The Realities of EdReform?
Looking at public education reform efforts, past and present
New ed reform recommendation have been delayed, raising the question of what will happen to them
Albany Herald | Dick Yarbrough | February 26, 2016
I had the privilege to speak to several hundred educators in Atlanta last week. I was there to talk about my experiences as a member of the Education Reform Commission but, as is my wont, I soon deviated off the purpose for which I had been invited to speak and into unchartered waters. Which raises a question: Why do I spend so much time preparing speeches if I am not going to use them? I must ask myself that sometime. I would be interested in the answer.
I told the group this was not my first education reform rodeo. Thirty-one years ago, I was privileged to be a part of an effort by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris to establish a new funding formula for public schools known as Quality Basic Education, or QBE. The difference in that experience and this one was like butter and butterflies. Totally different.
Gov. Harris, one of Georgia’s most underrated governors and one of its most effective, made it clear to all that he wanted the Quality Basic Education Act passed. No exceptions. No excuses. My job was to help build the broadest statewide coalition possible and to keep any opposition on the defensive. We did. QBE passed without a dissenting vote.
Contrast that the Education Reform Commission. Other than an initial meeting with Gov. Deal at the beginning of our deliberation last February, we didn’t see him again until we turned in our recommendations in December. That event consisted of the commissioners gathering on the steps in the rotunda of the Capitol for a photo op while the governor came out of his office looking like he was late for the bus, saying a few words that no one on the second row and beyond could hear and leaving with the report, which included my name misspelled. (Note to Governor’s office: If we can’t trust you with the little things, well, you know … )
I don’t want to pick on Dick Yarbrough. He seems like a very concerned man and very giving of his time. More Dick Yarbroughs are needed. Nonetheless, his recent piece in the Albany Herald found its way to my desk in South Dakota and, I, seeing his longing for 1985 and wonder:
- Did he not read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (1991)?
- Does he not remember the comprehensive high school era of gigantic schools and their chronic behavior issues that preceded the small schools movement?
- Does he not recall twenty plus years of desegregation lawsuits that wound down in the mid 80’s just before schools began to re-segregate?
- Does he not remember the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, angel dust, the birth of the DARE Program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in 1983?
- Does he not remember the one-parent families, the child abuse, the homelessness, parental apathy and the general lack of respect for authority, or was he not a high school principal like I was at the time?
For Dick Yarbrough and all those who view public education as a cauldron of ineptness and inefficiencies populated by incompetent teachers and unruly students: schools merely reflect the societies they serve. They are no better or worse than that society, they simply mirror its values and its priorities.
Federal and state legislators are culpable for the condition, both physical and educational, of public schools. Mr. Yarbrough’s seems to indicate that schools and society have taken a wayward path while politicians and education commissions have walked a road of virtuous example and instruction.
Detractors of public schools are better organized and better funded that public school proponents? Perhaps Mr. Yarbrough is not familiar with the AFT, NEA, AASA, NASSP, NAESP, NSBA, PTA, ASCD, CEC, ASBO, CCSSO, NFSHSA, ASCA, NAEA, NCTE, NCTM……..
Mr. Yarbrough bemoans that those who represent public education don’t speak with one voice. Thank goodness! Public education is the essence of grassroots democracy. Democracy is many voices, not one.
Public education is in an ideological war, he says. Please Mr. Yarbrough, read the history of public schooling. You will see that from its very birth, public education has been engaged in an ideological war. Every step public education has taken has incited an ideological war. Today is no different than in 1873 when prominent citizens of Kalamazoo, Michigan sued to keep the school board from expending funds to expand education to the high school years. It is no different than in 1954 when the US Supreme Court struck down the joke of separate but equal; or different than the 1978 battle in North Dakota over whether textbooks should be given to public school students or whether parents should have to purchase them. Public education evolves, just like our society, via a messy, ideological war.
John McLaughlin, Ph.D.
John M. McLaughlin, Ph.D., directs the Research & Analytics unit of ChanceLight Behavioral Health and Education, which evaluates initiatives, provides reviews of literature, examines specific performance inquiries for school district partners, and conducts and publishes original research.
Before joining the company in 1999, John published the influential Education Industry Report and was a tenured associate professor of educational administration. In 1977, he founded Benton Hall Academy, a school in the Nashville area for students in need of a small and caring environment.