Peter Greene, retired teacher (thirty-nine years in the classroom and blogger extraordinaire) and Van Schoales (Colorado reformer) agree: education reform as we know it now is over.

Greene reminds us (as if we need reminding) that not so long ago, charter schools were considered a bipartisan reform; today, with Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos singing the praises of charter schools, there is a widespread recognition that charter schools are a big step on the path to privatization. First charters, then vouchers.

Van Schoales participated in the reform ferment in Colorado, which consumed much money and energy and produced very little. Schoales writes:

The education reform movement as we have known it is over. Top-down federal and state reforms along with big-city reforms have stalled. The political winds for education change have shifted dramatically. Something has ended, and we must learn the lessons of what the movement got right—and wrong.

The era of inspiration, edicts, and coercion from Washington to improve our public schools is in the past. The Every Student Succeeds Act is a paper tiger with no new funds or accountability for results. The U.S. Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has dismantled efforts to push states to improve school systems while tainting all education reform with a far-right agenda for vouchers as it defunds public education. Yet, a growing number of high school graduates are not prepared to work or to continue their education.

The era of the nontraditional “no excuses” urban superintendents is finished. Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Tom Boasberg have all moved on. There are few comparable replacements. The vision of a radically transformed public education system with virtual schools, new charter models, and online personalization has crashed on the shores of reality.

He continues to have some hope for “portfolio districts” like Indianapolis and San Antonio but it is only a matter of time until he realizes that they too are a mirage, just shifting students from public schools to charters changes nothing.

Peter Greene understands that all the shiny promises have failed to produce the transformation that was supposed to happen. It didn’t.

After twenty years, almost every trick in the education reform tool box has been tried, including charters and choice. When your product has failed, you have more than just a branding problem, and for the nominally lefty-tilted education reformers, the current administration provides none of the protective cover that Obama and Duncan did.

Van Schoales says it is time to listen to those closest to the problems—teachers, principals, students, families, and community leaders—to build a movement that is focused on preparing most or all of our students for the world that they live in, that promotes lasting change. 

Frankly, for reformers, that is a new idea, because they have spent twenty years imposing mayoral control, state control, so as NOT to listen to anyone but themselves.

Peter Greene has another idea, not so very different from that of Van Schoales:

Instead of asking, “How can we convince more left-leaning folks to support the privatization of public education,” maybe progressives could ask, “If charters and choice really aren’t the answer, what are some better ways to improve U.S. public education?” Maybe someone could build a coalition around that.

Unfortunately, the billionaires do not know as much as either Greene or Schoales. They are still dishing out hundreds of millions to professional “reformers” to create groups like the City Fund ($200 million on the day it opened) to continue promoting charter schools in a dozen or so urban districts. The Walton Family Foundation will spend hundreds of millions to prop up failing charter schools. Betsy DeVos will have another $400 million to hand out to well-funded corporate charter chains next year. Charles Koch has announced that he will pick five unlucky cities to target as “low-hanging fruit” for his dreams of voucherizing everything in sight. And legislatures like those in Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee are still diverting money to voucher programs, even though there is no hope that they will provide better education.

Reform as we have known it is dead, but the zombie continues to terrorize our cities, even our suburbs and rural districts.