If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]
Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.
The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?) The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these
I wrote a blog post here on Flypaper this week in response to what I'd seen as some unnecessary and unproductive personal jabs at actor Matt Damon, after he gave a brief speech at the Save Our Schools rally in D.C. a few weekends ago. One of the offenders I referenced was Whitney Tilson, who called Damon's speech ?hugely dopey and hypocritical.?
Now, I have no interest in defending Matt Damon's comments unilaterally. In fact, I don't think he said anything particularly interesting, newsworthy, or novel?as Tilson wrote, his comments were ?just a bunch of clich?s that could have been (and, in fact, likely were) written by union hacks." I won't disagree.
Moreover, I like Whitney Tilson. I read his email blasts all the time and find most of the content to be extremely informative and effective.
But what I don't like?and I'm pretty passionate about this?is when policy debates turn personal. It happens all the time in Congress?where camaraderie between senators, for example, is a relic of the past, and where even a topic so wonky as paying the bills at the FAA turns into a soap opera of name-calling and finger-pointing. Personal attacks transform healthy debate into bitter partisanship.
And at least in this instance, I wanted to call out Tilson for what I viewed as unnecessary personal attacks against Damon. In his remarks, Damon may have adopted some populist and clich?d rhetoric, but never did he go so far
It was hardly a surprise that Indiana took home the Education Reform Idol trophy today. Pundits from across the ideological spectrum have lauded the Hoosier State for its comprehensive reforms enacted this spring?including a best-in-the-nation teacher bill, an expansive private school choice program, and a serious effort at collective bargaining and benefits reform.
But why 2011? Mitch Daniels has been in office since 2005; Tony Bennett since 2009. While they haven't been twiddling their thumbs (last year, Bennett enacted new regulations revamping teacher professional development, for instance), legislators didn't get religion on reform until now. How come?
The answer is obvious: The 2010 elections, which gave Indiana Republicans control of the House and a super-majority in the Senate. The same thing happened in Ohio, where the House and governor's office both switched from blue to red. Big GOP victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and other states led to similar dynamics. Though it's not an ironclad law, it's still generally true that when Republicans take power, reforms take flight.
This point might be obvious, but it bears repeating, because so much of the energy within the reform movement today is about moving Democratic legislators toward more reform-friendly positions. That's certainly worthwhile, and the work of groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children deserve support and encouragement. But let's not be na?ve: Getting rank
In case it needs reiterating, Matt Damon is actually a pretty smart guy. He holds a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. He went to Harvard. He produces documentary films. He volunteers and donates to whole host of NGOs and non-profits. Sure, he's no authority of education, but he's probably the kind of person worth at least giving the benefit of the doubt.
So I was pretty disturbed by a couple of vindictive and downright insulting critiques of Damon that I found in my inbox last week, responding to his appearance at the ?Save our Schools? rally in Washington:
- A New York Daily News headline: ?Matt Damon would deny charter school students education alternatives he had as a child.?
- Whitney Tilson's blast email: ?Matt Damon gave a hugely dopey and hypocritical speech.?
Now, the Daily News article (all 90 words of it) takes two of Damon's unrelated comments egregiously out of context, with no substantive attribution. Moreover, as far as I can tell, Matt Damon isn't even unilaterally opposed to charters! Here's what he did say: ?It's a big question ? there are great charters and there are lousy charters ? they don't necessarily perform better than public schools.?
Even the most fervent charter advocate ? say, Whitney Tilson ? wouldn't disagree with Damon's balanced statement. So why is he ?hugely dopey??
And then, in a Gotham Schools interview, Damon actually showed a whole lot of subtlety in his understanding of the complication of ?co-location?
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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