My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Another Call For School Reform

The New York Times ran an editorial this morning calling for fundamental changes to the way America delivers high school education.

The achievement gap between rich and poor students is narrowing in some states, thanks to the added resources and better instruction that are a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. But that good news is largely limited to the early grades. Progress is stalled in high schools, where more states are slipping behind than are making progress, and American teenagers have lost ground when compared with their peers in other industrialized nations. The United States, which once led the world in high school graduation rates, has plummeted to 17th - well behind France, Germany and Japan.

The American high school is a big part of the problem. Developed a century ago, the standard factory-style high school was conceived as a combination holding area and sorting device that would send roughly one-fifth of its students on to college while moving the rest directly into low-skill jobs. It has no tools to rescue the students who arrive unable to read at grade level but are in need of the academic grounding that will qualify them for 21st-century employment.

First of all, notice that the Times gave credit to the President for No Child Left Behind.

But once you get your breath back after that, recognize that this is a fundamentally excellent point. What is happening in too many high schools right now is students who arrive with very weak skills have very little opportunity to catch up. Even worse, if they are given the chance to "make it up," it is in a setting which not only tells them they're behind, but it more often than not communicates to them that NONE of the things that interest them (art, music, etc. . .) are important or valuable.

I would argue that the Times doesn't go far enough in calling for reform. Certainly, the elementary schools have been quicker to adapt to NCLB, and some of the progress that is being made at that level is remarkable. But even at this level the ability to recognize and adapt to a student who is behind is limited. I have a theory, which has been validated to some degree by people who have vastly more experience than me, that if a student falls one year behind, it can be made up with one focused year of work; if two, two; if more than two years behind, the odds of getting that student back up to grade level are remote.

And these are the kids who learn how to game the system to sneak past the weak rigor of the late elementary and middle school, who then become the students that the Times is talking about.

I've written before that there is coming a time on the not-too-distant horizon where we're going to have to start looking at big changes in how we finance public education; I also think we need to get more creative about how we provide public education.

Which is where charter schools come in. If only school bureaucracies would recognize the opportunity to open their own charter schools--or franchise out--and use them as laboratory experiments to implement new, creative ways of delivering education to our children. Unfortunately, the inertia of the public school makes it almost impossible to implement large-scale reforms from within.

Which, again, is where charter schools come in. . .

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