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Education Next Editors Duke It Out over Reformers’ Success in Battle of Ideas

If you want to stay informed about school reform and wrestle with some stimulating insights along the way, Education Next is an invaluable publication. To celebrate its 10th anniversary (wow, that seems old!), the Education Next editors paired off into two different teams to take stock of a decade of reform and debate what the movement has achieved and has yet to accomplish.

In one corner stand the venerable Checker Finn, Paul Peterson and Marci Kanstoroom, who argue that education reformers (or education transformers, as I prefer) still have some distance to go to claim victory in the battle of ideas:

It’s way, way too early to declare victory. Atop the cliffs and bastions that reformers are attacking, the opposition has plenty of weapons with which to hold its territory.

They say the battle is fought on too many fronts, the general public has not bought in to reform, and the gap between good policy ideas and effective implementation remains large.

On the other side stand Rick Hess, Mike Petrilli and Marty West declare the battle of ideas essentially won but heavily caution reformers of trying to get too ambitious, of overpromising what specific reforms can accomplish, and obsessing with closing achievement gaps at the expense of broadening the coalition of support:

Until we enable suburban legislators to regard a vote for reform as a political winner, and not merely a vote they’re allowed as a display of political guilt, the underpinnings of reform will remain thin….

Instead of more cheerleading, what’s desperately needed is more humility….

(For those who don’t have time to read the articles, spend six minutes watching Finn and Petrilli summarize their arguments on video.)

Where do I come down? Having eaten waffles for breakfast, allow me the humility to say I find both arguments compelling. The first group’s point about a battle being waged across 50 states and 14,000 school districts is an important one. In a few of these places we’re a lot closer to a breakthrough than in most other places.

I believe that over the next several years, following the important cautions offered by the second group, reformers can and will make major strides toward transforming K-12 education in a few places. The gap will widen between the radically innovative systems and those struggling to break out of the costly, restrictive 20th-century schooling paradigm. A lot of the work persuading hearts and minds remains to be done, but I expect the growth of online and blended learning models, along with the ongoing budget crunch in many states, to make that work significantly easier.

These are exciting times to live in from an education reform perspective. And I hope to keep growing up over the next decade with Education Next and this humble little blog each continuing what they do so well.