In the past few weeks, two very respected voices in US ed-reform — NCTQ President Kate Walsh and Fordham Senior Fellow Robert Pondiscio — published pieces that were pretty thrilling for a little-r ed reformer like me. Like a knockout combination, Walsh’s Has the Education Movement Lost its Way? caught US ed reform under the chin before Pondiscio’s Education Reform is Off Track. Here’s How to Fix It slammed in from the side with definitive assertions like this one: ‘If ed reform is to regain its momentum and become not merely a disruptive force, but a broad, effective, and enduring one, it must reinvent itself as a practice-focused movement.’
Now to be clear, the thrill I felt didn’t really come from the ideas. I mean, they were great to read and all, but I (and many, many others) have argued similar ideas myself for quite some time now. Plus, while reform’s been off doing all the structural and social-justice stuff Walsh and Pondiscio are right to question, I’ve been working on drumming up a ‘practice-focused movement’ for a few years (see, for instance, the researchED US conferences I’ve organized).
So yeah: great ideas, but I get it. Have for a long time, working on it, all that.
What was thrilling, though, was that these reform critics were emphasizing such themes from within reform. This I saw as rather huge.
For while I may have banged out similar ideas in a bunch of places, I am very much at the ‘kid table’ of the US ed reform’s ongoing dinner party. Some folks at the ‘adult table’ occasionally acknowledge that I and others have good points, but mainly they pat me on the head and give me that look like, ‘Oh that’s so cute! You think you know as much about education as we do!’ before turning back to their fellow adult-tablers. To put it in Twitter terms (as this is a place it often plays out): to most adult-tablers, the takes I offer after 20 years working in, studying, and writing about education are worth an occasional Twitter ‘like’ or, when they have a question, private message, but rarely a retweet or follow. I am definitely, in other words, not in the club.
Walsh and Pondiscio, though, are totally at US ed reform’s adult table. And they don’t just attend all the conferences reformers seem to spend all their time at, they’re the types to sit on expert panels. In short, Walsh’s and Pondiscio’s work gets people all across education’s policy-making, think-tanking level to sit up and listen. Hell, their ideas sometimes start spats, even.
And with that in mind, it was kinda fun (and kinda infuriating) to watch Walsh’s and Pondiscio’s pieces get passed around on social media in the days following each’s publication. The Ed Wonk Sector’s responses ranged from the dumbstruck (‘Whoa…you all really gotta see this. Maybe this is worth thinking about’) all the way to, ‘Interesting viewpoint, but we’ve never been wrong. It’s all as it ever was: Lazy. Bum. Teachers’. Faults.’ (See TNTP’s very self-reflective and humble Dan Weisberg, for instance:
I did my best to not get caught up in it all, though, as I chose to focus on the good part. The good part is that Walsh and Pondiscio seemed to hit nerves in the US’s ed-reform community that needed hitting for a long time about what actually needs improving — nerves those of us at the kid table aren’t taken seriously enough to get a clear shot at. As easy as it can be to get mad at reformers for looking at the wrong things for so long, it’s not real productive in the end. I’m choosing instead to be thankful it’s been recognized and called out by some very respected people at the adult table, and I’ll gladly add this gratitude to the tentative hopefulness I expressed in this piece for Rick Hess’s ‘Straight Up’ blog earlier this year. For indeed, if the nerves Walsh and Pondiscio hit can move some adult-tablers to get better information and focus on the right things, we could be on the edge of something get pretty exciting in little-r reform. (And hey, no matter how you feel about US ed reform’s adult-tablers, you’ve got to hand it to them: they’re really pretty good at moving ideas and actions — and, in turn, funding, which is crucial — around.)
With that said, we have to start getting good information to those ‘adult-tablers’ who showed an interest in the Walsh and Pondiscio.
More specifically, I’m picturing adult-tablers who found themselves knocked a bit woozy by Walsh’s and/or Pondiscio’s essays; people who read them and decided to wander away from the reform bubble’s dogma and conferences to find out more about this whole evidence-supported practice-improvement thing.
I know that’s not everyone, but we have to focus on the ones who might be ready first. I’ve tried the whole arguing-down thing, but I’ll be honest: (1) a lot of these folks are absolutely not open to changing their mind, even when they have very little or very weak evidence to support their beliefs (it’s kinda scary, actually), and (2) convincing huge amounts of people is something I have neither the means nor the time to do. Kids and teachers need things to be better sooner, not later, and that means getting down to work with those who are willing to learn now. As for widening the learning (or for going to scale with it, in reformer parlance), let’s call that an issue for the next stage.
(NOTE: To those of you like Dan Weisberg, who are so sure about issues’ root causes that you’ve already dismissed Walsh’s and Pondiscio’s concerns/advice so you could continue on your track, best of luck to you. Even though I doubt your hypotheses and methods, I hope the One Day you envision actually arrives. Please know that you’ll always be welcome over here with us little-r reformers.)
How I’m proposing we help, reader, is by opening this post and making it a crowd-sourced reference guide for our new seekers wandering away from the ‘adult table’. I haven’t had a lot of luck with this reader-response thing, but I’m willing to try again. I guess I see it as like a blog-borne, always-open #FollowFriday kind of thing, or somewhat like a researchED if it were an online library. (And who knows, maybe something like this can help me construct the next researchED US program — we’re working on the date/location for 2018 right now, y’know…)
So here’s how it will go:
- Respond in the comments here with names, internet accessibility (Twitter, blog, org, etc.), brief description of each person’s expertise, and where they’re based (if available). A model might look like this:
- Please make sure that the folks you offer up base their practical guidance on a sound basis of evidence, not just innovation for innovation’s sake or things that ring sentimentally but haven’t produced much good. (And if you don’t know the difference, do poke around a bit. You may be surprised how many ‘experts’ out there are really saying really profound, instructionally empty things.)
- This is not an anti-reformer board. Like I’ve said before, some of the best people out there on practice are actually from reform’s ‘adult table’. Robert Pondiscio is a perfect example.
- Through the comment approval process I’ll do my best to keep up on the submissions and check to make sure about things like evidence bases and such.
- And, of course, if it’s all a huge mess we’ll call this first attempt a 1.0 and I’ll figure out a better way to do it.
Now, let’s see what rolls in. (I have about a thousand names in mind right now, but will back away.) Do check back often to fill out your evidence-supported practical resource library!