Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've been mulling over Paul Tough's post today about "The Divide" between the Education Equity Project and the Broader, Bolder Approach. Tough (like most people) presents them as "two new advocacy groups that more or less represent the two sides of this debate" between "two competing approaches to public education today." He says "there doesn't seem to be much common ground." Tough then presents a "compromise" that comes across as a commonsensical mix of what he's set up as opposite poles.

The thing is that modeling these two groups as poles is wrong. One is narrow in its approach, the other more broad. There is a subtle tipoff to this in the naming of one of them. It is as if there were two groups advocating changes to drug policy: one said "enforcement;" the other said "enforcement and treatment." What would be a compromise between the two?

Also, EEP, or their website at least, doesn't say "this kind of school reform only," it just says "this kind of school reform."


To those in the Broader camp: Let's admit that our public schools could be serving poor kids much, much better than they are today, and that in order to do that, they need a radical overhaul right away. Let's agree that the best charter schools, like KIPP and Achievement First and Green Dot, have found a whole new way of educating disadvantaged children, and that it works. So, why not embrace looser contracts like the one proposed in D.C. and the one adopted in Denver. Help persuade teachers to give up some job security in exchange for more pay. Help the school systems get rid of poor-performing teachers—not just a few of them, but a big swath, the whole bottom tier. And to replace them, let's create alternative certification programs and encourage unconventional career paths that will attract the kind of committed young overachievers who actually want to teach in the most challenging classrooms but can't stand the thought of slogging their way through a couple of years of education school.

Tough, like the EEP rhetoric, assumes the stance of someone who has just come to realize that there is an imperative to reform education. And, fair enough, Tough is a journalist, he just stumbled into the field a few years ago, like Joel Klein, Al Sharpton and some, but not all of the signatories of the EEP principles. But you know, I learned about school reform from my parents, who were fighting these fights from before I could walk, as does my wife, as did her parents, as did both my grandmothers, although presumably the reform process is more straightforward when you're just one girl in front of a one room schoolhouse in Neelyton, PA. Ten years ago I picked up The Shopping Mall High School and Horace's Compromise, both published in 1984, and headed down my own path. The reason Bolder, Broader signatories like Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier would never think to write, as the EEP does:

We can't wait another forty years to get this done.

Is that they haven't been waiting. Why did Joel Klein wait?

Here's something I've realized I haven't mentioned here. I've been through the whole "fire the poor performing teachers" thing. Seven years ago, did the school reconstitution thing Even had the oddly charismatic, smart, hard-driving Asian-American female superintendent brought in from out of town to drive the process. The whole staff of the school I helped re-design had to re-apply for their jobs. Here's the thing: it helps, but it doesn't help that much. It is not the decisive point. My experience says it is not enough and the research says it is not enough, it is too narrow.

Tough should look at how labor issues are handled in the schools that Broader, Bolder signatories like Deborah Meier and Ted Sizer have started and helped design. The results might surprise him.

And let's agree that even if "KIPP and Achievement First and Green Dot," have been successful and innovative, they have not "found a whole new way of educating disadvantaged children." That's just not a phrase anyone with deep or broad experience in education would ever use (sincerely).

Finally (whew), why not education school? Is it because all education schools suck? If so, ok, but is fixing one of the impossible things like changing the way we fund education? If not, really? Bright, driven young people don't want to bother with professional training so... ok? Does that go for doctors and lawyers too? Or librarians and nurses? CPA's?

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