Michael Winerip of the New York Times created quite a stir recently with a column in which he pointed out that many prominent advocates of public-school reform are graduates of private schools. Actually, the most revealing thing wasn’t the column but the way Winerip’s critics responded.
Andrew Rotherham at Eduwonk called it “a pointless exercise in rhetoric and divisiveness that’s beneath the New York Times.” Kris Amundson listed Education Sector people who consider themselves reformers and who went to public schools. (But then, aside from obsessive policy wonks, who’s heard of Education Sector?).
Democrats for Education Reform founder Whitney Tilson mocked the column as exposing the fact that “a handful of people associated with efforts to reform our K-12 public education system went to – I hope you’re sitting down – PRIVATE high schools! Oh, what a high crime! How indefensible!”
Quite a reaction. And all Winerip did was take note that many of the most influential figures in the reform movement – including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, Barack Obama and Davis Guggenheim — went to private schools.
He undercut his credibility by getting the name wrong for the organization that Rhee founded. But the column was still informative, if only for pointing out that, while Bill Gates argues that public schools should increase class size, his alma mater boasts on its website that the school “promotes relationships between teachers and students through small class sizes.”
Regarding the reformers’ reactions, blogger Alexander Russo tells it like it is:
“ … the fact that reformers don’t like having the private school issue raised and respond to it so angrily suggests (a) some sensitivity, (b)a bit of a tin ear on issues of class, and (c) a corrosive sense of entitlement when it comes to media coverage and commentary. Even the most occasional criticism or skepticism is cause for an attack. It’s an alienating, and amateurish response given how credulous and complimentary the media (including the New York Times) have generally been towards reform efforts.”