The education world lost a powerful intellect late last week with the passing of John Chubb. Chubb held a number of roles in education, political scientist at Stanford, at Brookings, Edison Schools, Koret Task Force, head of Education Sector, and most recently the president of the National Association of Independent Schools. He was also on a variety of boards, committees, task forces, and the like. But those roles are stars, not a constellation. The fuller view of the sky here is that he was a keen intellect, always probing, and he deeply believed that schools could be a lot different and better than they are today. Most recently his insights on the independent school sector were fascinating. Among the myriad reasons his early passing is a loss is that American education will not get the benefit of all them.
John’s book, with Stanford’s Terry Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (1990) is not only the hottest book to come out of Brookings, it’s among the most influential education books of the 20th Century. The analysis is inconvenient for much of the K-12 education establishment but has yet to be refuted either by a secondary analysis or the passage of time and experience. Coming from Brookings the book marked the return of choice as an issue that centrists and liberals could embrace and in the process paired powerful symbolism with its analysis. That sowed the seeds for much of the dynamism you see in the sector today. Others can debate books versus action in the larger sense but in this case that book led to changes in lives, for the better.