Sunday, March 15, 2009

Education Reform: The Great Debate

I have the privilege of serving on the board of the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) representing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Yesterday's executive committee meeting -- on which I also serve -- provoked a bit of a discussion on a topic I've been thinking about: who gets to define "education reform" and which definition is the right one.

At the center of the debate is whether frequently cited "reformers" -- Michelle Rhee (DC), Joel Klein (NYC), and Arne Duncan (formerly CEO of Chicago public schools and now U.S. Secretary of Education) -- are "the" reformers and everyone else that is doing great work in education (or at least think they are) is not.

Also at the center of the debate is the issue of charters. While most of my colleagues on the CGCS Board, including myself, say they embrace and support the idea of charters, there is great consternation that charters get all the attention despite the evidence that, overall, they do not do better than our traditional public schools. In fact, in many communities, the traditional public schools are out-performing charters.

As a school board member at the second largest school district in the nation, I can confidently say that everyone and no one has the answer to what our schools need to appropriately, adequately, and successfully give every child a good education. I think I know. And sometimes I don't. And that's because there's no magic bullet. There's no one definition of "reform" -- just a lot of people trying to get it right. We know one thing: education -- or the act of giving kids, ALL KIDS, a good education -- is complex. It's not just about one thing and it is certainly not about your reform vs. my reform. To be sure, the debate is needed. But polarizing ourselves is not.