Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Waiting for Superman: Education Reform Isn't Easy

Andy Rotherham with some wise, cautionary words:

Although the momentum seems unstoppable, don't pop the champagne or, worse, declare 'mission accomplished' just yet. Waiting for 'Superman' is a hard-hitting documentary that lays bare many of America's education problems. But despite all the attention it's bringing to education, there are still more reasons to bet against reform than for it.

For starters, history doesn't offer much cause for optimism...

…All of this helps explain why John Wilson, executive director of the biggest teachers' union, the National Education Association, is nonplussed by Waiting for 'Superman' and the slew of other education documentaries that have come out in recent months. "I think the films are a blip," he told the Sacramento Bee. "They will come and go, but the union will still be there, our members will still be in these schools." Sure, this may sound a little thuggish, but it's a political reality education reformers had better understand.

In American politics, concentrated special interests can do a lot to slow or thwart reform. Think about policy battles on issues as wide-ranging as energy, guns, tobacco, health care, the environment, or telecommunications and cable television. When it's the general interest pitted against an organized special interest, bet on the latter.

…So what's the takeaway? Certainly not that reformers should take their cue from Dante and call it quits. But they should realize the enormous work and time genuine reform will take. Building the capacity to deliver substantially improved education while simultaneously addressing the politics is an incredible two-front effort. Despite its promise and impressive accomplishments to date, the reform community is not yet prepared to do so at scale. Genuinely bold reformers are still more likely to lose elections than win them, and truly aggressive reform activity is still concentrated in relatively few places.

That's a problem because if there is a lesson from the last two years of education activity, it is that nothing happens absent tenacity and intense pressure for reform. Despite the rhetoric about changing teacher tenure, for example, Weingarten is still struggling to find a middle ground that satisfies her members and actually alters the reality in schools. Don't tell Roland Martin, but this past weekend there she was on CBS Sunday Morning, explaining why tenure isn't a problem anyway.


School of Thought

Waiting for Superman: Education Reform Isn't Easy

By Andrew J. Rotherham Thursday, Oct. 07, 2010


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