Wishing for the sprouting of education reform, near and far


Editor’s note: The U.S. is hardly the only place on the planet where parental school choice and education reform are hot topics, as Boston University Professor Charles Glenn reminds us in this post. Glenn is an associate of the American Center for School Choice, which co-hosts this blog, and has studied educational freedom in detail in dozens of countries. This is the fifth post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

Every day, almost obsessively, I go online to read the latest news from Ukraine in the Kyiv Post.  It’s not that I have any solution to the military threats (and the slow but inexorable death toll of two or three Ukrainian soldiers and a few civilians each day) posed by Russia and its allies in the Donbas, or to the economic crisis, or to the struggle to eliminate corruption in government and the economy in a nation that has not yet completed the necessary post-Soviet reforms.school choice wish 2014 logo

All I can do in December is hang a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag on my house in Boston to show my solidarity with friends in Kyiv and Lviv, and inquire whether they are able to stay warm enough as Putin blackmails their country over gas and oil.

But, like bulbs in the cold earth of my wife’s garden, I know the determination to create a healthy democratic society is deeply rooted in Ukraine. I know that reform of the education system is one of the key elements in the long-term success of that project of national awakening. And I know, even as the cold settles down in Kyiv and in Boston, that spring is coming, and that education reforms are coming as well.

In September, my friend Jan De Groof of Antwerp and I were privileged to spend a few days in Ukraine with those who are committed to these reforms, and we have been asked to return when they conclude the time is right for us to advise on specifics of building a healthy, accountable, and pluralistic education system.

The recent elections and formation of a government committed to a wide agenda of reforms is a source of great encouragement. News of these reforms is what draws me back to the Kyiv Post, despite all the discouraging and painful news that dominates each day.

Education reform in Ukraine has a long way to go, though there are many centers of excellence.

The economy is in a shambles; staying warm and safe from Russian aggression will have to be the priorities for public spending this winter. Bureaucratic habits inherited from the Soviet period are a barrier to grass-roots and school-level problem solving. Even a few days in Ukraine, however, is enough to sense the energy and determination released by events over the past year, from the courageous demonstrations in the Maidan last winter to the elections this fall.

What am I wishing and praying for? Not that the education reformers in Ukraine have vision and courage; that would be presumptuous on my part. They have plenty of both! No, it is that we in the West stand by them through this hard time. We have a bad habit of responding generously to a crisis and then forgetting about it as the next one comes along. We must not do that in relation to Ukraine. Standing by them on many levels, but including in support for educational reforms, will help build a strong future.

Coming later today: Jason Crye, executive director of Hispanics for School Choice.

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BY Charles Glenn

Charles L. Glenn is professor of Educational Leadership and Development and former Dean of the School of Education at Boston University, where he teaches courses in education history and comparative policy. From 1970 to 1991 he was director of urban education and equity for the Massachusetts Department of Education, including administration of over $200 million in state funds for magnet schools and desegregation, and initial responsibility for the nation's first state bilingual education mandate and for the state law forbidding race, sex, and national-origin discrimination in education. He is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Glenn is author of a number of books, including the historical study The Myth of the Common School (1988, 2002), which has been published as Il mito della scuola unica (Milan 2004), El mito de la escuela publica (Madrid 2006), and will be published in Portuguese in 2012. He has also published Choice of Schools in Six Nations (1989), Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe (1994, 1995), Educating Immigrant Children: Schools and Language Minorities in Twelve Nations (1996), The Ambiguous Embrace: Government and Faith-based Schools and Social Agencies (2000), as well as some twenty articles in four encyclopedias, and several hundred other articles, book chapters, and monographs on education policy.

In 2002 he and Jan De Groof of Belgium published Finding the Right Balance: Freedom, Autonomy and Accountability in Education, a study in two volumes of how 26 countries balance educational freedom with common standards and accountability, pupil and teacher rights with the integrity of school mission. An abbreviated version appeared in Italian as Un difficile equilibrio, and in English (for distribution in Eastern Europe) as Education Freedom.

Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education (2004), a substantially revised and expanded version in three volumes, covers 40 countries. A new four-volume edition will add more than a dozen countries, and up-date the others, for 2012 publication.

Glenn is currently completing a series of books on the history of educational policy in North America and Western Europe. His book on The Netherlands and Belgium, Germany and Austria, Contrasting Models of State and School: A Comparative Historical Study of Parental Choice and State Control, was published by Continuum in April 2011. A companion volume, The American Model of State and School: An Historical Inquiry, is in press, and he is writing Challenging the American Model of State and School: School Choice and Cultural Pluralism on the antecedents and prospects of current structural reforms of education.

African American/Afro-Canadian Schooling: From Colonial Times to the Present and Native American/First Nations Schooling: From Colonial Times to the Present were published by Palgrave Macmillan in June 2011. His book-in-progress on the harmful influence of certain ideas about education, The Genealogy of Bad Ideas in Education, will be published by ISI Books. His next project will be The Contested School: State and Church in France, Italy, Spain, and Mexico.

Glenn is active in educational policy debates in the United States and Europe, is vice president of OIDEL (the Geneva-based NGO promoting educational freedom worldwide), and a member of the boards of the European Association for Education Law and Policy and the Council for American Private Education, and of five scholarly journals. He has served as a consultant to the Russian and Chinese education authorities and to states and major cities across the United States, and as expert witness in federal court cases on school finance, desegregation, bilingual education, and church-state relations in education. His BA and EdD degrees are from Harvard, his PhD from Boston University.