Ben DeGrow is a public policy analyst with the Independence Institute, focusing on education labor issues.
I enjoy reading the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess on education issues, not mainly because we tend to agree more often than not. Rather, I appreciate his challenging insights that so often lie outside conventional wisdom and/or ahead of the curve. One of his latest blog pieces — “Common Core: Giving Happy Lie to the ‘Reform Consensus” — caused me both to smile and puzzle.
What prompted his assessment is none other than the new anti-Common Core/national curriculum “Closing the Door on Innovation” manifesto (which I have signed). The issue had been simmering for awhile on the Right, with occasional debates between Jay Greene’s posse and the Fordham Foundation crew, but this month has come bursting to the surface.
While his main focus is on the consequences for the Common Core standards, Hess also points out some potentially gaping disagreements among the broader bipartisan education reform community over public-sector collective bargaining, the federal government’s role in education generally, and (to a lesser extent) school vouchers. Personally, I’m glad to see the “conservative” voices on many of these issues emerge stronger after the NCLB consensus. Hess writes:
Conservative pushback is giving lie to the vacuous notion that left-leaning and right-leaning reformers are interchangeable when it comes to education.
I happen to think that such clarity can be healthy, but I’m also in search of further clarity.
Hess captures well the fallout inside the Beltway, where budgets and bureaucracies are huge and politics is bloodsport. The closer to D.C. the more truth his statement that “reform-minded progressives often honestly just don’t get small-government conservatism” holds, and it reflects on both Democrats and Republicans. But what about politics in Colorado, a state big enough to matter on the national stage but small enough to feel sometimes like a (extended) family reunion?
I think of the local education reform community in much the same way. It includes members of both parties (or neither party) with some differences in philosophy, experience and allegiance but a leading shared goal to improve student learning. I’m glad to know very few people who insist on near-complete ideological alignment before working together on issues on which we agree. Recognizing the many and varied points of cooperation can only help to expand influence without the need to compromise important principles. The more my understanding has matured and certain relationships have grown, the easier I find it at times to disagree forcefully yet respectfully.
I’m curious, though, especially about what some of my Colorado Democratic education reform friends think of Hess’s argument, when he notes a couple examples of odd bedfellows and states:
This reflects not so much the “splintering” of a reform consensus as the reality that these debates are more complicated than The New York Times or Education Week have often suggested.
Typically, journalists (as the nature of the business goes) portray education reform debates as bilateral. But as a product of such outlets as this blog — which welcomes someone of my persuasion to contribute alongside a variety of progressives and pragmatists — there seems to be a more widely shared appreciation in Colorado that that’s not the case. Maybe you disagree with me on Common Core or vouchers, but you also can work with me on performance pay and charter schools. I’ll just try to keep persuading you along the way.
Or maybe the education reform fault lines truly have started to shift already, and we just haven’t felt it yet.
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