Monday, November 28, 2011

Reform: For Our Kids...right?

Can anyone oppose what's "good for kids?"
While perusing the Interweb the other day, wading past the funny cat videos, I stumbled onto an interesting article dealing with the word "reform".

 Reform Is Not a Dirty Word:  The real meaning of school reform by Kayla McGannon.  This commentary posted by the Interim Executive Director of Stand for Children Colorado, dealt with the the recent election of the Denver school board and its larger implications.  A year ago I'd have commended this organization for their efforts to make things better but now I am more reserved about whether what they are advocating actually makes things better.  I am also more than a little confused about the title of the article and what this organization really does or who they are. 

As a product of the pre-reform failing public schools, I dug deeper.  Constantly frustrated by special interest veils and networks of vagueness it can be tough to tell what people or groups support.   A brief peek at their Board of Directors and I started to get a more complete picture.   I digress as this post is not about that group, corporate involvement in education or seemingly anything at this point. Back to the article. 

The title seems to lead one to conclude that there are only 2 groups of people out there. "Those who support positive change or "reform" in our schools, and those who oppose such measures in favor of the status quo.  The staus quo is unacceptable by the way.  This group endorsed 3 candidates and I question what that term reformer actually means. 

Later we are introduced to the idea that there is a third group emerging.  The "posers" who claim to be reformers and use phrases like "real reform".  Huh?  In the end 2 of the 3 candidates the group supported won election.  The campaign message seemed to be "for our kids"  or "what's best for kids."   Lacking an enumerated list of what reforms this might involve it is hard to disagree.  Any effort proposed to "fix" the problems linked to the idea of what's best for kids gains traction quickly.  Maybe too quickly.  

The article later sought to bring us all together "After all, if we are all reformers, we are all accountable for the quality of our public schools." A laudable goal but one that is rarely achieved in the divisive environment of reform.  I was more than a bit disappointed in that I only found common buzz words in the campaign messages.  Likely the outgrowth of a focus group meeting to identify phrases that garner support.   I am coming to feel this approach is reshaping our educational landscape in a way that is not beneficial.   That is not rhetoric without forethought.  You can read the article for yourself but I am increasingly wary of who and what is really driving change. 

So where is momentum driving reform originating?  From the people close to the schools affected by them every day who don't use these buzz words.  It would be tough to support the idea these people in schools are not for kids.  Or is the push from someone else working for foundations that have an agenda?   Normally it is the diversity of opinion on these complex issues that eventually bear real fruit.  It is difficult to hear much diverse opinion from many powerful reformers. In fact it is alarmingly uniform.  Any concern expressed about change overshadowed by well crafted "for the kids" language.
Before you bite an Apple, know where it comes from

After searching for more information on the Stand group I came across their publications page.  Even a cursory review led me to some conclusions that seem common when finding things about education online.   There is an agenda out there and a great deal of effort to bring more and more people on board with that agenda.  Nothing wrong with that I suppose.  But there is if you disagree with that agenda and don't feel it is actually best for all kids, schools, parents, teachers, our economy, education or America as a whole.  Further if that agenda includes an effort to suppress dissent.  The online comments following the article were polemical but also very also interesting.  Here are a few samples: 

Isn't Stand for Children a front for corporate "education reform" which is in the process of destroying America's public education system?........ Colorado "reform" is a great example of the damage Eli Broad and Bill Gates are doing and Stand for Children is an example of how their billions are being employed to take away local control.
You're article reads like an extended propaganda piece with a transparent agenda that in no way actually benefits children. In fact, after reading your blog, I was amazed and appalled at how blithely you could recount as reforms the measures that are clearly contra most of the research. I pity the children and their teachers who work in your state.
I agree that the word "reform" has been tainted. A word which once meant bettering education for children has now been warped into attacking teachers through faulty evaluations and then punishing and firing them in a blatant attempt to weaken their unions. It has become the worship of meaningless test scores. It is now the cold pursuit of failure in order to close neighborhood schools thus privatizing education and allowing the takeover of public institutions by corporate interests.REAL reform has to do with equity in funding and services, a well-trained and experienced teaching force, the autonomy and freedom for teachers to use progressive non test-prep practices, and the desire to address the gross inequalities and devastating effects of poverty we allow children to grow up in. Real reform addresses children and the people who work with them in humane, supportive ways.
I am sick of having to write the word "reform" in quotes. I want my language back.
Your organization stands for greed, not children. So please sit down.

As a parent with a child in a public school, and a former member and local leader of a Stand for Children chapter, I never imagined that "ed reform" would be a dirty word.
Later, when Stand for Children had begun receiving huge donations from corporate funders and foundations, and had turned away from grass roots work, reform had less and less to do with the problems I wanted to see addressed in my daughter's school (primarily lack of resources).
Now, when I hear groups like Stand for Children speak of "reform", I hear an ideologically coded message promoting privitization of public education. Here reform has little to do with evidence or feasibility, and nothing to do with my own schools' needs--Stand's reform exploits and cultivates the prevailing loss of confidence in and cynicism towards public institutions, and self-governance.
Stand's "reform" is a dirty word indeed. 


So is all this what's best for kids?  It would be nice to be included in that conversation.  I'll close with is quote from the article:"Long into the future, no one will remember who supported which policy. What they will remember is whether those policies actually made a difference. "   I would simply point out that there are a frighteningly small number of actual educators who support these reforms.  That ought to mean something and maybe provide some insight into what is best for kids.

 Sometimes it takes someone more articulate than yourself to make a point. 
In the current national discussion about education reform, the loudest voices are not necessarily those of the people who are directly affected by what happens in our schools – the students, parents, teachers and school communities themselves.


  1. I definitely share your disgust at how they are trying to make all those not "in favor of reform" seem like bad guys. In reality, many teachers are strongly in favor of reform -- but real reform.

    It's common politicking to make all those who don't support your views out to be the bad guys. Of course they're going to do this, and of course they're not going to include you in the conversation.

    Best case scenario: start your own conversation. Or join the one that goes on every week at noon EST on Tuesdays on Twitter: #edchat. Now THERE are some teachers in favor of real reform!

  2. You make some great points. Have to check out the twitter feed though I must admit time around noon is tough to come by.

    I like many favor improvement. I do not think much of the change I confront daily qualifies as such. Saying so means drawing the ire of those who want things different. Often those folks are not as in touch with what is happening as I would like. Well intentioned but too far removed to understand what all this means long term to learning. Oppose any reform and risk being labeled selfish or slapped with failing to do what's best for kids. A pickle for sure.