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ERIC Number: EJ918240
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Mar-2
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0277-4232
On Rhetorical Battleground, "Reform" Proves Potent Weapon
Cavanagh, Sean
Education Week, v30 n22 p1, 24-25 Mar 2011
The rhetoric of education today tends to divide the world in two: between those who favor "reform" and those who don't. Many who consider themselves reformers say they stand in opposition to the "status quo." Some of them speak of the need to challenge the "education establishment," or the education bureaucracy. Many also describe their policies as putting the needs of children and students first, as opposed to the ideas favored by their critics, who by implication are focused mostly on the concerns of adults. A set of stock phrases, sound bites, and buzzwords has come to dominate the public discourse on education, summoned reflexively, it often seems, by elected officials and advocates who speak a shared, accepted language. The current lexicon groups one set of policies--which generally includes support for charter schools, tougher standards and testing, evaluating and paying teachers based on performance, and challenges to teachers' unions on traditional job protections--under the favorable heading of reform. Resistance to those ideas is often branded as misguided at best, and obstructionist at worst. Using rhetoric to frame policies in a flattering or negative light is, of course, as old as politics itself. But the pervasiveness of today's education language, often echoed uncritically in the media, is striking, and reflects the extent to which self-described supporters of reform have seized the rhetorical high ground in making their case. References to "reform" and "status quo" fill policy papers churned out by advocacy groups and opinion pieces from newspaper editorial boards. They color the speeches of politicians in both parties, including President Barack Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, and Republicans like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as well as the remarks of forceful and charismatic advocates, such as former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Others say that using terms like "reform" and "status quo" is appropriate, because they aptly describe the challenges facing U.S. schools and the difficult work necessary to overcome obstacles to change. It's not language chosen to divide people, but to challenge everybody and to put a question to public and policymakers: "What are you willing to do differently?"
Editorial Projects in Education. 6935 Arlington Road Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814-5233. Tel: 800-346-1834; Tel: 301-280-3100; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A