Monday, August 3, 2009

More Politics

A few weeks back, I wrote a post on who was playing politics with education in New York. My conclusion was that it was everybody and so it was kind of useless to try blaming one person more than another. Since that time, Mayoral-candidate Thompson wrote a column on Huffington Post provacatively entitled, "Why Joel Klein Should Be Fired." The bottom line, in Thompson's analysis, is that Klein "has consistently embraced measures designed more to sell the idea of a system helping our students to attain critical achievement goals than to target those goals directly."

Pretty serious charges, though hardly unique to the Comptroller. Still, it gets to the heart of what is wrong with a lot of educational policy in the city and in the country.

I've been reading Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada lately and it's pretty good. In one of the chapters he laments that we have "an American tendency toward quick-fix solutions to complicated problems." In other words, we throw a new system into place and expect it to work miracles on a problem that far exceeds the scope of our problems. Consider the New York school system. The impediments facing kids in trying to seek a good education are huge and far-ranging. They can include poverty, lack of health care, lack of basic social services, a values system that does not always include education, poor school facilities, poor school faculty, and more. It's going to take something more than empowering principals and instituting all sorts of measures of accountability to turn problems like that around.

Even so, the expectation is that we get solutions. So we need to see progress. So, lo and behold, the test scores start showing progress. Maybe the tests are easier. Maybe test prep factories are making the difference. Maybe kids actually are improving.

The problem is that we're more focus on making it look like kids are improving because that's what people are demanding. The kind of systemic reform that will actually bring about lasting and positive change would take years to implement. We'd be turning around decades of a growing problem. That's not going to happen overnight.

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