The Ed Reform Establishment tends to favor more highly regulated and targeted school choice programs. When challenged on the merits of those preferences, they sometimes acknowledge that regulating and targeting choice may not produce better outcomes but they assert that such approaches have political advantages over less regulated and more universal programs.
The string of political failures, from Question 2 in Massachusetts to the inability of portfolio management to catch on (or even sustain itself in New Orleans), suggests that the Ed Reform Establishment seems to lack sensible political judgment. But if we need more evidence that Ed Reformers are out of sync with political sentiment, just look at the findings of the new Ed Next Poll (co-authored by our new faculty member, Albert Cheng).
Of course, the way people answer poll questions does not directly translate into what is likely to be politically successful or not given how important political organization and strength of sentiment are in mobilizing opinion into policy. But opinion polls give us some idea of what sentiment is out there for organizations to try to mobilize. And political sentiment very clearly goes against the political calculations of the Ed Reform Establishment.
For example, Ed Reform experts tell us charters are more likely to be political winners than private school choice. But if we look at the polling, vouchers are polling 10 points ahead of charters, with universal vouchers favored by 54% compared to charters favored by 44%. Tax credit private school choice programs are even more heavily supported, despite drawing little interest from the Ed Reform Establishment.
Ed Reform experts tell us that vouchers targeted toward the disadvantaged are more likely to be politically successful than universal programs. But if we look at the polling, universal vouchers have a 11 percentage point advantage over targeted vouchers, which are only supported by 43% of the sample.
Other darlings of the Ed Reform Establishment also do not poll well. The establishment bet heavily that general sympathy for standards could be channeled into supporting the specific proposal of Common Core standards. But once the abstract idea of standards becomes the concrete proposal of Common Core, support drops from 61% to 45%, which is below the Mendoza line of 50% to overcome organized political resistance.
Heavily restricting local autonomy over disciplinary policy to ensure racial equity is also strongly favored by the Ed Reform Establishment, but it is deeply unpopular with the public, including teachers. Only 27% of the public and 28% of teachers support “federal policies that prevent schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students.” Support for this is barely higher among Hispanic (35%) and African American (42%) respondents.
Lastly, the Ed Reform Establishment is very keen on “managed” enrollment systems that consider race and income in assigning students to schools. The public does not share this enthusiasm. Only 18% of the public, 27% of teachers, 24% of Hispanics, and 31% of African Americans think “public school districts [should] be allowed to take the racial background of students into account when assigning students to schools” There is even less support for considering income when assigning students to schools.
Why does the Ed Reform Establishment so badly lack an accurate read on what has political support? I suspect that Ed Reform has increasingly become a vanity project — a way to signal virtue to each other — rather than a movement to make realistic and beneficial changes in policy. This poor political judgment is exacerbated by a lack of consequences for ed reformers who regularly have poor political judgment and fail. We seem to favor accountability for teachers but don’t seem to have much of it within the reform movement.
(Note: I’ve corrected the spelling of judgment. Judgement is accepted in British English, but is not standard usage.)