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left and lefter
Education Reform Threatened by Groupthink

It’s not just colleges and universities: The lack of political diversity is increasingly an obstacle to rigorous thinking in K-12 education policy circles as well. Over at the Fordham Institute, Robert Pondiscio argues persuasively that the once-heterodox education reform movement—a loose coalition of activists and intellectuals looking to improve the quality of America’s struggling schools—is falling ever-more tightly into the orbit of social justice ideology and shutting out conservative and libertarian-minded reformers. A taste:

Like the proverbial frog in a pot, education reformers on the political right find themselves coming to a slow boil in the cauldron of social justice activism. At meetings like New Schools Venture Fund and Pahara (a leadership development program run by the Aspen Institute), conservative reformers report feeling unwelcome, uncomfortable, and cowed into silence. There is an unmistakable and increasingly aggressive orthodoxy in mainstream education reform thought regarding issues of race, class, and gender. And it does not include conservative ideas. […]

However earnest, honorable, and sorely needed, there is a point at which a conversation about race, gender, poverty, health care, and immigration is no longer principally about improving schools. Education reform’s social justice and school improvement wings may eventually have to reach a new unspoken agreement: that they are simply in different lines of work.

As Pondiscio suggests, this trend should be worrying to people of all political stripes for two different reasons: First, “tribal moral communities” are less able to develop solutions to complex problems than communities with a healthy level of disagreement and debate, where ideas are subject to scrutiny and falsification. If conservatives are purged, education policy circles run the risk of becoming like many academic social science departments—wedded to certain orthodoxies, and unable to grapple with ideas that contradict them. Second, school-improvement measures have often been most successful when they have bipartisan support, and a fracturing of the reform coalition into warring Left- and Right-wing camps runs the risk of crippling the movement’s political efficacy.

Read the whole thing to get a deeper sense of the roots of the problem, and its grim implications for the future of what has historically been one of America’s most innovative and impactful social projects.

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  • Pete

    The american k-12 public schools should be abandoned. The system has become a home for parasites.

    • Jim__L

      That may be the solution in the long run. On the other hand, as long as teachers can ignore “reformers”, we should be fine.

      Oppose anything that centralizes authority and information-gathering.

  • RedWell

    I’m glad “lack of political diversity” isn’t an issue over here on TAI.

  • FriendlyGoat

    When we go over to the “whole thing” at the Fordham Institute, we find this comment by “Parent” in the comment section there:

    “Parent • 6 hours ago

    I am so confused by this article. Who are these so-called conservatives who are interested in education reform? I have only ever seen “conservatives” who wish to a) make teaching into a minimum-wage career b) transfer public money to private schools c) allow political interference with curriculum for religious and right-wing political reasons d) restore segregation. That’s what reform means to them, and if they’re cut out of the conversation it’s their own fault.”

    Seems well written and on point to me.

    • Jim__L

      So is it the reckless stereotyping, or the parroting of propaganda that makes this “well-written and to the point”?

      • FriendlyGoat

        No, it’s a description of what conservatives wish to do in education. The minimum wage thing is a bit of a stretch, but increasing administrative compensation while scrimping on teachers is the basic “charter school” model.

        • Tom

          Heh. Funny. (Looks at the bloated administrative apparatus of everything the Left touches) Pull the other one FG, it’s got bells on.

          • FriendlyGoat

            What’s the joke? The business model of charter schools really is the idea of paying management better and paying teachers worse. This is why everybody and their dog wants to start and run one.

          • Tom

            The joke is that you actually think the public school systems don’t have nearly all of the vices of charters while possessing precious few of their virtues. I’d also point out that wherever public schools are functional at their stated task of education, charters aren’t gaining a lot of ground. I wonder why that might be.

          • FriendlyGoat

            “Why that might be” is that there is not necessarily anything desirable about the charter model itself. It only works when compared against the worst of the other public schools. Thanks for pointing that out.

          • Tom

            (shakes head) Even if charters were the greatest thing since sliced bread, people tend to default to the devil they know. The fact that the education system in so many places have failed to the point where people are willing to mess around with their kids’ education is an indictment of the public education system.

          • FriendlyGoat

            A lot of people in churches are doing their own “education reform” with church-sponsored private schools and with home school. More power to them. My wife and I used a Christian school for our one son in the 1980’s and we did not regret that decision. You’d find this hard to believe, I’m sure, but I actually also did a term on the board of a Christian school.

            BUT, my wife and I are personally the products of public schools and we do not regret those experiences either. I look back on those days and realize that we were fortunate to not have had self-described conservative reformers trying to “fix” our curriculum, harass our teachers with so-called test-based “evaluations” and lobby to have our public funding sent off to parochials and charters.

            Because I was a kid then, I cannot be certain that our schools had teacher tenure but I have concluded in reflection since that they must have had. The reason why is that, except for a little turnover with a few of the youngest teachers, the rest of them NEVER left until retirement. We liked our aging teachers, respected them for being “institutions” in the system, and would not have wanted them emotionally beaten up every year—— as all conservatives now want to do as their norm for running schools.

          • Tom

            You also had better teachers than we do now. I’ve seen colleges where you need a C/B average to stay in the education school–and ed school courses are notoriously easy.
            This is, I realize, still conservatives’ fault, even though they’ve not been powerful in academia for decades.
            You’re still thinking that things are as they were when you were younger, except for the EVIL conservative leadership. Protip: that’s not so.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I agree with you that things are not the same as they were between 1957 and 1969 when I was in grades 1-12. But I think we have to consider that today we have experienced more change in students than we have simply gone from “good” teachers to “not good” teachers. Kids today are growing up today in a world of distractions which FAR exceed what we were exposed to in earlier times—-even the supposedly-wild sixties. I would not want to be a public school teacher in a world of students on cell phones and the now-common “zero-tolerance” approach to rules and security—–AND YET—-we need our rabble of ordinary kids educated as best can be done in the difficult modern social setting. We need to get past “blaming” teachers for a student climate that “ain’t what it used to be”.

  • johngbarker

    A new generation of reform hucksters is about to make a lot of money.

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