Ed reform turncoat or just a more balanced position?

In the great education debate that has animated American public life for the last several decades, the players roughly divide into two camps.

The so-called “reformers” say education can, in Horace Mann’s words, be the “great equalizer” through which children of all backgrounds succeed. They support the standards and accountability measures that schools have imposed (the MCAS system here in Massachusetts), they look favorably upon charter schools, and denounce, as George W. Bush famously did, the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for poor and minority children.

The other side argues that the accountability era has brought high-stakes testing that has led to a narrowing of the curriculum in urban schools, and that it has punished schools and educators for the injuries of poverty, which are the driving force behind wide disparities in student achievement, not failing schools or incompetent teachers.

As in broader debates of the political left vs. right, occasionally a confirmed adherent to one side of the education wars will jump ship, a cause for much hand-wringing from the side being abandoned, while a hero’s welcome awaits in the other camp, which will claim there’s no better proof of the rightness of its cause.

All of which explains why people are talking about — and why The Atlantic published in its July issue — a piece by Nick Hanauer titled, “Better Public Schools Won’t Fix America.”

It’s not the argument that landed the piece in the magazine, but who was making it.

Hanauer is a billionaire venture capitalist who has been deeply committed to education reform efforts. He was everything that’s wrong with the reformers’ cause, according to critics: A member of the 0.01 percent who, like his Washington state neighbor Bill Gates, was pushing aggressive school reform, an idea for righting society’s wrongs that conveniently avoids big wealth redistribution schemes that might make a claim on his riches or any questioning of the fundamentals of the capitalist structure that has served him so well.

So it was hard to resist a piece from Hanauer, who comes with head bowed solemnly and confesses, “I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch promptly tweeted out Hanauer’s article. It was surprising she didn’t add a “welcome aboard” message, since Ravitch is probably the most well-known figure in education to have flipped sides, going from an assistant secretary in George H.W. Bush’s reform-minded education department to leading critic of testing, charter schools, and the whole reform movement. But it’s actually not clear that Hanauer has done a complete ed policy 180.

He does a good job laying the case for why education reform efforts will not be able to address the deeply entrenched economic inequality that has grown wider with each recent decade.

“What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided,” he writes of the idea that school reform on its own can drive huge change. “American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.”

It’s actually not that shocking a pronouncement from Hanauer. He wrote a piece for Politico in 2014 and did a TED talk the same year warning his “fellow plutocrats” that society would not long tolerate the obscene economic inequality that had taken root.

But does recognition that fundamental economic restructuring may be in order, a la Elizabeth Warren, mean we should abandon reform efforts aimed at improving schools serving lower-income students? Hanauer doesn’t actually say we should.

“To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans,” he writes.

Though it makes for a less luring headline, his piece is less a flat rejection of reform efforts than a recognition of the need to also address growing economic inequality directly. The two are not incompatible, says Dan Weisberg, CEO of TNTP, a New York-based nonprofit focused on ensuring high quality teachers for all students.

“I guess it sounds more dramatic to make it an either/or choice between improving education and addressing income inequality. It isn’t,” Weisberg tweeted in reaction to Hanauer’s article. “Maybe the author should stay committed to improving ed for more than a few years before deeming the work futile.”

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Beacon Hill leaders agreed on a three-month delay in the start of the state’s new paid family leave law — though their plan still must be approved by both branches of the Legislature. (Boston Globe)

In a not-every-day-alignment that Globe columnist Adrian Walker applauds, Boston officials and the Trump administration both favor a new federal proposal for low-income housing vouchers that would provide more aid for users renting in higher-cost communities. He’s puzzled at why the state is balking at the idea.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Coast Guard official says a Steamship Authority officer’s unfamiliarity and lack of training with the Iyanough contributed to the ferry crashing into the Hyannisport jetty two years ago this month, injuring 15 people. (Cape Cod Times)

Uxbridge is facing a financial crisis, as audits have uncovered “financial irregularities,” including the misappropriation of town funds. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The City of New Bedford is suing the nation’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors — including well-known names like CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Perdue Pharma, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart — for what the lawsuit says is their role in diverting prescription opiates for non-medical purposes. (Standard-Times)

ELECTIONS

Sen. Ed Markey, who faces a Democratic primary challenge from attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, says he’ll run for reelection next year on his progressive record, but a former advisor to Michael Capuano, who was upended in last year’s Democratic primary despite his 20 years of liberal-leaning service in the House, says that may not be enough. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Someone claiming to be the owner of the Regal Cinemas building in Westboro steps forward. Just in the nick of time, because the building had been sitting empty for two years and the town was preparing to sell the venue to another theater chain. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Lowell Sun wants the governor and local mayors to impress upon Raytheon and United Technologies that any layoffs resulting from their impending merger would cause harm.

