Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Klein’s reply. Here are responses from Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier as well.
Like Ronald Reagan, Steven Brill believes “facts are stubborn things.” That’s why he found his two-year immersion in the world of edu-politics enormously frustrating. There, ideology and spin often matter most. As Brill puts it, the world of public education “give[s] new meaning to the notion that if you repeat something that is plainly untrue enough times it starts to seem true, or at least become part of the debate.” It’s maddening but, sadly, as Brill demonstrates, even the mainstream media often go along for the ride.
In Brill’s essay above, as well as his just-released book, “Class Warfare”, he doggedly chases down the facts and repeatedly punches holes in the current protagonists’ talking points, especially those of the “school reform deniers” — i.e., the unions and their academic supporters — though he takes a few shots at the reformers as well. When he says the facts show that “public education is failing our children,” and “[t]his is not a matter of money,” or “not about class size as much as it is about who is in front of the class,” he’s demonstrably correct but, rest assured, that won’t stop the deniers from attacking him with cherry-picked data and flawed analyses.
Because of his commitment to ferreting out the facts through tough and thorough reporting, Brill’s a brilliant diagnostician. No one has previously brought the education debate to life the way he has. And not a moment too soon. This is the most important issue our nation faces and, unfortunately, most Americans either don’t know or don’t care much about it. But if they read Brill they will see that the depressing picture he paints of the current state of public education is (unfortunately) accurate and that, in no small measure, this is because the unions effectively promote their own and their members’ self-interests, even when doing so hurts kids.
Having diagnosed the problem well, Brill spends much less time proposing a solution. He says that his “prescription for how we turn around public schools” is “not by abolishing the unions but by persuading or forcing them to engage in real reforms.” As to just how we either “persuade” or “force” the unions to do this, Brill mentions a couple of ideas that I discuss below. His suggestion in his new book that Randi Weingarten be appointed to run the NYC school system is provocative but, as he has acknowledged, not going to happen. Back to the real world.