Last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote, Beyond Education Wars. His argument: education reform has “peaked,” is “tough,” and will be a “long slog.” Its “low-hanging fruit has already been picked.” And perhaps most of all, “The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited.” Now Kristof isn’t suggesting that we give up altogether on education reform, but rather refocus on early childhood education. He also cherry picked some data to make it seem as if education “reform” (as opposed to the real thing) has actually worked. Or at least that it has in principle — like a couple of successful charter schools are prototypes that can be replicated by the engineers.
I’m not against early childhood education. It is indeed an important thing. But to push it as an alternative to reforming our educational system is ridiculous. Regardless, Kristof’s main reason for wanting to switch is political. “Early education is where we have the greatest chance of progress because it’s not politically polarized.” Ah yes, the ultimate apologia for those who do the work of the power elite: let us at least do what “can be done”! And what “can be done” just happens to be those things that don’t upset the power elite — and in many cases are things that help the power elite. Thus we get policies that weaken teachers’ unions but don’t do a thing to equalize education funding.
In addition, Kristof shows an amazingly immature attitude toward the whole process of reform. Check out this jaw dropping explanation of why early education rocks and later education sucks:
But in Oklahoma, I once met two little girls, ages 3 and 4, whose great-grandmother had her first child at 13, whose grandmother had her first at 15, whose mom had her first at 13 and now has four children by three fathers. These two little girls will break that cycle, I’m betting, because they (along with the relative caring for them) are getting help from an outstanding early childhood program called Educare. Those two little girls have a shot at opportunity.
Forget the Thomas Friedman “I once met…” nonsense. He’s write that helping teenagers and adults once they’ve slipped out of the education system is hard for the education system to deal with. One might think one of the challenges of education reform would be to deal with such problems earlier. One might also think that the problems of school dropout, teen pregnancy, criminality, and drug use go quite a ways outside what we ought to depend upon the education system for. But I guess that gets into that area where something might be expected by the “zillionires,” so let’s just ignore it and do those things that “can be done.”
But it is the second paragraph that is most telling. He’s betting that the two girls will break the cycle?! And the reason is this one program that seems to be good but which has hardly been proven. It’s charter schools all over again! Back when, it was charter schools that were going to fix all the problems of education. That didn’t work out, so now people like Kristof want to abandon education reform and move onto early childhood education because there’s a cure-all called Educare! It will solve all our education problems! Don’t worry about poverty, racism, and the actual mechanics of teaching! Two years of Educare will solve all our problems!
Peter Greene at Curmudgucation provided a good description of this, Nicholas Kristof’s Tourist Balls. He likened the entire “reform” movement to tourists who come into a town and want to change everything and then leave the place a mess after a short period of time because they find that there are no easy answers. Then they move onto the “next shiny object.” That’s about right.
One thing that comes out in the comments to Greene’s article is that this is also an economic issue. The education “reform” movement has seen that the opportunities to monetize K-12 education are drying up. So now they are looking for ways to do the same with pre-K education. But I don’t doubt that there are a lot of really earnest people in the movement who only want what is best for the kids. And I’m certain that Kristof is one of these earnest people. But they are “useful fools” — people the power elite use to push their interests. And it is their interests that are pushed in all this “reform.” Now we will have our toddlers in corporate provided programs, so they do better in corporate run schools, so there is a large, well educated work force so corporations can have their pick of the best workers at the lowest prices.