Robin Lake doesn't want to be called an "education reformer" any more, and in a piece at The 74 she tries to make her case in a piece that's a mix of valid points and weak disingenuity. After making her plea, she gets down to the why:
This might seem odd coming from someone who leads an organization that for 25 years has studied the need for systemic reform of American public education. But I’m done talking about reformers. I want to engage with real ideas and real people, not labels and groupthink.
|Don't call her a reformer|
However, buried in here, Lake has a couple of valid points.
Here’s why. I have no idea what the term means anymore. Who is not a reformer?
True that. One of the implicitly insulting parts of the "reformer" narrative has been that only they are really interested in making schools better, and the people who have actually dedicated their entire careers to working in schools somehow have no desire to make things better. So Lake asks a good question, just before she nods to the same old false dichotomy:
Are nonreformers people who believe that we can get dramatically different results by standing pat, doing things largely the same way, without any structural or policy changes in public education? If so, I have little to discuss with them.
Yes, one other part of the "reformer" narrative has always been that education is in crisis and that something radical must be done right away. They've been claiming this since at least 1983 (A Nation At Risk), to the point that they hardly bother to substantiate it any more. Are there problems that need to be addressed? Absolutely. But just as she says that she doesn't know what reformer means, in the next breath she suggests that it means, in part, someone who wants to blow up the system in order to create dramatic change.
But to imply that they are some monolithic group of reformers is ridiculous and plays into the desired stand-patter narrative that the demand for structural changes is driven by some elite, out-of-touch, anti-teacher group.
Well, she's right when she says that reformsters aren't a monolithic group, and then she immediately ruins it by suggesting that reform resisters are, in fact, a monolithic group.
It took me a couple of years to start seeing the many different threads bound together in the ed reform movement, all of whom fall across a broad range, from venal to well-meaning, from those motivated by social justice concerns to those who see reform as a way to pursue racist ed policies, from those who are sincerely interested in student education to those who are cynical liars, from those who can be taken seriously to those who can't be taken seriously at all, from those who reasonably well-informed to those who are pridefully ignorant. And as she goes on to note, different folks within the movement have different priorities.
Lake breaks reform down into standards and charter movements, and breaks those down further, and I agree with her analysis. But she is answering her own question. Why do people view the whole range of reformists as a unified whole? Because they formed a coalition in order to present themselves as a unified whole. In doing so, they linked their brand to some problematic actors, and when some of the most problematic rose to power two years ago, it blew holes in the coalition.
Lake is often on the verge of useful insights, but then she returns to whinging about that monolithic resistance:
There has never been a group of reformers with one agenda. But it helps the stand-patters to make people believe there is so they don’t seem like the minority, which I believe they are. It’s always easier to fight against change than for it, but who can look at the data, the inequities in the current education system and what’s been tried in the past, and honestly say stronger accountability, more flexibility for educators, and more options for families are not needed?
Wrong, wrong and wrong. Who created the myth of a group of reformers with one agenda? The reformers did. They stood shoulder to shoulder and said, "Look at this coalition. With this many different types of folks all on the same page, you know we are fighting in a righteous cause." The coalition's illusory unanimity gave them political strength and provided protective cover for the money-makers and opportunists. No "stand-patters" did that. You reform folks did that to yourselves.
And it should come as no surprise that resistance to reformy policies has come from a variety of sources, and not some imaginary standy-patty group. The Core resistance came from people who agree on absolutely nothing else.
And the last part of her mistaken trifecta is the same old reformy dodge. You do not justify your choice of solution by emphasizing the problem. Do we need stronger accountability? For what, to whom. I'd like to see stronger accountability for the politicians who fail to properly fund education. More flexibility for educators? Sure. More options for families? Why? How about we provide each family with an excellent free education in their own community, because I like that solution to the problem of race-driven economic-fueled inequity in this country. I'd like to see a solution to policy leaders and politicians who think public education can be half-assed on the cheap. My point (and I do have one) is that we can debate problems all day, and at the end of the day, we will have done nothing about solutions. Reformers have gotten the diagnosis wrong a lot, but when they do get ir right, they don't do the work of connecting to a solution. (It's almost as if they started with their preferred solution and worked backwards to find a problem to justify it.) Quick example: there are schools that are really struggling to serve non-wealthy non-white students. I absolutely believe that. I don't believe charters, choice, testing, or test-based teacher evaluation help solve that problem at all.
Sigh. But here we go. Lake segues into a call for the reformy flavor of the month-- Personalized [sic] Competency Proficient Mass Customized Algorithm Driven Learning Education. She does a better job than many of describing it in glowing glossy terms. Oh, and as always, change must happen right now. Staying still is not an option, just as it wasn't an option for Common Core or teacher test-based accountability or turnaround/takeovers or charters etc etc etc.&
It occurs to me that Lake could avoid the reform monolith perception by not using the same old used-car-salesman pitches. In fact, as I look around at all the reformy folks who are suddenly fans of Personalized [sic] Competency Blah Blah Blah Learning Tech Product, I'm thinking another way to avoid the perception that "reformers" operate in one unified block would be to NOT all come out in favor of the exact same Next Big Thing at the same time.
Effective change makers are both principled and pragmatic. They cross traditional boundaries and constituencies, recognize that policy ideas have to shift based on evidence, and know that communities, families, and educators need to drive lasting change.
Absolutely. Teachers already knew this; it's how they've made effective change for decades.
That is why I want nothing to do with debates that characterize reform as a set group of people with a set agenda, rather than a continually evolving set of diverse people and groups who come together around shared views of specific ideas and actions that will produce much better results.
I still can't decide how I feel about reform's tendency to "evolve." I'm glad they move on when things fail-- on the other hand, teachers in classroom end up dealing with the detritus (eg, we're all still stuck with zombie remnants of the damned Common Core). The fact that "is this working" is too often defined in financial or political terms instead of educational ones is not great, either. Nor do I see signs that the evolution includes learning. Makes me wonder-- is this evolution away from the term "reformer" a pragmatic choice because the brand has been damaged by too many losses?
Lake's desire to seek out new types of discussion is fine, but-- Did I mention that this is published at The 74, a website established by reform supporter and teacher union hater Campbell Brown. Ms. Lake, let me invite you to cross some boundaries and publish elsewhere. Drop me a line and we can work something out here.