you're reading...

Are We Reformers?

Yesterday we got a mention over at Teacher Magazine

Old School
By Anthony Rebora on August 17, 2010 1:16 PM

Over on a progressive-educator group blog called Cooperative Catalyst, Kirsten Olson, author of Wounded by Schools, wonders why the “industrial model” of schooling so stubbornly persists despite being commonly seen as dysfunctional and outmoded. Do we continue to believe, she wonders (among nine other possible explanations she lists), that “human beings require a lot of prodding, management and shaming to learn things?”

and Kirsten sent a email asking us

Do we like being called Progressivist educators? Just wondering…

This prompted a great discussion about the need for labels or terms to describe our work, or the work of people trying to change education.

Chad added these additional questions to think about.

* Do we achieve our goals by staying out of the center?
* Do we achieve our goals by moving the center? By what mechanism and from what position?
* Do we have different goals for the Coöp and is it okay for them to comingle there?
* Is working with the center a betrayal of our common principles?
* Are we interested in participating in the money and research being spent on mainstream education “reform” like KIPP and TFA?
* I’ve started to post interviews with leaders of what I consider to be forward-thinking, student-centered, project-based vendors
and schools on the edReformer website. Sincerely non-rhetorically, am I a bad progressive/transformer? More Starscream than Ratchet?

So this is a wide discussion, but I think a timely one. This week we are asking “what is the biggest challenge in education?” and I think this discussion fits right in.

Is the biggest challenge, how we represent ourselves as change agents to get the most done without marginalize our issues and group?

About coopcatalyst

A dedicated group of individual thinkers, committed to personal refinement and reflection to bring forth meaningful and timely education in


13 thoughts on “Are We Reformers?

  1. Personally I don’t like the term Education Reform at all… It has been co-opted to mean actions that I would not call humane, humanistic or democratic. I like transformation, but also in a sense we are what we say we are Catalysts for Change or growth, or transformation. We are doers, and thinkers, and advocate for children and learning. We hope and dream for a new time of passion and care in education and life. We are not just one thing….


    Posted by dloitz | August 18, 2010, 2:41 pm
  2. Reform: make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it

    Transform: make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of

    In our exchange I tossed around the idea of adopting the label reformers in order to keep us politically relevant. I am constantly reminded by Kirsten that the last generation of reformers (whether they would call themselves this is also a good question), politically marginalized themselves by refusing to be part of the mainstream system. And I don’t blame them, its my orientation to walk away from public education as well. But, I can’t completely do it. I still believe that there is a fundamental good idea in educating all people. My issue is that my definition of what education is, looks like, feels like, accomplishes for the individual and society are different than the popular notions and practices. In fact they aren’t compatible. There is no compromise, there is a fundamental difference.

    And so I am a transformer. I aim to make a thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance, and character of public education.

    With hope,

    Posted by Adam Burk | August 18, 2010, 8:29 pm
  3. Love your definition of Transformer! Great!

    Posted by dloitz | August 18, 2010, 8:31 pm
  4. If we were, simply reforming a system, then I believe that descripition would be accurate and fair. As Adam, acutely describes however, that does not seem to be the way of the catalyst. Instead, it is to transform, by making a dramatic change to the form, appearence or character. This is indeed what we are doing, and hoping to do, by asking questions, being challenges and responding in ways that are thought-provoking, always evolving and never simply readjusting or reorganizing or shifting a broken system.

    I think, whether we achieve our goals or not by staying out of the center, to our ownselves we stay true. That to me is more important, because if we compromise on our morals and beliefs through our name, what else are we willing to compromise? Where will we begin to slide into the idea that the incremental steps will lead us to the over-all change we desire. No, we must BE the change we wish to see in the world, not change the world by being who they want us to be.

    We must be courageous to stand apart from the crowd, otherwise, we simply become them.

    I sympathize with adam’s notion, regarding public education and the ideal of educating all, I just fall apart with being involved in this structure in anyway, once I see how it is a blow to the students we care so much about.

    Posted by Casey Caronna | August 19, 2010, 1:14 am
  5. This is what Aaron said, which is really a response to Chad’s questions. I wanted to think about it more.

    Aaron said I could post it in. We want you back Aaron.

    “Stakeholders in education (from parents-teachers) are screaming that they want “education reform” yet we want to complete it in the most  “unintrusive” way possible. Administrators want to continue to control policy. Teachers don’t want alterations to the structure of their classroom. Parents don’t want their kids used as test dummies, and students (especially the high level) seem to be ok with the status quo (that’s why Honors students love lecture so much).
    The reality is that any alteration to a structure as old as our education system HAS to be intrusive and disruptive othewise it allows for people to cling to the status quo.
    Why? My contention is that because “education reform” has become a way to say “what’s the easiest way to do this?” while throwing around some words like technology, innovation, and other edu-jargon in an attempt to get everyone to believe that there is actually a vision and mission for the institution.
    Reform is hard, and nothing will change until all stakeholders acknowledge that. Not just the ones on Twitter or writing blogs, but every teacher.”

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | August 20, 2010, 2:37 pm
    • Sincerely, Aaron, do come back.

      I don’t really know how to say what I’d like to say about our rhetoric.

      I encourage self-assessment. Maybe I encourage or offer up too much of it. What I think I’m doing is trying to create room inside of public education for school choice, student-directed learning, and alternative assessment, especially through community-based, project-based, and service learning.

