Friday, March 19, 2010

The Three Challenges of School Reform

Sherman Dorn:

At least in theory, this fits with my argument in Accountability Frankenstein that schools have three different types of challenges: the challenge of truly mismanaged schools in crisis, the challenge of inequality, and the challenge of making sure the next generation is smarter and wiser than we are. I argued that NCLB tried to address all of those challenges with the same mechanisms, and it looks like the Obama administration is recognizing that they need different policy approaches: requiring states to identify 5% of schools in crisis, using OCR to address inequality, and pushing for common curriculum standards for the next-generation challenge. 

That's not saying that the proposed mechanisms are going to work. I am less worried about using testing to screen for schools in crisis than others, but I agree with Diane Ravitch that educational euthanasia is a simplistic response. That doesn't mean that states should allow schools with deep problems to fester but that both states and the federal government need to be much more humble about their ability to "turn around" schools in crisis or even replace them with putatively brand-new schools. It's the proposed four-option turnaround mandate in the blueprint that bears the most resemblance to NCLB's cookie-cutter interventions, and that's a matter of deep concern for me. 

I'm more pessimistic than Dorn. After 15 years or so of fairly intensive urban school reform, there seem to be fewer "truly mismanaged schools" than people think, because just in this morning's news I read about two more closings of improving or successful urban public schools that are closing. Maybe they're all closing for subtly different reasons, but the trend is clear, and our capacity for identifying the true basket cases from those struggling against the inherent difficulty of their charge is apparently shockingly low.

OCR cannot significantly address inequality if it limits itself to inequality within districts. That's dodging the real problem of inequality and segregation between districts.

And apparently nobody is really going to notice the problems in the Common Core standards until about year two of implementation. Everyone's desire to get a "seat at the table" is resulting in standards that simply are not being sufficiently challenged and tested.

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