Lisa Simpson and why reform isn't really reform
My guest is Kevin G. Welner, professor of education policy and program evaluation in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and director of the National Education Policy Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kevin G. Welner
In an old episode of The Simpsons, Lisa mounts a campaign against a Barbie-like doll called “Malibu Stacy” that spouts sexist phrases such as, “Let's wear makeup so the boys will like us,” and “Math is hard.” Lisa appears to win over the other girls at the store with her solid arguments against the sexist doll, but then “new” Malibu Stacy dolls are brought out and the girls crowd around in excitement. The only thing new, however, is a new hat.
Same doll – new hat. I’m reminded of that when I hear all the talk these days about school “reformers.” Their reforms seem oddly familiar. They want to close down schools and reopen them as charters. They want to bring in private managers. They want to use standardized tests of students to determine teacher quality.
This is all “reform,” we’re told, because … ?
Actually, I’m not sure why it qualifies as reform. The thinking, as best I can tell, is that if teachers unions oppose something, it gains the "reformy" embrace from media and politician types.
To be fair, all these ideas probably did qualify as reform back when I started studying education in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, three of most dominant trends in education have been school choice (mainly charters), privatization of services, and standards-based accountability (mainly No Child Left Behind).
What we’re seeing now is most accurately labeled “intensification,” not reform. It’s changing things, but it’s changing them in the same direction we’ve been moving for well over a decade.
Such intensification would be a good thing, whether called “reform” or not, if only the trends of the past decade-plus were positive.
From where I sit, though, standards-based accountability policies have prompted test-focused instruction that parents are others are really not very happy with. And school choice reforms have simply created a separate sector – some heroes, some corruption; some good schools, bad schools (but probably more of the latter).
In short, what we’re intensifying has left us no better off – and arguably worse off. But doing more of it is what currently qualifies as “reform.”
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| November 15, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Kevin Welner, School turnarounds/reform | Tags: charter schools, kevin welner, lisa simpson, school reform, the simpsons
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