From the Mailbag: You, sir, are no reformer

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Hi Professor, I’m a Stanford grad and receive alerts when you post messages on the LinkedIn group, Stanford School of Ed alumni. I just wanted to express my nearly complete disagreement with your anti-reform beliefs. I wish you well. All best, XXXX

A year or two ago I attend a conference at Stanford University. The format of the conference was similar to the TED talks, but was focused specifically on Latina/o issues. At this conference, I tangled with a “reformer.” This particular reformer was a staff member on Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa’s team. He spent his twelve minutes singing the accolades of the LA Times and their teacher value added growth models. I asked him, “Explain to me how a growth model works… Can you specify the equation? Can you tell me the strengths and weaknesses of the approach?” He couldn’t answer any of my questions. But here was someone in a relative position of power espousing a “reform” that he didn’t understand but that he had bought into.

I have of course blogged about a variety of “reformers” and the weaknesses (and bias) in their arguments:  Michelle RheeJonathan AlterJeb Bush, Sen. Dan Patrick, and hedge fund managers.

Even “reformer” Rupert Murdoch sees $ signs.

The above email from a fellow Stanford alum caused me to ask myself a meta question: Am I an anti-reformer?

If you glance at my thoughts on charters, vouchers, Teach For America etc. There is one consistent theme on Cloaking Inequity, here is what the data and research tells us that is at odds with the current conception of the reform. What is being camoflaged in the popular discourse?

That being said, I do believe there are alternatives to current conceptions of “reform.” Sometimes reform needs reform. For example, Community-Based Accountability, a bottom-up approach to accountability may have a promise as an alternative to NCLB. Diane Ravitch recently came out against Common Core Standards because she believes that reformers have turned us into a nation of guinea pigs. We know that California is planning to implement Local Accountability for school finance, so this should be a fertile ground for research on a bottom-up approach for accountability.

Finally, the favorite approaches of reformers is to trot out “common sense” arguments such as “soft bigotry of low expectations” “education is not about adults” and “choice” arguments. You hear these memes in support of No Child Left Behind (high-stakes testing), vouchers, charters, anti-unionization etc. Despite the power of these “poverty pimping” arguments, evidence from data and peer-reviewed research should trump elegant ideology. The typical “reformer” only goes an milimeter deep when it comes to evidence. For example, did you see Rhee recently on John Stewart and Bill Maher?

My answer to myself: I am a trained policy analyst interested in equity and social justice. I seek to reform the reform and reform the reformer. I proffer a balanced analysis of data and peer-review research should be our guide rather than ideology.

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Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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11 Comments on “From the Mailbag: You, sir, are no reformer”

  1. Stacey Amick
    March 17, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Great post! This is my favorite line: “evidence from data and peer-reviewed research should trump elegant ideology”. Seems to me these “reformers” love great sound bytes, but they completely ignore research and evidence.

  2. March 22, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    Well done, Julian. As a teacher, I was the ongoing victim of reform even when my students met or exceeded expectations. I shutter at the word “reform.” One thing was always very clear, reform had little to nothing to do with the welfare of students or their future lives. I wrote my thoughts about the reform movement. http://jaezz.org/2012/08/06/front-phrases-2/ Education and public policy are two disconnected institutions, except for the flow of tax dollars, a begrudged umbilical.

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