Sunday, August 21, 2011

Education Reform as Politics as Usual

Few things upset conservatives as much as unions and school reform.  Put those two variables together and you end up with a fight in your hands.  This is why I found Sarah Mosle's recent review in the New York Times so maddeningly frustrating.  She was reviewing Steven Brill's Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools.  As Mosle underscores, Brill is not a big fan of teachers unions, which he blames for all that ails public education in the United States.  

The frustration stems not from Mosle's conclusion that "his case is not airtight, and reasonable doubts remain about his subjects’ prescriptions for reform."  Such can -- and must -- be expected from so complex and sensitive a topic.  One need not be a fan or critic of unions to know that they are neither solely responsible for all that ails in public education nor all that is good about them.  They reside in the gray area where most difficult issues reside.

Instead, it appears that Brill chose instead to take sides, even when the evidence far from warranted it.  Even worse,supportive evidence was given extensive discussion, whereas research that runs contrary to his thesis is referred to "obliquely" and "in half a sentence," or else it is altogether ignored. Brill clearly had an agenda, and fair-minded reporting was not it.

This reminds me of our political culture, and the inability of those in positions of influence to work together towards common goals.  Hence the frustration: education reform, not to mention the national debt or the economy, affirmative action or majority-minority district, are serious, and seriously difficult, questions.  

Until the grown ups in the room begin to treat these questions accordingly, we will remain in the morass we find ourselves today.

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