We Won!

I have no idea why a bunch of ed reformers are so gloomy.  Matt has already observed how Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli can’t seem to enjoy the moment when ed reform ideas go mainstream.  Now Liam Julian is joining the poopy parade, lamenting that the new crop of naive reformers are doomed to fail just as past ones have, and “it never works out.” And continuing the gloomy theme, Rick is worrying that school choice (in the form of vouchers) over-promised and under-delivered, losing the support of people like Sol Stern.

That may be, but as a graduate student observed to me today, choice (in the form of vouchers) may have lost Sol Stern, but choice (in the form of charters) just gained Oprah, the Today Show, and the Democratic Party platform.    Overall, he thought that was a pretty good trade, especially since he had to look up who Sol Stern was.

Let’s review.  It is now commonly accepted among mainstream elites — from Oprah to Matt Lauer to Arne Duncan — that simply pouring more money into the public school system will not produce the results we want.  It is now commonly accepted that the teacher unions have been a significant barrier to school improvement by protecting ineffective teachers and opposing meaningful reforms.  It is now commonly accepted that parents should have a say in where their children go to school and this choice will push traditional public schools to improve.  It is now commonly accepted that we have to address the incentives in the school system to recruit, retain, and motivate the best educators.

These reform ideas were barely a twinkle in Ronald Reagan’s eye three decades ago and are now broadly accepted across both parties and across the ideological spectrum.  This is a huge accomplishment and rather than being all bummed out that everyone else now likes the band that I thought was cool before anyone ever heard of it, we should be amazed at how much good music there is out there.

We won!  At least we’ve won the war of ideas.  Our ideas for school reform are now the ones that elites and politicians are considering and they have soundly rejected the old ideas of more money, more money, and more money.

Now that I’ve said that, I have to acknowledge that winning the war of ideas is nowhere close to winning the policy war.  As I’ve written before, the teacher unions are becoming like the tobacco industry.  No one accepts their primary claims anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be powerful and that people don’t continue to smoke.  The battle is turning into a struggle over the correct design and implementation of the reform ideas that are now commonly accepted.  And the unions have shown that they are extremely good at blocking, diluting, or co-opting the correct design and implementation of reforms.

Rick Hess correctly demonstrated how important design and implementation are almost two decades ago in his books, Spinning Wheels and Revolution at the Margins.   And it is always useful for him and others to remind reformers of the dangers that lurk in those union-infested waters.  But for a moment can’t we just bask in the glow of our intellectual victory — even if our allies are a new crop of naive reformers?

(edited for typos)

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6 Responses to We Won!

  1. MOMwithaBRAIN says:

    All we need now is, a Governor to reject the federal take over in education AND institute a tax abatement for any family wishing to take their children out of the public school system.

    Any Governors willing to capitalize on this and become a leader?

  2. Greg Forster says:

    No, we absolutely must not waste any of our precious time basking in the glow of our victory. Now is the time to strike! Let’s seize this invaluable moment of weakness in the enemy’s defenses. The transition period between the old union presence (public interest lobby) and the new union presence (vice lobby) is when the shape of the new strategic territory will be determined and the new battle lines will be drawn. Let’s push them as far in our direction as they’ll go! Leave the basking in the glow of victory for later.

    (I can’t sign in on my phone, but yes, it’s me.)

  3. [...] Affairs piece titled “Does School Choice Work?” While Dr. Jay Greene is correct that we should be optimistic over the progress made thus far in building support for school choice, Hess offers some serious [...]

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AEI Education Policy and Josh B. McGee, jaypgreene. jaypgreene said: We Won!: http://wp.me/peH0y-1JJ [...]

  5. [...] reformers should be happy campers, writes Jay P. Greene in We won! Instead, Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli are gloomy and Liam Julian fears the new crop of naive [...]

  6. If teachers are the problem in education, then we’ve got serious problems. You can build any type of school or school system that you like, but if adults aren’t focused on nurturing children and making sure that they are practicing skills, there will be no performance improvements. I’ll work in any school and do the best that I can. What are you going to do about the REAL problems in society?

    While I acknowledge that there is a national perception that teachers are to blame for the problems that we face in public education, I have a good number other issues to bring up:

    a) social promotion by principals and school districts who allow the problem with underperforming students and underperforming schools to pass along to others down the line. The general public doesn’t realize that social promotion is killing our schools, and that it is far more harmful to urban children and families because of the higher density of underperforming populations. Why don’t you do some real research about what is harming our children? You think that it’s the teachers? We’re trying to save lives!

    b) lack of social infrastructure and good public transportation for single-parent families and families in general so that all children can receive continuous enrichment even before they enter school, i.e., children are being raised without community support

    c) lack of quality employment at a fundamental level of say, $12.00/hour, so that any family could at least live in a basic apartment and provide adequate nutrition for their children. Recent data in Rhode Island shows that 4 out of 5 single-parent families are unable to meet the basic needs of their children. What will happen to their educational needs if food is the primary concern? Will children read books and practice math when they are starving?

    d) The police/legal/court monopoly over the psyche of our society basically keeps everyone in fear to stay in school or end up in jail. “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

    e) It’s time for the teachers’ unions to take back the national debate about what’s right for kids: 1) High standards for ALL children means that ALL children will be successful as measured on national assessments, and not just passed along to the next grade before they are ready and without the prerequisite skills. For example, you don’t teach children how to add, subtract, and multiply by teaching them division, fractions, and algebra. Teach them the basics first until they have it. Then, build on that knowledge and they will learn much more effectively.

    2) Train effective leaders to get all teachers in a building on the same page and they will work wonders. If you continue to divide teachers with your rhetoric and make them fearful, then you’ll get what you expect. Remember, teachers stand in front of your children. We WANT to be led effectively so that our schools will get better, and subsequently, our jobs, do you think? When you demean and weaken the teaching profession, in any type of school, you destroy teachers’ efficacy to do a good job for children.

    3) I don’t need merit pay to do a good job; I’m a teacher, not a mercenary. Support my work in my classroom and stop undermining me with all your ideology about improving teachers. I work my tail off 12 months of the year from 7:00AM to 12:00AM every day. For 10 years, I haven’t seen much of these fabled “summers” or whatever it is that you claim that I have off. I’ve continuously done professional development, college courses, summer institutes, and endless work preparing lessons and grading papers. You couldn’t pay me $250,000 for what I do for kids every day. But you can sit there at your Blog and criticize millions of teachers with your insults and “solutions”.

    All you will do with words and changing the shape of the buildings, in your mind, is to move the same underlying problems around in an endless circle. Until you fix the major problems and inequities in our society, not much will change. In the meantime, teachers are still working in front of the children to give them skills every day. Think about what you’re saying and the isomorphic effect that you have on the national agenda. If you want great schools and great teaching, then start talking about great schools and great teaching, eliminating inequity, measuring true performance, and ending social promotion, and then you’ll be focused on the right path.

    You say that you’ve won the war of ideas, but you have actually lost, because you have divided teachers instead of bringing them together, and that harms children. We don’t need more money; we need to be backed by society, the media, and the families we serve. You are turning the world against us. Good luck to you.

    Michael Werth

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