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No One Defends the Status Quo

May 1, 2013

photo by the author

[As my friend Bill Ferriter would say, “cranky blogger alert!”]

It’s time to retire the cliché “defend the status quo.”  Just. Stop. Now.

It’s misleading, insulting, and worst of all… it’s such an overused cliché, which makes for dull writing and dumbed-down debates.  We need an intervention to help people who can’t help themselves when it comes to repeating this worn-out  phrase.

This blog post has been drafted, revised, and held back a number of times. What pushed me to finally click “Publish” was last week’s debate over SB-441* – a California Senate bill that aims to improve teacher evaluations. Supporters of the bill who took the debate online via Twitter grabbed this tired cliché and attempted to shame the bill’s opponents with the hashtag #protectthestatusquo.

Perhaps they felt clever getting that little dig in, but the problem is, no one is actually satisfied with the general state of teacher evaluation in most public schools. Who are these defenders of the status quo? The California Teachers Association has its own 17-point, 36-page evaluation reform framework. Other teacher organizations, including ACT, have published evaluation reform recommendations. I’ve talked about this topic in front of multiple audiences around California, events that included teachers, parents, administrators, school board members, union leaders, researchers, legislators, journalists, education advocates…. Everyone is looking for something better.

Disagreements arise when we begin defining the most deleterious aspects of status quowhat part of it are we talking about, and how did we get here? And while we all agree change is needed, is every proposed change a viable solution? Sometimes it feels like teachers and administrators are in a kitchen fighting a big grease fire with a single fire-extinguisher, and education reformers come along suggesting that since we haven’t succeeded with that one fire extinguisher, it’s time to use water. We’re not defending the status quo of the grease fire when we point out that water is the wrong way to put out a grease fire.

Below you’ll find a partial list of writers and speakers who’ve contributed to the overuse of this education reform mantra, with links to the incidents.  To those who made the list, think of this as some tough love from an experienced writing teacher. It’s time to think up something new, something more substantial. Stop repeating yourselves and parroting each other – because no one in education defends the status quo.

Checker Finn – “teachers’ unions and other staunch defenders of the status quo have resisted”

Joel Klein – “those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well-financed”

Michael Bloomberg – ““Special interests and defenders of the status quo are digging in for a fight.”

Margaret Spellings – “To those who seek to undermine, delay, or obstruct reform, I say your time is over. You are on the wrong side of history. The status quo cannot be defended—it is indefensible.”

Tyson Eberhardt – “Assailed for over two decades by defenders of the status quo”

Bobby Jindal – “teacher unions and other defenders of the status quo simply demand more time and more money”

Greg Forster – “the test is being developed and implemented by a bureaucracy that is heavily colonized by the defenders of the status quo”

Dan Juneau – “The defenders of the status quo will keep these bills tied up in court as long as possible.”

KC Johnson  – “a balancing act between advocates of change and defenders of the status quo.”

Steve Barr – “if our success wanes, all the defenders of the status quo will celebrate.”

Tom Vander Ark – “The only thing that stands in the way is local and state policy and folks like Larry Cuban mistakenly defending the status quo.”

Michelle Rhee – “we need courageous politicians and leaders who are willing to take on the entrenched interests and the defenders of the status quo” – and in the same article, John Kerr – “defenders of the status quo turned their sights last year on incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.”

Whitney Tilson – “even the staunchest defenders of the status quo would agree that good schools are critical for our nation”

Doug DeWitt – “she is a consumate defender of the status quo”

Rod Paige – “feel a sense of urgency in saying that defenders of the status quo must step aside”

Conrad Appel – “union leaders and defenders of the status quo will do anything they can to stop this bold education reform”

Patrick Riccards – bonus points for double usage in one blog post – “same students that many defenders of the failed status quo say can’t learn because the [sic] come to school without breakfast” AND “After all, those status quo defenders contend, collective bargaining agreements are all about protecting the rights and interests of the adults in the system.”

Joel Klein – also gets bonus points for two uses in one article – “those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed” AND “…I fought to break this institutional stranglehold of defenders of the status quo.”

