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Reform: No Hiding From The Social Mobility Debate

525897_3642585456065_1088953347_nSchool reformers -- accountability hawks and inno-entrepreneurs alike -- would seem to blend the romantic sentimental-heroism of the traditional educator (one good teacher changes everything!) with the dry-eyed sabermetric-statisticalism of the technocrat (measure, measure, measure!).

But reformers are, at core, just as soft-hearted as their educator cousin-rivals, in that they fundamentally believe that schools and education are an important reform lever and struggle to change course or adjust their beliefs even when measurements suggest that their current course of action or range of options isn't working.  And at least sometimes they can be as narrow-minded and rigid in their thinking as anyone else.

How do I know this?  Well, there's lots of evidence from the past few years but the stunning absence of any real reform response from Duncan, Rhee, Edelman, Gates et al to a series of recent news and reports about the pretty amazing lack of social mobility is the most convenient, recent example.   

Over the past few months, the issues of social mobility and class inequity have become increasingly apparent and frequently discussed. Here are a few previous posts from this blog (The Fiction Of Social MobilityIgnoring Inequality, Missing OpportunityWill Reformers Ever Broaden Their Agenda? Whatever Happened To Antipoverty Programs?) though you can find news and commentary on the topic in the mainstream press pretty much anywhere.

What do reformers think about these data?  How do their ideas address issues of social mobility and the opportunity gap?  What if any adjustments or wholesale changes need to be made in the current array of interventions and approaches? We don't really know. Social mobility gets to the core of the education enterprise.  Either schools can provide it or additional measures are required.  

By and large, reform types in and out of the Obama administration have been silent on the news that American society is increasingly bifurcated.  It's all education wonkery, all the time.  The silence has continued even as it's become an increasingly common topic of debate on oped pages and in the Presidential campaign. (Here's a recent D. Brooks column, for example: Opportunity gap among children further divides America. Fordham's Mike Petrilli discussed some of the same questions here. -- to which Andy Rotherham blithely replied "Good question!"

I'm not saying that reformers need to toss out all their current ideas at once, or to talk about social mobility all the time, just that they need to better address the issues and realities that are on the minds of the general public and -- perhaps -- consider putting their cold, hard data-geek hats on and make a couple of hard decisions.  Otherwise, they run the risk of being left out -- or as in the case of the parent trigger, left behind -- while the mainstream public debate surges past them.



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I do agree that, too often, reformers forget that eventually they do have to choose. It’s endless debate that we see now. And decisions do need to be made.

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