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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