Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Two Camps in Education Reform

My one-time classmate, Morgan Polikoff -- now an Assistant Professor at USC -- weighs in today with his first blog post on why he's optimistic about American students' performance.  All in all, it's a good start -- I think he makes a lot of good points and I'm definitely intrigued to see where he goes from here.

But . . .

There's just one little thing that really bothers me about the post.

Morgan divides the education world into two camps: those who dislike our current system and want to change things and those who don't. I agree that, for the most part, those two camps exist.  But Morgan misunderstands and/or misstates the fundamental difference between these two.

Personally, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with both at different times (the subject of another forthcoming post), but I'm guessing most people who've regularly read my blog over the years think I'm in the latter because I've spent more time criticizing the former. So, today, I'll put on my hat as a critic of advocates of charter schools, merit pay, vouchers, more testing, etc. and explain why I don't feel the way Morgan thinks I do.

Why do I get frustrated with the arguments of these folks at times? According to Morgan, it's because I like things the way they are and don't want them to change.


And I mean really false.

In reality, I like very little about the American education system. The last thing on Earth I want to see is no change. Not only do I believe we pale in comparison to many other nations, I believe those countries fall far short of what an education system could and should be.

In other words, I dislike our system. I loathe our system. I abhor our system. I wish we could (figuratively) blow it up and start from scratch.

I suspect that I feel more strongly about that than a lot of people in the second camp, but I think you get the point: I don't like things the way they are, and I certainly don't want things to stay the same.  At the same time, though, I'm not sold on all the recent reforms advocated by the former group.

In other words, the difference between the two camps is not that one wants to change things and the other doesn't, it's that they want to change things differently.

I think it often appears that one side is advocating for change and the other resisting it because only one side's ideas are getting widespread traction right now.  Everybody is familiar with the changes proposed by the former camp because there are a few big ones that have been debated and implemented (and debated again) all over the country.  It's far tougher, meanwhile, to pinpoint the preferred reforms of the latter camp.  I think that's true for two reasons: 1.) there aren't a handful of reforms on which everybody in the latter camp agrees and for which they strongly advocate, and 2.) they've found themselves constantly on the defensive the past decade or more (arguably ever since the passage of NCLB).

Some have characterized the former as "reformers" and the latter as "defenders of the status quo" or even "defeatists" (to which the retort has been that it's actually "deformers" vs. realists).  That's a simple dichotomy to understand.  But it's false.

The question at hand isn't why one camp wants to change our system and the other doesn't, it's in which directions each camps envisions us heading.


Dick Schutz said...

Good point. The US Government and Corporate Complex that has pushed a 4-point agenda capped by Race to the Top "assurances" are masters of "message." "Reform" is an engaging buzzword, as is the rhetoric surrounding the "Common Core Standards." Anyone dissenting in any way from the 4-points is easily tarred with opprobrious labels.

Dissenters, however, have yet to get an act together and can be considered a "camp" in at best a wishful sense.

The "Reform" agenda is currently unwinding--much faster than the time it took to wind it up. Now that "you're back," it will be interesting to hear what more you have to say.

Megan Potter said...

Everyone knows that America's education system is broken.