Reformers: Stop accusing critics of wanting to ‘defend the status quo’

(By Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(By Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It’s rare to hear a school reformer speak these days without accusing someone of resisting change because they want to “defend the status quo.”  No critic of school reform that I know is an actual status quo defender, but that doesn’t ever seem to matter. In this post veteran California teacher David B. Cohen makes the case that it is time — right now — to stop using that overused phrase. Cohen has been a teacher since 1993. He is National Board Certified, and is associate director of the Accomplished California Teachers group. This appeared on InterACT, the group’s blog.

By David B. Cohen

It’s time to retire the cliché “defend the status quo.”  Just. Stop. Now.

It’s misleading, insulting, and worst of all… it’s an overused cliché, which makes for dull writing and dumbed-down debates.  We need an intervention to help people who can’t help themselves when it comes to repeating this worn-out  phrase.

This blog post has been drafted, revised, and held back a number of times. What pushed me to finally click “Publish” was last week’s debate over SB-441* – a California Senate bill that aims to improve teacher evaluations. Supporters of the bill who took the debate online via Twitter grabbed this tired cliché and attempted to shame the bill’s opponents with the hashtag #protectthestatusquo.

Perhaps they felt clever getting that little dig in, but the problem is, no one is actually satisfied with the general state of teacher evaluation in most public schools. Who are these defenders of the status quo? The California Teachers Association has its own 17-point, 36-page evaluation reform framework. Other teacher organizations, including ACT, have published evaluation reform recommendations. I’ve talked about this topic in front of multiple audiences around California, events that included teachers, parents, administrators, school board members, union leaders, researchers, legislators, journalists, education advocates…. Everyone is looking for something better.

Disagreements arise when we begin defining the most deleterious aspects of status quowhat part of it are we talking about, and how did we get here? And while we all agree change is needed, is every proposed change a viable solution? Sometimes it feels like teachers and administrators are in a kitchen fighting a big grease fire with a single fire-extinguisher, and education reformers come along suggesting that since we haven’t succeeded with that one fire extinguisher, it’s time to use water. We’re not defending the status quo of the grease fire when we point out that water is the wrong way to put out a grease fire.

Below you’ll find a partial list of writers and speakers who’ve contributed to the overuse of this education reform mantra, with links to the incidents.  To those who made the list, think of this as some tough love from an experienced writing teacher. It’s time to think up something new, something more substantial. Stop repeating yourselves and parroting each other – because no one in education defends the status quo.

Checker Finn – “teachers’ unions and other staunch defenders of the status quo have resisted”

Joel Klein – “those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well-financed”

Michael Bloomberg – ““Special interests and defenders of the status quo are digging in for a fight.”

Margaret Spellings – “To those who seek to undermine, delay, or obstruct reform, I say your time is over. You are on the wrong side of history. The status quo cannot be defended—it is indefensible.”

Tyson Eberhardt – “assailed for over two decades by defenders of the status quo”

Bobby Jindal – “teacher unions and other defenders of the status quo simply demand more time and more money”

Greg Forster – “the test is being developed and implemented by a bureaucracy that is heavily colonized by the defenders of the status quo”

Dan Juneau - “The defenders of the status quo will keep these bills tied up in court as long as possible.”

KC Johnson  - “a balancing act between advocates of change and defenders of the status quo.”

Steve Barr – “if our success wanes, all the defenders of the status quo will celebrate.”

Tom Vander Ark – “The only thing that stands in the way is local and state policy and folks like Larry Cuban mistakenly defending the status quo.”

Michelle Rhee – “we need courageous politicians and leaders who are willing to take on the entrenched interests and the defenders of the status quo” – and in the same article, John Kerr – “defenders of the status quo turned their sights last year on incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.”

Whitney Tilson – “even the staunchest defenders of the status quo would agree that good schools are critical for our nation”

Doug DeWitt – “she is a consumate defender of the status quo”

Rod Paige – “feel a sense of urgency in saying that defenders of the status quo must step aside”

Conrad Appel – “union leaders and defenders of the status quo will do anything they can to stop this bold education reform”

Patrick Riccards - bonus points for double usage in one blog post - “same students that many defenders of the failed status quo say can’t learn because the [sic] come to school without breakfast” AND ”After all, those status quo defenders contend, collective bargaining agreements are all about protecting the rights and interests of the adults in the system.”

Joel Klein – also gets bonus points for two uses in one article – “those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed” AND “…I fought to break this institutional stranglehold of defenders of the status quo.”

Ben Austin - double-bonus points for double usage in one sentence - “The defenders of the status quo have proven themselves willing to cross moral, ethical, even legal and constitutional boundaries in a desperate attempt to defend an indefensible status quo.”

RiShawn Biddle - triple-bonus points for three uses in one post - “giving congressional Republicans and defenders of the status quo such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers exactly what they want” AND ”status quo defenders wouldn’t gain much of a substantial victory” AND ”encountering the wrath of both congressional Republicans and status quo defenders.”  (Biddle scored another triple-cliché post here).

Gloria Romero can top that, using the phrase five times in one letter to Antonio Villaraigosa. Here’s the final blow, a particularly sharp one directed at the mayor himself: “In the likely event that you continue to defend the status quo, then for your sake, stop trying to shrink away and cover up your own spoken words. Fortunately, most Californians aren’t cowardly.”

And finally, one that was aimed at me personally, courtesy of Kelly Amis: “why not use your voice in the public realm to work for change instead of protecting the status quo?” That’s what I get for pointing out the misleading or omitted information in her films (see here, and here).

.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | May 3, 2013