Tag Archives: Robin Lake

All I Want for Christmas Is for People to Stop Using the Phrase “Education Reform”

In a recent opinion piece at The 74, Robin Lake casts off the label of educator reformer, arguing that “to imply that they are some monolithic group of reformers is ridiculous.” I agree, not so much because education reform has lost its meaning but because it never had a single definition in the first place. At the heart of reform is an acknowledgement that the educational system isn’t serving all kids well, but agreeing that the system could be improved is far from agreeing on how to get there.

definition of educationTo some people “education reform” is about holding schools and districts accountable for student outcomes, which can be viewed as either a means of ensuring that society doesn’t overlook subgroups of students, or as a top-down approach that fails to account for vast differences in school and community resources. To others education reform is shorthand for increasing school choice, or requiring students to meet specific academic standards to be promoted or graduate from high school, or revising school discipline practices that disproportionately impact students of color. Each of these ideas has supporters and detractors, and I suspect that many people who are comfortable with one type of reform vehemently disagree with another.

To take a specific example, consider teacher evaluation reform. One challenge in debating this particular education reform is that there are multiple ways teacher evaluation could change outcomes: one way is by providing feedback and targeted support to educators; another is the identification and removal of low-performing teachers. So even when “education reform” types favor a policy, they might have very different views on the mechanisms through which that policy achieves its goals. In the case of teacher evaluation reform, the dueling mechanisms created trade-offs in evaluation design, as described by my Bellwether colleagues here. (As they note, in redesigning evaluation systems, states tended to focus on the reliability and validity of high-stakes measures and the need for professional development plans for low performing teachers, devoting less attention to building the capacity of school leaders to provide meaningful feedback to all teachers.)

I personally agree with those who argue that teacher evaluation should be used to improve teacher practice, and I have written previously about what that might look like and about the research on evaluation’s role in developing teachers. In a more nuanced conversation, we might acknowledge that there are numerous outcomes we care about, and that even if a given policy or practice is effective at achieving one outcome — say, higher student achievement — it might have unintended consequences on other outcomes, such as school climate or teacher retention.

Instead of broadly labeling people as “education reformers,” we need to clearly define the type of reform we’re discussing, as well as the specific mechanisms through which that reform achieves its intended goals. Doing so provides the basis for laying out the pros and cons of not just the overall idea, but of the policy details that transform an idea into action. Such specificity may help us avoid the straw man arguments that have so often characterized education policy debates.

Red Herring in the Evergreen State: Adult Special Interests Try Blocking Progress (Again)

Red Herring

via havokjournal.com

What if I told you that there was a method for improving urban schools that, when done well, can close the achievement gap between low-income students of color and their white, wealthier peers? That, when instituted citywide, it can result in the most improved urban district in history? That there are reams of academic research to learn from, dozens of successes to replicate, and clear pitfalls to avoid?

If you’re a small group of parents backed by the Washington Education Association, you file a lawsuit to keep it from happening.

I’m talking about charter schools, of course, and the latest attempt to prevent Washington’s families from having the choice to send their children to a free public school other than their traditional district school.

If you aren’t following along, Washington’s legislature passed a charter school law by voter referendum in 2012 only for it to be ruled unconstitutional last year due to an arcane definition of what’s considered a public school. A new law with a different funding source passed in April.

Kim Mead, the president of the Washington Education Association, frames the effort to block charter schools this way: “Instead of passing unconstitutional charter school laws, we believe the Legislature should focus on its paramount duty — fully funding K-12 basic education for all of our state’s 1.1 million students, no matter where they live.”

This is a red herring. There’s no doubt that all public schools, charters included, should be funded fully and equitably. But it deflects from the fact that the legislature has already passed the law. Mead’s red herring is also a clever way to avoid saying that eight schools in five cities should close their doors to hundreds of families who sought alternatives to their traditional public schools.

The move to block Washington’s charter law is a prime example of special (adult) interests throttling a promising model for improving the educational outcomes for students who need the most help. Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Washington State resident, said it best:

The arguments against public charter schools in our state are based on fear-mongering, not facts, and are out of step with the rest of the country. Public charter schools are no panacea, nor are they a replacement for the many amazing public schools we have today, including those that my kids attend. But shame on all of us if we let misinformation and interest-group politics shut the door on new hope and opportunity for the kids who need it most.

Washington is a latecomer to the charter school movement— 42 other states and DC have charter laws on the books — but because of this, the state’s leaders also have 25 years of lessons at their disposal to build a top notch system. It could be a magnificent opportunity to give options to students stuck in failing schools, if only a small group of adults would get out of the way.

[Corrected 8/11/16: The original post indicated that the new law had more stringent regulations instead of a different funding source. It also indicated that the new law is fully constitutional. While it hasn’t been ruled UNconstitutional, no court has yet ruled either way. Both have been corrected.]