by Frederick M. Hess
September 26, 2013
In recent years, a growing group of reformers has evinced an admirable interest in fundamentally reshaping education policy. Reformers have shown impressive discipline in overhauling musty tenure laws, expanding school choice, holding educators accountable for performance, and insisting upon forceful interventions in low-performing schools. Progress has been undermined, however, by the reform coalition’s casual faith in the kind of social planning typically associated with the progressive left. These efforts have paid short shrift to the simple and frustrating fact that, while public policy can make people do things, it cannot make people do those things well. This is especially salient in education for two reasons. First, state and federal policymakers do not run schools. And second, schooling is a complex, highly personal endeavor, which means that what happens at the individual level—the level of the teacher and the student—is the most crucial factor in separating failure from success.