In recent weeks, we’ve seen some start to reflect on the impact healthcare reform could have on education reforms, at least at the national level. If healthcare stalls, will they bring ESEA forward? If healthcare fails, will the Obama Administration have the support to push more education reforms? If we should reform the healthcare system this fall, does it provide momentum for major sea change in other domestic policies, including education?
In this morning’s USA Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer offer up an opinion piece attacking those who are attacking the proposed reforms to our nation’s healthcare system. The full piece can be found here, but the most interesting statement (and that receiving the most attention) is that “drowning out opposing views is simply un-American?”
So it got ole Eduflack thinking. Can the same be said about education and education reform? Is drowning out opposing view on education reform un-American?
If a teachers union shows up in force at a local school board meeting to oppose a merit pay proposal, is that un-American?
If parents in the District of Columbia rise up and hold a sit-in to protest the shutdown of the voucher program, is that un-American?
If Minnesotans drown out Rep, Kline at one of his town halls, demanding that he make education a civil right guaranteed by the U.S. government, is that un-American?
If New Yorkers yell and scream until the State Senate restores mayoral control to NYC schools, is that un-American?
If concerned citizens gathered together and demanded that charter schools be held to the same standards, expectations, and outcomes as their traditional public school brethren, is that un-American?
Of course not. The history of education reform has been one rooted in dissent and warring sides. Phonics versus whole language. Old math versus new math. Federalization versus local control. Reformers versus the status quo. Our differences (and the strenuous defense of both sides of the debate) are what makes for better policy. The more vigorous the debate, the better our policy can actually become, assuming we don’t water it down to appease everyone.
A decade ago, did anyone really think we’d embrace charter schools as a core part the K-12 system and be talking about their unionization? Did we expect the largest expansion the role of the federal government in public education to come from a Republican president? Did we think merit pay for teachers, tied to student assessment data, would be an idea pushed by a Democratic president? Did we think that alternative certification paths and programs like Teach for America would grow so strong in unionized urban school districts? Did we ever think national standards could become the norm, and could be developed in less than a year’s time? (OK, maybe we’re still not sure on that one, but time will tell.)
All of those are possible because education reformers refused to be silenced. The calls for change and improvement to our K-12 system became so loud that reformers ultimately drown out those who defended the status quo. It is far easier to stay the course than to change directions. Change comes from public outpourings, a louder and louder drumbeat, and advocates for change breaking through the white noise.
We often talk about how education can learn from the business community or from the successes of those in other industry sectors. Maybe it is time for successful education reformers to teach a thing or two to those seeking reform in other sectors. It seems to me that the only way we bring real change and improvement to public education is when good ideas finally do drown out the defenders of the status quo. Those so-called reforms that are easily overtaken by the voices defending the “way it is” usually aren’t true improvements. They are merely nibbles along the edges, designed to placate some but have no lasting impact. Am I wrong?