Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Does Education Reform Attract so Much Resistance?

Why Does Education Reform Attract so Much Resistance?
It’s All for the Kids, Right?

Reform, by any Other Name

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: reform just means change. Change can be good. Change can also be bad. Reforming your daily routine by not brushing your teeth anymore would be a bad a change.
Despite what education reformers say, (It’s all for the children!) their “changes” are, in fact, viewed as “bad” by some people. Sometimes negative reactions to change can be explained by partisan differences, or philosophical differences, or even sour grapes. If that were the case for education reform, wouldn’t most people - those not suffering from sour grapes - be for it? It’s just disgruntled teachers that are against school reform, right?
Actually, many groups of people are against education reform. Which groups think education reform is bad? The answer to that last question might surprise you.

The Education Reform Resistance


Conservatives don’t like education reform because it’s managed by the Federal Government and it consumes tax dollars. The Federal Department of Education, the “boss” of education reform, has only existed in its current form since 1979 when Jimmy Carter created it as a cabinet level organization. Conservatives generally don’t like expanding government, or Jimmy Carter for that matter.


Liberals don’t like education reform because it creates two “public” school systems: one for families “of means” and one for everybody else. Test prep, large class sizes, and computerized instruction make up the education reformers’ plans for poorer families; the richer ones get traditional schools, small class sizes, and a comprehensive curriculum including history and art. Liberals don’t like the inequality that’s built into education reform.


Libertarians don’t like education reform because it limits state and local freedom in setting education policy. Libertarians believe that Federal involvement in public education amounts to little more than meddling in states’ rights.


Progressives don’t like education reform because it relies on what they feel are ineffective ways of teaching and because it reduces education to a small limited set of “skills” rather than providing a rich and varied experience. Progressive also don’t like that education reform forces all kids to do the same things at the same times, regardless of their own personal skills, interests, and development.


Teachers don’t like education reform because the reformers target them as the source of all the “problems.” Teachers don’t like being forced to do their jobs in ways that are bad for children. They also don’t like being told how to do their jobs by those who have never taught.


Last - but certainly not least - parents don’t like education reform because they don’t have any choice in the matter. Parents are the primary educators of their children and don’t appreciate having little say in how their local schools operate.
With so many people not liking education reform, you might ask the next question, who does support education reform, and why does it keep happening year after year?

In the Other Corner

Government Bureaucrats and Central Office School Administrators

Government bureaucrats love education reform because it keeps them employed. Education reform creates huge amounts of red-tape, new rules, and regulations that must be followed. Government bureaucrats and school district administrators are required to write the rules, manage and direct the flow of information, and to act as “accountability” cops. The central office administrators make big bucks.

Teacher Unions and Politicians

Teacher Unions (not to be confused with the teachers who make up the unions) like education reform because it’s a powerful bargaining chip in negotiations with Federal policy makers. Unions agree to accept education reform in exchange for preserved power. The union leaders are rewarded and get to retain their positions. Education reform politicians get to count on union votes and continued support from Big Money education companies and foundations.

Education Service Providers

Software makers, textbook publishers, testing companies, certification agencies, trainers, online schools, and - perhaps most significantly - foundations like Gates, Walton and Broad, all love education reform because it provides a national market for their products. These groups would like to get a share of the many hundreds of billions of dollars that are spent every year on classroom teachers, which is why most education reform is designed to either reduce teacher salaries, or to reduce the total number of teachers - or both.

It’s Elementary!

The list above provides an answer to the question, “why does education reform keep happening?” It’s a simple answer: those who support education reform are the ones who materially profit from it and who already have the money and organization to get what they want! It’s easy to see that there’s something more than the benefit of children motivating the powerful politicians, bureaucrats, and  business people who continually promote education reform. The next time you hear someone say they support education reform because “It’s all for the kids!” find out which group they belong to. Find out how they personally profit from education reform before you take what they say at face value.
Of course all change isn’t bad and public schools should always be working to improve. Unfortunately, education reform isn’t making public schools better;  it’s making them worse. Education reform limits parent involvement and it wastes tax dollars.
But all is not lost! There is a different way to reform. America has a long tradition of locally controlled and managed schools; it’s part of what used to make our schools the best in the world. You can work in your local community to reclaim your right to set the direction of your own schools. Attend School Board and community meetings. Write letters to your news paper. Protest, protest, protest. Let other communities work on theirown schools, support yours, and help them improve.
And go brush your teeth.

Republished with permission from R. Gary Valiant.

R. Gary Valiant is a former public school teacher, administrator, college instructor, and education bureaucrat. He currently lives in Kennewick, WA and both his children attend public school. To register your disapproval of education reform, go to http://dumpduncan.org

1 comment:

  1. Kudos, Gary. Great column. As a Seattle parent with a young kid in an outstanding public school, my family is indeed fortunate. But we've been infected with the Privatization Agenda here too, of course.

    But I'm one of many who is opposed to it and fighting back. Definitely Thinking Globally and Acting Locally here.

    Keep up the good work!