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No wonder we’re confused about education reform

Submitted by on Monday, 1 November 2010 No Comment

Today’s news reminded me of the joke we used to rib the mathematically inclined with during my college days: Yesterday I didn’t know what an engineer was. Today I are one.

In this corner, we have a group calling for incorporation of “engineering standards” into K12 education. Engineering standards when we’re still struggling to get kids to pass algebra seems a little ambitious to me.

In this corner, we have districts that are dissing spelling tests because they want children to “develop their own strategies for becoming good spellers.”

No wonder we can’t figure out how to “reform” education in this country. We can’t even agree on where we want to start, let alone where we should go and how to get there.

There are those who insist that public schools should prepare everyone for college, and there are those who question whether everyone needs college. As a college graduate who makes less most years than her truck-driver brother, I can see  merit in the latter argument.

We agree that what we’re doing now isn’t serving the gifted, and a few will admit that those who lag far behind are doomed to stay that way as well as the test-driven system focuses on moving up students closest to the middle.

The far right wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and return to “local” control, as if a Republican administration didn’t obliterate the last remnants of local control with No Child Left Behind.

We love our charter schools, and we’re waiting for Superman to drop one in every neighborhood. But we overlook the fact that every charter-school family self-selects to one extent or another. It’s no secret that a student’s motivation and a family’s interest makes a difference in outcome. What happens when Superman also has to educate the less-motivated and disinterested?

We test even the wee ones until their heads are ready to explode, pushing out art, music, physical education and recess in the process. After almost 10 years of that, though, shouldn’t we be seeing results?

We ignore teachers because, after all, they’re just trying to their cushy jobs, but we hang on every word of the test-makers and for-profit charter school officials as if they don’t also have financial motives as well.  Ever notice that money started going to charters about the same time that prominent Republicans started forming private education companies?

The result: Here we are, in our fourth decade of “reforming education” with little to show for it. Instead of finding resolutions and solutions, we’re drowning in the din.

I’m not even sure where the truth is anymore, except I suspect it lies somewhere between engineering standards and dumping spelling tests.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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