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I went to the Network For Public Education conference in Chicago this weekend.  In some ways I was not like most of the people there. I live in the suburbs. A lot of them live in urban areas. They were mostly teachers. I am a parent. We definitely come from different sides of the political aisle. Yet in many instances we shared the sames concerns about public education. More often than not we were on the same page on issues like testing, charters, data collection and teacher evaluations. I was not surprised by this. My many years of discussions with teachers told me that most of them share our values. The differences often are just a matter of vocabulary.

In many of the sessions presenters used the term “they” to describe the opposition. It took me a little while to realize that “they” was not me or the people I typically work with on education issues who have the differences mentioned above. “They” it turns out are the education reformers. They can be found on both sides of the political aisles. They want to “fix” education. They claim to be in it to help children be the best that they can be.

Nicholas Kristof wrote an op ed in the New York Times about the goals “they” had and how people like me and the other attendees at this conference were just too whiny and getting in the way.

Peter Greene wrote a scathing response to Mr. Kristof on his blog Curmudgucation.  He pointed out how many reformers think they have the quick fix for education, often despite their complete lack of credentials to support such boasts. Their fixes never seem to work out.  Greene wrote,

“Doing the education thing takes a lifetime. In fact, it takes more than a lifetime– that’s why we’ve constructed an institution that provides continuity above and beyond what we could get from any single human being.

You think that the education thing is hard, “a slog,” after just a decade! You amateur. You dabbler! You tourist! Has the education reform movement “peaked”? Well, guess what! Education has not. We are still working at it, still striving, still doing our damnedest. When reformsters have moved on because it’s hard and challenging and a slog and not just as fun as it was a whole ten years ago, we will still be here, doing the job, educating students and doing it all in the midst of the mess created by a bunch of wealthy well-connected hubristic tourists with gigantic balls.”

We have such “dabblers” in the Missouri Legislature. Just look at the committee substitute for SB1/HB42. Eighty eight pages of expensive dabbling with no evidence that it will deliver an improved education for anyone. They threw every gimmick you can think of into the mix including “Home Visits” by school personnel to under-achieving children’s families, accreditation by individual attendance centers (buildings) within a district, turning over those individual buildings to the state to run, and it gives the UNELECTED DESE and the state school board more power than ever. Yes that same state school board who can’t seem to figure out when they are supposed to follow the law (Hint: the answer is always)

Greene’s analogy of the reformers (who he called reformsters) went this way,

“Reformsters were never the white knights or the saviors of education. The vast majority of reformsters were the people who swept into a home, pulled all the furniture out from the wall, burned the drapes (because you don’t want these old things) and started to tear the floor up. Then somewhere around day three, you declare, “Man this is hard, and this couch doesn’t fit against that wall (which we had told you all along)” and so you pack up, drive away, and leave the residents to put things back together.”

SB1/HB42 doesn’t really consider what you do to shore up or fix the home district once you have diverted funds away from it to other schools. By allowing children in unaccredited buildings to move to other buildings within a district you lose things like the special focus on English Language Learner services that had been concentrated in their home building, so they actually will get less of what they need in a place that is farther from home. Dabblers!

You get more focus on high stakes standardized testing which is diagnostic of neither the student’s ability nor the teacher’s effectiveness. It does, however, ratchet up the costs for local districts who really should be using the money to hire qualified or certified educators to provide special services to the students who really need it. Instead those districts will be hiring minimally trained and much less expensive aides or Teach For America campers to teach important skills like reading so they can afford to buy more computers for the tests. Dabblers!

SB1 will tear up the floor of stability that kids in some of our worst performing district’s need. It will burn the drapes of the school of origin who gets turned over to the state to run with no corresponding penalty to DESE if  they fail to turn them around in three years like the districts were required to do in the first place. By then the legislators will have walked away on to the next office or maybe back to their home life. It will be the parents and teachers left to clean up the mess and try to keep going.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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