I am not meant to be an ideologue. I make a poor leader, too, I think. Criticism gets to me. It sits in my pores and hangs on my shoulders, and people around me notice. I am plagued with the ability to see the reason in even the most ignorant of arguments. And the worst part is that most arguments aren’t ignorant. Most arguments are made by reasonable, intelligent people.

It’s not that I don’t think my arguments aren’t valid. I know they are. I know they are important. But I am one kid. I am 21-years-old. Most of the issues I think are important, I’ve only been thinking about for five years tops. And for the first two or three years of that, I thought Atlas Shrugged was the fifth Gospel. So, obviously, I’ve been misguided before.

I tend to ignore absolutes. If someone says they are “for charter schools,” I usually take that to mean that they have seen charter schools do good things, not that they think that charter schools are good 100% of the time. The latter would be an indefensible position.

There is too much truth in both sides of any argument that we should never completely write-off an opposing side.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been dragged firmly into the ed reform debate. Not the childish one that goes on at most college campuses where people honestly don’t know that there is an achievement gap, but the real one. The one where people have opposing ideas about how to close that gap.

Mostly this has made me want to tear my hair out. I’m not a debater. It’s not in my blood.

Because here’s the thing: both sides have legitimate truths. The typical TFA/SFER/DFER/Students First angle is that advocating for student and parent choice is the quickest way of ensuring that a lot of students (much more than are being served now) can receive excellent educations. The typical Ravitch/teacher union/anti-reform angle is that choice isn’t the best way long-term of ensuring an equal education for all. Both of these ideas are probably right. Charter schools aren’t going to solve the problems of classism and racism in this country unless we pair them with intense laws concerning integration and maybe also outlaw private schools altogether. And if we are going to go the charter route, we should probably also start thinking seriously about if we want for-profit schools. Admittedly, that does sound a little scary.

The design of neighborhood schools, though, is probably outdated. The middle class isn’t staying in one place anymore. The lower class is stuck in cities and rural areas. So while the middle class can move to good school districts and make choice that way, the lower class doesn’t have that benefit. In Ohio, the way we fund schools has been ruled unconstitutional on several separate occasions. Funding by income tax DOES NOT provide an equal education for everyone.

I would love to see a completely socialized education system that works in the US. But that’s probably a long ways from happening. We don’t like socialism in this country for various reasons. And even if we got rid of charters and parochial schools, we would still have to deal with the fact that our upper class parents were sending their children to private schools.

Mostly, I feel defeated. I feel like I’m up against a rock and a hard place. I’m not a politician or a millionaire. I can’t walk into my Statehouse and say, “Hey, instead of worrying about charter schools today, let’s start thinking up ways that we can free teachers and administrators in traditional public schools to replicate some of the things that have made some charters so successful.”

I feel defeated because I know that there are bad teachers, and I know there needs to be an objective way to identify them, but I also know that standardized testing is problematic.

I feel defeated because I suspect that there are many Republicans who support ed reform because it might mean union busting, and I don’t want union busting.

I feel defeated because while we argue about what’s the best way to fix the education system, even more students drop out, get a bad education, and are incarcerated.

Asking Better Questions Can Lead to Better Conversations

What kinds of questions are education reformers asking?

Part of my job as a Students for Education Reform chapter leader is to ask questions. I am constantly thinking about how to best invite people into the education reform conversation. The questions we ask have a huge impact on the answers we get.

I’ve recently been mildly obsessed with a website called Quora. I joined a couple weeks ago and have quickly added it to the list of websites I check daily. Quora was founded by Adam D’Angelo, a former engineer at Facebook. Quora allows its users to ask any question and then answer other users’ questions. The website protects against spam and the idiocy of sites like Yahoo! Answers in two ways. First, each user must have an account with a real name, typically tied to a social networking site. Second, Quora has created a currency. It costs “credits” to ask questions.

People ask questions on a variety of topics. And there are probably tens of thousands of questions already on the site.

I bring all this up because Quora is a great model for how we might begin asking the types of questions that will lead to real solutions in education reform.

The Education topic on Quora is one of the most thought-provoking on the site. Questions consider everything from curriculum to college loans to different learning styles. But there are two specific questions that stick out.

The first is this question: How can we solve the problems with public education in America? This is a great question and has generated 17 responses to date.

It’s follow-up question is interesting, though: What are some of the biggest problems with public education in America?

To this question there have been 31 responses, including one from Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of DC public schools and founder and current CEO of Students First.


This answer is obviously overly simplistic, but it illuminates two major points. One, there is inequality in the education system in terms of class. And two, there is inequality in the education in terms of availability and stake-holding. If there were a diplomat’s child in every single school, you better believe that every single school would be great.

While I love this answer, I think that we should be critical of it. First, I think it’s telling that the “what’s wrong” question came after the “how can we fix it” question. Sometimes we ask the “how can we fix it” question, realize that not everyone knows what we should be fixing, and then have to ask the “what’s wrong” question. Sometimes, this is beneficial, but we need to stop taking these steps backward. What’s wrong with education? It’s not equal. Not everyone gets the same education in this country. That’s the issue.

The “what’s wrong” questions encourage buzz words. They encourage these overly simplistic answers. If we start asking the “how can we fix it” questions, we can support, fund, and develop the solutions.