Archive for April 12, 2012
Interesting piece arguing that schools are actually getting better over the last decade, despite the growing rhetoric about their failure.
Some schools are having a difficult time educating children – particularly children who are impoverished, speak a language other than English, move frequently or arrive at the school door neglected, abused or chronically ill. But many pieces of this complex mosaic are quite positive. First data point: American elementary and middle school students have improved their performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study every four years since the tests began in 1995; they are above the international average in all categories and within a few percentage points of the global leaders (something that few news reports mention). Second data point: The number of Americans with at least some college education has soared over the past 70 years, from 10 percent in 1940 to 56 percent today, even as the population has tripled and the nation has grown vastly more diverse. All told, America’s long-term achievements in education are nothing short of stunning.
Audrey Watters responds to this issue. She believes that Farhi’s article points to a failure of educational journalists.
Farhi contends that journalists simply aren’t doing the legwork necessary to write good, critical stories. Instead, he argues, they’re parroting the “ed reform” movement’s version of the story — not questioning the press releases, policies or narratives that they’re handed by the likes of the politicians, philanthropic organizations, and corporations. Part of my criticisms of tech blogging certainly involves a similar issue: uncritical parroting of “buzz,” churnalism, copy-and-pasting of press releases, and “parachute journalism.”
Farhi says there’s a lack of “due diligence” on the part of reporters, who have a starry-eyed fascination with Bill Gates alongside an inability to walk into the classroom or talk to many educators (thanks to both policy proscriptions and schools’ unwillingness to communicate with the press). But I think there are other issues at stake here too, least of which is the fact that journalism is a rapidly changing industry, one where “Old Media” is feeling increasingly squeezed and where — in the brave new online world — pageviews drive the product and often the storyline. There’s an incredible amount of “diligence” that goes into addressing the latter, and so I’m never surprised to hear fear and failure touted.
Of course, there are significant problems with the American school system. I have one of Alan Kay’s quotes on a post-it on my monitor, “You can fix a clock, but you have to negotiate with a system.” At any moment, there are lots of things going to be going right and getting better with the American school system, yet there will still be a need for change and improvement. How do we change such a complex system? How do we make it better?
F0r me, it’s important to know what we’re trying to change and how. The system is too big and complex, and too expensive to change, to design without a good idea of the purpose. That’s why I found the call for more distance education in Georgia schools distressing. More distance education is a good thing, but it’s unlikely to improve graduation rates. I can imagine a lot of effort going on to create distance education opportunities in Georgia, with the wrong design criteria, and judging success or failure by looking at the wrong outcome variables. I could imagine the distance education efforts enabling adults to return for formal education, or to reach students who might not even enter into higher education. Those are good goals, but they require something different than what’s needed to raise graduation rates. And if you watch graduation rates, you’re not going to see rural access and a rising average age of students (or graduates).
American schools have never been better, and there’s never been more work to do.