Ben Austin – double-bonus points for double usage in one sentence – “The defenders of the status quo have proven themselves willing to cross moral, ethical, even legal and constitutional boundaries in a desperate attempt to defend an indefensible status quo.”

RiShawn Biddle – triple-bonus points for three uses in one post – “giving congressional Republicans and defenders of the status quo such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers exactly what they want” AND “status quo defenders wouldn’t gain much of a substantial victory” AND “encountering the wrath of both congressional Republicans and status quo defenders.”  (Biddle scored another triple-cliché post here).

Gloria Romero can top that, using the phrase five times in one letter to Antonio Villaraigosa. Here’s the final blow, a particularly sharp one directed at the Mayor himself: “In the likely event that you continue to defend the status quo, then for your sake, stop trying to shrink away and cover up your own spoken words. Fortunately, most Californians aren’t cowardly.”

And finally, one that was aimed at me personally, courtesy of Kelly Amis: “why not use your voice in the public realm to work for change instead of protecting the status quo?” That’s what I get for pointing out the misleading or omitted information in her films (see here, and here).



*ACT takes no position on this or any bill. This blog post is a commentary on the debate.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2013 4:13 am

    Oh, well done, my also-cranky (justifiably so) friend.

    You’re right–NOBODY is defending the status quo. It’s “reform” lingo. My personal un-favorite on your list is Tom VanderArk going after long-time, uber-thoughtful genuine reformer Larry Cuban who has made school *change* his life work. When you’re using “status quo” multiple times in the same post, you’ve run out of ideas.

  2. David B. Cohen permalink*
    May 1, 2013 7:43 am

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Nancy. VanderArk’s post begins with the phrase indicating that Cuban’s blog post almost made him “puke.” Should probably see a doctor. And Gloria Romero calling Villaraigosa a coward is really fine work too.

  3. Tom White permalink
    May 1, 2013 11:09 am

    Sometimes the status quo is far better than what replaces. Witness the designated hitter rule. Those of us who live in American League cities are doomed to watch sub-par baseball.

  4. May 1, 2013 2:08 pm

    You’re making the mistake of assuming sincerity. They think the phrase works; they are in it for the MONEY — there is no sincerity.

    The only way to get so-called “reformers” to discard the phrase (or change any tactic at all) is to convince them that it doesn’t work and is working against their intere$t$.

  5. Chandra Goodnough permalink
    May 5, 2013 12:13 pm

    Once again thank you for your post. I couldn’t agree with you more and I appreciate your voice in the community.

    My principal recently voted to close our school and re-open as a new school to get out of program improvement and be able to compete with the local charter schools- a “Grand re-opening” idea. He asked me if I was going to re-interview for my job and I said “no.” It seemed odd to ask for a job again that I was working so hard at. He said he understood and that I needed to do what was best for me. I laughed. Do you have any idea how long it has been since I made a choice that was “best for me.” Most teachers do what is best for kids, not themselves.

    My point is the politics have gotten so bad that instead of supporting the work of teachers it has become some massive blame game. I cannot work any harder or care any more than I do. The work is hard enough without having to defend the merit of the institution. Anyone that is not trying to learn from the teachers and that is not focused on how they can help the teachers, has no place in education. Additionally, I am shocked and concerned with the cheating and corruption from the “business” side of things. Enough is enough!

  6. December 17, 2013 9:11 am

    Agreed that no one supports the status quo, however, unless a plan is presented, the perception of maintaining the status quo will remain. The only way to shut them up is to present a plan, like this one to assess in a legitimate way

    Unless a plan is presented people will always believe the status quo is being defended. And public schools will perish. I marched in WI and, along with recent demonstrations of support, helped raise awareness. But the problem is, nothing helped. Unless we stand behind a specific philosophy change, public schools are dead and white flight will be locked in forever.

    • carolinesf permalink
      December 17, 2013 10:50 am

      The accusation that critics of so-called education “reform” are “defenders of the failed status quo” is a professionally crafted propaganda line and is neither valid nor — ever — sincere. The scripted line was created in the billionaire-funded right-wing propaganda shops that are promoting eliminating public education and turning it into a free-market commodity. It’s pointless to discuss this scripted line as if it were sincere.


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