Monday, May 09, 2011

How Newcomers See the Debate

Jesse Miksic:

One side is the reformer's side, identifying themselves as economic realists, clear-eyed critics, and advocates for the students, even if that puts them at odds with the entrenched traditional educational system. This is the Michelle Rhee and "Waiting For Superman" camp. The other side is the pro-teachers' side, which views itself as a liberal, open-minded lot, advocating equally for both the teachers and the students, defending traditional liberal-arts education against the callous forces of excessive structure and bureaucracy. This is the position of the Teachers Union and Curriculum Development students. ...

...And in the case of a problem like this one, where there are measurable effects and identifiable goals, I see scientific tools — assessment, analysis, redistribution, application of social and economic pressures — as the most valuable route to solutions. I'm a big fan of information, which is available in ever greater abundance, and of organization, which allows us to understand and act upon that information. Cybernetics. Information technology. Social and economic mechanisms, sanctions, stimulus. The reformers are offering a fairly uniform, goal-oriented solution using these tools, as opposed to the pro-teachers' side, which are offering... well, I'm not exactly sure what.

Eventually, of course, you get to some graphs comparing US educational performance and efficiency to other countries.

The thing is, the "pro-teachers'" argument is essentially, "We should be doing what those other countries are doing." For example:

  • Less poverty and inequality.
  • Universal health care.
  • Longer maternity and paternity leave, public daycare and preschool, shorter work day, more vacations.
  • Equitable school funding -- not by local property taxes.
  • More coherent, less politicized standards and curriculum.
  • Less emphasis on constant standarized testing.
  • Educators in charge of education.
  • Respect for teachers.
  • Well educated, professional, career teachers.
  • Less classtime for teachers, more planning and collaboration time.
  • Strong teacher unions.
  • Emphasis on human development, not strictly college and career readiness.

On the other hand, the "reformers" want us to keep the parts of our system that are outliers and than add new "innovations" that aren't used in the high performing countries we're jealous of. There is no evidence that this will work. It is a flight of fancy.

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