Poor Whitney

Venture capitalist-cum-school reformer Whitney Tilson comes in for a ribbing at the Education Notes Online blog, at the hands of Norm Scott, whom one New York friend of mine calls ???an anti-UFT lefty who is very smart.??? It's a pretty good piece of satire, but Scott's complaint is an age-old and tired one: everyone thinks they're an education expert because they attended school at one point. We should leave education punditry to the classroom teachers, Scott implies.

As a certified education pundit with limited classroom experience myself, I take umbrage at that assumption, for two reasons. First, the skills required to be a great teacher and to convince policymakers to act are quite divergent; the former takes a sense of humor, the ability to talk to children, perseverance???wait, maybe the skills required are the same. But my second point still stands: what some business types like Tilson can do???and what is difficult for most rank-and-file teachers???is to see the big picture, the forest for the trees. Mrs. Smith might know how to teach reading really well, but that doesn't mean she knows how to set national policy that will make great reading instruction more likely in classrooms nationwide. (Not that Congress has been doing all that great on that front lately either.)

At least half of education reform is about garnering the political will for change, and the rest is about the details of implementation. If the Tilsons of the world can help build political will, so much the better.

Michael J. Petrilli
Michael J. Petrilli is the President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.