Instructional Reform Isn’t Failproof Either
Sol Stern responds to Richard Rothstein over at Cato Unbound. He’s titled the essay "A Tale of Two Rothsteins," although he could have called it "A Tale of Two Sterns." Stern used to be a strong supporter of parental choice, until he recently decided that choice programs have been too prone to setbacks and haven’t spread quickly enough. Now, he backs "instructional" reform, like the top-down standards that have succeeded (sort of) in one particularly wealthy place: Massachusetts. In "A Tale of Two Rothsteins," he admits that the strategy in Massachusetts is suffering the same fate he fears for the much-maligned choice programs:
But I doubt that Rothstein is much interested in these real on-the-ground gains for both white and black students. He certainly hasn’t spoken out to protect the gains against the attempts of Massachusetts’ new Democratic Governor Deval Patrick to turn back the reform agenda.
If instructional reform is such a robust course of action, compared with those frail choice programs, why does Rothstein need to speak out about it? And why can’t it build on its own success?
This is a key difference between instructional reforms imposed from above and choice reforms driven by what parents want. If parents can choose between private schools, charter schools, and traditional public schools, then the best schools will attract lots of applications and hold on to satisfied families. But if the state mandates a new curriculum, that reform is forever at the whim of the political process, no matter how successful an outside observer judges it to be.