Friday, February 22, 2008

School and Education Reform

I promised earlier this week that I'd offer something a little more constructive in terms of the direction that education reform should take. Not one to break my word, here goes.

First, school reform can't come at a national level. As I posted earlier, there's no clear consensus on what direction reforms in the schools should take. Changing broad governance structures or individual classroom curricula may help, but there's so much conflicting data out there that I would never want it to be mandated at a national level. I even have some pretty major misgivings about it coming from a city level. The fact is, every kid is going to need something a little bit different in order to learn and achieve their full potential. The other fact to keep in mind is that no one knows what those keys for learning may be better than the teachers in the classrooms. Any sort of school-based reform has to come from the bottom up and must be tremendously adaptable to the needs of individual classrooms, teachers, and students.

Second, education reform has to be much more than school reform. I was told once that trying to reform education by focusing just on schools is like trying to purify the air on one side of a screen door. What comes from home and the community doesn't stop once the child walks into the schoolyard. It's a screen door (or, more likely, a chain link door). If we want children to learn, we, as a society, need to make sure that children come to school ready to learn. Doing that means looking at what is holding kids back.

Despite doom and gloom assertions by just about everyone you meet, public education in America works pretty well. But there is a set for whom the system is failing abysmally. Generally, that set is the residents of poor, urban areas. If we want to raise up education in these areas (and I do believe that a rising tide lifts all boats) then we need to focus on more than the schools in these areas. We need to make sure that there is health care, libraries, food, and all of the other things that make sure a child is physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for school.

Some of this can and should come from the government. But it can't all come from the government. There must also be a commitment in these neighborhoods to the ideal of education. Attention must be paid. Speaking solely from my own experience and from anecdotal evidence from friends and colleagues, I say that too often this commitment is lacking. Some parents just don't care. Others do care, but don't know what to do about it. Either way, the value is absent and the kids pay the price. In turn, their children will pay the same price.

The catch 22 of all this is painfully clear. The way to break the ghetto cycle is through education. Yet it is exactly the ghetto mindset that thwarts education from succeeding in its purpose.

I don't know the way out. Hopefully greater minds than mine will see farther than I do to find a solution. But I do know that it is in this realm that the solution lies.

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