      What is that? I see a future without schools as such, but I’m not working for them. I see classrooms without teachers as such, but I enjoy my job and working with other teachers. I see student-directed curriculum, but I enjoy pitching projects and negotiating terms with my students.

      Where do we want to go with this? It’s an entirely different project to create a shadow system of public education, however organized or labeled, than it is to change how and what existing schools teach. Which marathon do we want to run?

      Are we the red team or the sovereign enemy?

      We can certainly undertake both projects and debate the merits of each.

      What legwork do we really need to undertake, regardless, to attract all stake-holders to something difficult? To something that might not succeed at scale? To a local process rather than to a national franchise? What geography and proximities, real and virtual, do we need to create to facilitate our work? Is it time to add a developer to the Coöp? A researcher and her grad assistants? To what ends? To build what?

      I’d like to offer up those questions for comment here, but also suggest we continue discussing them at EduCon as best we’re able, and perhaps again via Junto. I have a hard time knowing how to structure virtual meetings to tackle big questions like this – if we want to have another big virtual meeting, maybe someone could facilitate and I could just close my eyes, listen, and take notes?

      I would also suggest we look at a platform like for blogging and geo-tagging instances of incredible teaching and learning. How can we share a picture of what’s going on where?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | August 20, 2010, 3:33 pm
  6. Why does “teaching all children” = “public school system”? Why doesn’t “feeding all children” = “government grocery-store system”?

    Transformers have to start with these fundamental questions.

    Posted by letschooseschools | August 23, 2010, 6:55 pm
    • This isn’t a fundamental question to me, actually. While an important logistical issue, I am more concerned with the pedagogical issues at hand. I do not imply that it has to be government that is the linchpin to provide education to all children, although I understand how that could be inferred from my comment. What is the utopian education system of your dreams?

      Posted by Adam Burk | August 23, 2010, 7:47 pm
    • Bob,

      What do you think of this? Steve Barr’s proposal is to make private schools illegal so that all the energy and resources go into improving public schools.

      Posted by Adam Burk | August 24, 2010, 6:29 am
  7. public education means education by the public not necessarily education by the Government….. what do you think about Steve Barr’s proposal Adam? I am just about to watch that myself.

    Posted by dloitz | August 24, 2010, 12:43 pm
  8. First, there is no utopia. We will always have effective and ineffective teachers. We will always have great and lousy principals. We will always have effective and ineffective pedagogies. We will always have involved and uninvolved parents.

    So how do we create a system that will lower the number of ineffective teachers, lousy principals, the use of ineffective pedagogies, and uninvolved parents.

    Let’s look at the first three. (Parents are a separate category.) Until you can easily reduce the pay or fire ineffective teachers and principals, we cannot lower the number of them. Currently it cost $50K and months to fire a teacher, principals give up and decide to move them to where they will do the least damage.

    When you talk about ineffective pedagogies, you may be talking about particular teachers or entire schools. In the case of entire schools, the school must be able to fail and go out of business. When a restaurant or other business closes its doors, that is a good thing. It means that a better manager has an opportunity to expand his business in that location.

    Which brings us to the evil six letter word, profit. Businessmen should not profit off of our children, right? What is profit? It is a financial reward for doing a good and effective job. Not a perfect job, just better than the competition. Giving a great teacher a raise is increased “profit” for her.

    We don’t talk about profit in the government sector because no one is rewarded for doing a good job. Often the government awards “profit” to those that are doing a bad job. Those schools on the poor side of town can’t teach the kids because of the kids, the parents, the gangs, etc. so we’ll give them more money. They have been rewarded for doing a bad job and shifting the blame.

    Finally, parents. I think the most destructive thing about our neighborhood-assigned school system is not the bad schools. It is that the authority, interests, and values of the parents are ignored and discouraged. Why should parents be involved in the public schools if they have no power to implement their desires? Children learn that their parents have no authority when they are at school. This undermines the authority of the parents and the cohesion of the family.

    If parents can choose their child’s school, they have made an investment of their precious child to that school. They will do all they can to make that investment successful.

    Bottom line: Free-market competition and parental choice is the best thing that could happen to our school system. Innovation and excellence would be rewarded through profits. You can’t have “failing schools” in a free-market. They would quickly become “failed schools” to be replaced by better schools.

    Please understand that a “private monopoly” would be just as bad as a “government-protected monopoly”. It’s competition that will let the effective grow and the ineffective wither.

    Posted by letschooseschools | August 24, 2010, 3:28 pm
  9. Re: Steve Barr

    I hope that Steve will accept the label of socialist.

    If eliminating all private sector competition will solve elementary and secondary education problem, then let’s not stop there.

    We don’t have serious problems in higher education, except for the fact that our high school graduates are not prepared. But according to Steve’s logic, we can improve higher education by eliminating all private colleges.

    I will graciously (something I’m not good at) submit that I think Steve’s suggestion is the wrong direction to proceed.

    We need more private sector competition, not less.

    Posted by letschooseschools | August 24, 2010, 3:31 pm
  10. dloitz,

    “public education means education by the public not necessarily education by the Government”

    I would change it slightly. Public education means education OF the public by whatever means is most effective and economical.

    What are the possible means?

    Only two multiple choice answers:
    1. private sector. (This includes public sector in direct competition with private sector.)
    2. public sector protected from competition.

    Posted by letschooseschools | August 24, 2010, 3:41 pm

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,101 other followers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: