John White Makes “Urgent Moral Case” for School Reform

In an op-ed piece that appears over at The Daily Beast this weekend, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White and New York City Chancellor of Schools Joel Klein make the “urgent moral case” for school reform. And it’s pretty good.

No issue in school reform has proven more contentious than the nationwide push to improve persistently struggling schools in low-income communities. In cities across the country, attempts to transform hulking high schools into clusters of more nurturing small schools, or to create innovative public charter schools in low-income neighborhoods, have yielded debate and protest.

Last year, heeding calls for “local control” of education decisions and less invasive interventions in underperforming schools, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, granting states and local school boards, rather than the federal government, broad latitude in determining how to rate the performance of schools and how to intervene when performance lags.

The overall idea here is that replacing bigger, largely overcrowded schools with smaller schools and offering more choice to parents will create better academic environments and improve the education system overall. It’s a message that we really should be touting more and more, because choice and competition is not a bad thing. Education needs to be challenged to improve.

Interestingly, however, White and Stein find themselves indirectly opposed by the NAACP, which this weekend voted to formally call for a moratorium on charter schools. At least, they say, until charter schools are held to the same level of transparency as public schools.

The Wall Street Journal did not respond well to that one.

Hello? Inner-city schools are the definition of unaccountable as they promote failure year after year. Charters should be held accountable, and some charter operators have done a poor job. But they can be and are shut down. The proof of charter performance are the long waiting lists in most cities to get in. Parents vote for charters with their feet when spaces are available.


What both pieces get right is that the status quo simply doesn’t work. Yet, it’s the status quo that groups like the NAACP and teachers unions want to keep. It does irreparable damage to the groups most affected by a low performing education system – namely poor, black children. Change and innovation have to happen. And, hopefully, it will.

I just wish we had an election cycle to talk about it.

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