Thousands of people across the country are making big decisions about issues for public school parents and their children’s education. These people are often divided into groups with confining labels who fight over a parent’s right to choose the means by which their child will be educated. Quite simply, some believe you should have choice (Ed Reformers) and some don’t (Pro-Public School-ers). Sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
During a two-week period in recent months, I was called some variation of Ed Reformer three separate times. Each time my response “What did you call me?” Because where I come from, those are fighting words. Recent articles in The 74, an education news and opinion site, made me stop and think.
My entire family is a product of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and for more than a decade, the district paid my bills. Ever the “company girl,” and even as I enjoyed choice for my own kids, Ed Reformers bombarding our city with their alternative edu-language always punctuated with “choice” and “status quo” were the enemy. The Reformers were typically outsiders who came into our city and started “high-quality” charter schools in response to our “failing traditional schools” charged with righting our wrongs. I am not that.
The Reformers were charter operators, and non-profits like Teach for America, The New Teacher Project. The Ringleaders of Reform were Chris Barbic and Kevin Huffman. I’ve always respected the idea of great charter schools to add to the menu of district choices but was convinced TFA’ers were using classrooms of poor Black children as launching pads to a more grandiose career and kamikazes Barbic and Huffman landed in Nashville with a mission of blowing up the district to prepare the soil for a portfolio of charters. So, to a person eager to protect their livelihood and keep the system as-is, Ed Reform is a disruption and Ed Reformers are disruptors. Am I a disruptor?
A line from one of The 74 articles struck me when author Robin Lake asked “[a]re nonreformers people who believe that we can get dramatically different results by standing pat, doing things largely the same way, without any structural or policy changes in public education?” I am not a “stand-patter” as Lake would call it. Meanwhile, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute neatly packages reform into big “r” and little “r”, the former relating to specific policies relating to choice and accountability while the latter “…believe that schooling needs to be reimagined and that this means remaking or removing many old systems and policies. They believe that educators should be accountable and that excellence should be rewarded, but they believe there are many different ways to do these things.”
Hess’ little “r” definition speaks to me as someone new in the understanding that loyalty to a system that successfully educates only a portion of its enrollment is a matter of life and death. That an unrelenting commitment must be to the child’s best possible chance at a world-class education and not to the system that may or may not be able to deliver it. Sometimes it takes the sharp language and controversial decisions of a Chris Barbic (who is hands down the nicest guy in Nashville) to bust up a lineage of mediocrity and low expectations.
So although I’m loathed to accept a label of any kind, I’ll gladly own up to the little “r” reformer who supports deliberate disruption and student-driven disruptors. I’m far more open to different ways of doing educations and less suspicious of the intentions of those doing it differently. But the moral of this story: don’t get caught up in packaging, repel the labeling meant to define you, confine your movement, and control your path. Make the choice or don’t, but be defined only by your child’s best interest.