Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Would Choose to be Uncommon

Bruce Baker posted last week on the general contradiction in contemporary American school reform:

Let me be clear that this post isn’t about favoring or slamming either vouchers or the common core, but rather pointing out that favoring both is entirely inconsistent, unless there’s some weird, warped agenda behind it all. This post IS about slamming the two, when used in combination. It just doesn’t make sense. Let’s throw into this mix other policies promoting standardization of the operations of traditional public schools like forcing those schools to make personnel decisions based largely on student assessment data.

Collectively what we have here is a massive effort on the one hand, to require traditional public school districts to adopt a common curriculum and ultimately to adopt common assessments for evaluating student success on that curriculum and then force those districts to evaluate, retain and/or dismiss their teachers based on student assessment data, while on the other hand, expanding publicly financed subsidies for more children to attend schools that would not be required to do these things (in many cases, for example, relieving charter schools from teacher evaluation requirements).

Being a blog post, it is probably imprecise in a couple areas, but the essential point is critical to understanding the perspective of the people being reformed today, in contrast to the reformers' point of view.

This week, Kathleen Porter-Magee responded at the Common Core Watch blog. What follows is my comment in response:


I see little support in history for your assertion that "Innovation stems not from different schools defining different ends, but instead from schools reaching those goals in different and innovative ways." From kindergarten to KIPP, I would argue that significant changes and improvements in educational systems are almost always accompanied by a revision in the desired ends. Indeed, the Common Core itself is based on the radical proposal that the purpose of primary and secondary education is preparation for tertiary education or work. Before the start we can see the end of these standards, whether they succeed or fail, the next innovation will require a broader re-envisioning of the aims of education and the disciplines more in line with those of high-performing schools and systems around the world and throughout history.

Despite yourself, you manage to illustrate the central contradiction Baker is pointing to within a single paragraph. You state "Finally, reformers who believe that choice will lead to better educational options simply must acknowledge that choice between low-performing schools isn’t a real choice... Low performing schools should be closed... And parents should be empowered to choose between schools based on what’s best for their children."

As the parent of a daughter entering kindergarten next year, what I know would be best for her would be the option to send her to a school whose very existence was not dependent on the state or federal government's current conception of "performance," and had an entirely different set of goals built on a fundamentally different philosophy. This is not an abstract or hypothetical point -- it is what I am faced with as a parent every day.

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