Sound Bites Aren’t the Answer for Reform

By Franklin Schargel

[Note: This article was first posted as a comment to Bonnie Bracey Sutton‘s “What Should Pres. Obama Do About Educational Reform?” by Franklin Schargel on 3 August 2010.-js]

There isn’t any argument that education in America needs to be improved. Politicians on all sides of the spectrum agree. The discussion is not about whether it should happen but how it should happen. Is the Race for the Top the way to go? I do not think so. It DEMANDS that states raise the cap on how many charter schools they have. There are excellent charter schools and there are terrible charter schools. Just as there are terrible public schools and excellent public schools.

Charter schools were supposed to be educational learning laboratories which were benchmarked for best practices. To envision them as the sole universal answer to the ills of American education is as foolish as believing that high stakes testing would, by itself, raise America’s achievement level. All that the testing achieved was to confirm what we already knew – that children of low income families do worse on examinations than children of high income families. It then rewarded high achieving schools and punished low achieving schools. What stupidity.

If we wish to improve America’s schools, we need to systemically improve all aspects of America’s schooling. We need to improve early childhood education and make it available to every student. We need to level the playing field of school spending so that schools in affluent areas get as much funding as those in the inner cities. If children do not learn the way teachers teach, then teachers need to teach the way students learn.

We need to have colleges validate high school degrees by not accepting students who are not prepared to enter college and stop accepting and remediating those who are below college admission standards. We need to have schools of education train teachers with the skills they need and not what the schools of education want to teach. And politicians need to stop coming up with sound bite solutions to highly complex educational problems.

One Response

  1. I always found the arguments for charter schools interesting. Legislators consistently argued two points:
    1. We need to make very clear and restrictive education laws so that public schools can reach the highest levels of achievement.
    2. We need to exempt charter school from restrictive education laws so that they can reach the highest levels of achievement.
    Maybe it’s just me, but I found those two arguments bewildering.

    Too often, high achieving charter schools get that way by using policies that exclude traditionally low achieving students. Forbidden to do this by state laws that require open enrollment in public schools, they find clever ways to get around it. I once witnessed the state chartering commission in Colorado publicly counsel a school on how to do it, although it was done more discretely than my retelling will suggest.

    All you need to do is have a policy that students will be placed at the grade level deemed appropriate to their level of achievement. (See the Direct Instruction charter schools for how to do this.) Then you have an admission test. Students who score poorly on the admission test are advised that they will be put back a grade level. Presto! Application withdrawn! With policies like that, you can look might impressive.

    I really do think that a well done charter school can surpass a typical public school, but that is because I believe a typical public school is not really trying. That is what I meant by my recent articles on the mediocrity conspiracy.

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