Are We At The End of Education Policy?

Michael Petrilli, president at the Fordham Institute, made a bold statement in an op/ed at Education Next this week. He said as a nation we are at the end of education policy.

He writes

We are now at the End of Education Policy, in the same way that we were at the End of History back in 1989. Our own Cold War pitted reformers against traditional education groups; we have fought each other to a draw, and reached something approaching homeostasis. Resistance to education reform has not collapsed like the Soviet Union did. Far from it. But there have been major changes that are now institutionalized and won’t be easily undone, at least for the next decade.

Namely: We are not going back to a time when urban school districts had the “exclusive franchise” to operate schools within their geographic boundaries. Public charter schools now serve over three million students, many of them in our large cities, cities where 20, 30, 40, and even 50 percent of the students are now in charter schools. These charter schools are not going away. Another half a million students are in private schools thanks to the support of taxpayer funding or tax credit scholarships. Those scholarships are not going away either. At the same time, the meteoric growth of these initiatives has slowed. Numbers are no longer leaping forward but are merely ticking up.

Meanwhile, alternative certification programs now produce at least a fifth of all new teachers. We are not going back to a time when traditional, university-based teacher preparation programs had the exclusive right to train teachers.

And even testing—that hated policy with no natural constituency—is now entrenched, at least until the Every Student Succeeds Act comes up for reauthorization. It appears, knock on wood, that the testing backlash is starting to recede, thanks, I would argue, to policymakers addressing many of the concerns of the testing critics. The underlying academic standards are stronger and clearerthe tests are more sophisticated and rigorous, and encourage better teaching; and the state accountability systems that turn test results into school ratings are fairer and easier to understand; and teacher evaluation systems have been mostly defanged. And truth be told, school accountability systems no longer have much to do with “accountability,” but are really about “transparency”—telling parents and taxpayers and educators the truth of how their schools and students are performing, but mostly leaving it to local communities to decide what to do about underperformance, if anything. All of this has made testing and accountability, if not popular, at least less unpopular.

This was like staying the “Cold War” was fought to a draw and then taking a victory lap. 

He is right that the changes made are not easily undone. While I don’t share his view of the Common Core State Standards, I recognize that efforts to repeal them have ground to a halt. It has been discouraging to see that effort end in rebranding.

ESSA is not going away anytime soon. 

I think we may see a rekindling to repeal Common Core in some states like Georgia and Florida if their new governors follow through on campaign rhetoric. 

Standardized testing is likely here to stay, but there will always be the battle over what test. That said, “what test” doesn’t matter so much if a state still has lousy standards that ESSA requires the test to be aligned to. 

However, I believe we’ll continue to see push back on school data privacy and parental rights. 

Instead of broad, wide sweeping changes from Congress and state legislatures, what I think we’ll primarily be subjected to, for the time being, is policymaking via philanthropy and groupthink. We are seeing that with education tech, social-emotional learning, and personalized learning in a school by school basis.  Washington, DC and state capitols have not been driving that.

Petrilli also notes that we need a “golden age of educational practice.” Unfortunately, his reforms have made that impossible. 

What are your thoughts?

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