The Summer of Our Educational Discontents

Jeff Bryant, at the Educational Opportunity Network, correctly concludes that the chattering classes are missing the story on the backlash to education ‘reform’ (boldface mine):

Among those “issues,” are recent “50 year anniversary recognitions of past court decisions that were about righting the wrongs of inequity,” Weingarten elaborated, referring to the recent commemoration of the Brown v Board decision and other actions that enforced civil rights and racial integration of public schools. “But now federal policies have gone so far afield of that,” Weingarten stated. Instead, current policies emphasize “accountability” of teachers and schools to such an extent they ignore the issues of “adequate and equitable supports for our schools.”

That’s the story journalists who haven’t been following education don’t get. Behind nearly every protest to the status quo education policies are common grievances about resource deprivation, inequity, and widespread feeling that ordinary Americans no longer control their children’s and community’s education destinies.

Despite how the particulars of the debate pivot to issues about content standards, to assessment results, to school choice, to teacher tenure, grievances with inadequate and inequitable funding and lack of democratic control are what’s driving the debate – not teachers’ unions, Diane Ravitch, or the inner dynamics of the Democratic Party.

As elites (or elite wannabees) are wont to do, they completely ignore a broad groundswell of opposition, including parents (and other who care about education)–the ‘teachers versus reformers’ is inadequate. In upper middle class communities, you have parents who dislike the constant testing and rigid curriculum, who, at the same time, see their schools sending students to good colleges, and don’t want what has worked for them to change. In lower-middle class and poor communities, they realize that they don’t have the nice things other schools get–including textbooks. While all of these parents know of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ teachers (though it’s unclear if these assessments correlate with actual learning), teacher quality is way down the list of the concerns (especially when they know teachers are spending hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets in the classroom). The one exception is in lower income communities where Teach For America candidates are replacing experienced teachers: parents rightly wonder why inexperienced, undertrained teachers are working with the hardest-to-teach students.

This is why the backlash against education ‘reform’ isn’t going away. There are legitimate concerns and the reformers at best ignore them, when they’re not actively denigrating them.

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