The lessons of 2012 for ed reformers

Education reformers learned some painful lessons in 2012, writes Mike Petrilli. Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, the “darling of the national education reform movement,” lost his job to a union-backed opponent. In Idaho, voters repealed three laws pushed by Superintendent Tom Luna.

To build a winning political coalition, reformers need to “stop angering suburban parents and teachers by subjecting their schools to changes they don’t want or need,” Petrilli writes.

It’s not that suburban schools are perfect — their performance lags behind that of our international competitors, too. But the policies required for these schools to go from good to great are different from those needed to get urban schools from dismal to decent. In nations with the best schools, local leaders have the power to make day-to-day decisions and aren’t micromanaged from on high.

Second, reformers must “show respect for teachers,” Petrilli writes.

 We need to stress that bad teachers are rare but devastating and that efforts to weed them out will lift the entire profession. Any rhetoric that implies that most or even many teachers are incompetent or uncommitted to children needs to be scrapped.

Finally, reformers need to match “an army of determined educators … with a larger army of equally determined parents.”

Don’t let the suburbs slide, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

. . . reformers can’t afford to ignore or placate suburbia. This is because suburban districts face many of the same challenges that bedevil big-city counterparts — and have been less-willing to embrace systemic change.

Suburban districts are increasingly more diverse, thanks to poor and first-generation middle class black, Latino, and Asian families who are seeking better educational opportunities for their kids (and often mistakenly think that suburban schools can provide them).

The Obama administration is handing out No Child Left Behind waivers that will ease the pressure on suburban districts.


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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    With every study cited it becomes more and more obvious that culture (habits, customs, values) is of primary importance. To replicate this kind of outcome we’d need to change a whole lot more that teacher quality. We’d need to convince something like 40% of the American population that their culture is profoundly damaging. Good luck with that.

    Though, improving teaching quality would be a wonderful control variable.

  2. After the bang-up year for education reform 2011 turned out to be 2012 is simply the taking of a breather and the assimilation of the changes. 2011 is much more the indicator of the future then 2012 and as the lessons of 2011 sink in I expect to see a lot more of the same.

    Too bad Fordham’s proven incapable of providing any leadership.