Reformers and Anti-Reformers: An Underwater Perspective

Part II of the series:  The Need for a Deeper Dive

Over the past few months, I have tweeted under the #biggerfish2fry umbrella arguing that I don’t want to pick sides in the polarized reform/anti-reform debate. I feel that each side has a compelling argument and each side has room for growth.  But being challenged by a recent read (as stated in part one), I believe it is important for me to do a deeper dive and join the conversation with an underwater perspective.

So in joining, not in taking sides, I hope to make it a little more difficult for reformers and anti-reformers to stay so polarized.  Based on the strengths and weakness of each side, reformers and anti-reformers could learn a thing or two from each other.

What I like about reformers…

Some reformers seem to have an unapologetic interest in the advancement and achievement of black children.  They seem willing to recognize schooling as related to (in an intersectional way) the social injustices affecting black communities.  They take on the necessary urgency of now in terms of addressing the specific schooling needs of underserved children. Their argument is for the immediate and measurable application of progress, going well beyond the theoretical advocacy of multiculturalism and diversity.  And, wanting to put teeth in their campaign for progress, they want to hold entities accountable when progress doesn’t occur… or when it doesn’t occur in a way that is measurable.   And to these points, I say, “Yes, yes, and yes!!!”

What I like about anti-reformers…

Some anti-reformers seem to have a laser sharp interest in the movement of money… or better said, the centering of profits to benefit those who have historically profited off of the backs of the disadvantaged.  The anti-reformers seem to understand the institutional structures of oppression and want to draw attention to those systems that cause more harm than good.  They are willing to go beyond glamor of achievement rhetoric and achievement reports and expose those toxicities associated with “achievement-based” victories.  In that I am just as much a social scientist as I am an educator, I appreciate the social structural investigation.  I appreciate the disclosure of those harmful elements that are being neutralized (or more accurately, hidden), and then nicely packaged and delivered to a community hungry for a better education system.

Because each side is polarized, you would almost think that the strength of one side would be the weakness of the other.  But, it is not that simple.  So, let me take a minute to specifically address what I don’t like about each side.

What I don’t like about reformers…


While reformers take an uncompromised focus on the needs of disadvantaged students and the intersecting way in which their needs are related to the needs of the communities where they live, they fail to critically examine the social structure of the reform movement.  Even if the investigation revealed little to no harm on already exploited communities, I think it prudent to do the investigation nonetheless.  Just as relentless as they are about scrutinizing the business of unions, they should be just as relentless in scrutinizing the business of charter schools. Yet, they don’t.  Or, they don’t do it in a way that is easily recognized. Failing to be transparent about the business of charter schools as relating to the other social structural systems affecting the lives of marginalized communities seems to be disingenuous to the power of what charter schools can offer these communities.  Second, these reformers fail to recognize the limitations (in terms of human development and socioeconomic progress) of reducing achievement to what happens on tests. I am not sure if this failure is the result of not understanding the dynamics embedded within the construction and utility of tests or the result of simply not caring.  To purposefully advocate for the achievement of low-income/minority students and then fail to at least recognize their full personhood in the process of learning and development again seems disingenuous to the cause.

What I don’t like about anti-reformers…

While anti-reformers are real quick to investigate the inner layers of the charter school movement for the treatment of profit and quick to point out the damage that the movement can have on those structures that are in place to protect disadvantaged communities, they (as with reformers) fail to turn that same critical eye inward.  To go inward, anti-reformers would have to address prevailing reports about the dismal conditions in which black children live and the relationship that schooling has with these adverse conditions.  They would have to acknowledge that in the democratic structure premised to protect all, that black voices (from parents, students and teachers) are perversely devalued or even omitted from the conversation all together.  While traditional public schools have been the primary employers of black educators, there is really no space for black educators to influence the process of schooling.  Being a teacher/administrator is one thing.  Being a developer is another.  Traditional public schools don’t (not at a wide spread level) support the tradition of black leadership which has historically been situated inside of development, innovation, and yes, entrepreneurship.

Moving the Movement Forward

School reformers must take heed to the concerns that anti-reformers have about the structural inequities born out of the charter school movement. And, anti-reformers must take heed to the efforts of reformers in their pursuit to create a stronger, right now, measurable commitment to the progress of black children.

Underserved children, all of them, need a reform movement that is not about winner-takes all solutions. They need an environment that respects the complex, structural intersections that influence how they learn and how they move in and out of the classroom.

While not sexy as those who take a side, I hope my underwater analysis on both ends serves to move people toward a center… a place of convergence so as to promote the true advancement of all children.

5 thoughts on “Reformers and Anti-Reformers: An Underwater Perspective

  1. I am not sure if this failure is the result of not understanding the dynamics embedded within the construction and utility of tests or the result of simply not caring.

    Have you considered a third possibility? Is it possible that reformers are fully aware that the testing regime does not improve student learning, but that it does provide data that generally supports their argument that public schools are failing? After all, the public’s belief that public schools are failing is the necessary predicate for their existence. And their income.


    1. I hear your point but I am really thinking critically about black reformers (or reformers from other marginalized communities). I did not make this clear in my reflection because I did not want to further silence and already silenced constituent. I am not sure if black (minority) and poor stakeholders who support reform can be charged with being income focused in their support of testing. I think they support tests as an attempt to promote justice and civil rights ( Although short sided (in terms of the centralization of tests), the pursuit for justice shouldn’t be negated by those (those with the real power) in pursuit for profit.


    2. As I was typing my first response to you, I had another thought. Isn’t it just the two possibilities that I originally stated? Doesn’t the utility of the test constitute what you are saying about tests being used to establish a market? What do you think?


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