Thursday, August 11, 2011

'Ed Reform Idol' Spurs Valuable Education Discussion (Simon Cowells Not Welcome)

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute this morning hosted a lighthearted event called Education Reform Idol, a play on the American Idol television franchise that aimed to crown "the reformiest state" of 2011. The five contestant states—Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—were each represented by an elected official with education expertise, an education policy aide, or the leader of an education reform organization in the state (we live-tweeted the proceedings, so check out our Twitter feed here to get a play-by-play).

Congratulations to Indiana, which had State Superintendent Tony Bennett on hand to argue successfully for his state. Followed by the Hoosiers was Illinois in second place, with Florida coming in third. Ohio and Wisconsin tied for fifth place.

Though the states were competing, the atmosphere was cordial and collaborative, with representatives and judges of various political leanings using the forum as an opportunity not only to sell what's happened so far this year, but more importantly, to talk about what steps these reforms have laid and how they are setting the stage for future positive change.

While some states, like Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin passed expansive reforms in the midst of contentious legislative fights, states like Illinois and Florida built consensus to pass strong, but less extensive measures. It was conversations about these issues, among others, that made for a constructive debate about how to best move the ball forward to maximize the ways in which we can help kids in the future.

So we find it extremely curious that some have decided to take ill-conceived pot shots at the event, which ultimately did no harm and certainly helped continue a necessary dialogue about which reforms work and how to get them done. One critic described one judge as "pro-privatization," despite the fact that the organization he represents gave hundreds of millions of dollars to K-12 initiatives last year, the overwhelming majority of which will benefit public schools (either charter or traditional in nature). He called another judge a "public education hater," despite the fact that she's one of the most outspoken proponents of charter schools, which are themselves public schools. 

And no, there was not any sort of bias against Illinois because it has a Democratic governor (it in fact got both the second-largest share of in-person and online votes). And the inclusion of a state like Wisconsin at a fun and amusing event like this one was far from ridiculous—whether you agree with them or not, the state was home to a host of reforms, and considering that that is the criteria by which states were included or not, it would be foolish for them not to participate. The idea was to let voters decide what they thought of those reforms (and it's worth noting again the aforementioned difficulty the Badger State had a gaining traction with the voters).

Many people like to be critical, anti-, and distrustful of anything that challenges the status quo, and that's most certainly what's drove the disparaging remarks about the Fordham Institute's event today (criticism that came, we might add, two days before the event even took place). To avoid talking about what's happened and what the future holds would be to resign ourselves to making the same mistakes over and over again; the same mistakes that have sentenced so many kids to failing schools across the country.

We're not willing to stay content with mediocrity, or worse. This discussion is important, and we're glad that the Fordham Institute helped facilitate it today. That it did so in a fun format that people enjoyed was simply an added bonus.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

No comments:

Post a Comment