Rick Hess with American Enterprise Institute made an observation in an op/ed in Education Next. Education reformers don’t really listen. Parents who have attended public feedback sessions on education matters can confirm this. Rarely does our feedback even register with those who implement reforms, it’s just something they check off on their PR to-do list so they can say they offered a public forum.
The education space has been gripped by a newfound love of listening. The same advocates and funders who, a few years back, were exhorting us to embrace a pretty specific slate of Big “R” Reforms (like test-heavy teacher evaluation and the Common Core) are now eager to listen and are busy exhorting others to join them. Meanwhile, those who felt ignored, slighted, and locked-out when Big “R” Reform was flying high are snidely pooh-poohing all this ostentatious listening as a dollar short and a day late.
I find this “we’re ready to listen” meme a decidedly mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s healthy. I mean, over the past decade or more, education policy did become increasingly disconnected from—or even hostile to—the concerns of many families and educators. And far too many advocates, funders, and policymakers have seemed deaf to the resulting complaints.
On the other hand, this enthusiasm is more than a little discomfiting. After all, many who insist that they’re eager to listen have proffered little evidence that they’re actually listening. Indeed, having already moved on from yesterday’s agenda (and pivoted to personalization, social and emotional learning, career and technical education, research-practice partnerships, early education, et al.) the complaints they’re hearing feel like old news. More tellingly, when it comes to critical feedback on today’s agenda, the listening—especially to criticism—is markedly less receptive.
If educrats really want to prove they are listening then they need to positively respond to criticism: jettison social-emotional learning, return to classical education instead of the hyperfocus on STEM, address data privacy concerns with real solutions.
They lost trust when they responded to calls to repeal Common Core by providing a rebrand and, in some states, just changed the name. Real listening will result in real changes and revisions to their agenda not just a pat on the head.