I started covering education reform in 1983, with the release of the “Nation at Risk” report. In those days everybody had some idea for how we should reorganize the schools or change the curriculum—cut school size, cut class size, create vouchers, create charters, get back to basics, do less basics, increase local control, increase the federal role.
Some of the reforms seemed promising, but the results were disappointing, and tangential to the core issue: the relationship between teacher and student. It is mushy to say so, but people learn from people they love.
Today, aided by the realization that teacher quality is what matters most, a new cadre of reformers have come on the scene, many of them bred within the ranks of Teach for America. These are stubborn, data-driven types with a low tolerance for bullshit. The reform environment they find themselves in is both softhearted and hardheaded. They put big emphasis on the teaching relationship, but are absolutely Patton-esque when it comes to dismantling anything that interferes with that relationship. This includes union rules that protect bad and mediocre teachers, teacher contracts that prevent us from determining which educators are good and which need help, and state and federal laws that either impede reform or dump money into the ancien régime.