Friday, June 17, 2011

Outsiders and Education Reform

Reading today's Dilbert cartoon strip, I couldn't help but think of education reform.

While there is, indeed, some value to being an outsider, it seems that we more and more often prioritize the views of outsiders over those of experienced educators in a variety of ways (which, I should emphasize, has had consequences that are both negative and positive):

*Cathie Black didn't last long in NYC, but Joel Klein was an outsider before her, as was Mark Roosevelt in Pittsburgh and a number of other superintendents around the country.  Even Margaret Spellings only had some limited policy experience in education and, best as I can tell, was never a teacher, school administrator, or district leader.

*Alternative certification programs have popped up all around the country to bring non-education majors into teaching.

*Papers analyzing education policy are increasingly written by economists (some, but not all, of whom have little training in education and/or experience in schools) rather than education scholars.

*Time and time again, the reforms proposed by outsiders have received more attention than those proposed by insiders.  Charter schools were originally trumpeted by Albert Shanker, but as a very different type of reform than is currently taking place.  Bill Gates probably has probably had as much say over what happened in our urban schools over the past decade as any individual in this country (though that's likely more a function of his financial resources than his outsider status).  Merit/Incentive/Performance pay was suggested by a lot of people, most of whom were not working in schools at the time.  The current wave of tenure reform and collective bargaining changes certainly wasn't advocated by teachers, though it was by a number of principals and superintendents.  The same could be said about value-added scores and, to a lesser extent, standardized testing and accountability.  Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure I can name the last major national reform that was really driven or advocated by teachers.

I have mixed feelings about this.  As I wrote above, some of this is good -- outsiders can, indeed, bring a unique perspective and offer some enlightening thoughts (we certainly shouldn't disregard everything somebody says simply because they're an outsider).  But, at the same time, I see no reason to continually prioritize the opinions of outsiders over those of people actually working in schools and trained in education -- in other words, while ignorance can sometimes be equated with objectivity, let's not assume it's the same as expertise.

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