Sunday, September 12, 2010

School Reform = Nothing

When it comes to talk of educational reform (or any other for that matter), it pretty much is meaningless.  As pointed out in School reform's meager results:
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.

Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don't like school, don't work hard and don't do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited "student apathy." The goal of expanding "access" -- giving more students more years of schooling -- tends to lower educational standards. Michael Kirst, an emeritus education professor at Stanford, estimates that 60 percent of incoming community college students and 30 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges need remedial reading and math courses.

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.
This ultimately stems from the fact that too many parents except the school systems to raise their kids for them.   There are other reasons beyond parental laziness.  For one thing, too many parents are forced to work rather than raise their kids.  It's difficult to motivate kids when both parents are exhausted from work.  (True, they could chose not to have kids but the world does not work that way.)  In addition, the U.S. as a whole has come to expect something for nothing, and education is no different.  In addition, due to the Technical Morality pervading every aspect of society, the only conceivable solutions are punishing teachers and principals, and/or throwing money at the problem in hopes it will go away.  No other way is conceivable.  As public policy dulls to the point where nonsense like the "great teacher" drivel quoted above actually is given credence, it's not surprising that school standards remain stagnant.  In other countries, where education is considered a privilege rather than a right, anyone spewing such garbage would not be taken seriously--even to mock.

For any so-called reform to work, what is needed is a reevaluation of values concerning eduction (and economics as well for that matter), and that is most certainly not going to take place in this Age of Mediocrity.  Like suicide, the "Something for Nothing" mentality is so much easier.  Actually attempting anything requiring intellectual rigor is beyond the products some call leaders and academicians.  A toxic environment nurtures stupidity at all levels.

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