Friday, April 26, 2013

The Firestorm Next Time

Thanks to DZ for this mostly adept analysis of the coming storm in education reform. Take it with a heaping grain of salt, because libertarian Tierney and his muse for this topic, the always-hard-to-pin-down Diane Ravitch, are coming at the issue from a POV I do not share: That local education is always better than centralized education, which I think any child in any minority group can easily dispute; that teachers are professionals and always know what's right for their students, which anyone who doesn't expect to be paid for continuing education or anyone who's winced through a thoroughly wrong grammar lesson from the back of a room can dispute; and that standardization is a failed policy, which anyone who teaches visiting students from Asia or Scandinavia can dispute.

That being said, we are headed toward a maelstrom, as American parents discover that their children are failing even more tragically than before (thanks to more rigorous standards), and states continue to rely on old unreliable Pearson to manufacture their tests. Pearson and CTB hold a monopoly in this area thanks to years of consolidation (now there's an area where centralization IS a failed policy), but Pearson, at least, is just terrible, and apparently getting worse. Pearson's insane profits must be going somewhere, but they surely aren't going to the writers or hired hands who are expected to do the work, and you get what you pay for, in education as in the Real World.

The part Tierney gets right is the part that looks not at the quality of the schools or the tests or the teachers but rather at the quality of the students.

...The most important step we could take to deal with our education problems would be to address poverty in the United States.
Why can't our students compete with other first-world inhabitants in a global marketplace? They're too damn poor. Our inequities, growing by leaps and bounds each year, are killing our ability to measure up.

He and Ravitch are also correct about the potential damage of charter schools. In our county, it's costing public schools hundreds of thousands of dollars to enable a few students to drop out and attend the new charter school instead, yet no one has any say over what happens in that charter school, and the school is certainly not beholden to the taxpayers. I have no reason to think that students there are getting a better education than they would in their home schools and some reason to think that they're getting little education at all.

I actually like the Common Core State Standards; I think they're a legitimate attempt to delve more deeply into concepts and to backfill education from the endpoint of college and career expectations rather than trying to build upward from nothing to something. Hey, as John Dewey said, "Failure is instructive." When this doesn't pan out, in a few years, we'll be on to something completely different.


Simon said...

Sorting through this, I'm thinking the problem isn't centralized education so much as it's industrial education. There are different qualities of product, and of course the machines break down sometimes.

It seems, though, like we want to treat teachers as factory workers, with school boards as local management in a system specified from the top.

I don't think this has ever worked especially well, but it's getting ever harder thanks to the poverty you note and the declining opportunities for many kids once they get out.

We're also pretty lousy at experimenting. Partly that's because it's hard to do - there aren't really control subjects! - and partly it's because we don't want to spend the money on such frivolity when it seems like the core is in such trouble.

I like the idea of looking to other countries for ideas, but suspect that an education model isn't something that can transfer easily by itself.

And here my daughter is starting kindergarten next year... we'll see.

KAZ said...

Yes, and I haven't seen that homeschooling is much of an alternative. Yes, Dryden has had homeschooled valedictorians, but I've also seen an awful array of asocial narrow-minded recipients of parents' homeschooling—all too often it's about not letting a child know more than you do, which is just icky.If I had to teach O precalculus, we'd both be in deep trouble.

Simon said...

Homeschooling seems like a leap from industrial to amateur. There are absolutely times it can work... and lots of times when it won't.

It seems like there might be better options in the middle, but we, uh, haven't put much time into developing them. (It has to be a lot larger than a few people doing it, I suspect.)