Do education reformers have to take an impersonal approach?

August 22

Do education reformers rely on “impersonal” solutions, as a recent New York Times op-ed by David L. Kirp argues? Not from what I’ve seen in the District. Teachers care about students, but the effects of their caring are hard to measure. And caring may not be enough.

Today’s education reformers ignore the “inherently complicated and messy human relationships” that are at the core of education, says Kirp, a Berkeley professor, in Sunday’s New York Times. Instead, he claims, they turn to ostensibly simpler and neater strategies that rely on competition between schools or the transformative power of technology.

Predictably, Kirp’s piece has unleashed a storm of commentary and an avalanche of tweets. Those who place themselves in the ed reform camp have assailed the flaws and oversimplifications in Kirp’s argument.

They note that few if any education reformers treat test scores as “the single metric of success,” as Kirp asserts. They point out that Kirp overlooks the fact that many charter schools actually do get better results for low-income African American students.

And they express bafflement at his claim that reformers focus on “markets and competition” to the exclusion of factors such as talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum. In fact, much of education reform (a term so broad and loaded it should perhaps be retired) is directed toward creating those very things.

I agree that, like many articles that get a lot of attention, Kirp’s suffers from exaggeration and a lack of nuance. At the same time, though, he’s hit on something, albeit with a blunt instrument.

[Continue reading Natalie Wexler's post at Greater Greater Washington.]

Natalie Wexler is an education writer at of Greater Greater Washington and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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