“How to fix our schools” is the title of a manifesto published on Sunday, October 10, in The Washington Post by Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and fourteen other school superintendents across the country.
The Future Of Our Children
The piece starts off well enough:
“It’s time for all of the adults – superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike – to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.”
Who can disagree with that? The writers continue: “As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their zip code or even their parents’ income – it is the quality of their teacher.”
The Importance Of Teacher Evaluation And Training
Well, I can mostly agree with that, although the other factors mentioned definitely have some bearing on a student’s success. The article goes on to analyze the defects in the teacher tenure system, and makes the assertion that “There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.”
That’s fine, but we must start using more than just standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness and student achievement. For one thing, students take these tests just once a year. Further, standardized tests are only one measure of a teacher, and there are many others. And that’s not even dealing with all the problems surrounding standardized tests, such how good they are, and whether kids are good test-takers. Standardized tests are also incapable of evaluating so much that is important in education, such as creative thinking and social skills.
Are Standardized Tests Necessary?
Take the example of Finland, a country that is consistently ranked the top education system in the world. Yet kids don’t start school until 7 or 8, they have shorter school days and years, teachers are paid to get credentials, education is highly valued, and Finland does not use any standardized tests.
What do the writers of this manifesto suggest as solutions to our educational problems? First they propose that all educators must be equipped with the best technology. Obviously, that’s a nice idea, but doesn’t do much to ensure a quality education.
Next they go back to the solution proposed in the documentary “Waiting for Superman”: “We also must make charter schools a truly viable option.” As to why this should happen, when 4 out of 5 charter schools are failing, these experts do not explain.
Charter Schools Are Not The Only Solution
When charter schools succeed, they are impressive. Their formula for success is a longer school day, a longer school year, lots of homework and lots of parental support, the goal being to instill an ethic of hard work in their students. However, one issue here is that charter schools, unlike regular public schools, can choose who they accept, which means, for example that children with learning disabilities, with dysfunctional families and English Language Learners are often excluded.
No Good Answers In This Manifesto
This manifesto does a great job of addressing the problems facing our nation’s schools today, but fails to come up with any convincing solutions.