Friday, May 8, 2009

The Problem With Education

In my very first post on this blog, I wrote that one of the biggest problems with education is that no one knows what the problem with education is. We all kind of have the sense that the schools aren't educating kids as well as they should be and we know that the data shows this is particularly bad for poor children and children of color. But what's actually the problem? No standards or overly rigid curriculum? Bad teachers or administrative micro-managing? Uninvolved parents or lack of choices? The list goes on and on and on. Because we can't even come to a consensus on where the problems lies, we're even more fractured when it comes to finding a solution.

As Dan Brown summarizes on the Huffington Post, Ronald Wolk has written a pretty comprehensive look at what he sees as the major misdiagnoses that have been made since A Nation at Risk was published 25 years ago. Obviously Wolk's perspective on this is subject to debate. That's the whole point of the first paragraph of today's post. However, I tend to think that he may be onto something here.

It's really worth reading Brown's summary of not Wolk's entire piece. I won't do too much re-capping here. What I will say is that if I had to reduce it all to one sentence, it would be this: We've let ideology trump reality time and again in our educational thinking.

We say that we need to find exceptional teachers for every classroom. That's great, but every one of the millions of teachers in this country can't be an exception. We need to make sure that every teacher has the tools and support they need to be a good teacher. Not everyone can be Jamie Escalante.

We say that we just need to increase standards and kids will meet them. Right. Shouldn't we find better ways to reach them rather than just shout "LEARN!" at them.

We've become so obsessed with accountability that we've forgotten that tests should measure learning rather than learning being designed to ensure test success.

We've become so caught up in the education unspeak - Standards! Accountability! Ending Social Promotion! Choice! - that we've forgotten to keep looking at what's actually working.

A Nation at Risk pointed a bright light at education and said, "fix this." Twenty five years later, I don't know that we're any closer to figuring out how.

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