Tensions – We Got ‘Em! (We Just Don’t Talk About It)

Years ago Rick Hess and I wrote an article for PDK about the inherent tension in where to focus school improvement efforts. Rick takes a utilitarian position that focusing on high achievers is key to American competitiveness. I think from a societal standpoint and competitiveness gaps and inequity are where to focus. Thing is, Rick is not indifferent to gaps and I care about high achieving students and supporting their learning – and have no problem with elements in accountability systems to incentivize that. (The US News High School Rankings address both gaps and advanced course taking).

The point of the article was that there are tensions there we have to discuss and think about. We wrote it together precisely because we didn’t agree but wanted to see the issues discussed because that leads to progress and new ideas. Policy can’t be “and a pony” on everything no matter how much advocates may claim or wish it so. There are tensions and tradeoffs, always. That nuance gets lost, of course, in the bullshit that passes for debate and advocacy in our sector. We have to be able to talk about textured things without them becoming weaponized.

That’s all by way of saying this Jessica Levin essay is worth your time. Jessica is a long time and sharp observer of and player in the sector. In this new essay in Ed Post she asks several important questions about unintended consequences of the gap closing effort. That’s something we should talk about more and where reasonable people can disagree on policy in good faith. Jessica writes,

It is understandable that raising concerns about how our schools currently are balancing equity and excellence would provoke strong responses among those for whom closing achievement gaps to advance equity is the paramount goal. No doubt, their case is bolstered by our country’s egregious history and current reality: racism and segregation, gaping educational resource inequalities, and widening economic inequalities.

But it’s hard to believe that in the long term, silence on this issue is the path to building a healthy, well-functioning public education system that advances opportunity for all. 

It’s the kind of essay that deserves reading and discussion.

Finally, on this issue of tensions. Last week I had the privilege of spending 30 minutes discussing the equity and innovation tension with Chris Rush and Denise Forte as part of an event New Classrooms (BW client) put together. There are tradeoffs around unleashing innovation and kids falling to the cracks, we discuss how to think about them.

You know what’s not tense? Bob Weir and the National Symphony. Treat your ears: