Academic journal article Education Next

Powerful Professors: Research Can Change the Political Agenda ... If the Circumstances Are Right

Academic journal article Education Next

Powerful Professors: Research Can Change the Political Agenda ... If the Circumstances Are Right

Article excerpt

When the status quo is protected by vested interests, then school reform must be driven by ideas backed by clear evidence. Results from our 2009 national poll tell us that a solid research finding has the capacity to shift public support for charter schools from 39 to 53 percent, a substantial increase (see "The Persuadable Public," features, page 20). A study's power to persuade turns out to be as potent as Barack Obama's persuasive capacity two months after he assumed the presidency.

To get a better sense of how research can influence the real world of policymaking, consider recent events in Massachusetts, where Boston's longest-serving mayor (1993-present), Thomas Menino, is seeking reelection for an unprecedented sixth term. "Mumbles," as the mayor is affectionately called, is best known for his commitment to snow removal, neighborhood parks, and symbiotic relationships with political insiders. On education matters, he appoints the school board and lets the members run the Boston schools as they please--so long as they avoid upsetting the local teachers union. But on the eve of his current campaign, Menino asked the legislature to expand charter school operations in Boston.

Why did Mayor Menino suddenly get charter school religion? Only recently, teachers unions seemed to be riding high in the saddle, enjoying for the first time in more than a decade a government unified under the union-friendly leadership of a Democratic governor and a legislature controlled by the same party. The mayor has generally distanced himself from education issues, and Boston's best-known school reform consists of "pilot" schools, which have more than usual autonomy but are still subject to the district's education-crushing collective bargaining agreement. Governor Deval Patrick, in a nod to the mayor, backed legislation that would expand pilot schooling throughout the state while curtailing charter school operations (see "Accountability Overboard," features, Spring 2009).

The nail in the charter school coffin was expected to come with the release of a charter and pilot school evaluation initiated by the Boston Foundation, a reliable public school supporter. …

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