Pondering Checker

Let us ponder the wisdom of Checker Finn. He is arguably the most thoughtful longtime advocate of something broadly called "Education Reform." He writes:

It’s possible, of course, that we’re pursuing the wrong core strategies. Maybe standards-based reform has exhausted its potential (as Mark Schneider suggests in The Accountability Plateau). Perhaps choice and competition really cannot lift all boats. Possibly technology is overrated, alternate certification can never amount to much, teacher quality is doomed to mediocrity, principals don’t truly want authority, etc.

Could be. But from where I sit, the basic strategies aren’t ill-conceived. Rather, they’ve been stumped, stymied, and constrained by formidable barriers that are more or less built into the K-12 system as we know it.

Those barriers aren’t accidents. They’ve been erected by adult interests, bureaucratic routine, structural rigidity, and political stalemate. And they function to keep anything in education from changing very much. Eight such barriers are especially troublesome.

You can read his fully essay -- and the 8 barriers -- here.

My view:

1. I am heartily, strongly in favor of eliminating each of the 8 barriers he describes...


2. I don't think a perfect Checker Universe -- all 8 barriers knocked down -- would achieve what he hopes.

Why? When I look at the 5,637 charters in the USA, they/we already have all 8 barriers significantly reduced.

Consider: No elected school board; inherent choice for our families; reasonable control of our budget/academic standards/accountability; partial or complete freedom from cumbersome HR contracts and ability to use technology as we see fit.

Yet our sector has not created enough success.

Now of course Checker and I would agree on this: some reform opponents, those who proudly man the 8 barriers, trying to block change (except to flood the existing system with boatloads of cash), also tend to argue that no successes have from the charter sector.

False. There are many. And among the charter school successes, reduction/elimination of Checker's 8 barriers was absolutely necessary.

Necessary but insufficient. We know "insufficient" because the average charter does not do that much different from other public schools. Maybe a little better, that's my view of the evidence.

Ed reformers need to choose.

Either you believe:

1. A Checker-Utopia With All 8 Barriers Removed would lead to great academic gains.


2. A Checker-Utopia With All 8 Barriers Removed is necessary but not sufficient for great progress -- in fact, not CLOSE to sufficient.

Which do you believe? I used to believe #1. Now I believe #2.