In a recent posting on his Education Week blog “Straight Up,” Rick Hess resurrected Reid Lyon’s now tired assertion that in order to reform education. a good place to start is blowing up colleges of education. Only now Rick Hess thinks he has a better idea — a better “path.” Apparently, Hess spent some time with a few dozen education school deans. He found them to be “smart people and willing to engage with dissenting voices.” However, he has a different view of the faculty members who work within schools of education. We, according to Hess, “as a rule … display strong biases on questions like accountability, use of monetary incentives, and school choice.” And Hess went on to state in a tweet that education faculty members are not only biased, but guilty of venality. Actually, that’s not only outrageous, but actually seems to contradict his own thesis. Hess lauds the University of Arkansas’ “Walmart Department of Education Reform and School Privatization.” While many education department faculty members seem to be biased against the current feeding frenzy of free market corporate education reformers (and, thus, lose out on the wealth that can be accumulated by casting their lot with the charter school operators, test publishers, and data producing machine makers), the University of Arkansas is not accused of venality for cashing in on the Walton family fortune. The Walton family certainly did pay a lot to buy a policy department that would actively promote a free market education reform agenda — a whopping $300 million dollars, the largest “gift” in the history of public higher education!
I think it’s interesting that Rick Hess positions himself and other “think tank” scholars as the downtrodden and oppressed — losing the policy debate to the “tens of thousand of faculty in teacher-preparation programs at state colleges of education.” As one of those faculty members in a teacher preparation program, I think Hess is disingenuous in taking this position. Or maybe he just hasn’t gotten the memo — you guys have won! You got pretty much everything you wanted: education reformers wanted more accountability, “no excuse” policies, more data, more testing, and more school choice. They wanted teachers to be held accountable for their students’ performance on tests. they wanted a debate on teacher tenure, and they wanted more non-traditional teacher preparation programs like Teach for America.
Education reformers started winning the policy debate a long time ago. Republicans promoted your agenda. Democrats promoted your agenda. And Obama placed the laurel wreath on the head of education reformers as the ultimate winner when he and Arne Duncan gifted you with RTTT. Rick Hess, thou protesteth too much! Oh, I know you have been very vocal in your criticism of the Common Core. However, the Common Core was just one of the policies in the gift basket education reformers received from the federal government. And now some free market education reformers want to keep everything else in the gift basket and give back the one thing they find distasteful.
Rick Hess states, “It’s a huge mistake to regard ed schools as implacably hostile. Ed schools are shifting assemblages of individuals, with views that are not preordained. Instead of writing off all the institutional heft that ed schools’ control, it’s time for reformers to get in the ring and work to ensure that some top colleges of education become places that can produce and host a healthy quotient of reform-minded thinkers.” By reform-minded thinkers, it’s obvious that he is referring to free market, corporate, pro-choice education reform proponents.
Law schools, according to Hess, had to address the same “entrenchment” he now cites as a problem in schools of education. The conservatives had to step in and rescue the law schools. Hess is laudatory of Henry Manne who was recruited in 1985 by George Mason University to “build a law school from scratch.” Manne, according to Hess, was free to “launch an Austrian-flavored program free from such constraints. While lacking a significant endowment, alumni network, or institutional brand, the new school soon enjoyed enormous success as a place of refuge for conservative scholars… .”
It is clear, that Hess’ better “path” for schools of education includes creating some supposed refuge for these conservative scholars. First, why do conservatives need a refuge? They seem to be doing quite well in the education policy arena. Second, just what would a school of education that employs conservative thinkers among its faculty look like? I think Hess is woefully unaware of what teacher preparation program faculty members actually do, in spite of the fact that he claims otherwise. Increasingly, our jobs revolve around enacting policies that these conservative free market corporate reformers have been promoting over the years. Regardless of our personal and professional education policy beliefs, we are committed to our students’ success and the success of the students they will teach. In New York, where I work in a teacher preparation program, our education majors take numerous standardized tests to become licensed to teach after graduation. There’s no lack of accountability here. Education professors may question the quality of the Common Core, but we prepare our students to enter a profession dominated by the standards. It doesn’t matter if we are conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. If we are entrenched as Hess claims, it is not an entrenchment of our choice. It’s an entrenchment foisted on us by “reform minded” policy makers, the kind that Rick Hess admires.
Hess may decry those who wish to “blow up” schools of education. However, his attack is no less vehement. He concludes his article by saying: “‘Blow up the ed schools’ is the disgruntled cry of the defeated. The goal shouldn’t be to silence other voices, but to break the monopoly and insist on a fair competition of ideas.” There is no monopoly, Rick Hess. There is no public school monopoly and there is no monopoly among schools of education. The reality is this: there are those in dominant positions of power who want to destroy the democratic institution of public schools through free market policies under the guise of “choice.” On the other hand, there are those of us who are actively working to preserve the long honored and beneficial system of public education. It shouldn’t be surprising that many of us proudly work in teacher preparation programs.