Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

What is the “Status Quo?” And What the Heck is a “Reformer?”

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am delighted with the election results from earlier this month.  Well, I’m delighted with most of the election results.  I’m sorely disappointed that my friend and colleague, Helen F. Morris, lost her position on the Alexandria City (VA) School Board, where she serves as Vice Chairman and has put countless hours into advocating for strong schools and effective teachers for ALL the students in Alexandria, especially children of color and those from disadvantaged homes.  Helen ran for re-election in a field of six for one of three positions in her region.  She was the only incumbent running and the only candidate with a child in the Alexandria City Public Schools.  I have no idea how capable (or not) the other candidates are (I live in Maryland and didn’t study the other candidates’ positions or backgrounds).  What I do know because I worked for years with her on issues around strong public education is that Helen’s position on the school board was a good thing for the children and citizens of Alexandria.

I mention Helen’s story and my disappointment in the context of the post-election communiques I’ve been receiving in my email box that talked about success in “defeating the status quo” or electing “reformers” to public school leadership positions across the country.  One of those emails was from StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s organization, and reported success in 80 percent of the elections they supported with funding in defeating the “status quo” and supporting “reformers”.  Again, with a couple of exceptions, I’m not familiar with the specific candidates or what in their position made them “reformers”, or for that matter what the “status quo” had done that was so reprehensible they needed to be ousted from office.

 What I do know is that easy labels tell us nothing and serve to name sides that represent good vs. evil in a way that does nothing to support good schools or assist those that aren’t working for the kids who attend them.  Was Helen Morris one of the “status quo” worth defeating because she sits on a school board in a district that has underperforming schools?  Are the “reformers” anyone who can oust a policymaker who has spent time working within the system to make the changes so necessary to ensure all our children are treated fairly and provided the best educational experience possible?  Is there some way to talk about the complexities that surround schools, districts, communities, and the children they serve that doesn’t demonize those who don’t toe the line for a few high profile, well-funded “reformers”?

 If we’re serious about good public schools in all our communities, let’s stop using words that have become meaningless and polarizing.  Let’s start supporting dedicated community leaders and educators who want to make sure kids are served by schools with talented professionals supported by enlightened policies just as much as the “reformers” do.  And, let’s find another way for Helen Morris to serve the students in the Alexandria City Public Schools.