An editorial in the Daily Hampshire Gazette says we should consider composting of human remains because it’s more economically friendly than burial and cremation.

EDUCATION

UMass president Marty Meehan pens an op-ed saying the tuition freeze for the system proposed by the Senate is a bad idea that would hurt the school. (Boston Globe)

Quincy school officials are still being tight-lipped about the circumstances that led an assistant principal, Michael Connor, and a teacher to abruptly resign just three days apart with a little more than a month left in the school year. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A legislative committee hearing considers a bill to institute a single-payer health system in the state, but there’s little indication that the measure will get passed, despite growing support for it among lawmakers. (Boston Globe) Sen. Jamie Eldridge helped make the case for giving government the responsibility for covering residents’ health care through a so-called single-payer system, which would be financed through a new payroll tax. (WGBH) The co-chairs of the Legislature’s Health Care Financing Committee, Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. Jennifer Benson, appeared recently on The Codcast, and both expressed doubts about a state-based single-payer system. In April, CommonWealth reported that the Massachusetts Hospital Association, which said yesterday it’s against a state-based single-payer system, opposes the federal Medicare-for-all proposals.

ARTS/CULTURE

A documentary film portrait of the author Toni Morrison by her friend, director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, will open the Roxbury International Film Festival next week. (WBUR)

Billerica artist Sharon Lapham makes sculptures out of junk she finds in and around the Shawsheen River. (Lowell Sun)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA is still trying to figure out why a Red Line train derailed at JFK/UMass on Tuesday, but several business leaders make forceful calls for more investment and quicker action. (CommonWealth) Sure, the Red Line derailment came at a critical juncture on the T’s busiest line, but the massive gridlock that ensued may have been caused by commuters hearing about the early morning incident and deciding to drive. (CommonWealth) A MetroWest Daily News editorial summed up the attitude of commuters: “We’re getting tired of the excuses.”

The T is a national leader — when it comes to the frequency of derailments. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The groundfishing industry claims that proposals by the New England Fishery Management Council didn’t account for what they will cost the industry that will need to pay for them. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Fall River developers with Waterfront Promotions are holding off on a liquor license request for new restaurants on City Pier, pending US Environmental Protection Agency involvement. The pier has use restrictions due to the presence of polycholorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, on the site. (Herald News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A second suspect is under arrest in the shooting of retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who is recovering at Mass. General Hospital after undergoing a second operation there following the initial emergency surgery he underwent in the Domincan Republic after the Sunday night attack. (Boston Globe)

The former track coach at Wellesley High School pleads guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. (MassLive)

After a racially biased jury convicted him of a Brockton murder three decades ago, Darrell Jones was acquitted in his retrial. The jury took two hours to deliberate. (WBUR)

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Springfield Diocese plans to meet with an alleged victim of sexual abuse who claims he brought allegations against the late Bishop Christopher Weldon before a review board last year. (MassLive)

Accused of perhaps the largest prescription opioid theft from a Massachusetts hospital in at least a decade, Lisa Tillman at first admitted to obtaining drugs by fraud, but then withdrew the plea when she learned Salem District Court Judge Emily Karstetter wanted to send her to jail. (Salem News)

A judge drops one of the two murder charges pending against Blackstone mother Erika Murray. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

Who’s the interim replacement for the interim? Shirley Leung pens a column on the experience of serving as interim head of an operation after serving as interim editor of the Globe’s editorial page for nine months. She says she returned to the newsroom and her business column full time last week. With no permanent selection for the post having been made, that begs the question: Who’s running the editorial page now? The paper’s masthead lists no one in that role.

The latest data indicate print news continues its collapse, while mobile news keeps on growing. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

Journalism professor Dan Kennedy talks about a federal bill that could ease the way for local nonprofit news. (Media Nation)