Certainly I don’t support radical, ideologically-based, sweeping change to any social system (like the Democrats do), but I think we can and should begin to incrementally make changes that address the failures of our school systems. We can’t afford not to.
These incremental reforms may include many of the things that conservatives have advocated for years: School choice, charter schools, merit pay for teachers, expansion of technical/trade school systems, transformative changes to curriculum, financial rewarding of successful schools, fairer school funding practices, ect.
But let’s not ignore the elephant in the kitchen. While I am a supporter for reform efforts simply because the expensive status quo isn’t working, the reality is that student success is more dependent on personal motivation and student accountability (values that liberals like to ignore) than it is on teacher accountability and financial motivation.
Robert Samuelson noted in a recent editorial that “against these realities, school reform rhetoric is blissfully evasive. It is often an exercise in extravagant expectations. Even if George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program had been phenomenally successful (it wasn’t), many thousands of children would have been left behind. Now Duncan Arndt routinely urges “a great teacher” in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million “great” teachers — a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school “reform” promises is more disillusion.”
Also, George Will noted recently in a fabulous editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/27/AR2010082703805.html)that in “America’s Smallest School: The Family” author Paul E.Barton estimated that about 90 percent of the difference in schools’ proficiencies can be explained by five factors: the number of days students are absent from school, the number of hours students spend watching television, the number of pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading material in the students’ homes — and, much the most important, the presence of two parents in the home.
Will rightly added that “public policies can have little purchase on these five, and least of all on the fifth.”
So while I advocate for reform, I am also a realist and very much understand your side of the argument, however, we can’t just sit back and do nothing.
Duncan Arndt is quoted as saying that poverty isn’t destiny and somehow, deep down, I really do believe this is true, at least for some. So isn’t it worth the effort to create reform that gives opportunity to those who silently suffer in a failing public school?
In a recent editorial by Tom Freidman that I unabashedly posted on the cafe a few days ago, Freidman makes mention of a new film by Davis Guggenheim called “Waiting For Superman”.
Guugenheim is the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone which has used a comprehensive strategy, including a prenatal Baby College, social service programs and longer days at its charter schools “to forge a new highway to the future for one of New York’s bleakest neighborhoods.”
Freidman states in his editorial that “Guggenheim kicks off the film explaining that he was all for sending kids to their local public schools until “it was time to choose a school for my own children, and then reality set in. My feelings about public education didn’t matter as much as my fear of sending them to a failing school. And so every morning, betraying the ideals I thought I lived by, I drive past three public schools as I take my kids to a private school. But I’m lucky. I have a choice.”
The film’s core thesis, according to Freidman, “is that for too long our public school system was built to serve adults, not kids. For too long we underpaid and undervalued our teachers and compensated them instead by giving them union perks. Over decades, though, those perks accumulated to prevent reform in too many districts.”
So while I understand the skepticism of school reform, I think that the effort is more worth doing than the alternative, which is nothing. And perhaps the expectations are delusional as Samuelson suggests and we will never make scholars of students who don’t want it, but if at the very least we provide the opportunity, then as a society we are doing all we should be.
As to your anticipation of dread, I hope I didn’t let you down.