Education Reform Backlash?

Today in New York state, third through eighth graders are wrapping up their second week of increased testing under the new Common Core standards. It did not go over very well among either among administrators and teachers or among parents, who launched a significant movement to have their children refuse to take the tests.

To hear John Tierney tell it, this backlash is just the beginning of a well-deserved revolution against the “accountability-based” education reform that we have been in the grip of for over a decade, with its emphasis on standardized testing, school “choice” and “competition,” and disregarding and punishing teachers in favor of businesspeople with ideas about how education should work.

I wrote this week for our local paper about the opt-out movement and how I find it hopeful that it seems to be uniting people across the ideological spectrum.

But I'm also very curious about how this sea change will play out in the community development field. Community-based groups have often found themselves on different sides of the fence when it comes to the education wars:

They all realize that good schools are an essential part of revitalizing neighborhoods and helping the kids and families within them.

For some this has meant getting involved in improving or supporting or augmenting their existing public school systems in a variety of ways, from afterschool programs to bus transportation campaigns, to being a stakeholder in more comprehensive improvement efforts. In our latest issue of Shelterforce, Susan Naimark writes about two communuity organizations that moved beyond their traditional housing base to get involved with the schools, and we've written before about ways that community organizations and schools can work more together toward their common goals.

For many other community groups recently though, addressing education has meant supporting and often organizing and running their own charter schools, as the only way that a neighborhood felt it could have enough control to really make a difference. Whether or not running a charter school makes community leaders advocates of all the measures beloved of corporate education reformers, it has often put them across the line from unions and other public school defenders when it comes to conflicts over the whole charter system and its effect on the system of public education.

I'm intrigued to find out if anyone has separated out community-controlled charter schools from corporate-run charter schools when assessing their performance (and if there are ways to assess their performance beyond the very tests people are rebelling against).

And I'm even more intrigued to see if the rebellion against high-stakes testing will have an influence on the school choice fights and maybe allow us to focus on the things that have demonstrable success: things like reducing inequality and instability, and respecting and supporting teachers.

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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