Not all school “reform” is good

One of the most overused – and misused – words in the English language, particularly in the political discourse over public education, is “reform.” I misused the word when I was a news reporter, and reporters, among many other players in the political arena, are still misusing it.

Just this week, a good reporter, in an otherwise wellreported, wellwritten story, included these words: “the homeschoolers, business groups, charter school and voucher supporters in the reform movement.” It would be better for all reporters to put the word, “reform,” in quotation marks or, better yet, use the word, “change,” instead.

The groups that were cited above certainly want to change the public education system, but many of them don’t want to reform it. They call themselves “reformers” because that is a positive word that sounds good politically.

According to the dictionary in my office, “reform,” as a verb, means to “change into another and better form.” As a noun, it means a “change for the better.” “Reform” suggests improvement, but many of these alleged public education “reformers” want to do anything but improve the public schools. Many, if they had their way, would weaken and eventually dismantle the public schools.

The vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, not charter schools, not private schools and not home schools. Our focus and our state resources need to remain focused on traditional public schools.

Groups that support the diversion of tax dollars to pay for vouchers for private school tuition do not want to “reform” the public schools. They want to weaken them in favor of boosting private schools, where only a very limited number of children will ever be educated. Transferring tax dollars to private schools would deprive public schools and the vast majority of Texas students of needed resources.

Charter school advocates continue to mislead parents and taxpayers into thinking that charters are a silver bullet that will magically rid the country of its public school problems. Several studies, in fact, have shown that charter schools on the whole are no better or worse than traditional public schools. Some are good, some are bad and some primarily are profit centers for their operators. Is this reform? I think not.

Finally, some business people in Texas are strong supporters of public schools. Others support “reform” as a cover for various privatization schemes, such as vouchers or more testing, to enrich themselves from tax dollars. Other business leaders are hopelessly conflicted. They cry out for education “reform” while continuing to support an antieducation governor and legislative leadership that cut $5.4 billion from the public schools last year and plans to slash more next session.

Groups purporting to be public education “reformers” – even to the point of using the word, “reform,” in their titles – are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, many don’t live up to their billing. Many others, however, genuinely want to improve public schools. Those who are truly “reformers” should be able to do their work without being associated with those who want to tear down the public schools that are the pathway to opportunity for most Texas children.


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