It’s time, fellow ed reformers, that we sit down and have a little talk about where ed reform political victories come from. The bizarre Social Justice/Technocratic tilt to the ed reform movement has me a little concerned that maybe you don’t understand how this really works. Maybe you’re getting bad information from the other kids on the social media playground. So let’s make sure we understand the ed reform facts of life.
Ed reform largely happens in states and localities. They spend the bulk of the money, have the legal responsibility, and have operational control over what happens on the ground. Your friends on the social media playground may talk a lot about ESSA, NCLB, and other aspects of federal policy, but the action is mostly in states and localities.
The vast majority of state legislators and governors who vote to adopt and implement meaningful ed reform policies are Republicans. I know the kids are all excited about appealing to Democrats by narrowly targeting reforms toward disadvantaged students, heavily regulating those programs to ensure social justice goals are protected, and so on. But the reality is that very few Democratic state legislators and governors are won over by these appeals because they are too dependent on the unions. You need almost all of the Republicans on board to win most state policy battles.
So, turning the national ed reform movement into a Social Justice/Technocratic rally is not a way to adopt and expand ed reform policies. You need the Republicans to support you, but you won’t keep their support if you regularly denounce and alienate them. And you will hardly win over any Democrats to make up for their loss. I know Republicans can be stinky and gross, but you can’t make a
baby ed reform policy without them.
Whatever the merits of the Social Justice/Technocratic view, it is a losing political strategy. If your goal is to feel righteous and engage in mutual-congratulations in your giant fish bowl, then by all means keep up the current trends. If your goal is to make progress — even if it is imperfect and partial progress — then you have to make sure that you keep opponents of Social Justice/Technocratic approaches in the coalition.
When ed reformers and state Republicans love each other very much…