For the past two years, the education community has been all abuzz about the role of reform organizations in the process. What are TFA and NLNS saying? What are Gates and Broad trying to do? What about that DFER and 50CAN expansion? We hang on every word, analyze every check, and scrutinize every action. Good or bad (depending on your perspective), these reform groups have become our own education reality TV programming.
It gets so intense that we almost forget about those groups that were pushing “reform” before reform was cool. But many of those organizations have not yet ridden off into the sunset. Today’s exhibit A — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
For years, the Chamber has been promoting college and career readiness through its Institute for a Competitive Workforce (which, interestingly, is now championing early childhood education). Its Leaders and Laggards analysis, particularly 2007’s on school effectiveness, has a been a useful tool. The Chamber even has former EdSec Margaret Spellings as a senior advisor and president of its U.S. Forum for Policy Innovation.
But this little history lesson isn’t the focus of Eduflack’s attention. Instead, I was drawn in by the Chamber’s advertising in this week’s Roll Call newspaper, the back page of the newspaper, no less.
The full-page ad offers the header, “Congress, Don’t Fail on Education Reform.” Building off of the photo of a confused kindergartner, the Chamber offers some chronological stats. For 2021, “By the time he reaches the ninth grade, he could be part of the 70% of middle school students who score below grade level in reading and math.” For 2025, “If he makes it to high school, he may be one of the 1.3 million American students who drop out of high school. And for 2027, “If he gets to college, he may be among the 40% of students who will be required to enroll in remedial courses.”
The call to action has three components to it. “Congress, act now to: Hold our nation’s schools accountable; Promote effective teachers; and Provide choices to parents.”
Yes, we’ve heard these statistics before (and often from Spellings and company when they ran Maryland Avenue). The call to action could be from either the NCLB era or from EdSec Duncan’s own ESEA blueprint. So let’s go a little deeper into the rhetoric.
The ad closes with two additional sentences of text. “Now is not the time to retreat from our national commitment to the success of every child. If we don’t address our broken education system today, then our kids and our nation will pay the price.”
A little old school, a little new school (or a little Texas, a little Chicago, if you prefer). The first sentence, a clear defense of NCLB and its role in putting us on the path to success. The latter, borrowed from President Obama and his call for change. Which leads to the confusion. So now is not the time to retreat from our broken education system? If not now, when? And if not now, why not?
In many ways, the Chamber’s latest advertising campaign is but a microcosm of our current struggles in school improvement. We need to build on the successes of the past, while casting aside the reforms that didn’t work. We need to display a sense of urgency for change, but need to do so in a way tips a hat to those doing well. And we need to do it all in an environment where the average person, even the average congressman, believes the average school district and average school building is doing just fine.
As always, the devil is in the details. Whose version of accountability should Congress follow? Which definition of effective teachers? And what “choices” do we want to provide to parents? Where Congress (and governors and state legislators) turn for answers is the next great education policy battleground. Will anyone besides the “reformy” groups step forward and offer some substantive, even if unpopular, policy reccs to address such issues? Only time will tell …