privatization."

I cross-posted a set of links and quotes from corporate reformers, in response to both columns. Most of them are drawn from the links Alexander Russo provided here, and I would be interested in how he or any corporate reformer would answer any of them. So far, no one has answered.

I am an original education reformer and "agent of change", (UCSC 1984), and our reform agenda has been this broad for 30 years.

The corporate reform agenda is actively focused on stamping out the very factors that my reform cohort have demonstrated to be transformational, but have never been able to bring to scale.

Contrast these:
The proprietary Response to Intervention computer-generated "individualized" drill activities require total teacher buy-in to a scripted interaction, in which the only axis of individuation is predetermined by a self-sustaining algorithm.

The reform movement I helped build requires the intellectual presence of highly educated, subject-competent teachers, a learning environment that fosters student agency, teacher and student interaction with the community and natural environment, and access to abundant and appealing physical teaching and learning resources. For example, I just purchased this item 2 days ago, on my own credit card:
Students in suburban schools have class sets of them, as you can see in the pretty photos, but there has never been one in my building, in spite of the many grant applications and order requests I've written. I have a student who has undertaken an individual project which needs exactly this piece of equipment. Believe me, if he has it in his hands, a new world can open for him, and class mobility will be his.

Ironically, the corporate model is the more expensive to implement. The Title I money in my low-income (but not "very low income") district flows inexorably to for-profit providers of supposedly score-raising hype. I can attest that any "reform" supporter who imagines their eyes are on any other prize but profit is deceiving himself.

Among the corporate reformers' hires are, of course, people who wish for real education and real economic justice in working-class schools, and it is in hope of reaching those people that I write here.

today, in Chicago, the two movements are faced off.


The comments to this entry are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.