You can’t turn around twice these days without being hit with something on the Waiting for Superman/ EducationNation front. Between this piece from EdWeek on the legality of the Zuckerberg/ Christie plan for the Newark public schools, or this from Diane Ravitch on her problems with Value Added Assessment. There are charges of teacher-bashing and union-busting from one side and willful ignorance and complacency on the other. All charges, however, stem from the same hypothesis:
American schools are failing and we can fix them by changing the schools.
In fact, nearly every piece on education these days includes some variation on that sentence. “We all agree that American schools are getting the job done,” or “Schools are falling short- we all agree with that.” The evidence for this is largely test-score based. Test scores- nationally- compared with scores from other part of the world blah blah blah.
What if we reject the fundamental premise, though? What if the whole thing is based on a series of false assumptions- that testing measures actual achievement, and that, therefore, the goal is to raise test scores, and that schools can actually overcome the train wreck that is many children’s lives if we just had another two weeks or six weeks or whatever, and that teachers can control for all variables in their classrooms.
So there’s this old joke- a woman walks into her kitchen and finds her husband on his hands and knees, searching for something on the floor. “What did you lose?” she asks. “My contact lens,” he answers. She gets down with him and starts searching, too. Finally, after several minutes of looking, she asks, “Where were you standing when you lost it?”
“In the living room,” he responds.
“So why are you looking in the kitchen?”
“The light is better in here.”
That’s the thing with schools. They can’t really resolve all of the problems we have, but that doesn’t matter. It’s easier to focus on our energy there than it is to really look where the problem is. Keeps us all very busy, too, so we don’t really focus on the issues. It seems to me that if we really want to make sweeping improvement in student achievement, we need to focus on the unholy trinity that is health care, early childhood education, and poverty.
Easier to criticize and go negative rather than offer solutions. Easier to talk about who is at fault (without any facts or truth) than to offer solutions. Health care, early childhood education and poverty require empowering a group that might not vote for me and would cost money that I would rather spend on something that might help me get reelected.