Thursday, November 21, 2019

Yes And

This tweet (shared with permission) really hit me where I live. Because defenders of public education have too often let themselves be pushed into a one-part argument when a two-part argument is what's called for.

Blame No Child Left Behind. It was educational baloney, but rhetorical genius. Every attempt to discuss the empty baloniness of it was met by the same response; "Well, then, which children do you want to leave behind."

Ever since, this has been the ed disruptors' framing for everything. If you want Goal A, then you must support Method Z. If you want accountability, you must support high stakes testing. If you don't like bad schools, you must support privately run charter schools (also, if you support freedom, you must support charter schools).

When pressed, reformsters double down on descriptions of the awfulness of the problem.

Reformster: Look at these test results. Look at these x-rays. You definitely have a brain tumor, and if it's not fixed, you'll soon lose feeling in your limbs and your legs will stop working properly.
Patient: Oh my God! Save me!
Reformster: Certainly. I'm just going to use this chain saw to cut off your legs.
Patient: Wait! What? How will that help with my brain tumor?
Reformster: Look at these x-rays! Look at how big it is! Right there in your brain! This is terrible!
Patient: But how will hacking off my legs-
Reformster: X-rays! Brain! Terrrrrrrible!

What's always missing is the link, the evidence that the proposed solution is the only solution acceptable to someone who cares about the problem. Question VAM and hg-stakes testing? It couldn't because there are real problems with those instruments-- the only possible explanation is that you hate accountability.

This is where we need "yes and"

Not even "yes, but." Because "yes, but" implicitly acknowledges that linkage as legit. "But" signals a change in direction, which suggests that the people you're butting were headed in the direction they said they were in. It lets things stay connected that are not truly connected. It agrees that some things are mutually exclusive, when they really aren't.

See, the problem with most of the reformster disruptive solutions is not just that they're bad practice, bad pedagogy, bad economics, or just plain bad. It's that they aren't going to solve the problems they purport to solve. It's a problem that some students attend schools that are under-resourced, under-staffed, and generally a mess. Charters will not solve that problem. It's a reasonable goal to provide students and family with educational choices. Modern corporate charters do not solve that problem, It is right and reasonable to have some form of accountability in place for public schools and the people who work there. High stakes testing soaked in VAM sauce does not solve that problem.


Yes, I want an end to high stakes testing, and I want a useful measure of accountability.

Yes, I want charters to be reined in with accountability measure, elected local control, and no form of profit attached to them at all, and I want to see every student in this country in a good school.

Yes, I want an end to programs that put warm bodies with inadequate training in classrooms, and I want every student to have a quality professional teacher.

Yes, I want to end all the practice testing and test prep, and I want us to get better at targeting and addressing the needs of students.

Yes, I want to chuck every foolish piece of ed tech in the ocean, and I want to find good classroom uses for current technology.

Yes, I reject attempts to make teaching jobs less secure and teachers easier to fire, and I want the teaching pool to get better and better, with fewer and fewer lemons.

Yes, I reject attempts to compare students in Idaho to students in Vermont, and I want parents to be able to know how well their children are doing.

Yes, I think college and career ready standards are a stupid idea, and I want every student to be able to move into a college or career that suits them.

Yes, I think rich amateurs should shut up and sit down on the topic of education, and I think we should be having a robust national discussion about education.

I could go on all day. You get the idea.

Look, we have real issues to deal with in education, and they've been largely exacerbated by rich and powerful amateurs who have shiny disruptions to sell. The other important part of "yes and" is that it allows us to focus on real issues and real solutions instead of getting caught up in arguments about whether or not someone should cut off our legs with a chainsaw. Granted, the chainsaw wielding pretend doctor is a real threat, but somehow we can't let him drain all our attention and energy. And we certainly need to reject and work past the notion that his solution is the only one that serious people can consider.


  1. Partly agree. Sometimes we have to tell reformers that there ends are mistaken, not just their means.

    "A robust national discussion about education." Why? A Nation at Risk helped frame education as a national crisis, and we have still been dealing with the fallout. Maybe we should praise the wisdom of the founders for not enumerating education as a federal power.