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


Education Reform That Matters, part III 

Systemic Accountability

Over the last couple nights, I've explored--in the context of Denver Public School's reform movement--the potential effects of spending more money and of simply increasing requirements.

And dismissed both.

So what, you might ask, would make for effective reform?

I think it has to start with a fundamental look at the whole system. I think society as a whole must examine the public schools and decide exactly what the priority scheme of the public schools should be.

For instance, schools spend a lot of time and energy, not to mention resources (read: money) on giving students with severe learning and developmental disabilities an education in an integrated setting. Why do they do this? Because the powers that be have decided that there is an inescapable value in exposing "normal" students to those with disabilities, and vice-versa. Does this contribute to the development of cognitive skills in either the disabled or the normal student? Doubtful.

Is the value of that experience worth the price of diminishing the skills-development of students? Perhaps.

Is this an experience that should be a priority for schools? And, if yes, then what efforts should we go to to guarantee that every student at every school gets this opportunity? Should special education students be manditorily bussed from a school with a large population to another with fewer "opportunities"?

But, before we get too bogged down in a specific discussion of special education, let's just use that as a springboard to a broader discussion: what really matters in education?

I think it's absolutely crucial that schools do a better job prioritizing what really matters in the curriculum. And, I think, schools are starting to do a much better job of that. Why? because they are now having to take tests which hold them accountable for a certain amount of information.

But are we still asking for too much breadth and too little depth? Why, if we are asking for a specific demonstration of a skill set, are employers still complaining about the ineptness of recent graduates and colleges having to spend more and more resources on remedial courses?

Clearly, the answer is that we are asking for a faulty skill set.

The powers that be, the educational testing centers and what-not, need to be put in a diminished role with regard to designing these tests. Instead, university professors (not named Churchill) and community members need to be added to the mix, and we need to come up with a coherent idea of what is important for students to know.

For instance, what's more important to know: how many American Indians were massacred in the 1860s and 70s, or what steps were taken to reconcile the South back to the North, or what diplomatic arrangements had to be made with the international community to restart the American economy and etc . . . You get the point: most high school students could tell you a great deal about how "we" abused the indians (which, by the way, we really did) but may not be able to even get the Civil War into the correct 1/2 century.

So the first reform that should happen is the development of a coherent set of skills and knowledge that is deemed essential to the success of students after graduation from high school. This set will probably be smaller than we might think, but the expectations for mastery should be VASTLY higher than they are at current. We should abandon any evaluation that might lead to a "partially proficient" sort of rating, and go with simple binary: either you know it, or you don't.

And, by the way, since the whole point is to reach and unleash the potential of every student, that DOES NOT mean that we eliminate the arts and athletics and other such "extras;" actually, we should make certain that artists and athletes are included in the mix of deciding curriculum and testing criteria. Since Howard Gardner has identified at least ten types of intelligence, we should make sure that at least five or six are represented. I know some Core Knowledge proponents might disagree, but I believe that success beyond the school years does involve at least a minimum of cultural literacy.

So, once we've decided what they should know, how do you go about producing results with the students? That topic . . .tomorrow.


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