Most of the time I can't imagine focusing on anything but education policy for the rest of my life. But, at certain times, I wonder if it's worth it. Petty arguments and ideological venom seem to be poisoning the field, and I'm not sure if I can take it. Here's the latest example of what's wrong with education policy. We'll follow it step by step.
Step 1. In the wake of the latest evidence on vouchers in Milwaukee, Sol Stern (a noted supporter of vouchers for many years) writes that "markets in education may not be a panacea," that there has been no "Milwaukee Miracle," and that we should consider other options.
Step 2. Jason Riley writes a piece in the Wall St. Journal in defense of vouchers and choice, arguing that "seeking panaceas and miracles is setting the bar for success unreasonably high."
Step 3. Letters to the editor pour in (here and here), including some from teachers who argue that the biggest problem is that their kids come to school far behind.
Step 4. George Clowes writes in to call these letters condescending and suggests that we should blame teachers instead of students or families ("Instead of blaming social conditions for student failure, let's just ask teachers to do their job: Educate students").
Step 5. Greg Forster revels in this "smackdown" on Jay Greene's blog and compares Clowes to Mr. T.
Notice that the level of discourse (not to mention civility) devolves with each step. By the end we're left with one side rooting against the other. How is this productive? It's not.
If the field of education policy becomes nothing but half the participants fighting to defeat the other half of the participants, then I have no interest in participating. Being childish and immature can be fun, but it has no place in education policy. If it's not possible to make an honest attempt to find solutions to problems without a large group making knee-jerk judgments regardless of what you find, then count me out.
I see no utility in rooting for one solution or blaming one group instead of another. In other words, can't we focus on attacking the problem instead of each other?