To be clear (as I am certain that 99% of adults in the U.S. would agree), all is not well with public education. There are many reasons for that. Now, if you just looked at white and many Asian students, the U.S. is doing as well as most top-level countries.
But the U.S. is a very heterogeneous country that tests all public school students. We are also a country that seemingly is accepting that nearly 25% of our children live in poverty. Anyone who thinks that a good teacher is going to overcome institutional racism, poverty and inconsistent/low funding is wrong.
Also, when I speak of education reform in the U.S., I mean corporate ed reform. I'm not saying change isn't needed; I'm saying what is being pushed is not really working and, at the end of the day, seems to be serving to allow some people to make high salaries and some companies to make a lot of money.
I keep up with Education Next which is leans right but usually has some pretty solid thinking. One of their contributors is Michael Petrilli who I generally don't agree with but again, offers more than happy talk.
In April, he wrote this piece, Policy change is not the only path to school reform.
It strikes me, and several others with whom I’ve spoken in recent months, that education reform is at a turning point. It’s not just the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which sends key decisions back to the states. It’s bigger than that—a sense of exhaustion with policy as the primary driver of educational change.He goes on to say the ed reformers still need to fight for "teacher accountability" and expanding "high-quality charter schools" and other "parental choice" (see vouchers) et al.
He quotes Rick Hess, another conservative public education write, who also is for ed reform but is great at knocking down ed reformers who act in illogical ways (and don't learn from their mistakes, no less admit them.)
While public policy can make people do things, it cannot make people do those things well. This is especially salient in education for two reasons. First, state and federal policy makers do not run schools; they merely write laws and regulations telling school districts what principals and teachers ought to do. And second, schooling is a complex, highly personal endeavor, which means that what happens at the individual level—the level of the teacher and the student—is the most crucial factor in separating failure from success. In education, there is often a vast distance between policy and practice.Mr. Petrilli thinks that the whole public ed system is broken (it isn't) and that a wholesale turn to charter schools, "education savings accounts" (vouchers), etc. is the way to go.
This is the genius of the twenty-five-year-old charter sector, which (though not perfect) is showing that good schools can be scaled as long as the right mix of policies, funding mechanisms, and civil society structures are in place.Really? I haven't seen that good charters DO scale. The biggest scale is the Gulen charter schools and go Google that name and see how the DOJ and the Labor Department have investigations of those schools in multiple states. Summit, Green Dot and Rocketship all want to scale but are in just a few states. KIPP seems to be the fastest growing but their limited appeal by structure would seem to limit them to urban settings.
He talks about going around public schools and targeting teachers, parents "and/or students directly." Folks, do you really want Pearson to go directly to your student? I wouldn't. This is a telling group of statements:
Class Dojo and Learn Zillion are capturing incredible market share among American teachers without messing with district procurement processes. Curriculum providers for homeschoolers know how to target parents, and they may expand their offerings to us parents who “home-school” at night and on the weekends. There’s lots and lots more that might be done here, particularly with the support of philanthropists.Interesting he mentions Class Dojo because it is one of the most invasive of in-class systems. (I'll be writing about them this summer.) And that "with the support of philanthropists" means go to Gates, Waltons, Broad to get this going around going.
Petrilli followed up in May with this at Education Next.
Public school systems are the way they are because important constituencies are satisfied. They are open to change, but at a glacial pace, and only if it doesn’t upset the apple cart any time soon.Again, not all parents are happy with public schools but the fact of the matter is most parents in this country do choose traditional public school. The graduation rate is going up every year and so at least one "important constituency" seems satisfied. If he is alluding to teachers, he should say so.
Charter schools, meanwhile, are classic start-ups. Without the burden of legacy costs, political baggage, and tired assumptions, they can pursue excellence with abandon. Not enough do, of course. But it’s impossible to look at the best charter networks up close and not see that their DNA is dramatically different from that of a traditional school system.I love when ed reformers relate public education to business. Public education, like public health, needs to be well-managed and accountable but no, it's not a business. That whole paragraph is a bit of a contradiction because many ed reform researcher (including those over at UW at the Center on Reinventing Education) have written widely about how puzzling/discouraging it is that more charters AREN'T innovating and look much like other traditional public schools.
But then he has some good thoughts:
I’m not sure I can prove it with hard data, but it sure seems clear to me that the cities and states with some of the highest-performing charter schools (Boston, Washington, D.C., New York State, Tennessee) are also home to some of the most thoughtful and effective authorizers. These entities have respect for the charter bargain (autonomy in return for accountability), are choosy about which proposals get green-lighted to open, and act courageously in shutting down chronically low-performing schools.Yup, if you're going to have charters, do be choosy and do hold them accountable. That's their raison d'etre, no?
But to the bigger picture, public education blogger Jan Resseger puts it better than I can:
In a NY Times column yesterday, How the Other Fifth Lives, Thomas B. Edsall describes how those at the top are insulating themselves while shaping the institutions that serve the rest of us. Edsall examines the updated research of Sean Reardon and Kendra Bishoff, sociologists who have been examining these trends: “The self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system, creating a self-perpetuating class at the top, which is ever more difficult to break into.”Sadly, the differences between Trump and Clinton, on public education, are not as great as you might think. What's pretty funny is there are those who aren't sure Clinton will side with ed reformers but if you look at her funders, I'm pretty sure she will.
The rush toward market competition in education that has transformed America’s poorest big cities—with the rapid growth of charter schools and the closure of many neighborhood schools— exemplifies the power of the wealthy who are designing policy according to the rules of the business world. The political philosopher Benjamin Barber captures the power dynamic among the elites who create and the rest of us who may participate in marketplace school choice: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu.
What's the next big thing on the ed reform horizon (but coming at you and your children like a freight train?) Personalized learning. Here's a great article on Rocketship charter schools who have been doing this as part of their system for quite awhile.