Is it possible that the US has been heading in the wrong direction for most of the 30 years it has been focused on school reform? That’s the conclusion a reader of “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” would be hard pressed not to draw. The paper, written largely by Marc Tucker of the National Center for Education and the Economy, contrasts the approaches taken by five high performing (but quite different) entities — Toronto, Japan, Finland, Shanghai and Singapore — with what we have been doing here.
The essential message: those places aren’t doing any of the stuff we have focused on — charter schools, alternate certification, small classes and pay for performance, to name a few of our ‘magic bullets.’ Instead, they have developed comprehensive systems: their teachers are drawn from the top of the class, are trained carefully and, if hired, are paid like other professionals. They spend more on the children who are the toughest to educate, they diagnose and intervene at the first sign of trouble, they expect their best teachers to work in the toughest schools, and they expect all students to achieve at high levels. They do not rely heavily on machine-scored multiple choice tests but are inclined to trust and respect the judgements of teachers. Their curriculum is coherent across the system, which eliminates problems created by students moving around.I suppose it would be unkind to say "I told you so!" Unfortunately, people in charge seem to have been unaware.
Reporters like me weren’t allowed to attend the deliberations, but I have been told by several people who were on hand that it was a wake-up call for Duncan and his staff to learn that no other country was doing what we are betting on.Let's review. Duncan, who "was nominated to be secretary of education by President-elect Barack Obama and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009," didn't know that no other country in the world is trying what the US is trying. The man, who "[p]rior to his appointment as secretary of education . . . served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, a position to which he was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, from June 2001 through December 2008, becoming the longest-serving big-city education superintendent in the country," has had at least 10 years in high profile administrative positions, but he didn't know that no other country has attempted the models he is championing. It sound as if Duncan needs an IV caffeine drip not just a wake-up call. (I added more than I intended.)
Merrow's conclusion is equally sobering.
Unfortunately, we Americans cling to our belief in ‘magic bullets.’ But I have news for you. They don’t call them ‘magic tricks’ for nothing. It’s because they are TRICKS. As for bullets, they kill, and “Death by 1000 Magic Bullets” is still dead.A copy of the report that Merrow cites is available here.