Monday, January 21, 2008

Market Reforms: Military and Educational

Dean Millot:

Surely an education system based on market principles would have its shortcomings, wrong turns, cases of bad judgment, and disasters. But while the reformers inside the Department of Defense and military services gathered in strength over 20 years to win their "opportunities to excel," the community of market-based education reformers grew as fragmented cults. Looking at them as a collective force for markets, their vulnerablity to destruction in detail is painfully obvious. The charter movement is financially propped up by a few foundations and artificially unified. Vouchers are the market movement's political albatross. NCLB II threatens the stability of an emerging but marginal school improvement industry. The school improvement industry itself is highly fragmented on several dimensions I have discussed many times.

When all is said and done, there's been no expanding movement of folks who were high school principals and small city superintendents in 1990 now running big urban districts - or any districts - who are implementing reform lessons learned from their experience in the front lines of urban education. This is at least one reason why, despite NCLB I, Margaret Spellings and Rod Paige are no Don Rumsfeld, and why - you name your Chief State School Officer, or district Superintendent from the past 20 years with a great reform plan hasn't been either.

Similarly, the relationship between the eduwonk and the educator isn't close to that between the defense intellectual and the warrior. If a defense intellectual recycled an argument about the need for a strike force based on small, highly mobile forces armed with precision munitions, and it somehow got past the editor of Army Times last week, the readers' response would be "that argument is so 1990's. We've got the right warfighting structure. The problem is that neither this Army nor the one it replaced was designed for occupation, insurgency or civil war."

When Ed Week feels comfortable trotting out Doyle's solid, but very old well-worn, argument as somehow, something new for its readers to think about - that tells us something about the editors, the audience. Specifically - how far our market reform ideas haven't come, how little purchase they have gained within the "educator corps," how much what has happened in the way of market reform has been imposed on the system from without rather than evolved from within.

I predict there will be no wave of letters to the editor of Ed Week from superintendents and chief state school officers protesting that for the last ten years, they've been doing what Doyle advocates.

I don't think I can sum up the exact parts of this analysis I agree with and disagree with -- it's a pretty complicated mesh -- but I definitely recommend giving it a read.

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