It has been nearly a month since I posted on the site, mostly because I have been trying to finish my new book, Addicted to Reform: A Twelve Step Program to Rescue American Education. (I’ve also been enjoying life, swimming, fishing with grandchildren and biking with my wife on Martha’s Vineyard.)
Well, I am turning in the MS tonight and leaving the country for a while, but I’d like to share a few thoughts before our plane takes off.
First and foremost, the presidential election: This is easily the most important Presidential election since I began voting in 1964. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is a conman who has never shown a scintilla of interest in anyone but himself and his immediate family. That Trump does well in the polls bears witness to how poorly our politicians have consistently treated middle- and working-class Americans. But to imagine Trump doing them a good turn? He’s made a career out of stiffing ordinary folks. That’s what he does, and electing him President would be worse than putting the fox in the henhouse, because he’s not only greedy; he’s shown himself to be an unstable egomaniac.
The Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is flawed, as are we all, but she is the only acceptable alternative…and a damn good one at that.
Once she’s elected, progressives will need to keep the pressure on her, in education and related issues. Right now, the world of education is divided into two prominent camps, the “School Reform” crowd that has pretty much had its way for the past 16 years, and what I would call the “Progressive Crowd,” smaller but growing in influence. Clinton’s choice of people from the Center for American Progress for her Education Transition Team suggests that the School Reform people are likely to remain in the driver’s seat.
More “School Reform” would mean more high-stakes testing; more test-based accountability; the expansion of charter schools (despite their lack of financial transparency), and the continued growth of the Opt-Out movement (when students simply say “No Mas!” to tests that are used to punish their teachers).
On the plus side, Clinton is committed to expanding early childhood opportunities, and she has shown herself to be a policy wonk with a great capacity for learning. She needs to be made aware that during the past 16 years of nonstop “School Reform” scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have flat-lined or declined and schools have grown more segregated. She needs to know about the exodus of teachers from the profession, the decline in enrollments in teacher preparation programs (and in Teach for America, by the way), and what is possible if we commit to rethinking education. As I stress in my book, we can build school systems that look at each child and ask “How is she intelligent?” And NOT “How intelligent is she?”
Also: The charter school wars are heating up, and I think lots of state-level cataclysms are in our future, and probably soon. California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased scrutiny of charter schools; Massachusetts is about to vote whether to expand charter schools; more on-line charter schools are being investigated for fraud; and education reporters everywhere seem to be digging into what’s really happening behind those doors. It won’t be pretty, but it has to happen.
I’m happy that my old employer, the PBS NewsHours, is committed to providing at least one segment about education every week (on Tuesdays, in case you haven’t been paying attention). Quality and quantity: No other major news outlets comes close in providing both!
Speaking of the NewsHour, it was just about one year ago that I made my final appearance, in an ‘exit interview’ with Judy Woodruff. It was in that conversation that I committed to writing the book, a commitment I regretted more than once over the ensuing months. On the other hand, it has been a wonderful experience, looking back over 41 years of reporting from America’s classrooms. I like to think I’ve learned a lot, but I will leave that to readers of the book to decide.
But the book is done. The New Press will publish Addicted to Reform next year, probably in August to try to catch the ‘back-to-school’ wave of attention. I hope you will be looking for it.