Monday, September 13, 2010

A Little Candle In The Darkness

This Thomas Friedman editorial quotes this Robert Samuelson editorial about the failures of school reform.  Samuelson and by extension Friedman's get to the crux of one of education's main problems.
The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail.
Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a "good" college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out, compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.
 Samuelson's conclusion is spot on.
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 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.
The problems facing education are structural.  All parties share blame; it's good to see someone finally including students in the equation.

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