Robert Pondiscio has written a very important piece about the current state of the education reform movement. He correctly notes that the previously diverse coalition leading ed reform is breaking down and he accuses the Left of taking over. I’d modify his argument only slightly to note that the real divide in ed reform is not between Right and Left, but between Technocrats and those favoring more decentralized reforms. The danger is not just that Social Justice Warriors have seized control of ed reform, but that they are perfectly content to advocate no end of faux-scientific management and top-down regulation to impose their preferences.
Robert is not completely original in noting this hostile takeover. I’ve been decrying the rise of the Petty Little Dictator Disorder for quite some time. And Rick Hess warned last year about the wheels coming off of the old ed reform coalition. However, the fact that the ever-conciliatory Fordham Foundation is declaring the Ed Reform Civil War seems to make it official.
In this post I’d like to talk a little about how we got to this point. I blame the big ed reform foundations for facilitating this Technocratic/Social Justice Warrior takeover. An entire industry of ed reform activists has been created by foundation dollars. They populate a host of organizations with a variety of banal names; few of which would exist if foundations didn’t pay their salaries.
So, we now have a giant industry of foundation-paid reformers staffed mostly by young, enthusiastic, and bright-but-lacking-in-wisdom, idealists. It should come as no surprise that the profile of those who staff the ed reform industry tilts heavily toward the profile of Social Justice Warriors. Their high education levels, lack of wisdom, and boundless self-confidence inclines them strongly toward Technocracy.
In addition, once you’ve assembled a large ed reform industry, what are all of these people supposed to do? They aren’t likely to have a meeting at which they decide that parents and local communities are probably better situated than they are to devise solutions appropriate to the circumstances. If they turned power over to families and communities, most of them would have to quit their jobs and close up shop.
Instead, they have meeting after meeting at which they sit around and dream about how other people should live their lives. They develop plans, systems, and metrics, to guide, nudge, or force others to do the “right things,” typically from DC or other distant locations And they have no doubts about what those right things are nor do they lack confidence in their ability to measure those good outcomes or to devise plans and systems for ensuring them.
I really wished that it would not come to this. But I watched the New School Venture Fund Conference as Robert did and came to a similar conclusion. Their hostility to the common values that held the diverse ed reform coalition together was manifest. Their contempt for all non-believers was insufferable. The way in which they swarm and bully dissenters on social media demonstrates anti-intellectualism and intolerance.
The good news is that this Technocratic Cult mostly doesn’t matter. Education policy is mostly made by state and local governments paying virtually no attention to what foundation-funded organizations say or do. It’s quite striking how national advocacy organizations promoting a Technocratic approach to school choice typically have no ability to anticipate where new choice proposals are going to make headway and usually play little or no role in shaping them. Statewide school choice programs have been passed in Nevada and Arizona with only the Friedman Foundation and the Foundation for Education Excellence playing significant roles among national organizations. Students First actually tried to block Nevada’s universal choice ESA with the same lack of effectiveness that is typical of the national Technocrats.
The only thing lost by the Technocratic takeover of national ed reform efforts is the enormous amount of money being wasted. But if the donors want to set giant piles of money on fire, they are free to do so. I just hope they enjoy the warm glow because they aren’t getting much else good out of it.
(Correction — I incorrectly wrote Step Up for Students when I meant Students First. My apologies. Also, I changed Rob to Robert. I keep forgetting which he prefers.)