Friday, October 2, 2009

Pursuing our Interest

Some people like the purpose of unions, and other people feel unions are self serving. I thought this article shed some light on several self interest groups, besides teacher unions, that affect public education.
Watch out for those teacher interest groups! They'll smother a good reform every time. Or so the argument usually goes....
I object to this argument not only because it is reductive. I object to it because it implies that all the other groups clamoring for for and against changes to schools aren't interest groups. The fact is that the education landscape is simply crawling with interest groups. And that's both good and bad.
The formidable Geoffrey Canada is only the latest person to depict teacher groups as the major barriers to a promising reform. He asserts that they oppose giving students more time in school:
Some educators and unions won’t even consider working longer hours or a longer school year. (New York Times Magazine)
"Some" is the operative term here. In fact, both national teachers unions have supported extended school days and years, provided teachers get paid accordingly.
More to the point, there are legions of others who oppose longer days and years. Take, for example, the 68 percent of adults who voiced their opposition in a very recent national poll. Then there's the vacation and travel industry. And don't forget the virulent opposition of employers who can't shake their addiction to teen labor. Nancy Flanagan recalls what happened to teachers and their unions when they called for a longer school year in Michigan. Opponents branded them as "anti-business."
The point here is that all kinds of "interest groups" have a stake in public school reform. Commercial interests. Religious interests. Economic interests. Ideological interests. Social interests. Even gastronomic interests. Some do great work. Some, not so good. Despite what journalists may tell you, this is not just a battle between "reformers" and the "education establishment."
A recent forum in the New York Times Magazine bears this out. Five education luminaries answer the question, "How should we fix education?" Four offer specific reform ideas. Geoff Canada says "More Time for Learning." Charles Murray (shudder) says "chuck the BA." Susie Buffet says "improve early education." And Tom Vander Ark says "boost online learning."
All of these ideas may have real merit. (I particularly like the first and third.) But the very question invites silver-bullet responses. (Leave it to the Times to present education reformers as blind men grasping different parts of the elephant.) Surely our challenge is to engage people with diverse interests and beliefs in a broader common conversation about the future of our public schools.
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