The Elizabeth Bennet of Education Reform
Earlier this week I wrote about the role of narrative in education reform policy debates. It's clear that the education reform narratives of the past decade have trafficked heavily in bold and colorful characters. Individuals and groups on both sides of the debate have cast themselves as scrappy Davids going up against powerful and wealthy Goliaths. We hear romanticized tales of educators--charter school founders, social entrepreneurs, principals and superintendents--who pursue their dreams with the singular and idiosyncratic vision of Don Quixote.
Amid this plethora of bold and compelling characters, charter school authorizers seem incredibly boring. Authorizers are sort of like the heroine in a Jane Austen novel; they have a very limited range of tools and tactics at their disposal to achieve their goals. Their most powerful tool is the ability to say "yes" or "no" to potential suitors (though unlike an Austen heroine the have the fortunate ability to revoke a "yes" when the suitor proves disappointing). To be sure, they can deploy their feminine wiles to try to attract high-quality applicants--as more major authorizers are doing. And the best authorizers also keep a close eye on the performance of their schools and act when they fall short of standards. But a lot of the role is waiting, and watching, and responding. That's not exactly the sexiest job description in an education reform narrative that valorizes bold action and "no excuses" pursuit if goals. But, just as you'd have a big gap in your cultural literacy if you'd never heard of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, the education reform policy narrative has a gap if it ignores the important role that authorizers play in creating a climate that fosters quality charter schools.