I don’t understand why enthusiasts of curricular or pedagogical reforms feel the need to pick fights with choice supporters. Are they so starved for attention that they need to create a phony conflict about whether focusing on choice or curriculum is a more effective strategy for school improvement?
I say that this is a phony conflict because there is no necessary tension between expanding choice and competition in education and spreading the adoption of more effective curriculum and pedagogical practices. In fact, the two strategies should usually complement each other nicely. Given that the educational establishment is hostile to reforms proposed by backers of Core Knowledge, phonics-based reading instruction, etc…, the best way to expand access of students to these alternative approaches is to allow them to choose charter or voucher schools where they are more likely to find these alternatives. We can expand access to Core Knowledge by expanding access to choice.
But curriculum reform enthusiasts often seem uncomfortable with choice. What if people choose the wrong thing? Wouldn’t it be much better if we just made everyone adopt the right approach?
The problem with this strategy is that it reflects an amazing amount of political naivete. If someone were in a position to impose a single curriculum and pedagogy, through national testing, standards, and restricted choice, why would they assume that their view of the desirable curriculum would be the one to prevail? Opponents of Core Knowledge, phonics, etc… are much better positioned politically to control national testing and standards. Even if the reformers could gain control over those centralized institutions for a period of time, they can’t simply assume that they would remain forever in control.
It’s time for the curriculum people to suppress these periodic inventions of a phony conflict with choice supporters. The vast majority of choice supporters are sympathetic to the goals of curriculum reformers and we can make much better progress if we work together than if we get drawn into these phony fights.