Two Warring Camps in Education: PovRacers vs. SchoolRefs

Looked at from afar, there are basically two main factions when it comes to thinking about education these days -- those who think underylying problems of poverty and race need to be addressed before significant improvements can be made in education, and those who believe that schools can get much better at helping children learn within the current reality.

Thus far, at least, it seems to me that it is the former, not the latter, that have won the hearts and minds of most educators and the public, and that all too often school reformers forget or fail to respond to the prevailing view.

UPDATE: Scads of Responses on PovRacers vs. School Refs


In the gossip magazine tradition of TomKat and Bradgelina, let's call thos who believe that poverty and race are determining factors the PovRacers.Their number includes best-selling authors like Jonathan Kozol and Alex Kotlowitz, Harvard's Gary Orfield, and former NYT columnist and author Richard Rothstein.

On the other side are choice advocates and standardistas, that big, squabbling group of school reformers who, for all their disagreements, share more than they usually realize. I will call them SchoolRefs.

However, their advocates are nowhere near as well-known to the public. Few outside of education circles have heard of Kati Haycock or Checker Finn or Diane Ravitch, even (though Ravitch's brilliant screeds against politically correct textbooks do seem to break through to the surface of public consciousness).

Despite decades of effort and substantial progress, the arguments and anecdotes of the PovRacers still resonate much more powerfully among parents and the public.

The reason for this inequity is not that there aren't many who think and write about the power of school improvement, but rather because we are not, as a country, really ready to conceive of the idea that high-poverty, high-minority schools -- not just individual students -- can and do succeed.

In addition, many educators, even those working on reforming education, are in their hearts of hearts really PovRacers. They lack conviction in what they're doing, or at very least lack the tools to respond to the PovRace arguments that are regularly tossed in their paths.

What to do? For starters, it would help to understand that the real competition is not between various school reform approachs (choice, small schools, study groups) but rather between SchoolRefs and PovRacers.

My Chicago Journal column on how these arguments play out in Chicago is here: Schools can excel without diversity.