You might be a reformer if …

It has been a while since I caught up on some TFA ‘Pass The Chalk’ blog entries.  I read two interesting ones, one just published, and one published a few months ago that I must have missed.

In “Who are the ‘So-Called Reformers'” staffer Heather Harding writes about how it is too bad that people opposed to the corporate reform strategies sometimes refer to people like Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and others as ‘Reformers’ always with the quotation marks around them, to highlight the irony, or even as ‘So-Called Reformers.’  She thinks this is a somewhat unfair linguistic trick.

In “Am I An Ed Reformer?” staffer Tracy Dunbar writes about how although she doesn’t closely identify with Joel Klein, her life was impacted by a great principal who shook things up.  If that principal would be considered an Ed Reformer, then it can’t be such a bad thing.

Both of these posts well well-written and thought provoking.  Though the stereotypical ‘reformer’ is generally a rich white man, these two black women, as TFA staffers, are right to ponder whether their views are being stereotyped and trivialized when they get lumped in with the ‘reformers’  (I generally call them ‘reformers’ or corporate reformers, and tend to stay away from the pretty clever ‘deformers’).

And as subtle and logical as their two arguments are, they neglect to mention the main dynamic in the evolution of the word ‘reformer’ and why, for many people, it now has a negative connotation.

The word ‘reformer’ which once belonged to everyone who had ideas of how to improve schools, which was pretty much everyone involved in education was stolen by the group of people who are now the ‘so-called reformers.’  They took the word and then claimed that anyone who didn’t support their exact reform strategies were not ‘reform minded’ — were ‘defenders of the status quo’ or ‘excuse makers.’  They started ‘Democrats For Education Reform’ and ‘Students For Education Reform.’  They took the word, claimed it for themselves, denied other people who rightfully deserved to be called reformers as well.

But then something ironic happened.  These people, these ‘reformers’, they didn’t know what they were talking about.  They were arrogant and didn’t listen to teachers about what sorts of things make schools better and which don’t.  They took over school systems and proved that they had no idea of how to improve schools.  This went on for a few years and as people became aware of this, they started referring to ‘reformers’ in a tongue-in-cheek way.  The more this happened, the more the word ‘reformer’ became a punchline to a sad joke.

I could envision a spoof on Jeff Foxworthy’s famous ‘You might be a Redneck if …’ routines.  Please feel free to add your own in the comments.

You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that teachers are lazy because their union contracts give them jobs for life.

You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that teachers start off great in their first year and get worse as they gain experience.

You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that it doesn’t hurt kids psychologically when they learn that they got their school shut down and teachers fired because they failed the state test.

You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that computers can now go into a parallel universe to figure out how an ‘average’ teacher would fare with a particular class and then compare the teachers in this universe to what those other teachers in the parallel universe did to determine if the teachers should get bonuses or fired.

Basically, the ‘reformers’ stole the word ‘reform’ and then they ruined its reputation — and now Harding and Dunbar suggest that we all share the word again.  To be fair, Harding and Dunbar are not people that I’ve had any issues with.  I would not insult them by saying that they are who I’m am criticizing anytime I put ‘reformer’ into quotation marks.  But I wonder if some of the ‘reformers’ have similar concerns about the connotation of the word ‘reform.’  I somehow doubt that Joel Klein ever worries about defining himself as a ‘reformer’ even though that word makes most teachers shudder.

It is true that we were all once reformers.  But to save the reputation of the word by letting everyone use it again is not something that I’m interested in doing.  Let the ‘so-called reformers’ have the word.  They ruined it, now let them live with it.  I’ll just be an anti-reformer who supports evidence based practices for improving schools.

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26 Responses to You might be a reformer if …

  1. Kari says:

    My latest favorite: “Rheeformer.” It’s just so much more specific. Or better yet, but I don’t know why, “RheePhormer.”

  2. Mary Rose O'Leary says:

    To the ‘victor’ go the spoils.

  3. Michael Fiorillo says:

    You might be a so-called reformer if, after closing schools, disenfranchising parents and establishing a climate of fear and conformity in the schools you’ve yet to close, you refer to those who factually describe your behavior as “haters.”

  4. Dina says:

    Well said! And you might be a so-called reformer if you have absolutely no sense about or interest in or willingness to learn from a long history of school reform over the the last 30 years (at least) and longer.

  5. Rachel says:

    You might be a reformer if you think the only supply needed for kids living in poverty to succeed is a teacher with high expectations.

    You might be a reformer if you believe that a student’s home life has no effect on their ability to perform academically.

    You might be a reformer if you think that students who aren’t awesome enough to go to your charter deserve to be in a building that’s falling down around their ears.

  6. Rachel says:

    You might be a reformer if you send your kids to a school filled with art, music, science, books, and other assorted bits of wondefullness but you advocate sending all those “other” kids to schools where they’re trained to fill in bubbles and they never get art, music, science, books, and other assorted bits of wonderfullness.

    This is fun! I could do this allllll day…but I can’t, have to work 😦

    • KrazyTA says:

      Bingo! This is called the “skin in the game” test. You applied it brilliantly!


      How about: you might be a rheephormer if you send your own children to just the kinds of wonderful schools you mention while at the same you are endorsing or marketing or financing or profiting from schools for other people’s children whose motto is “Efficiency Without Excellence” [to borrow a felicitous phrase from Anthony Cody of 2-7-13].

      Hope your day went well at work.


  7. Lawrence says:

    You might be a reformer if your “do now” does little to enhance learning, yet you have no experience to tell you otherwise.

  8. Jennie says:

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve done. So, so true. What is perhaps even worse is that they have INTENTIONALLY co-opted the word, as part of their clever PR packaging, to make it so that no one can argue with their ideas or demand evidence without sounding like an a**hole who thinks poor kids can’t learn. Their “reforms” are a huge part of what pushed me to become a union activist while I was still in the classroom, and a huge part of what ultimately pushed me to leave the classroom altogether (to work full-time for a union). And ironically, for all their union-bashing, their “reforms” provoked thousands of non-dues-paying teachers in right-to-work-for-less Florida to start paying dues and join their union. So in a way, we have to thank the “reformers” for strengthening teachers’ unions even as they have to try to pass laws to shut them down. I still follow education on blogs like this and in the news, but I have to admit, I’m damn glad I got out when I did. And that’s sad.

  9. Proteach says:

    You might be a reformer if you donate to TFA and support schools hiring practices that rely on 1st year teachers because they have more “enthusiasm”

  10. Mary Rose O'Leary says:

    You might be a reformer if you heart ‘data’ and are especially fond of manipulating it to your and your pals’ financial advantage.

  11. UB says:

    You might be a reformer if you have no actual qualifications or experience for your job with the district. i.e. The person in charge of the high school and middle school math curriculum for our district has actually never taught math to high school students. He taught english to high school students and briefly taught english and math to sixth graders at a charter school.

  12. Tee says:

    You might be a reformer if you believe merit pay is the solution (because teachers obviously go into the profession for the great salaries).

    You might be a reformer if you pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year running a charter school, yet believe the state should give your school more public funds.

  13. Caroline Grannan says:

    The San Francisco Chronicle stylebook has this wording under “Russia”:

    Avoid use of “reform” or “reformer.” “Reform” means a change for the better.
    A reform to one person may be a change for the worse to another.

    (It was written by an expert in foreign issues — the same rule is not applied to “reform” elsewhere. But it should be, obviously.)

  14. Educator says:

    I don’t know how else to contact you Gary so I’m posting here.

    I think you have blogged before about some of the miracle schools mentioned in this article. It’s interesting to see that regular media is starting to call out some of the fuzzy stuff some charters are doing. Usually, it seems like only educators, especially those terrible “status-quo” educators, have written about this. 😉

  15. rmurphy12 says:

    A mistake I make all the time is not distinguishing between the doublethink master$ creating the lie$, and the zillions of dupes being duped by the slick soundbites.

    To quote a Brit who prettied up some Plutarch:

    Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek headed men,
    such as sleep at nights.
    Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much, such men are dangerous.

  16. skepticnotcynic says:

    You might be a reformer if you couldn’t hack it in the classroom and used your political connections and two years of teaching experience to rise up and make money off the backs of poor kids.

  17. Pingback: Who Is a “Reformer”? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  18. MIckey says:

    You might be a reformer if you push teachers to teach to the test or do worse.

  19. Wayne Gersen says:

    It is too bad that the term “reformer” has been expropriated by those wishing to privatize our public schools… There was a time when Ted Sizer was a “reformer”… He’d turn over in his grave to see that he’s in company with those who want to measure EVERYTHING with standardized tests! To me the faith in standardized tests is the bright line between “reformers” and REFORMERS. Anyone who thinks education quality can be reduced to a number is not an advocate for re-forming schools, they are advocates for engineering the factory schools we have in place.

  20. Wahtoyah says:

    I though they were now calling themselves ecucational cagefighters or something like that.

  21. Jeannie says:

    I have been struggling with this very issue for days now. I refer to THEM as status quo reformers, and here is why:

    We in Denver have had 7+ years of reform with very disappointing results. There has been some upward progress, according to test scores, but nowhere near what we should be seeing given the hoopla, money, and attention given to our turnaround schools and our new non-union schools. What we have seen is great disruption within neighborhoods, declining morale among staff, and little academic success for our students.

    And our local “reformers” say these results are better than doing nothing. I believe they are now supporting doing nothing and advocating for “reforms” that are failing, hence status quo reform.What they absolutely refuse to address is a third option: working together to find something that could actually benefit public education.

    I would also like to have two pieces of information missing from the NYTimes weekend editorial on charter school success in NYC: what is the per pupil expenditure for charters v. traditional schools, and what math curricula are these charters using ? My guess is they aren’t using Evereyday Math as our traditional schools in Denver are. But even with the math gains the editorial did note there has been little benefit to reading and writing . We have witnessed the same phenomenon in Denver. Why?

  22. Pingback: Headlines, 2/26/2013 | EdGator

  23. Puget Sound Parent says:

    You might be a reformer if you start out your pro-charter arguments by “conceding” that “charters aren’t a silver bullet…” and then going on to insist that “they should be part of the mix” and “we can learn from the good ones” which all translates into “WE WANT MORE CHARTERS AND WILL USE AS MUCH MONEY AND INFLUENCE AS POSSIBLE TO GET THEM!”

    Or, as Michelle Rhee and her financial backers would characterize it, “Having an open and civil discussion about our schools and what is best for our kids.”

  24. Traci says:

    It’s a difficult label amongst environmental activists as well, we’ve become ‘conservative’, shudder.

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