The D-List Reformer Does Disruption

*Disruption*: everything that’s wrong with the education reform movement in a single concept

By *The 49er*letter d
Today’s installment of Confessions of a D-List Reformer is brought to you by the letter *D,* as in *disruption.* Attend any kind of education reform event these days and you will hear this word constantly. In fact, if you played a drinking game at a typical reform gathering and took a shot every time the word *disruption* was uttered, there’s a pretty good chance that you’d be dead by the end of the event. But what does *disruption* actually mean? Who is doing the *disrupting*? And what is it exactly that’s being *disrupted*? 

disruption1Disrupt this
Let’s start with what reformers mean when they talk about disruption. Many education reformers are convinced that the current state of American public education is so awful that disruption alone can make it better. (Another common refrain is that change can’t happen when all parties are at the table, which is why the table has to be blown up by, you guessed it, disruption.) Reformers also believe that local communities can’t fix their own schools due to various status-quo related forces, hence the insistence on bringing in Teach for America. Not only can TFA teachers solve the local community’s educational crisis but, when they’re done in the classroom, these TFA disruptors can go onto create more education reform organizations to further disrupt the status quo. Got it? Good, because it’s time to move on.

disruptDisruptors disrupting disruptively
While *disuption* may be the word of the day, not all disruptors want to disrupt for the same reasons. Some disruptors hate public education so much that they just want to blow the whole thing up. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash is a prime example of this mentality. The Justin Amashes of the world believe education in this country should be disrupted with vouchers, charters, and any other market forces they can come up with. (As this Detroit Free Press investigation found, this group now holds considerable sway in Michigan—and is probably headed your way next.)

Technocratic tools
Then you have the technocrats, who are often so far removed from reality that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Take Ravi Gupta, the *Managing Partner* of RePublic Schools, which is *reimagining education in the south* by operating schools that *value innovation and ownership.* Gupta was recently quoted as saying  *I think one of the biggest worries people have is that charter schools are going to become segregation academies. We are uniquely helpful in helping to address that concern because we are over 90 percent African-American.* Now if you are like me, you just re-read that quote a half dozen times in an effort to try to make it less nonsensical—but I assure you, it can’t be done. 

seat deliveryDelivering disruption
Nothing better demonstrates the spirit of technocratic disruption than the current obsession with *high-quality seats.* According to this view, any student, no matter their circumstances, can produce high-quality test scores if seated in a high-quality seat. Thus the key to disrupting our nation’s educational failure is as simple as replacing failing neighborhood schools with their low-quality seats (read low test scores) with the new, higher quality version.

Deep in the heart of high-quality seat land 
The students of San Antonio, TX are in the midst of a boldly disruptive experiment with seat switching. A group of private philanthropies called Choose to Succeed has raised $50 million to import six of the leading charter management organizations (CMOs), KIPP, IDEA, Rocketship, BASIS, Carpe Diem, and Great Hearts, with the goal of having 80,000 high-quality seats in San Antonio by 2026. By flooding San Antonio with such a huge number of high-quality seats, the reformers are seeking to *disrupt* public education in the city, a process that will result in all seats becoming high quality. 

old seatsOut with the old
Do you have questions about this vision? I certainly do. First of all, what exactly is a high-quality seat? Does it reflect any measure other than test scores? Can a neighborhood school ever have high-quality seats? What will happen to all of San Antonio’s existing schools? Do parents and other San Antonio residents have any say over the future of their city’s schools? My gut tells me that hardly anyone who is advocating—or funding—these disruptive actions deep in the heart of Texas has processed their full consequences, something that’s all too common in education reform land these days.

Reality check
In reality, we know that there is no teacher who is perfect for every student. Different teachers have different skill sets, and some can reach certain students better than others. We know that students thrive when their teachers are able to build relationships with them. Investing in teachers to ensure they are qualified to teach and trusting their professional judgment once they have these qualifications seems like a much better way to ensure that all kids in our country have access to a good education than disrupting the system by flooding it with so-called *high-quality seats.* Realizing this vision would also require a far smaller role for private philanthropy, not to mention less need for disruptors.

*The 49er* is the moniker of a D-List education reformer and a regular contributor to Send comments to


  1. Nicely done! Looks like you’re well on your way to calling out the excesses and contradictions like you said you would. It sounds like we may be going from “seat time” to earn a Carnegie unit to “high quality seats.” LOL

  2. Honestly, “49er,” do your homework!! You left out the really important word–er, words–here: “creative” (disruption) &/or “innovative” (disruption). I’ve commented upon their relevance on other blogs One means nothing w/o the other…just like love & marriage! Actually, both terms make up the perfect oxymoron. And both were invented/thought up by…a moron.

  3. Disruption = breaking things. When I taught middle school, disruption was a bad thing. Oh, for the goode olde days!

  4. One of the founders of a spectacularly failed charter school in my city told me, when they were in the run up to getting their charter that, “To make an omelette you have to break some eggs.”

    I thought it was a disturbing attitude for someone who wanted to work with young children.

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