School & District Management

Public School Reformers Share Private School Background

By Liana Loewus — April 22, 2011 1 min read

Self-proclaimed education reformers are a diverse crowd—politically, racially, and ethnically—says Michael Winerip at The New York Times, but they do tend to have at least one thing in common: They went to private schools.

Winerip goes on to list the big reform names, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and former governor of Florida Jeb Bush, and the often costly high schools they attended. This raises several questions, Winerip says:

Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools—or even worse—poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?

To me, school background is a less specious variable than whether a politician advocating for public schools enrolls his or her own children in the local public school (that decision often seems to come down to safety and privacy issues). But I’m still not sure it adds much to the national debate. Also, a few of the leaders Winerip lists may not have attended public schools, but they did spend some time teaching in them (Rhee and KIPP founder David Levin included). I doubt those reformers would agree that they have “much-needed distance” from the system.

You make the call, though. Is this information relevant to the reform conversation?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.