Context matters. It is pretty simple idea. One of the most solid indictments of the education reform movement is the fact that they advocate blanket policies that impact all schools, all districts, and all states based on experience in just a few districts. From an analysis of a few urban centers, generally in the Northeast, assumptions have been made, policies have been written, and lines have been drawn in the sand. From reading the ed reform blogosphere, it would appear that New York State is an assumed to be an analog for the entire country—urban, suburban, and rural. The conversation about rural poverty is slim, often based on wrong assumption that rural poverty does not impact students of color or that issues in rural schooling are similar to those in urban settings. The constant discussion and debate about teacher’s unions ignores the large number of non-unionized teacher work forces in this country. Also ignored are the varying histories of segregation and desegregation in different regions or the existence (or lack thereof) of a traditional presence of private schooling.
More concerning that the ignorance that education reform advocates seem to have about important structural and contextual factors is the fact that many seem to simply not care. Whatever they perceive is the “crisis” in public education is the only thing that matters. Everyone else be damned, even if we can clearly demonstrate the negative consequences of those blanket education policies on disadvantaged students in other contexts. Perhaps they don’t believe the evidence. Perhaps they play moral equivalency games and decide that these students over here are somehow more worthy or somehow more vulnerable than students over there. Maybe it is simply a game of “out of sight, out of mind” and they just choose to ignore the problems that aren’t visible to them every day.
Given that, it is refreshing when someone in the ed reform camp can drop a little of the arrogance and spend some time contemplating larger implications of their policy positions. Andy Smarick does that just a bit in this article, while simultaneously demonstrating the many flaws within education reform logic.