The 49er says that Education Post can’t start a conversation—because its founders and funders already have all of the answers.
By *The 49er*
In a recent offline conversation, EduShyster and I were trying to figure out a name for the group of people that are opposing reformers. You see reformers are easy to place in a camp. Even though there are internal fights on issues such as Common Core and the role of the federal government in education, there is general agreement that there need to be major changes to public education in America. But the camp which is fighting those reformers (and probably most of the people reading this post) isn’t so easy to define. Harvard Professor Jal Mehta defines this camp as traditionalists. (Why do I suspect that EduShyster is bristling at the use of that term?) [Editorial note: she is!]
A Camp Without a Name
Many in this group would advocate for the creation of progressive public schools like Boston’s Mission Hill School or for Al Shanker’s original vision for charter schools as laboratories of innovation that worked alongside traditional public schools. While many people in this group are union members or union supporters, it’s not just unions that are fighting against reformers. Heck, often times the unions don’t even seem to be fighting against the reformers.
Meet the Holisticrats
The term I’ve been bouncing around in my head for this group is the *Holisticrats.* OK, OK—I know it’s super wonky, but hear me out. It encompasses the belief that this group shares that education must be adequately funded and that all kids should have access to a holistic education that doesn’t just focus on reading, writing, and math but a complete curriculum with science, history, foreign languages, music, arts, physical education, computer programming and more. Holisticrats believe that all kids, regardless of their neighborhood should have access to this rich curriculum. What’s more, they believe that addressing poverty will do more to lift student outcomes than any legislative policy change.
But as I thought further on the issue, this description is likely too broad because the battle lines aren’t always consistent. I’ve met many reformers who want to see more resources poured into struggling schools, regardless of the kind of school. I’ve also seen reformers battle for multi-language curriculums and advocate for STEM resources.
All the answers
As you’ve no doubt seen by now, the usual education reform foundations have launched a new organization called Education Post to create what they’re calling a *healthy discussion* around key issues. Whatever you think of the mission, Education Post won’t get the job done as the founders and the funders of this initiative believe that there are clear answers on such hotly-debated topics as accountability, charter schools and the role of unions in public education. But creating dialogue isn’t possible when you know the answers and aren’t willing to expose flaws. Success Academy gets great test results but apparently is a miserable place for teachers to work. At last attempting to tell the whole story is key and Education Post likely won’t be doing this.
Can we talk?
I have a better idea than a $12 million website that essentially amplifies a one-sided debate. Talking to people in organic situations can often be a far more effective way of persuading and changing minds than social media pile-ons. For example, I was talking to the president of a Fortune 500 company earlier this summer (ok, so most teachers don’t have this luxury), and he insisted to me that kids shouldn’t be exposed to other content areas until they have mastered literacy. Well as we started diving into what excited his grandchildren to learn, he began to see that the philosophy of that school isn’t solely focused on literacy. Using other subjects as a means to excite kids to learn is an obvious step towards build a more literate society. By tying in personal narratives, I was able to at least alter one important man’s ignorant point of view on this subject.
Want my advice?
So my advice moving forward to all sides who want to improve education in this country (which I think everyone does even if we disagree on what improvement looks like or how it should be measured), is that actually talking might get us somewhere. Of course, there should be still be debate, but as more public discussion on an issue emerges I think we will start to build a new national paradigm on education policy with expanded early childhood education, fewer high-stakes tests, more teacher autonomy and more choices for everyone in the system. But to get there, we’re going to need real conversation in which there is room for honest differences of opinion.