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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.
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A hollow argument for reform

Steven Brill's new book, "Class Warfare," is getting lots of attention – much of it critical. While I haven't had a chance to read it yet, the book clearly misses its intended mark if individuals like Rick Hess, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and Sara Mosle, a Teach for America alum and union critic, find fault. Hess criticizes Brill for not defining what school reform looks like and Mosle writes in the New York Times Book Review that what Brill "regards as the groundswell of a welcome revolution begins to sound worryingly like an echo chamber, with everyone talking to the same few people and reading the same email blasts."

But my favorite education writer, Richard Rothstein, pens the best review for Slate.com.

"Brill's briskly written book exposes what critics of the reformers have long suspected but could never before prove: just how insular, coordinated, well-connected, and well-financed the reformers are," Rothstein writes. "Class Warfare reveals their single-minded efforts to suppress any evidence that might challenge their mission to undermine the esteem in which most Americans held their public schools and teachers. These crusaders now are the establishment, as arrogant as any that preceded them."

The description is dead-on for the young "reformers" I see running the Indiana Department of Education and its complement of partners. It's also the dead-on description of education types in the Obama administration and Democrats for Education Reform.

As Hess notes, the remedies pushed by the so-called reformers – charter schools, merit pay, vouchers, etc. – aren't silver bullets. The reformers are making headway more by political dominance than by making a case, and the alliance they've forged with for-profit entities eager to make a buck will give me and other journalists fodder for years to come.

I'll read Brill's book because the reviewers all agree it's an excellent read, but I suspect it will leave me yearning even more for the days when Indiana's Democratic governor, its Republican state superintendent, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana State Teachers Association sat down at the Indiana Education Roundtable to compromise, collaborate and make steady but sure progress improving the state's schools.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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