A big part of what is wrong with the current debate about reform is that it is dominated by what I think of as naïve optimists and radical pessimists. The naïve optimists are the ones promoting simplistic solutions like: "fire bad teachers," "lengthen the school day," "close failing schools," or radically expand the number of charter schools without any real public accountability. What these so-called reformers have in common is that they seize upon a single idea or set of ideas to promote change and then assume that if we just follow this narrow prescription schools will improve. The record shows that they never do, especially not in the communities that suffer from the greatest economic and social challenges.
The radical pessimists largely offer critiques of policy. They remind us that the obstacles to school change on a mass scale lie in the structure of our society, in, for example, the way wealth is distributed, poverty is concentrated, and race continues to operate as a means to deny access to opportunity. They force us to acknowledge that hard-working teachers and visionary principals are insufficient if these are the only forces we rely upon to overcome the obstacles.