Working on education reform can be very discouraging. As student achievement continues to stagnate, as spending steadily climbs higher, and as policy changes only in fits and starts, reformers may be tempted to throw their hands up and declare progress impossible. But there is progress. It can’t be seen from day to day and it certainly hasn’t produced the outcomes we want, but there is progress.
You really notice the strides that have been made when you step back and think abut what the education reform discussion used to be like a decade ago and what it looks like today. A decade ago when people like Greg, Matt, and I were talking about the benefits of school choice and the need to address the perverse incentives of lifetime employment tenure for ineffective teachers and salary schedules that reward endurance more than performance, we were treated like dangerous extremists.
Now the issues of choice, tenure, merit pay, testing, and accountability are a normal part of the discussion. And most interestingly, these are parts of the normal discussion among Democrats — a party that had traditionally been too fearful of the teacher unions to treat discussion of these issues as acceptable.
Matt recently noted this remarkable development of a bipartisan consensus around reform issues. And both Greg and I have touched on this in the past. But I was reminded of just how far the discussion has come, especially among Democrats, while watching this entire show of Morning Joe on MSNBC focused on education reform. It featured a panel, almost all of whom were Democrats, and almost all of whom agreed about the same essential issues of education reform that Matt, Greg, and I could barely utter in polite company a decade ago.
To be sure, there is much to do before we make real progress in education. But at least we are having a productive discussion about ideas that may bear fruit. That’s progress.
One striking thing about the discussion on Morning Joe and among other groups of Democrats is that none of them acknowledge the change that has occurred in the last decade. None of them acknowledge that the people who raised the same issues a decade earlier were branded (often by people like them) as right-wing radicals. They all just act as if they had discovered these education reform ideas all on their own.
At first this annoyed me, but Greg reminded me that victory requires not caring about who takes credit. If the Democrats for Education Reform-types want to believe that they invented ed reform, who cares as long as it helps produce progress. And those DFER folks are making huge strides, at least in getting us to talk and think about useful reforms. And frankly, that progress could only be achieved by having them talk about it, not us.
That’s what victory looks like — someone else who is more likely to be effective taking your ideas forward even if they do so without acknowledging you.